Beyond Spring Break: A South Padre Island To-Do List

Things to do on South Padre Island
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For most people, South Padre Island in Texas is usually associated with rowdy Spring Break parties. With booze cruises and beach beers and all the shenanigans you see in all those movies about the American college experience.

So when I got invited to visit South Padre Island by Texas Tourism, I was a little skeptical. I mean, I don't really party – hell, I don't really even drink!

But then I started poking around online to see what else there was to do on South Padre. And I was surprised to find lots of things that had nothing at all to do with partying. Things like dolphin cruises and paddleboarding and horseback riding and a sea turtle rescue center.

So I agreed to go. Because one of the things I love most about what I do is being able to dispel misconceptions and set the record straight about destinations that have a lot more to offer than people assume.

South Padre Island is definitely one of those destinations. After spending four days there, I concluded that not only is it a great destination for people who love the heat and the outdoors, but it's also a year-round destination that can appeal to everyone from Spring Breakers to families with kids.

Take a moment to read my SPI to-do list and discover what there is to do on South Padre Island OTHER than hang out on the beach and drink.

10 Things to Do on South Padre Island

Rent a paddleboard

I'm so happy that paddleboarding has taken off and become as popular as it has. Not only is it a great way to be out on the water, but paddleboarding can be a great workout, too! There are quite a few rental options when it comes to getting a board and heading out to explore South Padre's canals and Laguna Madre, but my pick is Air Padre. They are more well-known for their kiteboarding lessons, but they also rent paddleboards, kayaks, jet skis, and more.

What I liked about renting from them was the fact that they have big plastic paddleboards that are almost like sit-atop kayaks – meaning that they are super stable for standing on! We rented boards for two hours and enjoyed paddling around in the Laguna.

Paddleboarding on South Padre Island

Forget paddleboard yoga – I'm pioneering paddleboard gymnastics!

Tip: I would do this early in the morning, as it can start to get really hot (and sometimes windy) in the afternoon.

Go horseback riding on the beach

Another great morning activity is a horseback riding tour with Island Adventure Park. To get there, you have to leave the town and drive down a road surrounded on both sides by sand dunes, which in itself is pretty cool. The riding tour lasts about 90 minutes, and has you riding along the quiet beach and up into the dunes.

Horseback riding on South Padre Island

I LOVE horses and horseback riding a lot, and this was therefore one of my favorite things I did on South Padre Island.

Island Adventure has a lot of horses to choose from, and the guides will match you up with one that fits your riding experience. The best part is that this is a very affordable adventure, starting at just $45 per person.

Explore the island in a scootcoupe

It may look a bit weird, but driving around in a little scooter car called a scootcoupe was another of my favorite activities on South Padre Island. These tiny little cars may look a little ridiculous sharing the road with huge pickup trucks, but I assure you that they are SO fun to drive – and they can actually go more than 40 mph!

Driving a scootcoupe around South Padre Island

Ours even looked like a lady bug!

While most people visiting SPI probably have a vehicle, spending an afternoon zipping around in one of these is still worth it.

Learn about turtles at Sea Turtle Inc.

While driving around in our scootcoupes, we made sure to stop at Sea Turtle Inc., a facility on the Laguna Madre that aims to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured sea turtles. They also protect sea turtle eggs and release hatchlings back into the wild. Visiting the facility, you can see some of the turtles currently in rehab, as well as a few permanent residents that can't be released because of amputations and other disabilities.

Allison the turtle on South Padre Island

Allison the sea turtle

Perhaps the most famous resident is Allison, who lost three of her four flippers to a predator attack in 2005 and spent years unable to do anything other than swim in circles. In 2009, though, an intern designed a prosthetic “rudder” for Allison, and she is the first sea turtle in the world to successfully use a prosthesis.

This is a great place for anyone – kid or adult – who is interested in learning more about sea turtles.

Look for birds on the boardwalk

Want to go on a nice walk that doesn't include sand? Head over to the Laguna Madre Nature Trail near the South Padre Island Convention Center. This 1500-foot boardwalk criss-crosses marshland near the Laguna Madre, and is a great place to spot lots of different bird species. It's also an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place for a walk.

Cook your own catch

For the fishermen (and women) among you, South Padre Island offers up many opportunities to fish for trout and redfish in the Laguna Madre. If you go out in the morning, you can bring your catch back, clean it, and then take the fish to a couple of different restaurants to get it cooked up for lunch.

The Grille at Jim's Pier on South Padre Island

The Grille at Jim's Pier

I didn't go fishing myself, but Craig from Stay Adventurous did and brought back a bunch of fish that we got cooked up at a new restaurant at Jim's Pier. It doesn't get much fresher!

Cook Your Catch on South Padre Island

Delicious fresh fish

Take to the skies in a parasail

Parasailing is really fun, and just the right amount of adventure for many people. We went parasailing with Breakaway Cruises, which was a great way to see South Padre and the Laguna from above.

I did the tandem parasailing option, which I think is actually more fun than going solo.

Parasailing over South Padre Island

Look how much fun we're having!

Go on a dolphin-watching cruise

One of the most popular family-friendly activities on South Padre Island is going on a dolphin-watching cruise. The cool part is that you don't have to go far at all – there are hundreds of bottlenose dolphins that call the Laguna Madre home. This also means that you're almost guaranteed to see some dolphins on your cruise.

Dolphin in the Laguna Madre

Bottlenose dolphin in the Laguna Madre

While out with Osprey Cruises, we also learned that the Laguna Madre is one of just six hypersaline (i.e. saltier than the ocean) lagoons in the world. What a fun fact!

