Favorite Things To Do And Where To Eat In South Padre Island, Texas
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
South Padre Island is a tropical oasis in the southern part of Texas on the gulf coast. It is known for its beautiful beaches, lots of wildlife, and a fun island vibe with tons of restaurants, shops, and attractions.
As vacation home hosts (Check out Zula Siesta & Zula Del Mar) and frequent visitors, we get asked all the time what are our favorite things to do and places to eat on the island. And there are so many!
Check out below all our island favorites:
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links at no cost to you.
Favorite things to do in South Padre Island, Texas:
Whether you are visiting South Padre Island in the summer, or fall, spring or winter, a great way to navigate around the island is by a golf cart! There are many golf cart rental places around the island, but if you are visiting in the high season, it is highly recommended to reserve in advance. You can rent a golf cart for as little as 1 hour, with daily, weekly, or even monthly options available.
To check out golf cart rentals click here
A great way to explore the island without being stuck in traffic or having any parking problems is by bicycles. There are bicycle trails all over the island so it’s a great option to get around. If you didn’t bring bicycles from home, there are many rental places where you can rent bicycles for just a few hours or days or longer.
To check out bicycle rentals click here
Did you know that South Padre Island operates a FREE Island Metro shuttle system all around SPI & Port Isabel? Runs daily from 7am to 9pm and stops at beach access, hotels, restaurants, attractions and other points of interest. All the shuttle buses are equipped with bicycle rack, ADA accessible with wheelchair lift, and even offer complimentary WIFI. Check out the schedule here or download an app on your phone called Ride Systems where you can even see the live location of the buses: IOS version or Google Play version.
To check out the shuttle map click here.
If you are visiting South Padre Island when it's hot out and you're looking for a place to cool off and have fun, check out Beach Park Water Park! Usually open from Memorial day to Labor Day and offer daily tickets or seasonal passes. They have over 40 water attractions to choose from including water slides, tube slides, lazy river (with rapids!), surfing pool and much more. Great way to escape the summer heat and enjoy the cool water rides.
To check out ride description and pricing for the Beach Park Water Park click here
Did you know that SpaceX has a testing launch site just across the bay from South Padre Island? SpaceX is testing some of the most advanced rockets for orbital satellite deployment and even a Mars mission!
When you plan your South Padre Island visit, check the schedule for rocket launch from Boca Chica, TX. But remember, this is a testing site, and last minute change of schedule due to weather or issues is very common so plan for at least a few days delay just in case. If you are lucky enough to catch a rocket launch during your stay, the best place for watching the launch is from Isla Blanca Park. Go early, all the space geeks from all over the world are coming to watch this history in the making too!
Also, you can go see the rockets up close, it’s about a 1 hours drive from South Padre Island but totally worth it! Make sure to check the Cameron County website to see there's no road closure planned for when you want to head there. There's nowhere else in the world where you can get this close to a space rocket! Trust me, you want to see this!
If you are visiting South Padre Island with your family, you should go visit the Sea Turtle Inc. on the island. This is an incredible organization dedicated to rescue, rehab and release of sea turtles. Their facility has 2 sections: The hospital area where you can see current turtle patients getting treated and rehabilitated to go back into the wild and a 2nd area for their long term tenant turtles, which cannot go back to the ocean for medical reasons and live permanently in South Padre Island. Don’t forget to visit Allison the Turtle, the first turtle in the world with a prosthetic fin! They also offer educational programs and daily presentations where kids can learn and ask questions about sea turtles. Check out their website for scheduled events. If you're visiting South Padre Island in the summer you might even be able to catch a release of newborn baby turtles!
To view more information about Sea Turtle Inc. click here
South Padre Island attracts so many types of birds and the Birding Nature Center is the perfect place to go watch the wildlife! With more than 3000 feet of boardwalks over wetland where you can see many birds, butterflies and natural wildlife you're guaranteed to see some birds you’ve never seen before! There's also an alligator sanctuary, and they offer guided birding tours, gator talks, as well as self paced tickets to just walk around and enjoy the 50+ acres of beautiful wildlife.
For more info about the birding and nature center click here
The Native Plants Center is a non profit eco education center with a native plants nursery working to preserve coastal plant life unique to the Valley area. They hold educational tours and grow & sell plants that support butterflies, bees, fish, and birds that stabilize the coastline, the beaches and the dunes. They are also in the process of raising funds to build a botanical garden on the island, so if you’re passionate about plants, definitely plan to visit the Native Plant Center and donate to their cause.
For more information about the Native Plant Center click here
Do you like dolphins? (that was a rhetorical question, who doesn't like dolphins?) Well, you’re in luck! Because dolphins love South Padre Island and you can spot dolphins all around the island year round! We really enjoyed going on this 90 minutes Dolphin watch cruise where we were able to see the dolphins up close and listen and learn about the diverse marine life on the island. The tour guides have a wildlife-safe net which they use to pull starfish, sea horses, different types of fish and much more and let the kids (and adults) touch and see really up close some of the amazing sea life around the island. This is a great educational tour that the whole family would enjoy.
