A Helpful (But Slightly Outdated) Map
When is the best time of year to visit?
Each season has something to offer..
Spring is considered the beginning of the "busy season" on South Padre Island with Spring Break kicking it off in late February until late March. "Texas Week" is the busiest week of all with college students visiting from all over Texas and beyond. Traffic can be quite intense during "Texas Week" so be prepared for long wait times while crossing the bridge. Beaches will also be pretty busy in the day, while the bars and night clubs will be hosting most of the visitors at night.
This is also a great time of year to go bird-watching! Migratory birds will spend some time in this area during the fall and spring.
Overall it is a great time of year to visit if you don't mind the extra traffic. Weather is usually fair with the exception of cold fronts that can bring gusty winds and rain for a day or two. Water in the ocean is usually in the mid - 60's and the nights will have a cool breeze requiring a long-sleeve at times.
The "summer season" on South Padre Island begins on Memorial Day Weekend (or as soon as the kids get out of school). You will find plenty of families spending their vacation here throughout the summer. The beaches are quite busy with people of all ages enjoying the warm water and sunny skies.
Weekends are the busiest by far with the Queen Isabella Causeway (2 miles) getting backed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic beginning late Friday (when people get off of work) and also starting again 11:00 A.M. on Saturday. Sunday evenings will also have heavy traffic starting at around 12:00 P.M. (hotel check-out time) and sometimes lasting up until late in the evening 9:00 P.M. People usually start to leave the beach when the sun goes down; 7:00 P.M. to 8:30 P.M.
Parking at the beach access or along Gulf Blvd. can also be scarce during this time. Make sure you make it out before 10:00 A.M. to ensure that you'll have a good parking spot.
Do also anticipate longer wait times at restaurants. Playing on the beach and swimming in the pool can definitely create a tremendous appetite. Try calling ahead if possible.
Don't forget the fireworks display over the bay every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day!!!!
The "Summer Season" officially ends with Labor Day Weekend. This is the last weekend that you'll find crowds on the beach and heavy traffic on the bridge.
The "Fall Season" on South Padre Island is by far my favorite time of year! It is considered to start right after Labor Day Weekend.
The water in the Gulf is at it's warmest and the beaches feel like they are all your own (kids are back in school now).
This is a great time for weddings on the beach and newly weds to spend their romantic honeymoon!
Everything seems to quiet down on the Island with restaurants catering more to locals and a few visitors here and there.
Fall is historically the best time of year for surfing on South Padre Island as the peak of the hurricane season/tropical activity in the Gulf of Mexico is right around mid-September.
The "Winter Season" starts when the first major cold front hits South Padre Island. This can be from early November to sometimes mid-December. It is not uncommon to be swimming in the ocean in mid-December!
The cold fronts usually bring in very strong north winds and rain at times. It can get pretty miserable and gloomy for a few days, but doesn't usually last too long. Sunny skies always appear one or two days after the front makes it way.
We get many visitors from up north even as far as Canada that prefer to spend their winters here instead of shoveling snow every day back home. They are known as "Winter Texans". Some even decide to spend the rest of their lives down here and forget the snow all together.
What about red tide?
Red tide is a naturally-occurring, higher-than-normal concentration of the microscopic algae Karenia brevis (formerly Gymnodinium breve). This organism produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish so that they are paralyzed and cannot breathe. As a result, red tide blooms often result in dead fish washing up on Gulf beaches. When red tide algae reproduce in dense concentrations or "blooms," they are visible as discolored patches of ocean water, often reddish in color.
The eye and throat irritation caused by red tide results from high concentrations of the algae and rough surf. These conditions cause the red tide's irritant to become suspended in the air in the salt spray. There is typically little or no irritation when surf conditions are relatively calm. In most red tides in Texas, these conditions vary a lot within the space of days or even hours. As a result, the same part of the beach may have irritating conditions in the morning and those conditions may be gone by afternoon. On a calm day, even with red tide in the surf zone, many people can enjoy the beach because there is not a lot of salt spray from the surf carrying irritant to the beach. The best advice for beach visitors is if they feel effects in an area, leave that area and try another one. Some local authorities will post signs on beaches that they manage. Be aware of all beach warnings when visiting the beach.
Texas red tides have occurred from August through February. They typically begin in the Gulf of Mexico. Currents and winds then transport blooms toward shore. The blooms mainly come up along Gulf beaches, and less frequently into bays and estuaries.
