South Padre Island
Twenty-six miles or so northeast of Brownsville via Hwy-48 and the Queen Isabella Causeway, South Padre Island provides a strong contrast to the sleepy, historic towns of the Rio Grande Valley. Only the southernmost 5 miles of this 30-mile Gulf of Mexico barrier island are developed; sand dunes and tidal marshes dominate the remainder.
In the developed zone, multi-story 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 (mid-March), when some 200,000 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 sea shells, 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, 956/772-7873, $46 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, pool tables, 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.”