Day Trips: South Padre Island

Texas tropics really shine in the wintertime

Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

South Padre Island gradually emerged from the winter morning fog on a recent weekend as the rest of the state shivered in an arctic blast. By midafternoon, the temperature climbed into shorts weather.

Winter is an ideal time to visit the southern tip of Texas. The hotels have seasonally adjusted rates, the restaurants aren't crowded, the beaches are clean and clear, and the fish are biting in the Laguna Madre.

Despite its reputation as a spring break destination, SPI is growing up to be quite a foodie town. F&B, short for Food and Beverage, is the newest fine-dining establishment. The Sea Ranch Restaurant and the Painted Marlin Grille are reliable dining stalwarts. Pier 19 Restaurant and Bar captures the funky beach ambience with good food and a great view.

Sightseeing and fishing cruises depart from Pier 19 on the southern end of the island. Capt. Evé Garcia says more than 600 kinds of fish swim in the waters around the island in the summer, but in the fall and winter, the fish tend to be meatier.

A lifelong resident of the island, Garcia says one of the most interesting new arrivals to the area is the SpaceX spaceport across the bay at Boca Chica. "When they're testing the engines, the whole sky lights up in an orange glow," he says. 

No cruise boats take visitors out to watch the launches, but information on scheduled activity can be found at Hints that something is happening at the spaceport can be found by calling the Cameron County hotline, 956/548-9541, for information on when State Highway 4 past the launch site is going to be closed.

1,485th in a series. Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a weekly travel blog, at

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South Padre Island, Laguna Madre, F&B, Sea Ranch Restaurant, Painted Marlin Grille, Pier 19 Restaurant and Bar, Capt. Evé Garcia, SpaceX, Boca Chica

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