It's almost impossible to say exactly where the red tide is at any given moment, because blooms constantly expand and contract and move around in response to winds and tides. It's important to realize that red tides are typically isolated patches that don't blanket every stretch of beach. They often concentrate around wind- or tide-protected areas like man-made jetties.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has set up a menu item on its main toll-free information line to provide regularly updated reports on the current red tide event. Phone 800-792-1112, press 4 for fishing, then 9 for red tide information. Red tide updates will also appear on this website Red Tide Info.
It's usually okay to eat fish, crabs and shrimp during a red tide bloom because the toxin is not absorbed into the fleshy tissues of these animals. This advice from the Texas Department of State Health Services is based on the assumption that only the "edible" portions are being consumed (the fillet or muscle). Keep in mind that you should never eat fish found sick or dead, whether or not they are caught during a red tide.
Where are hospital and medical clinics?
South Padre Island has a walk-in clinic available for minor emergencies.The South Padre Island Clinic is located at 3808 South Padre Blvd, near Lantana Dr. There are larger hospitals located further inland.
Are there jobs in South Padre?
South Padre is primarily a tourism and rental market with associated service jobs. There is no other industry to speak of, and the food and retail business is seasonal. The Port of Brownsville is located only 30 minutes away and is a large shrimping port. Spacex is building a large Private Spaceport at the southern tip of the South Padre area (Boca Chica beach). This will no doubt bring high tech/aerospace jobs to the area by the time it is operational in 2016.
South Padre Island Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Are dogs allowed on the beach?
Yes, South Padre Island is very dog-friendly! Dogs are allowed on the beach at any time of day. But they must be on a leash and you must pick up after your pet.
There are also many dog-friendly restaurants in South Padre Island. Most places with an outdoor patio allow dogs. I suggest calling to ask before you go.
Are glass containers allowed on the beach?
No, glass containers are not allowed on the beach.
Are bonfires allowed on the beach?
It is now illegal to have an open fire on the beach within the city limits so make sure if you are going to have a bonfire on the beach it is in the North Beach area. Fires are not allowed behind dunes.
Can I drive on the beach?
Here is some good information and advice if you are interested in driving on the beach...
"If you want to drive on the beach at South Padre Island, Access #6, about 2 1/2 miles north of access #5, is free. But it is often in very bad condition, with soft loose sand. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, don't enter through here.
It is better to pay $3 to enter at beach access #5. (Atwood Park) This is located north beyond the built-up area. The access ramp is usually well-packed down here. They usually don't collect money after about 4 pm, and don't check exiting vehicles.
There is a rag-tag towing operation know by the locals as “The Vulture”. He usually lies in wait in the vicinity of access #6, for unsuspecting tourists to get stuck. He fees seem to vary by how desperate a situation the stuck vehicle is in. (If the vehicle is about to be swept away in the surf ; reportedly, $500 for 15 minutes of his work) But this is probably better than losing your vehicle.
It is possible to drive north all the way to the “Mansfield Channel”, about 27 miles north of access #5. For tourists, this is probably only for 4-wheel drive. But for the record, I have often seen 2-wheel drive vehicles here.
Start a couple of hours before low tide, so the tide will be going out during your drive. Drive on the hard-packed sand down by the beach; but stay a ways back from the surf, so you aren’t down in the surf if you get stuck. It is “usually” possible to drive the beach at high tide, but there is often only a narrow strip of loose sand between the dunes and the sea; and even a 4-wheel drive will be challenged.
Lastly - but importantly; carry a jack and some boards or pieces of plywood. The most effective way of getting unstuck seems to be jacking each wheel of the vehicle up, and putting boards under each wheel. Also have a board for the jack. Before leaving home, make sure the jack will raise the vehicle high enough".
What are the different beaches like?
Here is a list of beaches with a good description of each.
Are fireworks allowed?
South Padre Island is known as "The Fireworks Capital of Texas". Many restaurants and establishments provide spectacular fireworks shows. You can even take fireworks cruises to get a great view. However, personal fireworks are prohibited within city limits.
Do I need a fishing license?
A current Texas fishing license is required to fish in the area for those ages 17 and older. You can review the state guidelines for age requirements and you can purchase your license at various stores in the South Padre Island and Port Isabel area as well as online at Texas Parks and Wildlife www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
What about seaweed?
