I visited South Padre Island for a half day about a year ago, just to check out the beach and liked it enough to go back again this year for a month! It's located in South Texas, right on the Gulf Of Mexico and is on the same latitude as Miami! The difference from being on the island or being in Florida was that I felt like I was suddenly living the 60's all over again!
South Padre Island is in a sub-tropical climate, so in winter you can often get by with shorts and a t-shirt. However, the odd cold front reaches down that far and then you have to wear jeans and a jacket. (Of course, the cold is made worse by the fact that the land for hundreds of miles around is totally flat Texas prairie or swamp on one side of the island and of course, the Gulf on the other.)
Therefore, when the wind blows, it really howls!
Where I live, when the weatherman says "Winds gusting to 35 mph", he means winds from 0 to 35. On South Padre, when he says that he means from 30 to 35 mph! (It's great for kites if you're into them however.)
So, the weather's good usually and the beach is easily accessible. (South Padre Island is only a half a mile wide at its widest, with the beach on one side and the Laguna Madre on the other - that's kind of like an inland waterway.) However, the thing I really like about the island is that it is like a trip back to the 60's.
First of all, the prices - $2 for a can of beer or a draft, $2.50 for a "well drink", $3 for a 20 oz. Margarita! I haven't seen these prices in Canada since the 60's. Of course, that's usually what they charge during "Happy Hour" but their "Happy Hours" last for half a day (or longer) in most places.
Secondly, food is also cheap and includes tons of seafood as this is the "Shrimp Capital Of Texas". Some bars have FREE hot food Monday to Friday and one restaurant had FREE food one afternoon to thank all "Winter Texans" for vacationing on the Island! (Thank you Padre Rita's Grill.)
Thirdly, I should also mention that there is a FREE bus service that covers all of the city of South Padre Island and 20 miles of the mainland from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm every day and you can flag down a bus from anywhere along their route and get off wherever you want. It's usually 1/2 hour between buses, so you can time them pretty well. (The island is only 1/2 mile wide at its widest so it's easy to get to anywhere you want to go.)
Part of their route also includes Port Isabel (on the mainland side of the bridge) so you can go there if you want as it also has some great bars and restaurants, or continue on into downtown Brownsville (quite a big city on the Rio Grande) or to the Brownsville airport. So, needless to say, transportation is cheap as well as food and drink!
There's also entertainment in most of the bars and many restaurants. That was more prevalent when I was younger. Individuals or small groups playing 60's and 70's country classics and old rock and roll can be found all over the island. Sing along with Cactus Willie or The Coyote Brothers, (if you can see them through the smoke!) Yes, this is the only drawback, they allow smoking in the bars. I haven't seen that for decades around my neck of the woods and that was another reason I felt I was "back in the 60's again".
There are a lot of outdoor patios however and I don't recall restaurants allowing smoking (at least indoors). By the way, the largest outdoor beach bar in Texas is on South Padre Island - a place called "Claytons". So, smoking can be mostly avoided if you so desire.
I rented 1/2 a duplex for about $1,000 for a month in January and February and like any place, you can spend a lot more or you can spend less. The Motel 6 near me often advertised rooms for $29.95 per night for example and if you book any place on the island for more than 30 days, you save 14.5% tax! Next year I'll likely go back for 2 months and stay in a hotel with free breakfasts, pool, hot tub, maid service, in-room microwave and fridge and washers and dryers on every floor, for about the same price!
Their busiest time of the year is the 3 weeks in March when 100,000 college kids invade the place for their "break" and prices escalate. I've heard that it gets so busy that the bridge to the mainland often turns into a parking lot! If you're going to school, get down there for the party. If you're not, you might want to avoid the craziness and visit before or after March!
I like the place. (That's why I'm going back next year.) I was just rising up the ranks in the weekly Euchre tournament at Louie's Backyard bar when I had to leave. I had found a local coffee bar that roasted their own coffee (The Grapevine). I went to Winterfest - a day of Texas bands, $1 beer and shrimp dinner at the Schlitterbahn Beach Resort for $15! And, did I mention - a night at the movies was $6 for a senior.
What can I say? If you've got some free time next winter, come on down to South Padre Island and relax!
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