Planning an Affordable Family Friendly Vacation to South Padre Island

May 22, 2013

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Warm, more accurately HOT, weather has hit South Central Texas. That means one thing to my family . . . it’s time to hit the water! We will spend much of our time this summer at Aunt Joyce’s River and then it will be time for our annual family beach vacation. Hallelujah!

How does a beach vacation to South Padre Island sound? Alrighty then, let’s get busy planning . . .

Family Friendly South Padre Island

South Padre Island is located off the southernmost Gulf Coast of Texas. The wide, expansive beaches and the warm gulf water are the main attractions. The beach is FREE so grab a chair, sit back, relax and watch the kiddos play in the surf.

Family Friendly South Padre Island

There are sea creatures to catch . . .

Family Friendly South Padre Island

And hours of observation . . .

Family Friendly South Padre Island

The kid’s fishing nets and large buckets are some of the best purchases we’ve ever made! Day after day, hours upon hours of fun!

Family Friendly South Padre Island

There are trenches and damns and tide pools to engineer . . .

Family Friendly South Padre Island

There are waves to ride . . .

Family Friendly South Padre Island

And fish to catch!

Family Friendly South Padre Island

Each relaxing day ends with the boys fishing right on the beach. But let it be known to all that MacGyver runs a strict catch-and-release operation!

More Budget Friendly Activities for Kids on South Padre Island

Resort towns often mean budget busting activities. What is nice about South Padre Island is there are amazing low-cost activities for families beyond the beach. (And don’t tell the kids, they’re also educational!)

Family Friendly South Padre Island

Sea Turtle Inc, Nonprofit Rescue and Education Center

  • Up close interactions with rescued sea turtles!
  • Location: 6617 Padre Blvd. South Padre Island, TX  78597
    Phone: (956) 761-4511
    Hours: Open from 10 am-4 pm Tuesdays through Sundays (Closed Mondays). In the summer months, hours are extended from 10 am-5 pm.
    A donation of $3.00 for adults and $2.00 for children over the age of 4.

Family Friendly South Padre Island

Sea Turtle Inc. is an operational rescue center. The $3.00 donation is well worth the educational value. Our kiddos did not want to leave. Miss Enigma continues to talk about returning to visit the sea turtles. I’ll do a more in-depth post on Sea Turtle Inc. in the next couple of weeks.

Family Friendly South Padre Island

South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sealife Nature Center

  • Touch tanks allow children hands-on experiences with ocean life from local waters.
  • Location: 110 N Garcia, South Padre Island, TX 78578
  • Phone: 956-299-1957
  • Open Daily : 10:00am to 4:00pm
  • Donation – $3.00 per person

Family Friendly South Padre Island

The Sealife Nature Center exhibits rescued sea creatures from the local waters and educates the public on how to be an eco-friendly tourist. We visited the center on our way out of town. Big mistake! While the center is small the children could have spent hours touching and observing the sea animals. The volunteers were very helpful in answering the children’s questions.  I’ll do a more in-depth post on The Sealife Nature Center in the next couple of weeks.

I wish I had known about the Dolphin Research Tours. $25.00 a person and only 6 quests on a tour. Rave reviews about these educational dolphin tours on Trip Advisor.  I usually shy away from these types of activities but this one sounds fabulous.

Family Friendly South Padre Island

Andy Bowie Park to the North and Isla Blanca Park to the South

  • If you want to get away from the hotels try one of the beach parks. The dunes are quite pretty (and very peaceful during the off season). Sadly, you may find a bit of trash washed-up at each location.
  • To the north, Andy Bowie Park offers beach access to cars. Drive right along the ocean. Pick a spot by the waves and unpack your chairs. No hotels, just the natural coastline.
  • There is a small fee per vehicle for both parks.

Planning all of the Details

Where to Stay

  • Trip Advisor is my go to site when planning a short trip. I read reviews like crazy. Just because a hotel is popular doesn’t mean it is what I am looking for. The reviews help me find a clean, quiet, affordable hotel.
  • Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island is located at the north end. If you want to get away from the crowds give this hotel a try. Rooms include mini-fridge and microwave. You can easily pick-up groceries for a quick lunch in the room.

Money Saving Tip: Vacation during the off-season! Rates drop dramatically after Labor Day.

Family Friendly Dinning

  • Gabriella’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria: A restaurant serving absolutely fabulous Italian dishes would technically not be considered a kid’s restaurant. Here’s the great thing,  grown-ups can enjoy delicious Italian plates such as Chicken Picatta or Shrimp fra Diava while the kiddos can order up a pizza. We shared an appetizer, ordered an extra house salad and actually shared our main dish. We had more than enough food and we loooooove to eat. The kiddos shared a pizza.

  • The pizza at Gabriella’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria  was so good we ordered one for take-out one night and had a casual dinner in our hotel room.

  • Blanca Whites: Has a great casual, open air location right on the water. A new restaurant on South Padre Island brought to Texas from the original restaurant in Mexico. The Shrimp Tequila and Garlic Fish were plate-licking-good. One of the more inexpensive meals we enjoyed on the Island.
  • You can also find Grocery Stores and Fast Food restaurants.

What are your Family Friendly Vacation plans? I’m definitely dreaming of a little surf and sand!

Life with Jeannine

Navarre Beach, Florida

Narvarre Beach, Florida

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

IrishMum May 23, 2013 at 2:05 am

Looks lovely. I love a beach holiday, kids seem to amuse themselves for hours, just being kids.

Jeannine May 23, 2013 at 8:18 am

I agree! Love the relaxation of letting the children explore.

Steve June 23, 2014 at 10:58 am

Was wondering where the very last photo of your daughter in the water, under the family friendly dining section was taken? Is that South Padre Island? That water looks too clear! Also, we are trying to book a last minute trip to Florida with our 3 kids, ages 5, 3, and 3. We are looking at Pensacola, Navarre, and Okaloosa/Ft. Walton Beach. What would your recommendation be if you had to choose? Your site is awesome by the way!

Jeannine June 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm

You are definitely correct, that clear water is not South Padre Island (I wish). I added a little title to clarify that the clear water photo was taken in Navarre, Florida.

We absolutely love the Navarre / Okalossa area of Florida. Both Navarre and Okaloosa are less crowded and more peaceful than Destin and Pensacola Florida. If you like hustle, bustle, chain restaurants and amusement parks, you’ll prefer Destin or Pensacola. We spend most of your time at the beach and like going from our pajamas to our swim suits back into our pajamas. Mostly laid back with a few nights out to eat to give Mommy a break from the kitchen.

Okaloosa is a bit more budget friendly than Navarre when it comes to accommodations. Both areas have white sandy beaches and gorgeous clear water. You’ll want to check out the posts that share more details and photos about both areas. We live in Texas but spend our vacations at one of these two beaches every year!

Planning an Affordable Family Beach Vacation

Planning a Budget Friendly Family Beach Vacation: Okaloosa Island, Florida

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