Like all Texas beaches, South Padre experiences periodic mass landings of the free-floating algae Sargassum, commonly referred to as Seaweed. These Sargassum episodes often occur with little or no warning. They can last for weeks at a time, usually during the prime tourist season.
Scientists have developed a Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS) designed to give coastal managers as much warning as possible, allowing them to adjust their allocation of resources for the management of Sargassum landings. SEAS model uses satellite imagery to track the movement of Sargassum as it approaches each sector along the Texas Gulf Coast.
What about jellyfish?
There is not a specific jellyfish season, however most people report incidences of contact with jellyfish in the warmer months. The most dangerous stinging jellyfish is the Portuguese man-o-war, which has a purple float with tentacles dangling in the water. Lifting the tentacle from the skin and dousing the area with vinegar brings relief. A paste of meat tenderizer and vinegar applied to the stings will counteract the toxin. Do not rub the area with sand - this will only ensure that all the stinging cells fire. And remember just because the man-o-war or jellyfish is washed up on the beach does not mean that you are safe. The tentacles can still sting. Avoid stomping them or smacking them with a stick.
What about sharks?
As far as popular beaches to visit for watersports, Texas is one of safest beaches to vacation at if you have an undying fear of being attacked by a shark. The last fatal shark attack in all of Texas was in 1962. Since 1911, there has only been 34 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks along the Texas coast. Only 6 of them being in Cameron County in that 100 year span!
Florida by far has the highest amount of shark attacks – both fatal and non-fatal. Ranking in at 623 attacks! Followed by Hawaii at 102 attacks, then California with 100, South Carolina – 64, North Carolina – 41, and then Texas at 34 shark attacks.
Are golf carts allowed?
Well, the short answer is "not really". But you can call city hall at (956) 761-6456 for information on permits.
Is there any fast food?
Yes, there is a McDonald's, Whataburger, Subway, DQ, and KFC on the island.
Can I have a wedding on the beach?
Absolutely! Here is a link to all the information you need...South Padre Wedding Guide
Where are the public beach accesses and which ones have lifeguards, restrooms, ramps (wheelchair/handicap accessible)?
The beach access closest to The Georgia Ruth House is beach access #20, also called "Gay Dawn" Circle Beach Access. It is wheelchair accessible. It does not have public restrooms. It is located right at the end of Georgia Ruth Drive, just a half block away from the house.
Public restrooms and showers are located at Beach Access #3 and #11.
There are 22 public beach accesses and easy parking all along Gulf Blvd. starting from the Padre South Hotel to the Inverness Condominiums.Here is a map of the beach accesses in South Padre. Beach access map
There are no life guards on the beach so swimming is always at one's own risk.A Flag Advisory System is used on South Padre Island to inform visitors of surf conditions. Signs with flags are posted every few hundred feet along the beach. A red flag, as the one pictured, warns of high surf and dangerous currents. A yellow flag indicates calm to moderate seas. A blue flag warns of the presence of venemous marine life. Common sense should always be used regardless of any or no flag.
Of the 24 Beach access points, 18 are developed providing over 200 parking spaces with 19 of those being handicap spaces. Of the 18 developed beach access points all have a walk-over, stairs or mobi-mat with 4 being wheelchair accessible.
In early 2010 the City received 6 Mobichairs. Mobichairs are amphibious wheelchairs that are beach and surf accessible. They not only allow someone with special needs to get out and enjoy the beach but also allow them to access the water. 12 of the 24 beach accesses have mobi-mats for easier access for the handicapped. With the addition of the new Mobichairs the Texas Land Commission Jerry Patterson declared South Padre Island beaches the most accessible in Texas. To check out a mobichair please contact the South Padre Island's Fire Department at (956) 761-3040.
In addition, the City of South Padre Island also has handicapped accessibility transportation. All of the WAVE's buses meet ADA requirements and are equipped with wheelchair lifts to accommodate easy accessibility to handicapped passengers. The WAVE also offers the Paratransit service which permits the handicapped passenger to be picked up and transported to any of our beach accesses. The passenger requesting the Paratransit service must complete an application and be evaluated by a doctor. The physician will then make a determination if the passenger qualifies for the Paratransit service. To view and download the Paratransit application please click here. All applications need to be turned in at the WAVE's administrative offices at 4113 Padre Boulevard.