A Winter visit to South Padre Island, Texas
A work commitment treated me to a winter visit to South Padre Island, Texas. It seems like winter has hit hard for most of the country. So I was excited about getting out of the snow, but wasn’t sure what South Padre Island held for me in the middle of February.
On the whole, I’d say winter on South Padre Island is meant for adults. Family travel that time of year might just be an exercise in frustration. The gulf or your hotel swimming pool might be too cold to swim. Although there is an indoor Schlitterbahn waterpark, it’s pretty small. Adults can sleep in, stroll the beach several times a day and enjoy the mild weather. There are other activities available, but it doesn’t really get fun for kids until after spring break.
Things to Do: In the winter, you can get out on the gulf, I’m just not sure I’d want to get IN it. Fishing guides are easy to find around the marina. Dolphin cruises are still available, just be sure to bring a jacket. No matter what time of year, the Sea Turtle Rescue Center is always a big hit. Educational and interesting, make sure to check on the feeding times for extra fun. Sunny days can be spent on the beach reading, and we even had a volleyball tournament as part of our work conference. There is also a Birding and Nature center that provides a scenic stroll through the marsh parts of the bay. I think being lazy and getting outside without being surrounded by snow are the major benefits to this winter destination.
Accommodations: The great part about visiting South Padre Island in the winter is the availability and price. This time I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on “the Island” as they call it. The winter rates are usually the lowest you will find all year. This beachfront property had a pool and giant hot tub. The rooms all have a small living areas as well as a microwave and small fridge. There are several other chain hotels on the Island in case earning or redeeming points is an important factor in your decisions. Just be sure to double check amenities, especially if you want beach front. I’d recommend securing a rate with breakfast or stocking that fridge, as there aren’t many breakfast places on the Island other than fast food. Condos and homes are everywhere, so check out VRBO for some great winter rates.
Weather: Typically South Padre Island weather in February has lows around 55 and highs in the 70’s. I had one day that was windy with the high around 55, and another that was beautiful with the high around 65. My suggestion is to wear layers and pack accordingly. On the warmest days, you might be able to lay by the pool, but rarely. The gulf water was too cold for my old bones, but you might see kids getting in the surf anyway.
Crowds: The biggest crowds you’ll see during the winter on South Padre Island are winter texans. Also known as snow birds, large numbers of retirees from northern states will descend on the Island to avoid the harsh winters up north. While their numbers are nowhere near the crowds during Spring Break or summertime, it’s good to know up front. As long as you head to dinner a little later, you should be able to get in just fine.
Restaurants: My favorite tiny restaurant is The Palms on the Beach. Its part of tiny motel, but the views are great and you’ll be surprised by the food and wine variety. Big Daddy’s has some of the best fried seafood on the Island. Gabriella’s is the best place for Italian food. If you want a fancier atmosphere (which is a little hard to find on the Island) you can try the Sea Ranch. It’s good food, but not one of my favorites. The ceviche and beer variety is top notch at Padre Island Brewing Company.
Shopping: The great thing about shopping in February is that merchants are trying to make room for merchandise for the spring break crowds in a few weeks. Almost every store I visited had some sort of sale going on. You do run the risk of stores being closed at odd times during the winter since there just aren’t that many people around. A few of my favorite shops on the Island are:
Women’s Shoes: Rica and Isla for all that trendy stuff. (They have clothes too)
Surf Gear, clothes and casual shoes: On the Beach, Island Native
Beach Gear and Souveniers: Ship Shape (although their clothing and shoe variety is good too)
Bars: Actually on the beach are Clayton’s and Wanna Wanna.
Getting there: Well, now that I’ve peaked your interest, how do you get there? Since I’m a Southwest Airlines junky, I fly into Harlingen, TX, although United flies there too. It’s the largest airport in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Brownsville Airport is another option servicing American and United. Although pre-booked shuttles are available, I’d recommend renting a car. The Island is one long strip, so walking or waiting for the Island shuttle tends to be a pain. Luckily, car rentals are relatively cheap and serviced by 5 or 6 of the big rental car companies.
South Padre Island, Texas is a great winter getaway for couples. I enjoyed my morning and evening walks on the beach with very few people around. Even in the summer it can be a great budget beach destination if you live in the middle of the country. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and spend the 4th of July on South Padre Island this year with the family. I’ll post about that sometime in July, so be on the lookout for more good times on “the Island”.