The state of my mind is simply “renewal” as I listen to the call of the seagulls in the early morning before sunrise. I glance over my shoulder and the creature of the sea seems to say, “Welcome to my world. Come on in, the water’s fine.” Waves are crashing lightly in the distance and my mind relaxes as the constant chatter softens. My thoughts become calmer as I plan my excursions for the day here on Texas’s best beach and your new spot in which to recharge, South Padre Island.

We began our journey into South Padre with a quick one-hour drive from Harlingen Valley International Airport. Also just 30 minutes from Brownsville, TX, we arrived for the duration of our stay at the Sapphire Condominiums Resort. The Sapphire accommodations are naturally equipped with views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre Bay that will take your breath away. Prepare to be dazzled by the beach and bay views from inside the condo alone. Earning its jewel accreditation name, the Sapphire is a true gem. A Texas two-step through the lush landscape leads you to the pristine shoreline and views of the Gulf of Mexico. Neighboring to the left is the Pearl South Padre Resort, where guests can indulge in bar facilities and amazing food at the Beachside Bar & Grill.

South Padre Island is the place where oceanside refuge for your mind, body and soul begins my friends.

Hosted by the Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Marketing and Communications Manager Alisha Workman and Marketing & Communications Specialist Jamie Wells, we dined at the Painted Marlin Grille. A bright, colorful and tropical experience, this restaurant will please every taste bud on your palate. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried an avocado fry appetizer. A bayside spot, offerings include entrees such as the “Swimmin’ Barbie Combo,”  a combination of garlic butter redfish with bourbon barbeque gulf shrimp and oysters. For dessert, the locals call it “Padre Pie,” the menu calls it “Mango Key Lime Pie,” but if divine came in a slice, this would be it. With hints of coconut, mango and key lime, this pie is an explosion of tropical flavors that said “I do” before they became a pie.

If we maximize our time during the workweek, we should also get the most from our time off. Get up early and hit the links at South Padre Island Golf Club located in Laguna Vista. The third green looking east over the Laguna Madre Bay must be felt. This course needs to be experienced first-hand, through sight, sound and smell. Around every bend and behind every hole at South Padre Island Golf Club, you’ll find the reasons this course is one of the best in the Rio Grande Valley.

Surrounded by nature, the course at SPI Golf Club is everything you need for relaxation and a perfect game. Whether you are a professional or a novice, this course is a pleasure for golfers of any skill level. The golf course will challenge you while providing a relaxing, picturesque backdrop. Test your accuracy with fairways, water hazards and sand traps; SPI Golf Club has everything you need to challenge you and improve your game. Director of Golf Operations Bracy Wilson said, “Our goal is to provide golfers with a quality experience that includes exceptional service and a comfortable atmosphere.”

Wilson also noted that during the last year and a half new ownership has put $750k back into the golf course with major expansions and improvements. One of those expansions is a new $80k restaurant which will be open by the time this article is published.

This golf club is no stranger to celebrity appeal with former NBA San Antonio Spurs point guard Johnny Moore and former Texas Longhorn quarterback Vince Young both scheduled to stay and play in the coming months. Current professional basketball player, Mike Daum for Monbus Obradoiro of the Liga ACB, is also a homeowner on the course.

SPI Golf Club’s tagline, “Stay for a night, or stay for a lifetime,” is absolutely appropriate with rental homes available for a brief stay and permanent real estate open for purchase for those who choose to make this world-class atmosphere their new home.

Butterflies, birds and alligators started our adventure off peacefully at the South Padre Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary. A beautiful guided bird walk is the perfect way to start any day, let alone a vacay day. Experienced guides took us on a peaceful tour down the boardwalk where we learned about the unique coastal habitat and its wildlife. If gators and reptiles are of interest, daily Gator Talks, photo ops, and experiences are available at the Alligator Sanctuary. They’re not as slick as you imagine — alligators are actually quite dry creatures. Naturalist Javier Gonzalez informed us that the shine we see on any reptile for that matter is a result of special oils that reside in their scales, and has no sensory feeling of slick to the touch.

Keeping in the reptile family, our next stop was at Sea Turtle, Inc. This non-profit organization’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured sea turtles, educate the public, and assist with conservation efforts for all marine turtle species. The facility serves as a hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. Our guide Jeff George told us that more than 100 sea turtles are rescued each year with the goal of returning them into the wild once their health is restored. “We monitor about 50 miles of beach from April to July searching for nests. The nests are relocated and protected in a special corral until the turtles hatch and are ready for release,” he explained.

