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(2013 - Spring Issue)


The secret is out.

Informality is a way of life on South Padre Island. In 1997 the Texas Gulf Coast community of 2,800 near the Mexican border issued a proclamation making men’s neckwear illegal. “Ties are deemed detrimental to the Island’s welfare and banished,” the tongue-in-cheek declaration read. That friendly attitude plus a wide variety of attractions has made this subtropical playground a year-round favourite for more than five million visitors each year. Increasingly, Canadians are discovering South Texas is an attractive and economical alternative to traditional sun spots such as Florida, Arizona or California.

Originally called Isla Blanca for its pristine white sand beaches, Padre is the world’s longest barrier island, stretching south from the city of Corpus Christi for more than 180 kilometres. The central part of this narrow band of sand is preserved in its wild, natural state as Padre Island National Seashore. But the south end, close to Mexico and the Texas cities of Brownsville and Harlingen, is the magnet that draws hoards of visitors in the summertime (big-city folks from Dallas, San Antonio and Houston flock to the seashore to beat the heat) and for March break when the college crowds descend.

Quiet and Peaceful

For the rest of the year, however, South Padre Island, which boasts the best beaches in Texas, is relatively quiet and peaceful with plenty of attractions, excellent restaurants and prices that are startlingly low.

The attractions are varied and unique. We visited a sea turtle conservation building on Padre Boulevard where guests learn about the five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico and where injured turtles are kept until well enough to return to the wild. Close by is the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center with boardwalks over the Laguna Madre wetlands and a five-storey observation tower. In the afternoon we boarded a boat for dolphin viewing. Seven pods of the mammals, numbering about 250 individual dolphins, frequent the bay and immediate Gulf area making it easy to get a close-up look.

Reached by a three-kilometre causeway from Port Isabel, the community has many hotels and condos along the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with private homes bordering Laguna Madre Bay, less than 800 metres to the west. The usual souvenir shops and fast food outlets line the main road through town but it’s hard to ignore the low prices for accommodation. Smart-looking motels were advertising rooms for just $35 to $40 dollars a night. We haven’t seen U.S. prices like that for decades.

Food on South Padre Island is inexpensive and delicious. Local seafood restaurants will gladly cook your catch for a modest fee. Two outstanding local eateries are rated No. 1 and 2 on TripAdvisor. Yummies Bistro is known for its Mexican breakfasts including burritos, cinnamon coffee and delicious grapefruit pie while Gabriella’s is renowned for its Italian cuisine.

Canadian visitors told us the Gulf Coast of South Texas, particularly South Padre Island, was “the best-kept secret for sun-seekers.” These “Winter Texans,” many of whom return year after year, know what they’re talking about.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit sopadre.com.

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