Whether man-made or natural, the charms of South Padre Island are pretty much impossible to resist. Venturing into the natural and man-made wilds of South Padre Island.
Day 1 This won’t be true for long, though, as we are nearly to Padre Island, which boasts one of the longest expanses of sandy beach in the world. Located a short distance from Mexico and named for the priest who turned the unclaimed strip into a cattle ranch in the early 1800’s, Padre stretches 130 miles and has a split personality.
The northern end is known for its protected national seashore, which is almost as wild and isolated as when the Karankawa made camp there. The southern tip, our destination, is associated with a different kind of wildness: that of rowdy spring breakers who come to raid the bars of their frozen drinks and the souvenir shops of their neon tees.
North toward Clayton’s (6900 Padre Blvd., 956-761-5900), allegedly the biggest beach bar in the state. Yet as thirsty as we are, once out of the car, we instinctively walk right past the drinks and straight for the shoreline, baptizing our bare feet in the surf.
A twelve-story hotel on Padre’s south end—we make for the pool, passing the giant frog with a red slide for a tongue on our way to the swim-up bar.
Day 2 Our arrival at Sea Turtle Inc. (6617 Padre Blvd., 956-761-4511), an open-air rescue center, is fortuitously timed. Allison, the resident one-flippered celebrity, has on her carbon-fiber prosthesis and has just been released into a large tank for her daily three-hour constitutional.
Our next spot, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center (6801 Padre Blvd., 956-243-8179), is just half a block over, but no one wants to leave the turtles (some as small as my hand, others as big as my coffee table)—until we hear promise of a possible alligator sighting.
That other elusive deity—the sun—is now out in full force. On the beach at the Pearl, we rent four lounge chairs and set up camp under two umbrellas. Over the next few hours, I alternate between dips in the surf and shaded catnaps.
Day 3 Scanning the Gulf shore for seashells, we crave—what else?—seafood. If any of us were skilled fishermen, we could take advantage of the “you hook it, we’ll cook it” policy at Pier 19, a long yellow box on stilts. The small boat fits six in addition to our captain and his trusted scout, Gorgi, who has four legs and better hearing than the rest of us.
On our return, we cross underneath the causeway, and I feel glum knowing we’ll soon be back on the mainland and heading home. Of course, the guy at the rental car company did say we could always extend our reservation. I think that’s exactly what we’ll do.