Among the sea turtles receiving care in the hospital is Allison. “Allison is the first sea turtle with a prosthetic flipper,” George said. Allison survived an attack in 2005 with only one flipper remaining. For years, Allison could only swim in circles. In 2009, a Sea Turtle, Inc. intern designed a prosthetic device to help Allison swim. Allsion has been featured in People Magazine, as well as on the Discovery Channel and the Today Show.

As the old saying goes, and in this case it’s spot on, there’s something for everyone on South Padre Island. Make no mistake, sandcastle building is for kids — especially the kid inside every adult. We built a six-foot sandcastle with the help of Sand Castle Lessonsowner and instructor Andy Hancock. A whimsical Austrailian native, Hancock is a captivating artist/instructor certain to entertain a crowd of even the stiffest businessmen and women. Perfect for group activity, couples, girls’ day out and corporate team building, a Andy Hancock sandcastle lesson will leave you with a skill that not only leaves an impressive mark on the beach, but also leaves a smile in your heart. “If you’re building a sandcastle, you’re not thinking about your troubles,” he said. “That’s a big part of what we do here.” Sandcastle building is serious business on the Island and many of Hancock’s sandcastles and woodworking products can be found outside local restaurants and shops. I confess, that while we were building our intricate sandcastle, I lost track of time and only thought of the details I was creating. Hancock’s tagline, “We Don’t Do Boring,” is exactly why you should schedule a lesson before you come to the Island.

Just 25 miles north of the Mexican border, South Padre Island is famous for its year-round subtropical climate and moderate temperatures. Plenty of sunny days and an average temperature of 74 degrees allow every day to be a water activity day.  Our CVB host Alisha Workman said South Padre Island attracts many snowbirds, or “Winter Texans” as they call them, because of the year-round warm climate.

With a fleet of six vessels, each offering a different kind of cruise, Osprey Cruises is ready to show you around the Gulf and the Laguna Madre Bay.  Established in 1976, Osprey offers a unique range of water-based activities from fishing, sight-seeing, dolphin/bird watching, pirate adventure cruises, and dinner cruises.

At Pier 19 we took in a dolphin sightseeing cruise where we viewed several natives in their marine environment as the guide brought them in by bucket and allowed us to handle them. When was the last time you held a moving starfish? I have one word — thrilling.

There are many outdoor adventures waiting on the Island. Thrillseekers and adrenaline lovers will make lifelong memories mastering the art of flyboarding. This jetpack watercraft literally lets people fly out of the water. Wakeboarding; surfing; windsurfing, paragliding; skateboarding and sailing are all rolled into one in a kiteboarding experience. If you’re looking for that ‘big’ fish, deep waters are where they roam. There are plenty of spots for bay and offshore fishing for the experienced angler or first-timer.

Just under a 10-minute drive from the main strip in South Padre is Port Isabel, TX. The Port Isabel Lighthouse is a quick trip that you must take. Constructed in 1853, this brick tower was topped by a stationary light that could be seen from a distance of more than 15 miles at sea. With its current mercury-vapor light, the tower is still marked on sea charts as a navigation aid. Out of 16 lighthouses along the Texas coast, Port Isabel is the only one open for visitors. An insider tip — be prepared to hike a steep winding staircase that many don’t complete. The attendant told us that several tourists will attempt the staircase but few make it passed the halfway point.

From sunrise to sunset, South Padre Island’s dining options will keep your tastebuds pleased. Yummies Bistro was a perfect spot for our morning cup o’ Joe and my obligatory newspaper hunt. (Picking up a local newspaper is a small tradition I’ve set for my travels). This quaint and cheery spot is the place to find exquisite avocado toast and glorious oatmeal with fruit and nuts. Breakfast can’t get better, unless you go all-in with Ernie’s Bacon Waffle, a waffle stuffed with guess what? Bacon. I’ll say your confession for you in advance.The biggest and best burger on the Island was found at Dirty Al’s. With several other menu items to choose from including seafood fare, the Dirty Burger is a mouthwatering bite that will make your mouth say “hmmm.”

If modern cuisine with a coastal flare is what you’re after in a fine dining experience, then F&B SPI is your spot. This open and airy setting immediately envelops you into a crisp, luxury dining experience. Starting off with Mixed Seafood Fritura, the best of all worlds are combined with local red snapper, calamari and gulf shrimp. The Lobster Tagliatelle as a main course should be savored to the last bite. F&B speciality cocktails are incredible and did I mention they’ll make a private batch of freshly baked cookies if you ask? The perfect nightcap and ending to our South Padre Island excursion, “Adult Cookies & Milk” is served with chocolate chip cookies and Mozart white chocolate liqueur.

By Michelle Keller

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