seagulls on the beach at South Padre Island

A flock of seagulls awaits dinner. Photo by Kevin Stillman

Beach-seekers setting their sights this summer on Florida, California, Mexico, or beyond might instead consider staying in Texas to explore the sparkly stretch of South Padre Island. The simple pleasures that attracted visitors decades ago still remain: miles of white-sand beaches to explore, birds to observe and fish to catch, twinkling stars in a dark night sky, the hypnotizing sound of the surf. And for ecotourists, SPI offers dolphin-watching and birding excursions, the chance to see (and help conserve) endangered turtles, and tours of The University of Texas-Pan American’s Coastal Studies Lab, where you can study the marine life of the Laguna Madre.

But you’ll also find everything from glitzy nightlife and boutique shopping to fine dining and luxurious spas. Put these three activities on your SPI agenda and revel in the fact that Texas does, indeed, have it all: one, a snorkeling excursion (a three-hour jaunt into the Laguna Madre estuary reveals the curious activities of stingrays, gar, jellyfish, shrimp, eels, and dozens of other creatures); two, sandcastle lessons (learn to make elaborate spires and turrets from the pros); three, parasailing (tethered to a parachute and towed by speedboat, fly 600 feet over the Gulf of Mexico).

And, of course, many treats on SPI are still free or cost less than $5: Drop a line at Isla Blanca Park, tour the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse, and watch Friday-night fireworks explode over the bay. For more about South Padre, see www.sopadrecom.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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