Down in the Rio Grande Valley, there’s something about springtime, when the palm trees sway in the southerly breeze and even the cacti are blooming, that calls us out into the great outdoors. Pull out your sunglasses, hats, and hiking boots: Here are some recommended activities, roughly ordered from one end of the Valley to the other.
10: Up Close with Dolphins
You may not see them from the shore, but the placid waters of the Laguna Madre are home to a vibrant community of bottlenose dolphins. To see them in all their leap-ing, chattering glory, book an open-air boat tour with one of several eco-friendly outfitters that depart daily from the docks of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. Sightings are guaranteed! Call 800/527-6102 (Port Isabel) or 956/761-6433 (South Padre).
9: To the Lighthouse
Just steps away from the docks, the 1852 Port Isabel Lighthouse once shepherded boats into harbor through the notoriously difficult-to-find Brazos Santiago Pass. Of Texas’ original 16 lighthouses, this is the only one that’s open to the public. If you climb the 75 steps to the top, a panoramic view rewards your efforts. At the lighthouse’s base is a museum dedicated to the keepers who endured both solitude and storms to keep the light shining for more than 50 years. Call 956/943-0755.
8: History’s Trail
History also awaits at the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park in Brownsville, where the first battle of the Mexican-American War was fought in 1846. Explore the Visitor Center and stroll three trails, one leading to a battlefield overlook and two that lead to the U.S. and Mexican battle lines. Call 956/541-2785.
7: Gorillas in Our Midst
The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville is one of the country’s best zoos, featuring almost 400 species of ani-mals and more than 200 species of plants. The gorillas are the zoo’s most famous residents, and feeding the giraffes is a hit with kids and adults alike. Other animals aren’t technically zoo residents: The zoo’s lush vegetation attracts wild colonies of herons, egrets, ibises, and storks. Call 956/546-7187.
6: Antiques, Boutiques, and Treats
On the first Saturday of every month, downtown Harlingen—vibrant with art galleries, boutiques, and old-fashioned diners—hosts Jackson Street Market Days, when the streets pulse with bands playing Latin jazz and classic two-steppin’ country while vendors offer items ranging from tropical plants to handcrafted guitars. Call 956/423-5440.
5: Mansion of Birds
During spring migration, millions of birds headed north for the summer stop in the Rio Grande Valley to rest and refuel. One of the best places to catch up with the flocks is McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlan, a restored adobe mansion whose native plant gardens attract an amazing diversity of rare and beautiful birds, as well as visitors ranging from the casual wanderer to the dedicated birdwatcher. Call 956/681-3370.
4: Street Food with Style
At McAllen’s new outdoor Food Park—located one block southeast of Archer Park—you can listen to live mu-sic and enjoy all the best that the Valley’s food-truck movement offers, from wood-fired pizzas and fresh-squeezed juices to real-fruit raspas that will forever change your conception of a snow cone. And of course you’ll find some of the best tacos anywhere. Call 956/682-2871.
3: Ready for Some Futból
In soccer-crazy South Texas, excitement is building for the RGV FC Toros, a United Soccer League team and an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo. The Toros will play 30 games in 2016, 15 at the new 9,400-seat stadium in Edinburg. Be ready to sing olé, olé, olé with the crowd! Call 956/972-1144.
2: Biking at Bentsen
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission offers bike rentals and more than four miles of trails that wind past the park’s peaceful resacas, an observation area, and expansive swaths of undisturbed native habitat. Keep your eye out for some of the park’s signature birds, including the green jay and a number of different oriole species. Call 956/584-9156.
1: A Retreat in the Trees
At the center of the Casa Luna, one of two B&B lodgings at El Rocio Retreat in Mission, a hundred-year-old mesquite tree serves as the main support of the house. There’s no better place than this relaxing, wooded escape to rest and rejuvenate after a full day of springtime outdoor adventure. Call 956/584-7432.