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South Padre Island and Port Isabel Travel Guide

This Infamous Spring Break Destination in Texas Is Actually a Creator Incubator

PHOTO: South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau

Texas' South Padre Island is so much more than just drinking and beaches.

The subtropical island of South Padre Island in Texas lies 20 miles away from the Mexican border, revealing the true meaning of “Tex-Mex.” With plenty to do for people of all ages, from dolphin-watching to bar-hopping, South Padre Island (SPI) is one of the best beach towns in Texas.

Before this trip, I had never been to Texas. I’ve had friends and family move there, calling me while sitting on their lounge chairs near the community pool in their new neighborhoods, so I expected warmer temperatures when I arrived in one of the most popular spring break spots in America. Instead of spending days on the beach and trying to find the sweet spot between a tan and a burn, somehow, I found myself bird-watching on South Padre Island in a bomber jacket and sneakers, shivering and eventually heading back into the warm indoors of the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau

It was cold (I cannot express this enough), so the usual spring break activities were out of the question, but this opened us up to a completely different experience on the island. The main thing about this island that truly surprised me was the amount of art, artists, and galleries there were. The art on this island goes against what you would think is possible to do in a hot, humid, and hurricane-prone climate. While walking up Main Street, there were large sandcastle sculptures along the way. Immaculate and rather impressive, my overwhelming thought was that it’s insane that these sculptures survive through rain and shine. With around 30 sand sculptures made by professional sand artists placed around the island, The Sandcastle Trail is a concept I spent hours trying to wrap my head around, consistently asking the locals how this is possible, while they nonchalantly told me the process of how these sculptures are made.

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While still trying to take in the concept of this impossible art, I ran into overwhelmingly oversized fiberglass sea turtles. One thing about me: I am terrified of turtles. It’s a strange phobia, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, but these turtle installations around the island were something that anyone can appreciate. These turtles are painted by local and professional artists and create the Sea Turtle Art Trail on the island. Each one is unique and shows the creative possibilities that the nature of this island inspires.

From a large wooden turtle to a painted turtle that guards a storefront, the Sea Turtle Art Trail is a treat for the eyes of all ages. This trip was really an unexpected moment where I had to face one of my pettiest fears. And of course, the turtle sculptures weren’t enough, I spent a few hours at  Sea Turtle Inc. Sea Turtle Inc. is a sanctuary for sea turtles within the Gulf of Mexico. Falling temperatures in the winter can attract hundreds of turtles looking for refuge in the cold, and Sea Turtle Inc., along with help from other businesses on the island, makes sure to create a safe haven for these creatures who call the Gulf home. This would’ve been a normal trip to see the sea turtles, but once again, it was cold, so a lot of turtles were seeking refuge. I learned more about turtles than I ever thought I would, and it helped me understand how the wildlife on this island inspires the community and its artists.

The most exciting parts of this frigid trip were the moments that were inside. When we got into the warm indoors of The Art Business Incubator, we were all greeted by artists from all over the world, practicing different mediums for the residency program there. We were able to take one of the many workshops and classes hosted for the public to try creating art inspired by their surroundings. They accept five to six artists a year for their program, where an artist can have gallery and studio space on the island at no expense. The island becomes the inspiration for the artists, and some stay and create their own galleries or exhibits after the program.

South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau

Where to Eat and Stay

Before going to check out all the amazing art and wildlife that the island has to offer, stop by Yummies Bistro for amazing omelets, glittering mimosas, and the fluffiest buttermilk pancakes you’ve ever seen. End the long day at the Painted Marlin Grille and watch the sunset on the dock from your table for the evening. Looking for a place to stay? Try out the Courtyard by Marriot South Padre Island, the newest resort on the island. With beautiful views, beach access, multiple restaurants and bars, and a saltwater pool, this resort is perfect for families and business travelers alike.

INSIDER TIPTake pictures with the turtle installations along the Sea Turtle Art Trail to receive a free t-shirt from the Island Visitor Center.

This island has a lot to offer for people of all ages. Whether this becomes your next spring break spot, an artist outpost, a place to escape the cold winters of the north, or simply just a family or solo vacation, you’ll find something distinctly surprising on South Padre Island.

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