Palm trees. Warm sea breezes. Miles and miles of sandy beaches. You've been craving one last trip to the beach before Labor Day signals summer's end, and you'll find it here on South Padre Island. This 34-mile-long sliver of sand sits at the very tip of Texas, just northeast of Brownsville and 30 miles north of the Mexican border. You can while away the hours lying on the beach or indulge your more adventuresome side. All you have to decide is what to do first.
Finding a place to lay your head may be your most difficult decision--and your biggest challenge. Summer rates soar in South Padre, and deals are scarce.
For a short stay, we prefer the convenience and amenities of a full-service hotel. Cushy beds and an inviting pool keep us coming back to the Sheraton Beach Hotel & Condominiums. The nearby Radisson Resort offers both guest rooms and condos. On the island's less trafficked northern end, you will find newer properties, including LaQuinta Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites.
If you're traveling with a crowd, shop around for a condo that offers daily rates. Contact the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.sopadre.com or 1-800-767-2373) for a complete list of hotels, motels, and rental companies.
Fun in the Sun
If you're headed to the beach, plan to get there early. The best spots will be blanket-to-blanket well before noon. Don't bother lugging chairs and umbrellas from home either. You can rent them right on the beach. You'll pay around $25 for an umbrella and chairs. Your hotel staff should be able to direct you to the nearest vendor.
South Padre is a playground for adventure seekers too. Lope through the surf on a guided ride at Island Equestrian Center. Sign on with Sonny's Beach Service for catamaran cruises and fishing, or rent a kayak, personal watercraft, or banana boat. Kids love splashing through Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark ($32.99 adults, $26.99 ages 3-11).
In the spring and fall, South Padre ranks among the windiest spots in North America, but the breezes are a little gentler in the summer months. It's the perfect time to learn a new aquatic sport. Private windsurfing lessons from The Boatyard run about $40 per hour, including board and equipment. South Padre Island Kiteboarding also offers stand-up paddle boarding lessons and equipment too, though it takes a much larger investment to get started.
During the heat of the day, take a break and visit Sea Turtle, Inc. Through daily Meet the Turtle tours, you'll come nose-to-nose with these magnificent creatures. Your $3 donation goes toward rescue operations and conservation efforts.
A trip to the beach without great seafood is like a church without Bibles. Sacrilege! The Seafood Botana ($30.99) at Dirty Al's, a bait shop turned restaurant, comes with enough fried shrimp, oysters, and fish fillets to feed a small army. Like most restaurants on the island, they'll also cook your catch of the day ($6 per pound) any way you like it.
Try Scampi's house specialty, the peanut butter shrimp ($24.95). A local favorite, Cap'n Roy's offers both seafood and Mexican. For awesome blackened, grilled, or fried fish tacos ($9.99), stop by the colorful, laid-back Dorado's Baja Bar & Grill. Be sure to save room for the homemade banana-chocolate cake.
In addition to gourmet coffees, fruit smoothies, and chai lattes, Yummies Bistro serves breakfast all day. Try the huge Yummie Burrito ($7.99) or, if it's after 11 a.m., the delicious panini sandwiches ($7.49-$7.99). We know you'll love Boomerang Billy's, a beachside bar behind the Surf Motel. In the evening, head to Wahoo Saloon on the bay side for an awesome sunset view.
Stop To Shop
We know you didn't come to the beach to shop. Still, there are a few stores you really should check out before you head home. Look for fashion-forward clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purses at Isla y Rica. Designer Raydean Hensz exhibits her signature style at Park 100 Home. At Karen's Custom Toe Rings, you'll find everything from thin sterling bands to 14-karat diamond-encrusted rings for your perfectly pedicured digits.
"Quick Trip to the Coast" is from the August 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.