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3-Star Top-Secret South Padre Island Hotel
This 3-star hotel lies in a scenic spot between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre on South Padre Island. A 5-minute walk in either direction brings you to the waterfront, where you can swim, sunbathe, and watch shorebirds flit along sandy beaches. Head to the nearby Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge for more wildlife-viewing opportunities; it’s home to kemp’s ridley sea turtles and more than 400 species of birds.
- Studio suites boast LCD TVs, microwaves, mini refrigerators, and free WiFi.
- Go for a swim in the outdoor pool, which is shaded by palm trees. There’s also a hot tub.
- Worth visiting: Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historical Park (4 miles away) and Sea Turtle Inc (3 miles), a rehabilitation center for sick and injured sea turtles
South Padre Island, Texas: Vibrant Marine Life and Educational Centers
South Padre Island isn’t actually an independent island—it’s the name given to the resort town on the southernmost point of Texas’s much larger Padre Island, which stretches nearly 130 miles along the Gulf of Mexico. The town is linked to mainland Texas by a single bridge, the Queen Isabella Causeway. Because it occupies such a narrow stretch of land—at its broadest point, South Padre Island is only a few blocks wide—getting from the Gulf on the east side to Laguna Madre on the other takes only about 10 minutes on foot. Many visitors spend their vacations laying out on the area’s sandy beaches, which are home to more than 300 types of waterfowl, lofty sand dunes, and the occasional kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Others set sail on fishing charters to seek out swordfish, redfish, and spotted seatrout.
For a better understanding of the area’s history and culture, head across the causeway to the Museums of Port Isabel. The complex encompasses three facilities, including one that showcases the artifacts found in three 1554 Spanish ships that sunk about 30 miles north of Port Isabel. Another, the Port Isabel Lighthouse, was built in 1852 when the low-lying Texas coast presented visibility problems to incoming ships. Today, you can climb a spiral staircase to the top for views of the causeway, Laguna Madre, and Port Isabel’s historic downtown.
On the northern end of South Padre Island at Sea Turtle, Inc., you can observe endangered kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which the organization rescues, rehabilitates, and releases at nearby beaches. Ila Fox Loetscher, affectionately known as “The Turtle Lady,” founded the nonprofit organization in 1977 after spending more than 10 years rehabilitating sea turtles in her South Padre Island home.