San Jose Island is a Hidden Gem
A Birdwatchers Guide to Rockport

South Padre Island

If you’re spending a significant amount of time in Rockport, a weekend jaunt to South Padre Island is a must do activity. The Island is a beautiful resort area with great shopping, beaches and food. Rockport offers more in the way of peace and quiet with less known beaches and trails, making it ideal for RVers and travelers looking to get away. A side trip to South Padre however is worth a few days just to see the environment and experience the destination.

Planning and Logistics

South Padre is just down the bay from Corpus Christi. You could make it a long day trip but spending a few days really opens up options for recreation while removing the stress of long hours on the road. You can also stay in Corpus Christi and do single day on South Padre Island or just stay on the island for the ultimate convenience. However you decide to approach the trip, it’s just under three hours of driving from Corpus Christi to reach the area. The highway over the bay is worth the trip in itself.

The fall in winter months are ideal with calm waters and great weather. The summer also is a great time to visit but you do risk encountering the hurricane season. Winter months are your best bet for great weather. Avoid spring break if you’re looking for a mellow atmosphere. The island is very popular during the week-long vacation period.

Coming from Rockport, you are likely driving but you can park the car and use the island shuttle services to navigate the area. Walking the island is really one of the better ways to explore

Lodging and Dining

Padre Island is a popular resort area so book ahead during the busy months. Lodging fills up quickly but the island is dotted with hotels and resorts so finding a place is typically not a problem. Finding the best rate however does require some shopping around. You will find everything from a Hilton Hotel to a more boutique resort and spa. Booking condominiums on the island is also a great option for a more private, home type space.

The dining here is all about the seafood. Don’t worry if you’re not a seafood fan as the island has great burgers and plenty of other options. The seafood really is a highlight however with everything coming fresh off the bay. TexMex and burger joints are popular as well. The Padre Island Brewing Company is a great stop for a wide variety of great food and local craft beers.  

Things to Do

After you get all settled at your lodging and fill up on lunch, it’s time to really explore the island area. There are a ton of different things to keep you busy here. It might take more than a few days to work through your favorite activities.

Spa Day – It’s hard to go wrong with an amazing massage. Head to the Sapphire Spa at the Pearl Resort or one of the many spa locations for a massage, manicure, pedicure or one of the many relaxing services being offered. The island is setup to really make for a relaxing experience. There’s nothing better than a spa day followed by a nice dinner and walk on the beach.

Walk a Nature Trail – The Laguna Madre Nature Trail is the perfect stroll through a natural, wildlife rich environment. The trails are a boardwalk that takes a few hours to navigate, longer if you really stop to watch the birds and wildlife. Keep an eye out for alligators and stay on the boardwalk to remain at a safe viewing distance.

Besides having the perfect price point of Free, the trail is pleasant and beautiful. The wetland environment attracts hundreds of bird species and you can spend all day identifying birds with a pair of binoculars. If you really want a higher vantage point, head to the viewing tower at the birding and nature center. 

Walk the island – The entire island is 2 miles wide and 2 miles long. You can walk the majority of the island and explore the different shops and attractions on foot. Break the walk into a few days and you can really see everything without rushing through the process. One really convenient option is to walk around during the day without a strict plan and simply use the shuttle service to return to your lodging at any time. The entire island is convenient and walking around is the perfect way to stretch out and enjoy the local culture. Plan a lunch stop, visit a beach and grab a beer at the brewery. Plenty of retail outlets and services are readily available across the entire island.

Marine Life – Who doesn’t love dolphins and sea turtles? The Dolphin Research and Sealife Nature Center is perfect for all ages. Take the entire family along and learn about the local marine life and ecosystems. Tanks with a number of species are on display for a close look. Educational presentations are also offered daily. Consider jumping on a dolphin tour boat at the center to head into the bay where you can view dolphins swimming around in their natural environment. The boat tours are exciting and should be considered by everyone visiting the island. Watching dolphins swim and jump through the water up close is a magical experience.

Sea Turtle Inc. is another wonderful opportunity. The organization does educational presentations, has hands on turtle identification instruction and they offer the chance to see turtles up close. It’s a very kid friendly experience and school groups are also welcome. They have a rehabilitation program and you can adopt a turtle too! The entry fee is a minimal donation and the venue is located on the north end of the island. It’s closed on Monday each week so plan accordingly.