About the South Padre Island, Texas Area
A resort vacation spot off the southernmost Gulf Coast of Texas, South Padre Island offers the perfect beach vacation for everyone. Once a sleepy fishing village, South Padre Island is now ranked as the one of the Top Beaches in the US by many national publications. With the 30mi. long island offering stretches of white sand, turquoise waters, and a laid back style of living, it's the place to be your self!
On South Padre Island you will find activities and ongoing events for all ages. You can be age 1 or 100 and learn the fine art of sand castle building, experience the first surfing lesson, or indulge in shopping for that special souvenir within the many stores. Beach adventures here offer families, honeymooners, Spring Breakers, and nature lovers to this area for their much needed beach getaway!
Attracting summer and holiday vacationers, winter retirees, and fisherman year round, it’s the place to take it easy and slow down. Lie on the beach listening to the crash of waves and read a book, or go for it all and jump on a jet ski! On the white sandy beaches you can explore for seashells and look for those lost doubloons from the seafaring ship that has yet to be found, experience an adventure on a 4-wheeler down the dunes, or just take an easy stroll. You can watch in awe as the Sea Turtle Rescue Center releases baby turtles into the ocean at dawn. Enjoy a sunset over the bay with a glass of wine and fresh shrimp, or catch your own for dinner on one of the many fishing adventures available here.
For the outdoor enthusiasts, the Rio Grande Valley area is well known as the birding area. The Luguna Madre Nature Trail on the island is a 1,500-foot boardwalk and known locally as the birding boardwalk. Extending across four acres of the Laguna Madre bay, onlookers can see SPI's own White-Morph Redish Egret wading in the shallow waters with many others, including the Brown Booby and Yellow billed loon.
Accomodations here offer condos, beach houses, hotels and resorts to best fit your taste and your budget. There are campgrounds for parking your RV, or you can pitch a tent for that true 'camping on the beach' experience!
Deep Sea fishing trips offer the astute fisherman the opportunity to catch the big one! Or how about horseback riding on the beach at sunset? Ever thought of parasailing…or trying the banana boat to release that wild energy within you? Water enthusiasts wanting to explore the world of sea creatures have the chance to on the dolphin watching and eco tours! Aside from these adventures, those wishing to 'take it easy' can enjoy a soothing massage or a yoga class at one of the resorts.
Conventions held at the South Padre Island Convention Centre offer all the facilities you need to entertain as well as educate. Schlitterbahn Waterpark offers water activities for the adventurous and the tame.
Restaurants on South Padre Island offer a menu for all tastes, with fresh seafood abounding! For that evening margarita while watching the sun set over the water, or enjoying your dessert with the weekly summer fireworks display, there are many restaurants to choose from.
On your way to SPI before crossing the causeway, you'll venture through Port Isabel with its sea faring lighthouse built in 1852. Open to the public it offers an incredible view of the coastal area. Along with the many arts and crafts stores, ice creameries and restaurants, there are history museums and fishing guides available for all types.
And don’t forget Mexico! Just 10 miles to the border you can grab a tour bus, or hop across on your own for a day of shopping and a night of tequila! Muy bien!
Padre Island National Seashore, encompassing 130,434 acres, is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world, and offers a wide variety of flora and fauna as well as recreation.
Recorded history begins in 1519, when Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sailed past the Isla Blanca (White Island) while charting the Gulf of Mexico for Spain.
Pineda claims giants inhabited the coast, and may have been referring to the Karankawa Indians, a tall people as feisty as longhorn steers. The "Kronks", as they were nicknamed, wintered on the mainland and spent the summer on the island, living on fish and clams. Early stories portray them as cannibals who ate flesh of still-living victims or roasted their foes over campfire. This may be a myth, or cannibalism may have been a practice they learned from Spanish shipwreck victims who devoured their brethren in order to survive. We will never know since the Karankawas are extinct.
By 1521, Hernan Cortez had conquered the Aztecs, and gold and silver were being mined in Mexico and shipped to Spain. Numerous galleons laden with treasure and immigrants were blown off course to Padre Island, where they foundered on sand bars and the surf smashed their hulls.
In 1553, three ships suffered this fate and were abandoned by 300 passengers who swam to shore. After being stranded for 6 days, they were surrounded by over 100 Indians (presumably Kronks), who showered them with arrows. The castaways fled south to Mexico, but only 2 men of the 300 passengers survived the trip. Ironically, Spanish divers recovered half of the cargo of silver reales. Over the centuries, treasure hunters have found some of the gray coins that now, by law, belong to the state.
Such wealth afloat offered irresistible temptation to buccaneers who preyed chiefly on Spanish ships. Around 1800, the pirate, Jean Lafitte, who became an American hero of the War of 1812, ranged around Padre Island. Legend has it that he filled his casks with fresh water from a well dug just west of Laguna Madre. Today, the marked well lies in the quiet village of Laguna Vista, a short drive west of Port Isabel. (From Texas 100, turn right on Santa Isabel Blvd. in Laguna Vista, left on Taylor Ave., left on Fernandez and go to the end of the street).
In 1804, Padre Jose Nicolas Balli, a Catholic Missionary Priest, founded a settlement on South Padre Island called Rancho Santa Cruz where he raised cattle and horses. At the eastern foot of the Queen Isabella Causeway stands a bronze statue of Padre Jose Nicolas Balli clad in a cassock and clasping a crucifix in his right hand. In 1829, the year he died, Balli was awarded title to the Island by the Mexican government. His nephew, Juan Jose Balli, lived on the Island until 1853. Rediscovered in 1931, the site of Rancho Santa Cruz is known as the Lost City of Padre Island. Numerous Balli descendants still live in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
After Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the Anglo settlers of Texas began wanting independence for themselves. Soon revolution swept into the Valley and Mexican troops massed at Matamoros. On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston's forces annihilated the Mexican army led by General Santa Ana in the Battle of San Jacinto, and the Republic of Texas was born.
Two residents of the new republic were notable castaways whose schooner ran aground on Padre Island. John Singer, brother of the sewing machine magnate, and his wife, Johanna, built a home of driftwood on the site of Rancho Santa Cruz in 1847. When the Civil War engulfed the Island in 1861, the pro-Union Singers buried approximately $62,000 in coins and jewelry before leaving. At the end of the war in 1865, they returned to find that shifting sand had concealed their hiding spot. The coins and jewelry still lie buried in an unmarked sand dune known as Money Hill.
Friction between Mexico and Texas did not end when the United States annexed the republic in 1845. President James Polk sent troops to Texas under the command of General Zachary Taylor. In 1846, fighting broke out around Point Isabel (now Port Isabel), but the Americans prevailed there and later at Palo Alto, Matamoros, Reynosa and Monterrey. The Mexican War success propelled Taylor to the office of President of the United States.
In 1861, when Texas seceded from the Union, the federal Navy moved to blockade the Padre Island coast, hoping to stop the flow of Confederate cotton and European guns. Fighting continued on both land and sea throughout the war. The last battle took place in May 1865, a full month after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, within earshot of South Padre Island at Palmito Hill. Ironically, the Confederates beat the Yankees in the final battle of the Civil War, sending them back to nearby Brazos Island.
Many changes have occurred since the last battle was fought. In 1964, the Port Mansfield Gulf Channel was completed, which separated South Padre Island from Padre Island forever. In 1974, the 2.5 mile long Queen Isabella Causeway, the longest bridge in Texas, was completed, and paved the way for the development that you see today. When you cross the Causeway as a tourist, you may, like the Singers and Padre Balli, decide to stay. It is said, that once you drink water from the Rio Grande, you will always come back, whether for a visit, or a lifetime.
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