For more information and buy tickets to the Dolphin Eco Tour click here
South Padre Island is known to be a hub for some of the biggest and most beautiful sand castles in the whole world! AND, You and your friends & family can also learn how to build an epic sandcastle at South Padre Island! Take a sandcastle building class from the pro, and learn all the tips and tricks on how to build a beautiful sand castle yourself! All the tools provided in this great family friendly activity that everyone in your group is going to enjoy - including your kids and your grandma!
For more info and to schedule your sand castle building class click here
Wanna learn how to speak like a pirate, fight like a pirate, and hunt for treasures? Well, you gotta go on a fun Pirate Cruise and enjoy family friendly entertainment. Make sure to arrive early (at least half an hour) for the pre-cruise meet & greet with the pirates. Expect face painting, treasure hunt, water pistol battle, sword fighting, music, and loads of fun for the whole family. You might even get to see a few dolphins while you're out.
For more information and to buy tickets click here
Right in the middle of the entertainment district in South Padre Island, you will find the Gravity Park. Ride options include a Ferris wheel, roller coaster Go-Kart (single & double), Skycoaster, Reverse Bungee, 18 holes mini-golf, Kiddie go-Karts, Trampoline ride, climbing wall, and an arcade. Also featuring the Sand Sculpture Village where you can walk through a variety of changing displays of huge sand castles built by local artists. Open 7pm everyday March -August. Open 7pm Friday-Sunday September-February (weather permitting).
For more information about the SPI Gravity park click here
Always wanted to ride a horse on the beach? Well, this is your chance! Choose from daytime or sunset rides and even a moonlight option where you can ride horses right on the beautiful sandy beach on the northern part of South Padre Island (only about 15min drive away). They have horses that are kid friendly, as well as a petting farm and even a zip line. This is a bucket list excursion you don’t want to miss!
For more information and to purchase your ride click here
If you want an activity with some more adrenaline rush, head over to the Island Adventure Park in the northern part of the island and go zip lining! Available for kids over 10yr and adults with single zip or unlimited options. This activity is guaranteed to get your blood pumping! They also offer a bundle option with petting farm and horse back riding.
For more information about the SPI Island Adventure Park click here
Want to relax with a private massage service on the beach or at home? Alysha is an amazing masseuse and her mobile massage service is so convenient! Aromatherapy, hot stones, deep tissue or just a relaxing massage session are highly recommended!
For more information and to schedule a massage click here or call Alysha at 956-443-6450
The Art Business incubator in South Padre Island opened in 2019 to support the local and emerging artists and create a space for them to work and build their business. They have a beautiful art gallery where you can see and purchase unique art pieces, take classes and participate in it's events. They also host an Art Festival every second Saturday of the month where local artists display their work in booths and sell their unique art pieces.
For more information and event schedule for the SPI Art Business Incubator click here
Ready for a scavenger hunt? South Padre Island has an amazing art scene, and you are invited to explore the many sand castles and sea turtle sculptures created by amazing artists and hiding all over the island! Grab a map and go by car or golf cart, or bicycle on an adventure to find all the spots all over the island. Don't forget your camera!
Can you find them all?
For trail maps click here
For those of you who like to stay active and enjoy all the water sports options, there are so many options to choose from in South Padre Island:
SPI Sessions has the best instructors in town to teach kids & adults to surf! They also offer camp options for surfing, paddle boarding, kite surfing, and science!
To check out SPI Sessions surfing lessons and more click here
Like to go fast? Rent a jet-ski for a few hours and enjoy some high speed water activity on the beautiful South Padre Island Bay.
To rent a Jet Ski click here
The best way to see the beautiful island from the bird's eye! Go parasailing and fly up high and enjoy the view. This is a great activity for the family and can rotate whose on the boat and whose up in the air. make sure to tell your guide if you want to take a dip or not!
To book parasailing tickets click here
Kayaking is another great way to enjoy a leisure activity while staying cool on the water and enjoying the beautiful view. You can rent a kayak or bring your own, also bring snorkel gear and jump off to explore underwater.
To rent a kayak click here
For paddle-boarding class or camp with SPI Sessions click here
For paddle-boarding rental click here
If riding a big yellow banana is your thing, you can enjoy this ride in South Padre Island too. Guaranteed to get wet. Multiple times.
To book your ticket for a Banana Boat ride in SPI click here
South Padre Island is known to be one of the best places to learn how to kite surf so no wonder so many people from all over the world are coming here for this! The bay area offers shallow water and great wind for beginners, while the more advanced kite surfers can go catch some epic waves on the ocean side or deeper areas of the bay.
