A man in a plaid shirt and baseball cap smiles and points at a sign reading "Padre Island National Seashore"

© Todd White Stills and Motion

South Padre Island is famous for its beachside resorts and coastal tourist attractions, but the other end of the island offers a very different experience. Just beyond the bustling bays of Corpus Christi, travelers will find a remote getaway and the feeling that they’ve been dropped onto a quiet island paradise.

Padre Island National Seashore

Between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre lies a thin sliver of barrier island that stretches 70 miles down the Texas coast. You won’t find condos or souvenir shops here—only sand, water, and sunshine. Start your trip at the Malaquite Visitor Center, where park rangers offer tips for exploring the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. During the summer months, lucky visitors can watch as sea turtle hatchlings are released into the wild. There’s also magnificent fishing, off-roading, and birding year-round. Just a short drive on the sand, and you’ll have the beach all to yourself.


Mansfield Cut

Those up for a true off-the-grid adventure (and who have a four-wheel-drive vehicle) should set off on an expedition to the southern edge of North Padre. The beach ends at a stone jetty cut into the island to allow boats to reach Port Mansfield. Along the way, you’ll pass massive dunes, beaches covered in crushed shells, and all kinds of wildlife, including crabs, jackrabbits, and deer.


Surfside Sandwich Shoppe

While it’s not as busy as its southern counterpart, North Padre isn’t totally empty; it boasts some incredible restaurants, including this one that whips up creative sandwiches and tacos. Like any good surf shop, the walls of Surfside Sandwich Shoppe are covered in stickers and quirky artwork, including decorated brown bags left by customers. For the extra hungry customer, the 10-inch Cuban press is especially filling with pulled pork, ham, American cheese, pickles, and Cuban sauce. For a taste of the sea, try the blackened ahi tuna tacos.

Worldwinds Windsurfing

What Texas lacks in big waves, it more than makes up for in wind. This island is one of the premier spots in the world for wind-powered sports, including kitesurfing and windsurfing. Anyone who’s intimidated should quell their fears by setting up a lesson at Worldwinds Windsurfing and learn from the pros. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and I was cruising over the waves in no time.


Snoopy’s Pier

Catch one of the most beautiful sunsets in Texas looking out across the bay from this island institution. The restaurant opened in 1980 as a small bait stand and burger joint on the waterfront, and it now serves the freshest seafood you can find. I always go for a monstrous basket of deep-fried golden-brown deliciousness including oysters, fish, shrimp, and hush puppies. Save room for ice cream next door at “Scoopy’s.”


So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS. To view the North Padre Island episode visit thedaytripper.com.
Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chettripper.

From the October 2021 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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