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BEACON Senior News

Soak up the sun in South Padre

Dec 22, 2022 11:58AM ● By Victor Block

“Fish. Party. Repeat.”

Those words, printed on a South Padre Island, Texas restaurant sign refer to two of the popular pastimes there. 

SPI (as locals call it) and nearby Port Isabel also boast a long list of other things to see and do.

These activities are well known to “Winter Texans”—people primarily from the Midwest who spend several winter months soaking up the sun and fun at those twin towns nestled along the Gulf of Mexico at the Lone Star State’s southern extremity.

This is an area of outstanding beaches, a long list of both land and water activities, and intriguing historical tidbits. Both communities present the atmosphere of many beachfront locations. Hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops abound, and colorful golf carts are a popular mode of transportation. 

Much more awaits those who find their way to this fantastic destination that’s within a seashell’s throw of Mexico.


NO FISH? NO CHARGE

South Padre Island’s beaches have won well-deserved accolades, and the proximity of Mexico has influenced the local culture. After the Spanish exploration period, the area was owned by Mexico and then the Republic of Texas before becoming part of the United States. 

Visitors soon learn why the destination is a magnet for people who like to fish. The waters are so productive that one charter boat captain advertises “No fish; no charge.”

The A (antiquing) to Z (ziplining) list of activities includes many that are water-related. They range from kayaking and canoeing, snorkeling and sailing, to speeding around on a jet ski and loping along a beach on horseback. 

Birding is another attraction. At the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary, I spotted some of the 350-plus species that reside in or migrate through the area. Some have colorful names like Marbled Godwit and Semipalmated Plover.

Another expedition took me on a dolphin-watch cruise in Laguna Madre Bay. Captain Bob pointed out the first sighting as soon as we left the marina. 

Whenever someone saw a telltale fin—or better yet, a dolphin leaping out of the water—a collective “ooooh, aaaah” echoed among the passengers. 

Adding to our enjoyment was inspecting the specimens that a net had dredged up from the bay floor. Among the sea life we examined were a sting ray, several fish and shrimp.


SENSATIONAL SHRIMP

It’s no surprise that shrimp were among our catch. Those crustaceans have been the source of an industry that has thrived in the area since the 19th century. Trawlers drag their nets through the Gulf BLT sandwiches. They augment the American, Mexican and Texas-based cuisine which is included on many menus. 


HISTORY & LIGHTHOUSES

The story of shrimping is among those told at the Port Isabel Historical Museum. 

Exhibits portray the area’s past, beginning with the arrival of Native Americans and moving on to the Spanish exploration period, the Civil War and local folklore. 

The museum is housed in a historic building (built in 1899), which in the past served as a dry goods store, post office and railroad station.

Port Isabel also is home to a lighthouse, which was completed in 1853 to guide ships bringing supplies to U.S. military posts. 

During the American Civil War, it was used as an observation tower by both forces. 

Of the 16 lighthouses along the Texas coastline, this is the only one that’s open to visitors. Those who climb to the top are rewarded with dramatic 360-degree views of the land and sea. 

If clambering to the top of a lighthouse isn’t your thing, perhaps world-class fishing or relaxing on celebrated beaches is. They’re among many treats that await those who visit SPI and Port Isabel, Texas.

Visit sopadre.com and portisabel-texas.com to get some great ideas for travel!

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