sunset pier south padre island texas
Originally Posted March 2020; Modified and Migrated February 2021
Travel Date February 2019 and February 2020

For the second year in a row, we left Dallas in our motorhome, Pippi, and drove south to join the Winter Texans at South Padre Island, or SPI.

I realize our home base in Dallas has a mild winter compared to most but we enjoy flip flop and shorts weather.

My parents made the 1,600 mile drive from North Carolina in 2019 and again in 2020 to spend February in South Padre Island Texas. We took the opportunity both years to join them for some beach time.

beach south padre by Charles Golden

In 2019, we drove over a thousand miles for a one-week stay because I was still working and couldn’t be away from the office longer. I actually spent a few days working remotely so it wasn’t much of a vacation.

In 2020, we decided to stay two weeks since I didn’t have work obligations. Check out our About Us to learn how we quit full-time work in our 30s.

What is SPI known for?

South Padre is small island on the Gulf of Mexico near the Texas-Mexico border.

south padre island welcome sign

The island is a very popular college Spring Break destination in early March and a family vacation location during the summer months. However during winter, the island caters to “Winter Texans”.

What is a Winter Texan?

Winter Texans are retirees who relocate to Texas for the winter to avoid the snow and cold at their northern homes. We saw a lot of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Canadian license plates during our time in South Padre.

Why should people visit South Padre Island during the winter?

South Padre Island is a great place to escape winter. The southern location usually has a mild winter. It is not tropical weather but SPI is much warmer than the majority of the country. The temperate locale attracts Winter Texans for long-term stays from November to March.

palm tree in south padre island texas

What is the weather in South Padre Island?

While in SPI the temperature ranged from 55 to 75 degrees but 55 and cloudy is a very cold day on the beach with the constant sea breeze.

I wore jeans and short sleeves most days but was able to enjoy a few sunny days on the beach.

sea gulls on beach

The weather in early February is still a bit cool for a traditional beach vacation spent under an umbrella with a frosty beverage.

We had more good weather than bad and I was able to spend many hours in shorts reading on the beach.

Can you swim at South Padre Island in the winter?

I saw others on the beach swimming and frolicking in swim suits; my Southern blood didn’t think it was warm enough for my swim suit. The ocean temperature was in the mid-60s during our visit.

wind surfer giving a show to winter texans staying in oceanfront condos

Is South Padre Island worth visiting?

South Padre has a little something for everyone and is definitely worth a visit.

Is South Padre Island expensive?

South Padre Island can be experienced with a variety of budgets.

Most restaurants and bars in South Padre have happy hour and/or early bird dinner specials. Grocery shopping in nearby Port Isabel and cooking at home is the least expensive option.

Many condos can be rented by the month reducing the nightly rate drastically. Camping is the most affordable way to experience South Padre.

Are South Padre shops open for Winter Texans?

Everything is open for business in South Padre in the winter. Winter Texans provide a lot of economic stimulus to the area. However, we did find shops and restaurants had earlier hours in winter than they did in summer.

What is there to eat in South Padre Island?

We cook the majority of our meals at home but like to support local businesses by eating out occasionally.

In this instance, we dined out a little more than usual because we were visiting my parents who enjoy dining out. We found several good places to eat in South Padre.

South Padre Island has an abundance of restaurant choices and many have daily dinner specials. Here are a few of our favorites:

Kelly’s Irish Pub

Kelly’s Irish Pub has different early bird dinner specials each day of the week. We enjoyed the corned beef and cabbage and fish and chip dinners.

South Padre Island Brewing

South Padre Island Brewing offers early bird specials which aligns with their happy hour beer specials. The dinner specials include ribs, grilled chicken, and standard American dishes. The food was good but not very memorable.

Shrimp Haus

Shrimp Haus is located on the opposite end of SPI from Andie Bowie. They offer daily lunch specials for under $10. Shrimp Haus is part of an oceanfront water park complex and provides great ocean views. The food was good but not very memorable.

Painted Marlin

Painted Marlin is located on the sound side of the island and has daily drink specials. It is one of the newest restaurants on SPI. We enjoyed the seafood lunch specials and the bay views from the outdoor deck.

pelican on dock south padre island texas

Ceviche Ceviche

Ceviche Ceviche is a really popular fresh food counter-service establishment in South Padre serving ceviche. The South American seafood dish is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in fresh citrus juices. Ceviche is popular is South Texas but it’s not for everyone. You can chose your ingredient mix or select one of the recommended combos. The portions are large so I would recommend sharing a bowl with crackers or chips.