To take a tike Surfing/ Kite Boarding lesson click here
What a better way to see the island than from the water, on your own private catamaran, relaxing while working on your tan, go snorkeling, watch the dolphins, or catch the beautiful sunset, or even a night sailing to see the fireworks. This is a great option to get away from the crowds and go on a more private excursion for 30-40 people max. Some options may even include live on-board music and a private chef preparing fresh food on board just for you. This would be a sailing trip you won't forget!
For more info about private catamaran cruises click here
South Padre Island is surrounded by so many fish it almost seems deliberately built to hold them. From ship channels to reefs, oil rigs, and Laguna Madre of course, the water around SPI has been shaped and decorated to attract as many fish as possible. Being the most southern point in the country, there are types of fish you can't find anywhere else! From bay fishing to deep water fishing, there are so many great options so taking a fishing trip is highly recommended. There are many different options for fishing trips from kids friendly ones, to more adult party style, private or semi-private, day trips or night trips, fishing from a pier or jetties or going out on a kayak or boat, and so on. So make sure to check out all the different options and pick the fishing trip that best suits your needs.
To book a fishing trip click here
The South Padre Island Farmers Market is a great place to stock on fresh fruits & veggies, jam, cheese, eggs, baked goods, and seafood! Open every Sunday 11am-1pm and located at The Shores 8605 Padre Blvd. My personal favorite is the fresh sourdough bread paired with the yummy cilantro sauce. It’s so good!
For more info about the SPI Farmers market check out their Facebook page here
South Padre Island is known for the many firework shows all over the island! Mostly running between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Go have dinner and/or drinks and watch the fireworks show!
A few business around town do firework shows and the most known ones are:
The pier behind Clayton's Beach Bar & Courtyard By Marriott Hotel at 9pm every Friday & Saturday.
Louis Backyard/ Entertainment District - at 9:15pm every Tuesday.
This is my personal hidden gem that I absolutely love! K's Beads is a small bead store where you can get hair wraps, and buy jewelry and beads and make your own. Mary, who’s been working at this store for over 30 years, is the sweetest lady and will help you make a necklace or bracelet so you can think about how much you miss SPI every time you wear it. A great indoor activity in case you are looking to escape the heat or the rain.
For directions to K’s Jewelry & beads store click here
If you're looking to take the kids somewhere other than the beach, this park offers great options. Featuring a playground, skate park and even basketball court and grassy area to play catch. We love visiting this park with our kids.
For directions to John L Tompkins Park click here
Check out more things to do in South Padre Island, TX here
Favorite Restaurants & Bars in South Padre Island, Texas
Bayside Restaurants With Sunset views & Live Music
Located right on the bay, near the entertainment district and is a great place to have a cocktail & light dinner and watch the sunset while enjoying live music. At night this place comes alive with more live music and a dance floor. We personally weren't very impressed with the food here but the music & vibe is definitely great!
For directions to Tequila Sunset click here
Another great bayside restaurant with great views, and live music. They have a full menu and cocktail options and at night the dance floor is filled with people dancing. It’s a fun place to catch the sunset and/or the bayside fireworks on Tuesdays.
For directions to Longboard click here
Louie’s backyard has so much to offer! This huge located is right on the bay with beautiful sunset views. They have a restaurant with a full menu and bar, buffet options, multiple bar areas, and a big club-like area for parties with a DJ. They also do an amazing fireworks show every Tuesday from memorial day to labor day. Food here is decent, not the best on the island but they make up for it with all the other things they offer. Our personal favorite dish is their fish tacos.
For directions to Louie’s Backyard click here
This bayside restaurant shares the same kitchen as the next door Louie’s backyard, so they offer a smaller set of dishes. Much smaller and intimate and often have live music playing. You can sit right on the dock and enjoy the breeze and views. Our favorite is their fish tacos (same as from Louie's backyard).
For directions to Driftwood Landing click here
Small shack in a great location right in the middle of the entertainment district, on the bay docks with laid back atmosphere, live music, offering burgers and seafood, and a full bar and of course the beautiful bay views.
For directions to Laguna Bobs click here
Pier 19 is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but what they are most known for is their Texas size cinnamon roll! It’s giant! They also have pancakes, waffles, omelets etc for breakfast, and have many American flair options for lunch & dinner. And the views of being right on the water are just amazing!
For directions to Pier 19 click here
Small local café with yummy crepes (both sweet & savory) and great coffee. Take it to go, or stay for a while. Their WIFI is decent too, and they have a cool sofa seating area so you can often find local working remote from this coffee shop.
For directions to Café Karma click here
This cute laid back restaurant is only open daily from 8am to 2pm and offers breakfast & lunch dine-in & pickup. Serving eggs, pancakes, sandwiches, coffee and mimosas! My personal favorite is their eggs Benedict.