See the sun set at Pier 19

Looking for a good place to eat that's also a great sunset spot? Look no further than Pier 19, which is definitely both. The quirky restaurant complex spreads out along the pier (I love it because no two sections look the same), and the actual pier portion at the end is a great spot for watching the sun set.

Pier 19 on South Padre Island

Inside Pier 19

I had the seafood pasta (delicious), and also tried the calamari and ceviche (also delicious).

Watch fireworks at Louie's Backyard

Lastly, if you're visiting South Padre during the summer months (Memorial Day through Labor Day), you can catch fireworks over the Laguna Madre every Thursday and Friday night at 9:15 p.m. at Louie's Backyard. This restaurant/sports bar complex is the perfect place to have dinner and watch the fireworks. Louie's is known for its seafood buffet, and is also a popular spot for music and nightlife later in the evening.

Fireworks at Louie's Backyard on South Padre Island

And look at that: not one mention of drinking or laying on the beach! It's totally possible to plan a vacation to this little slice of Texas and never get bored.

Where to stay

Looking for suggestions on where to stay on South Padre? Here are my top picks:

The Hilton Garden Inn is the #1 rated hotel on the island. (Read reviews | Book here)

The Holiday Inn Express is probably your best budget option. (Read reviews | Book here)

And check out La Copa Inn for great beachfront views. (Read reviews | Book here)

If you're traveling with a larger family, you could also consider renting a condo like this one.

OR, you can compare South Padre Hotel prices here.

READ NEXT: Blooms, Balloons, and BBQ: An East Texas To-Do List

What would be at the top of YOUR South Padre Island to-do list?

 

10 Things to Do on South Padre Island in Texas

 

*Note: I was a guest of South Padre Island and Texas Tourism on this trip. But, as always, all opinions are 100% my own! There are also a couple affiliate links in this post, meaning if you book a hotel through my links I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!).

 

23 Comments

  • Brianna says:

    Looks like a great place to head to this winter when the snow becomes unbearable! I love the little turtle story. You go, Allison!
    Brianna recently posted..Panajachel Is Not My Favorite Place

  • Audrey says:

    The scootcoupe sounds fun! I remember wanting to do something similar in Vegas last year, but it was fully booked so I went with a jeep tour instead. I’m also all about paddle boarding – it’s such a fun activity once you get the hang of it.

    • Amanda says:

      If I lived closer to a large body of water, I would totally buy a paddleboard! It’s a great workout, AND just lots of fun. And yes, the scootcoupes were awesome! One of my favorite things we did, in fact.

  • Mimazine says:

    South Padre Island is definitely being added to my travel wish-list! Love the Sea Turtle Inc. and the scootcoupe looks like such a fun way to explore! Thanks for sharing xx
    Mimazine recently posted..The Backpacker Diaries: Croatia on a Budget

    • Amanda says:

      It’s a cool place – and there’s so much to do! I would probably avoid the busy summer months. But the good news is that it’s pretty warm there year-round!

  • Dave Briggs says:

    Oh my so many things to do there! I would definitely go for that scootcoupe, parasailing and horseback riding. Don’t mind the going to see the turtles, too!
    Dave Briggs recently posted..Alaska to Argentina Bike Ride – Cycling the Pan-American Highway

  • Great Post, Amanda!! Thanks for sharing these 10 great tips. Most of us miss out on small little things and forget to do that extra fun.

  • You know, I’ve been to North Padre and Mustang Islant like a thousand time (I even wrote about how Mustang Island is my favorite American beach: http://bit.ly/2blLLoE )

    …but I’ve only been to South Padre for spring break. And it was college, so I don’t really remember it.

    I definitely need to go back. Thanks for the Trip Inspo!

  • Dominique says:

    That’s looks like a pretty exhaustive list of things to do! It seems like a lovely little place to visit

  • John says:

    Just curious why you did not mention The Stables at SPI? Have been riding there many times, along the beach, and it is awesome! Have also taken lessons there for riding but polo lessons are also offered.

  • Andy Hancock says:

    Hey Amanda – Great Job on South Padre Island – and if any folks need to know what else there is to do
    you could
    Learn to build the Sandcastle of your dreams with American Champion, Andy Hancock – There are 5 instructors on the Island! Its the Sandcastle Capital of the World!
    Take a Segway Tour of the Island with Rachel @Seg Valley Tours
    Design and Make a Unique Island style piece of Jewellry at Seas the Day with Brian Clifford
    Take a Dinner Cruise on the Fabulous Sail SPI catamaran
    Visit the Largest Outdoor permanent Sandcastle and, the only permanent Sandcastle Trail in the USA
    Hire one of the Many Island fishing captains such as Mark Guillot and go fishing on the laguna Madre bay where you may spot Green turtles, almost always see Dolphins and catch Lunch and Dinner which can be cooked by almost any resturant on the Island – you’d have to search for the ones that didn’t!
    Rent a Bicycle and ride the island
    Watch one of our great island entertainers like Leslie Blasing, Danica or even the Bongo Dogs
    And finally – get up to watch a Sunrise with NOTHING in the way
    and watch the day end with friends and a cocktail over the best Bay in Texas

    When you want to come down again Amanda – give me a call and check out the South Padre Island Bucket list on FB

  • Natalie says:

    This is an amazing list! I’m going next March for spring break and this will help me to have an amazing time with plenty to write about! (I’m also a travel blogger) Where did you rent the scootcoupe? I was searching online and could not find it.

    Thanks!

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