Louie’s Backyard

Louie’s is a large restaurant complex. The upstairs bar offers daily dinner specials and we personally enjoyed the popular wing night. The downstairs dining room offers a more expensive steakhouse type menu including a buffet with prime rib and crab legs. The buffet is not cheap but the upstairs bar offers a variety of less expensive options.

Most restaurants and bars in South Padre had happy hour and/or early bird dinner specials so dining out on a budget is possible.

Drinking on a Budget in South Padre Island

For some reason, everywhere serves Busch Light cans for $2 including tax. We did not completely understand why people chose to drink Busch Light but it was a common theme around town. Other drink specials are available but vary based on time of day.

Claytons Beach Bar

Claytons is a large oceanfront beach bar. They offer cheap beers, frozen fruity drinks, and every beverage in between. It is walking distance from Andy Bowie and had live music most afternoons. Clayton’s food menu is limited to snack bar-type options such as nachos, burgers, fries, and wings.

claytons beach bar is busy in the afternoon with winter texans enjoying cheap drinks and live music

South Padre Island Brewing Happy Hour

We enjoyed $3 happy hour (4p-7p) pints at South Padre Island Brewing Company. They had a good variety on our visit, including five house brews.

Cheap Drinks in South Padre: Shrimp Haus Margaritas and PBR pints at Kelly’s

For cheap drinks I enjoyed $3 margaritas at Shrimp Haus and Kevin enjoyed $2 PBR pints at Kelly’s Irish Pub.

Camping at South Padre

South Texas is a popular winter location for RVers. South Padre Island has three campgrounds including one private park, South Padre Island KOA, and two county parks, Isla Blanca or Andy Bowie.

Andie Bowie is located in a less busy area of the island and we really enjoyed the quiet. As usual, monthly rates at Andy Bowie are more economical than daily rates. The park is small so advance reservations are highly recommended.

We dry camped at Andy Bowie County Park. At the time of our visit, we paid $20 per night to dry camp at Andy Bowie. This was the cheapest campground on the island at that time.

Free camping is also allowed on the northern beaches of the island in the winter. Access is via beach access #5 or #6.

Beach conditions can be challenging for some vehicles so I recommend scouting first. We wanted to be closer to my parent’s condo, local restaurants, and bars so we chose Andy Bowie over dry camping on the beach.

What is Dry Camping?

Dry camping is also called boondocking. It is camping without hookups which means we did not have water, sewer, or electric connections.

This sounds primitive, but for us it is quite civilized. We have solar panels and lithium batteries for off-grid electricity and an 85 gallon freshwater holding tank.

Things for Winter Texans to do in South Padre

South Padre offers free and paid activities for varied interests.

Free Activities

My favorite free winter activities in South Padre were walking and bike riding.

Winter Texan Walking Options around South Padre Island

South Padre beaches are wide and hard-packed which is great for running or walking. I did not find a lot of whole shells on my walks but I did enjoy spending time on the beach.

fishing jetty isla blanca south padre island

Laguna Madre Nature Trail

If you prefer walking inland, the Laguna Madre Nature Trail runs from the Convention Centre to the Laguna Madre Wetlands. The boardwalk is a popular spot for observing coastal and migratory birds.

pelican in water in south padre island texas in winter

Isla Blanca Park

Isla Blanca County Park walking paths are well kept and worth visiting. Andy Bowie campground guests can visit Isla Blanca without paying the day-use fee.

My favorite sites in Isla Blanca are the fishing jetty and the El Cristo de Los Pescadores Memorial, “Christ of the Fishermen” which is dedicated to the fishermen of the island.

fishing jetty port isabel south padre island

Biking Around South Padre

The island has paved bike lanes along most of the side roads. For safety, the bike lanes are separated from automobile traffic by posts which are great for less confident or inexperienced bikers. We saw several rental bicycle options throughout the island.

Sand castles in South Padre : Sandcastle Trail

While we were working, my parents biked the Sandcastle Trail. The City of South Padre had approximately thirty sandcastles build around the island to promote tourism. They were all professionally built and the artwork is quite impressive.

sand castle south padre island

Largest Outdoor Sandcastle in the US

South Padre is also home to the largest outdoor sandcastle in the United States. The local attraction is located on a side street near Louie’s Bar and Restaurant. The sandcastle’s footprint is nearly as large as our home, Pippi.

Paid Activities in South Padre

Sea Turtle Inc

Sea Turtle Inc is a very popular attraction in South Padre Island.

sea turtle inc south padre island

Their mission is rehabilitation and conservation of all species of marine turtles. It is a great educational stop to learn about turtles and see a few up close.

turtle close up at sea turtle inc in south padre island

Allison is their #1 attraction. She was found missing three of her four fins and couldn’t swim properly. When found she was only able to swim in circles.

