A man stands on a tall lighthouse using a camera looking out over grass and water

Climb the stairs to the top of the Port Isabel Lighthouse for views of the small coastal town.

Located on the tip of South Texas, the quiet town of Port Isabel has long charmed visitors looking for a relaxing seaside getaway. With a population under 6,000, the community is ideal for anyone looking for a change of pace from the touristy bustle of its neighbor across the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge, South Padre Island. Incorporated in 1928, the city is still dotted with signs of a history that dates to Spanish explorers, pirate treasure, and the Mexican-American War. Though the town stays lively most of the year as travelers make their way to SPI, the busiest time for the region is August, when anglers come in for some of the best fishing in the country during the annual Texas International Fishing Tournament. Decompress while visiting seaside shops and eateries and enjoy a friendly community that underscores just how nice it is to unwind and take it easy.

San Antonio
4.5 hours

5.5 hours

5.5 hours

9 hours

A collage of images used in this story







1 / Lighthouse Boutique Hotel
Situated across from the city’s landmark lighthouse, the hotel has quickly become a favorite of Port Isabel visitors since its grand opening in 2022. The bright, coastal-chic space includes a French-inspired café, a gift shop, and 10 luxury suites. The hotel also offers sunset yoga classes by the lighthouse with a new selection of wine and cheeses each month. Rooms start at $195/night.

2 / Port Isabel Historical Museum
Built in 1899 as a general store, the Charles Champion Building has a seafoam green exterior that looks like something out of a Wes Anderson film. Inside
are two stories of displays that span centuries of the region’s past, from Native American settlements to the Civil War. You’ll also find one of the largest collections of artifacts from the Mexican-American War.

3 / Mercado Faro​
With an array of local vendors, this welcoming open-air market is the perfect place to pick up a handmade souvenir or keepsake to remember your trip. Spend some time wandering through the stalls in search of crystals, textiles, custom jewelry designs, home décor, and unexpected finds like fossils and shark teeth. The vendors are well versed in and passionate about their various crafts.

4 / Port Isabel Lighthouse Tour
Take in the scenic view atop the only lighthouse in Texas open to the public. The 72-foot structure once guided ships passing through the Brazos Santiago Pass and served as a lookout spot during the Civil War and World War I. Climb the winding staircase and marvel at the lantern, installed in 2022, that allows the lighthouse to shine for the first time in over a century.

5 / Hopper Haus
A new addition to downtown Port Isabel, this friendly bar and grill features an alternative to the area’s Tex-Mex and American fare. Its signature dishes have a Bavarian flair, with menu items that include bratwurst, hand-breaded schnitzel, and sauerkraut. Unwind in the biergarten with a drink from an extensive selection of craft beer or one of the weekly cocktail specials.

6 / Pirate’s Landing
For beautiful views of the Laguna Madre Bay, this eatery—open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—­offers a themed dining experience that goes all in on the region’s swashbuckling history. Serving fresh local seafood, the restaurant also has an outdoor cannon bar that houses its main draw: beautiful views and a refreshing breeze coming in from the Gulf.

7 / Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier
The longest pier in Texas, the Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier brings anglers from all over the world down to the Laguna Madre. The pier is located at the entrance to the Queen Isabella Causeway, which leads to South Padre Island. Rent a pole at the on-site bait and tackle shop. If you’re not one for fishing, head to the snack bar and relax.

8 / Osprey Cruises
Each vessel in this fleet of six offers a different experience out on the water. Reserve a seat on a sunset dinner cruise to take in the picturesque pastel skies, book an eco-tour for a chance to spot dolphins and learn about local marine life, or set sail on the Black Dragon Pirate Ship. The latter offers an interactive adventure where all ages can learn to speak like a pirate.

To the Lighthouse

Every June and July, Port Isabel’s Lighthouse Establishment Cinema hosts movie screenings projected onto the side of the historic lighthouse. Guests of all ages, as well as leashed pets, are welcome to enjoy family-friendly films like Grease and Beetle­juice for no admission fee. The tradition began in 2004 for the community to enjoy the pleasantly warm weather after 9 p.m.—the movies’ start time. Before each screening season, guests can vote on what movies they’d like to see. The park also hosts special events around Halloween and other holidays. portisabellighthouse.com/lighthouse/lighthouse-establishment-cinema

An illustration of an RV

For a waterfront stay, park yourself at Park Center’s gated RV community. The site offers a heated pool and hot tub, a workout room, a pickleball court, and WiFi in the recreation hall. For anglers, there is a lighted fishing pier and boat dock rentals. Spots start at $51/night. 702 Champion Ave., Port Isabel. 956-943-7340; portisabelparkcenter.com

From the April 2024 issue

Get the Magazine

Save up to 62% off the cover price


Sign Up for Our Newsletters

Sign up for magazine extras, upcoming events, Mercantile specials, subscription offers, and more.