Hotel on the Gulf of Mexico with Premier Indoor Waterpark
For more than 30 years, the Schlitterbahn name has been synonymous with cutting-edge waterparks. The company introduced the world's first surfing ride and uphill water coaster in the early '90s, and has pocketed an impressive number of Golden Ticket Awards from Amusement Today, including the award for best waterpark in the country 15 years running. At the newest addition to the Schlitterbahn brand—the 80,000-square-foot indoor park at South Padre Island—aquatic attractions such as a retractable roof, two 70-foot-tall tube slides, twin tidal-wave rivers, a large kid’s play area, saltwater pool, and two man-made beaches are open weekends year-round. Other family-friendly amenities at the Schlitterbahn Beach Resort South Padre Island include spacious guest rooms for overnight stays, beachfront restaurants, and a three-story gaming area.
The hotel sits on the Gulf of Mexico, which are known as some of the best spots for collecting seashells in the country. All guest rooms feature refrigerators, microwaves, and flat-screen TVs. In the lobby, you'll find a rotating 1950s carousel, target-shooting games, and wood furnishings made from salvaged forest-fire timber. If you choose an option that comes with daily admission to the indoor waterpark, you'll be able to careen down four-and-a-half-story slides and order an exotic drink from one heated, swim-up palapa bar.
The Gulf of Mexico yields an abundance of shrimp, finfish, and shellfish, and Schlitterbahn makes the most of its location with a trio of seafood restaurants. Seaside Grill offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees, from eggs benedict to fish tacos. For lighter fare, head up to the rooftop at Sea4Ever and enjoy the panoramic views with an elegant dinner (open seasonally). At the Shrimp Haus, choose from several dozen shrimp entrees, steaks or burgers while admiring views of the Gulf of Mexico.
South Padre Island, Texas: Vibrant Marine Life and Educational Centers
South Padre Island isn't actually an 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. Because the town occupies such a narrow stretch of land (only two or three blocks wide), getting from the gulf on the east side to inland Texas on the other takes only minutes by car. Still, most visitors choose to stay near the coast and lay out on the beach, which is home to 300 types of waterfowl, 40-foot sand dunes, and rare Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Others set sail on fishing charters to seek out swordfish, blue marlin, and spotted sea trout.
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 showcasing the treasures found in three 1554 Spanish ships that sunk in nearby waters. Another, the Port Isabel Lighthouse, was built in 1852 when the low-lying Texas coast presented visibility problems for incoming ships. Today, you can climb a spiral staircase to the top for views of the causeway, Laguna Madre Bay, and Port Isabel's historical downtown.
About 4 miles north of the hotel at Sea Turtle Inc., observe endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles, an indigenous species that ranks smallest in its reptilian family. Ila Fox Loetscher, affectionately known as "The Turtle Lady," founded the nonprofit organization in 1977 and based it out of her backyard until it was transferred to the current rehabilitation and rescue center. Tours of the hospital unit include open swimming-tank observation, costumed performances, and conservation education.