The center created her a prosthetic fin that acts as a rudder so she can swim in straight lines. Watching her swim is pretty cool.

allison at sea turtle inc in south padre island

South Padre Island Market Days

While in South Padre, we had a few rainy days. One rainy day aligned with the monthly Arts and Crafts Festival called Market Days. The festival is indoors and held at the Convention Center. There is a large variety of arts, crafts, and other vendors. The event benefits a local Art scholarship and I was happy to pay the few dollars admission for a good cause.

South Padre Island Farmers Market

The weekly SPI farmers market had a good selection of vendors and products. We purchased produce, fresh seafood, beauty products and a chocolate spread.

south padre island farmers market photo collage

There were several farmers selling produce for good prices. A local fisherman sold us a few pounds of fresh Gulf shrimp.

brownsville tx shrimp capital of the world

Alpaca Soaps had a booth at the SPI Farmers’ Market. Their shampoo and conditioner bars are a great way to save weight and space in the RV. As an added bonus, my usually coarse hair is super soft after use. Since our last visit to South Padre, I have ordered shampoo bars as gifts from their online store.

My final purchase was a keto chocolate almond spread that reminds me of Nutella but is sweetened with monk fruit. This spread by Raw Xocolatl was amazing. I had to restrict myself so I didn’t squeeze the whole tube directly into my mouth.

I love visiting local markets and the SPI weekly farmers market was no exception.

Things for Winter Texans to do near South Padre Island

While in South Padre Island, we visited nearby Port Isabel, Brownsville and Nuevo Progress. They are easy day trips from South Padre Island. The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is also an easy day trip if you enjoy nature tours.

Port Isabel Lighthouse

port isabel lighthouse

Port Isabel is the mainland town across the bridge from SPI. The Port Isabel lighthouse is a small attraction for those interested in lighthouses. We visited Port Isabel several times to buy groceries and supplies at the HEB and Walmart.

port isabel lighthouse and keepers white house port isabel texas

Nuevo Progresso

mexico texas border

Since we were so close to Mexico, I researched crossing the border while in South Texas. We determined our best option was the Nuevo Progreso border crossing approximately 60 miles west of South Padre.

We walked across the border for a day of exploration along with many other Winter Texans. Check out my Nuevo Progresso blog to learn a few tips and tricks for crossing the border.

Dolphin Tours in Brownsville

My parent took a half day dolphin watching tour from nearby Brownsville. The port of Brownsville is a commercial port and not very scenic. However they saw many dolphins on their trip and highly recommend it.

shrimp boats in brownsville texas

Gladys Porter Zoo

gladys porter zoo in brownsville texas

We also made a day outing to Brownsville, TX to visit the Gladys Porter Zoo. During our weekday visit, the zoo was not crowded and most of the animals were out enjoying the sunny weather.

flamingos at gladys porter zoo brownsville texas in winter
gorillas at gladys porter zoo in brownsville texas in winter
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We became annual members at the Western North Carolina Nature Center to obtain membership privileges at all AZA and ASTC participating sites. Our annual membership is less than $100 and we usually get free zoo and science museum admission in cities we visit.

On our trip to Gladys Porter Zoo, we did not have to pay the $13 admission to enjoy the morning at the zoo. If you travel and enjoy visiting zoos and science museums, I would recommend researching this type of annual membership.

giraffe selfie at gladys porter zoo in brownsville texas

Taco Capital of Texas

A few weeks before our visit, the NY Times published an article about the abundance of epic taco shops in Brownsville TX so we felt it was our duty to investigate further.

We had lunch at Marcelo’s Tacos which was a small local shop. The restaurant was not fancy (more of a lunch counter feel) but we would definitely go back.

The waitress spoke some English and we each decided to try the 4 taco lunch combo with ranchero beans and a can of soda for $5.99. The tacos and meats were superb. Our favorites were barbacoa, bibastek, and pastor.

marcelo's tacos in brownsville texas

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge: Nature Tour

laguna atascosa national wildlife refuge texas

The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is located 30 miles from SPI. I tried to book a wildlife tour but there was no availability during our two week stay. I would recommend booking in well in advance.

Luckily my parents were able to book the Habitat Bus tour after we returned to Dallas. The refuge is home to ocelots but none were spotted on their tour. They enjoyed the bird and alligator sightings and said it was a fun outing.

alligator in south texas
yellow jay in south texas
alligators at laguna atascosa in south texas
roadrunner in south texas

Is South Padre Island a good snowbird location?

South Padre Island is a great place to escape winter and the snowy, freezing north. Winter Texans will find there are several local activities to keep you as entertained or relaxed as you like.