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Affordable Family Vacation on South Padre Island, TX

photo credit: sons of the beach
photo credit: sons of the beach

As the mother of a 12 year old girl and a five year old boy, journalist and blogger Melissa Zamora is uniquely qualified to share her insider insight into family vacations on this subtropical Island on the southern tip of Texas. Here’s what she recommends to visiting families:

“First of all, there’s our beaches, with sugar-cookie colored sand and warm blue waters. The quality of South Padre Island’s beaches is famous, making us a fixture on many ‘top beaches’ lists. Men’s Fitness calls us ‘one of the top ten beaches in the U.S.’ Conde Nast Traveler calls us ‘one of the top 30 Island beaches in the world.”

Beyond the beach, one of the best things about South Padre Island is that there are so many free and low-cost activities for families. Here are a few of Zamora’s insider tips:

  • See giant sea turtles up close at Sea Turtle Inc., a non-profit rescue and education facility. Admission is a suggested $2 donation.
  • Enjoy free Friday night fireworks throughout the summer, with extra shows on summer holidays.
  • The Sea Life Nature Center, across the Laguna Madre Bay in Port Isabel, offers a glimpse of the area’s marine wildlife and ecosystems. Admission is a $3 suggested donation to help with this non-profit’s operating costs.
  • Go on an alligator watch at the 45,000 acre Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-minute drive from South Padre Island. This federal preserve is also home to deer, javelinas, snakes and other native creatures, and the park entry cost is minimal.

And a few insider tips on other popular activities:

  • Sand castle lessons. Some beach-front hotels will offer free lessons in the summer. The Island has several master sand sculptors who provide group lessons by the hour.
  • The Island’s newest attraction, Black Dragon Cruises, lets kids of all ages become pirates for a couple of hours. A motley crew of pirates entertain guests with stories, face painting, a treasure hunt, water pistol battle, sword fighting, music and more aboard a replica of a Spanish galleon.
  • Surfing from preschoolers to adults. If your kids have ever dreamed of surfing, this is the place. Gentle waves and shallow water create a great venue for learning to surf. One Island surf school offers lessons to kids as young as 3 (swimming is not a prerequisite!).
  • Schlitterbahn Beach Water Park. Schlitterbahn is consistently rated as one of the country’s top water parks. Highlights here include uphill water coasters and a 5-story tall sandcastle. Here’s an insider tip for those trying to cut costs: the park allows you to bring your own coolers, food and drink.
  • Dolphin-watching is a blast – hundreds of them live in the waters surrounding the Island year-round. The Island offers several dolphin watching tours that cost under $15 for children.

Find great rates on hotels in South Pardre Island!

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