Christmas Starts Early on South Padre Island

Christmas comes early on South Padre
Christmas Boat Parade photo courtesy South Padre Island

Our Christmas came early this year, as we were privileged to spend the first four days of December on South Padre Island, a barrier island at the southernmost tip of Texas. While it seldom ever snows that close to the Gulf of Mexico, we discovered that Christmas season is just as magical when celebrated with white sand instead of snow. Christmas is a joyful season on South Padre, and embraced with great enthusiasm by islanders and visitors alike.

Isla Grande Resort pool
Isla Grande Resort photo by Jo Ann Holt

My husband and I were happy to join in the holiday festivities that kicked off at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 with a Holiday Light Show near our hotel on South Padre Blvd. We stayed at Isla Grand Beach Resort near the beach, and from there it was only a short distance to view the spectacular light show put on by South Padre Island CVB. We learned this light show continues nightly until after New Year’s.

South Padre Island Adventures

While our days were packed with activities arranged by the CVB–touring wildlife preserves like Sea Turtle rescue center and the Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary, and trying local restaurants–the nights were all about celebrating Christmas and the holidays. We watched the island’s annual Christmas Parade Dec. 2, which also came down Padre Blvd. just a stone’s throw from our lovely resort cabana.

Christmas on South Padre
South Padre Island boat parade

We were really impressed with the wide variety of restaurants on the island, offering everything from seafood to Tex-Mex to Italian specialties. Yummies Bistro, a spacious, locally popular restaurant that only served breakfast and lunch, was a favorite breakfast spot in walking distance from our hotel.

Cafe on the Beach

Another great restaurant recommended by the chamber was Café on the Beach at the Palms Resort on Gulf Blvd. It was a little difficult for out-of-towners like us to find, since it’s located in back of the hotel with an open-air view of the beach, but we were glad we did. Café on the Beach features an expansive menu with gourmet items not usually found at a casual dining spot. My breakfast Eggs Florentine were superb, and I would have loved to return for lunch or dinner if we had more time.

While their lunch menu is more casual, with Blackened Shrimp Tacos, cheeseburgers and fried seafood baskets, the dinner menu sounds amazing. It features seafood dishes like cold water lobster tail, grilled sashimi grade tuna, Red Snapper Veracruz, and blackened Mahi Mahi, along with filet mignon. They also have a full-service bar that we hear is very popular.

Dolphin Watch

Other activities included a Dolphin Watch Eco-tour cruise to watch the wild dolphins who thrive in the Gulf waters at play with their families. A gala boat parade Saturday night featured a number of spectacularly decorated boats, best seen from the staging area in the Entertainment District. The district features a number of restaurants and clubs at night, while offering a Ferris Wheel, sand castle playhouse, and other family-friendly attractions for daytime entertainment.

South Padre Island cruises
Photo courtesy South Padre Island

You can book a fishing trip, or an Eco Cruise, or choose from a mind-boggling array of water activities ranging from windsurfing, kiteboarding, paddle boarding, or kayaking on the island. Visitors can also find horseback-riding excursions on the beach. Some of us are happy just strolling slowly along the white, sandy beaches, enjoying the sunshine and picking up shells. Or marveling at the elaborate sand castles built by more enterprising beachcombers. South Padre Island is known as the Sandcastle Capital of the Universe, a lofty title but one they have earned.

South Padre sandcastle
Photo courtesy South Padre Island

Art Trail

Talented local Sandcastle Masters like Sandy Feet work year round to maintain these sand sculptures. Visitors can pick up Art Trail maps at the Visitors Center to locate over 20 incredible structures that are on view. Beautifully decorated fiber glass Sea Turtle sculptures, painted by local artists, are also scattered throughout the island. These delightful creations can also be found on the Sea Turtle Trail map at the visitors’ bureau.

While you’re in the vicinity, don’t miss visiting the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse and the surrounding entertainment area with fishing piers, boutique stores, museums, and restaurants just across the Queen Isabela Causeway. We stopped for lunch there on our drive to South Padre Island from Harlingen airport, and I loved my shrimp scampi pasta at Pirate’s Landing.

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Jo Ann Holt
Jo Ann Holt is an award-winning journalist with 40+ years of experience as a writer and editor. She loves live performances, from country music concerts to Broadway musicals to community theatre productions. Holt also enjoys art and cultural festivals, and good food and wine. She’s toured Amsterdam, London, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and various cities in Mexico but looks forward to visiting even more countries. She has traveled by boat, plane, and train, but especially likes taking long road trips across the U.S. with her husband, retired history professor Durhl Caussey. They enjoy meeting friendly people, learning about different cultures, and visiting historic sites wherever they go.