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Enhanced Editorial

Set Out for South Padre 
Texas’ near-tropical escape looks good as a getaway all year long.

When cold weather drags on, locales such as South Padre Island—at Texas’ southern tip—never looked so good. That is probably why thousands of college kids head for the isle every year to let loose and shake off the doldrums of an ever-gray winter.

beachesBut the island has a broader appeal. The partiers are but a fraction of the million visitors who descend annually on the island, and spring break is just another in a long list of offerings that keeps bringing people back.

How’s the Weather?

South Padre’s attraction begins and ends with its setting—meaning its sub-tropical location ensures mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine (an average of 253 days a year) no matter the date. Throw in the Gulf of Mexico’s blue water meshing with its blue skies, and visitors find themselves in paradise.

The mesmerizing scene is completed by the sugary sand that outlines South Padre. (Spanish explorers originally named the island White Sand.) The shore is perfectly made for beach lovers. And it has shown over time in the accolades heaped on the island’s grainy treasures. In just the past two years, South Padre was named the best restored beach by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, a top 10 beach by Men’s Fitness Magazine and one the 10 best U.S. beaches by Woman’s Day Magazine. Those awards were addition to numerous plaudits over the same period for its sunset cruises, spring-break hot spots and general attractiveness.

While people may come for the warmth and sand, they find plenty more to entrance themselves as the Gulf breezes lift their cares away. On South Padre’s western side, for instance, Laguna Madre Bay’s shallow, calm waters make it one of the safest places in the United States to learn to kiteboard or windsurf. Parasailing, snorkeling, surfing and deep-sea diving opportunities also highlight the waterborne fun.

Fishing, too, brings smiles to the faces of many South Padre visitors. The island’s waters are home to more than 600 species of fish, which means there are trophies aplenty out there. Upward of 2,000 anglers converge on the isle every August for two popular events, the Texas International Fishing Tournament and the Ladies Kingfish Tournament.

In addition, all the sun, sand and sea make for great family entertainment. There is a waterpark for aquatic joys on land. There also is Black Dragon Cruises, tours that educate its guests on the ecological jewels on South Padre in an entertaining manner. Kids will find more entertainment through sand-castle lessons from master designers. (A sand-castle sculpting competition is held every October that draws hundreds of participants.)

The parents will find entertainment of their own, with golfing, shopping and relaxing at spas all on the agenda.

beachOn the Wild Side

People are not the only ones who consider South Padre a perfect place to visit, as more than 300 types of birds layover on the island during both the spring and fall migratory seasons. The congregation of such large numbers of birds makes South Padre one of the best birding sites in the entire Western Hemisphere.

To get birders closer to their winged beauties, as well as to teach the curious about the loitering flocks, the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center opened a little more than a year ago. Naturally, it features exhibits on avian species, but it also includes information about the natural areas on South Padre. Making the center especially delightful to birders and nature lovers is its five-story-tall viewing tower, its boardwalk trails and its guided tours and designated bird-watching spots.

Visitors from the sea make time for a South Padre sojourn, too, as sea turtles nest on the beaches. Among the animals that lay their eggs every spring is the Kemp’s Ridley, the most-endangered sea turtle on the planet. Like their airborne neighbors, the turtles have an organization in place to protect them, as well as to educate curious humans about them. Sea Turtle Inc. is primarily focused on watching over sea turtles, but it also gives people the chance to see them up close.

Other seafaring guests include dolphins, which live offshore all year long. Cruises from the island take guests on the water for viewing and boast an almost-perfect record for spotting the playful mammals. To make sure visitors understand the dolphins’ world, the Dolphin and Nature Center gives hands-on interaction with the animals and emphasizes the principles of conservation.

Other places where nature takes center stage near South Padre include Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where a variety of habitat merge—thorn forest, freshwater wetland, coastal prairie, mudflat and beach. Endangered ocelots are found in the refuge, along with deer and—at one time of the year or another—almost 50 percent of all the species of birds found in the continental United States.

In the City

With all the enticements South Padre possesses, it is to be expected that some people decided to forego visiting and stayed permanently on the island. About 5,000 call the island home, and spasdevelopment has followed them. This means restaurants, lodgings and nightclubs of all types are in residence, waiting for their chance to feed, rest and entertain.

Not surprisingly, seafood is the menu star on South Padre—although there are eateries of every variety and for every budget. Gulf shrimp are a specialty here, and many restaurants will cook your day’s catch to order. Along the same lines as its dining options, South Padre offers places to stay for every style and pocketbook—from national chains to campgrounds to bed-and-breakfasts. As for nightlife, any place that caters to spring breakers is going to have top-notch party spots. South Padre is no different, but it also has hangouts, where guests can relax and let the island day warm their souls.

Just like South Padre itself.

For more information, visit www.sopadre.com. For trip-planning assistance, visit your AAA Travel agent or AAA.com/travel.

Jan/Feb 2011 Issue

This Enhanced Editorial was paid for by a promotional fee from an advertiser.

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