Twenty-eight miles or so northeast of Brownsville via Hwy-48 and the Queen Isabella Causeway, the resort town of South Padre Island provides a strong contrast to the sleepy historic towns of the Rio Grande Valley.

Multistory hotels and condominiums line white-sand beaches on both the Gulf and Laguna Madre sides of the island. Rooms are easy to come by except during the annual spring break in mid-March, when thousands of college kids from all over Texas and the Midwest fill the hotels and beaches with round-the-clock revelry. Gift shops lining Hwy-100, the main route to “SPI,” are fronted by giant seashells, giant sharks, and a 40-foot dinosaur. The main daytime activity is sliding down the slippery chutes at the giant Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort (33261 Hwy-100, 956/761-1160, $51 and up). Drinking is legal on the beaches here—you have been warned. To dive in, try the Padre Island Brewing Company (3400 Padre Blvd., 956/761-9585) for great seafood, sports on TV, and microbrews. For spring break mayhem, another popular spot is Louie’s Backyard (2305 Laguna Blvd., 956/761-6406), a bayside bar “as seen on MTV.”