I Spy . . . SPI
With five consecutive days off work, lots of sun in the forecast, and a desire to explore the state of Texas a little more, we did what we do best . . . we headed for the beach! And we decided if we were going to go to the beach we may as well go to a beach that is almost as far south as you can go in Texas. That would be South Padre Island or SPI! Yes, about 250 miles due south of Port Lavaca, or a four hour drive, lies the beach area known as South Padre Island. Infamously known as a Spring Break haven for Texas high school and college students, it is also a pleasant place to spend a spring weekend when you are in need of a beach fix. Obviously we had heard of South Padre Island prior to coming to Texas last November, but we also got some detailed personal recommendations from Bob and Pam, a couple we worked with in Maine last summer, who spent the winter working at the South Padre Island KOA Holiday as Activities Directors. Hi Bob and Pam! Instead of towing Charlie the 250 miles to South Padre Island, we decided instead to book a couple of nights in the condos available at the South Padre Island KOA.
We were up, packed and ready to go early on Friday morning. (Well, early is a relative term since it was about 9:00 am!) We encountered little traffic as we headed south following the Gulf Coast of Texas. Past Corpus Christi, headed for the southern tip of Texas. Betsy’s mad research skills had discovered a cafe in Port Isabel with several positive reviews for being gluten free friendly. The timing was right as we arrived at the Causeway Cafe & Bar shortly after lunch time. It was located in Port Isabel, a cute little town located on the water, at the base of the causeway headed to South Padre Island. The Causeway Cafe & Bar did not disappoint, as they had a nice selection of menu items available in gluten free options. I chose a yummy chicken salad sandwich on gluten free bread and Betsy went with the Chicken Shawarma. They also had a nice selection of coffees, lattes and cappuccinos, which we chose to not indulge in, and a small, full-service bar that I’m sure gets crowded on a weekend evening. A definite thumbs up for the Causeway Cafe & Bar. Definitely worth another stop if we are ever in the area.
After lunch we made our way across the causeway, onto South Padre Island. The KOA was a short distance to the right after crossing the causeway. We wound our way into the campground before locating the office, which is located on the first floor of one of the two old water tanks located on the property. The condo we rented was on the second floor, directly above the office, and was one of three condos in the building. The second water tank served as a clubhouse / game room on the first floor and fitness center on the second floor. The use of the water tanks was a pretty unique set up, and one we had not seen before. It was a little strange for us checking into a campground without our trailer, but check in was quick and efficient and we then headed up to our condo. Our accommodations for the weekend were nice. It had some odd shapes and angles due to the circular shape of the structure it was located in, but with a kitchenette, living room, large bedroom w/ walk in closet and two full bathrooms it worked for us. It was definitely a fun and unique space, but being that it was built in an old water tower, it did have a bit of a musty smell. That would be our only complaint.
After sitting in the car for a little over four hours we were ready to stretch our legs a little, so we headed out on a walk to explore the campground. The sites seemed a bit tight and there were a limited number of sites we would actually fit in with our truck and camper. But with the location directly on the waters of the bay we knew space would be at a premium. When we first checked in, the park was about a quarter filled with RV’s, but we could tell by the cones sitting in front of empty sites that it would be a busy evening with check ins and the park would be pretty full for the weekend. The foliage at the campground was also in full bloom which made for a colorful walk!
With the luxury of having a kitchenette in the condo at our disposal, Betsy had planned ahead and prepared some meals that we could eat in, instead of spending unnecessary money eating out over the weekend. Tonight was mac & cheese (GF, of course!) in the crockpot, which we put in to start cooking before heading down for a quick dip in the pool. The pool area was unique in that it appeared to be sunk down, surrounded by walls that were about 8 feet high. The pool and hot tub were just the right temps to splash around and relax a bit. After dinner we decided to drive through South Padre to get an initial look at the town. The town stretches for approximately seven miles and looks very similar to many other beach towns with the requisite restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, hotels, condo buildings and houses. It was easy to imagine how crowded the town would be on a busy weekend during spring break. But for now, it was busy but definitely not crowded.
We ended our evening driving back across the causeway to Port Isabel for another glimpse at the Port Isabel Lighthouse for an ice cream nightcap at Davey Jones Ice Cream Locker. Sweet dreams!
We started Saturday with breakfast cooked in our condo, before heading out for our first stop, Sea Turtle Inc., a sea turtle rescue on the island. The mission at Sea Turtle Inc. is simple: To rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles for release back into the wild, educate the public, and assist with conservation efforts for all marine turtle species. Sea Turtle, Inc. was founded in 1977 by Ila Fox Loetscher, better known as "The Turtle Lady of South Padre Island." In 1999, Sea Turtle, Inc. moved from Ila's backyard into its current location. The off-season price of $6 / adult ($10 / adult in the summer) was a reasonable fee for the several hours of entertainment we got. Besides, it’s good to know the money is going to a good cause. We enjoyed looking inside the large tanks where the “resident” sea turtles reside. These guys all have some injury or disability that will not allow them to be released back into the wild. There were many sea turtles in the rehab center, working towards someday being released. In the small outdoor theater we listened to a presentation given by one of the interns and learned several interesting facts about the sea turtles and all of the things they do at Sea Turtle Inc.
Upon leaving Sea Turtle Inc. we headed next door to the convention center where there are boardwalks that allow you to walk out towards the bay. We were right next door to the birding center so there were lots of birds to photograph and enjoy. Our favorite was the Purple Gallinule (look at those yellow legs & trip-colored beak) and the Red Winged Blackbird.
After a full morning we went back to the campground to enjoy lunch at Pier 19, a restaurant on the water directly behind the campground. Great views all around and I enjoyed having some seafood during our trip. Fully nourished it was finally time to head for the beach and enjoy one of our favorite pastimes, reading / resting on the beach. The beaches were nice, although the water was a little cold for us warm water lovers.
Rejuvenated from our beach time we headed back to the campground for a dip in the pool before enjoying our Cinco de Mayo taco dinner in our condo. We were able to squeeze one last activity in this packed day, sunset over the back bay behind the campground. We grabbed a seat on a wood platform next to the boat ramps and waited on this daily beauty. It wasn’t the best sunset we’ve ever seen but it was a nice way to end a fun day on South Padre Island.
Sunday morning breakfast was much like Saturday’s, in the condo, and way cheaper than eating out. After checking out of the campground we headed down the Island towards the Farmer’s Market on the north end of South Padre. On our way there we happened to stumble upon a nice little coffee shop where we indulged in some iced coffee to really start our day. With coffee in hand, we headed for a walk on the beach to kill some time before the market started. What a way to start a day - java & sand for the win! The South Padre Island Farmer’s Market was a pleasant surprise when we arrived.The South Padre Island Farmer’s Market was a pleasant surprise when we arrived. It was a beautiful location close to the water and had a really nice mix of vendors. We enjoy patronizing farmer’s market vendors, so we left with a good booty of tasty food. Our best find was definitely the cacao vendor who was selling just about anything you can imagine made with cacao beans, from truffles to tea. All good stuff! All shopped out we hopped in the car and began our trek back to Port Lavaca. South Padre Island was a great weekend getaway, and we would definitely go back the next time we are in South Texas.