In our adventures, we stumbled upon Padre Island along the Gulf Coast in Texas. There are two distinct parts of Padre Island. The northern section is a National Park (Make sure you have your National Park Pass) called the Padre Island National Seashore and the southern section is a fun beach community referred to as South Padre Island.
North Padre Island
The whole island is 113 miles long, up to 3 miles wide and extends from Corpus Christi to just north of the Mexican boarder. 60 of those miles are protected in the Padre Island National Seashore. This portion of the beach is so beautiful and peaceful. We enjoyed jumping in the surf and taking landscape pictures. They have a great gift shop and for those who want to walk the beach, pick up a trash bag from there. Be sure to get your National Park Passport Book stamped here too! Check out their website for camping, beach driving and the sea turtle release. We can’t wait to go back!!
South Padre Island
In our first trip to Harlingen, our first goal was to see the Gulf of Mexico – we had never seen it and we love Washington beaches! We got there late in the evening, so we headed in the direction of the water, driving for about an hour and entered South Padre Island at dusk. With so many beach access points, we pulled into the first one, took off our shoes and headed out under the moonlight to the sandy beach. The horizon was glittering with the lights from off shore oil rigs, a strange sight for us to see.
This southern tip of the island is home to a fun beach community. Check out all the activities and events here. One of the coolest things here was a covered tent with numerous sand sculptures that we could walk through at our leisure. We got some ice cream at Dairy Queen and meandered through the carnival area and the boys did some racing in the go carts on a wooden track.
In the early fall, the majority of party seeking South Padre Island visitors have returned to their work/school lives, so we sat on the beautiful beach doing schoolwork in the warm sun relatively undisturbed. If you go and see the sand dotted with blue umbrellas and canvas chairs beckoning to you, it is too good to be true. We plopped down in one of these and within 30 minutes were approached by a guy and his iPad letting us know we could rent that space for about $90 for the day – yikes! I thanked him for the info and we moved four feet away and happily sat on our own blanket for free 🙂
Take time to learn about the various beach access points, some are free and some are paid, some have a bathroom and others do not. There is a visitor center with great maps and brochures of all kinds of fun things to do. They all seemed to have great sand though and the sunshine was delightful. One of the fascinating things that was new to us were the flags on the beach. The purple flag indicates the presence of venomous marine life AKA Portuguese man o’ war, Blue Dragons and Blue Buttons.
Our favorite stop on the island was a Sea Turtle rescue center, we spent so much time watching and learning about these amazing sea turtles. The first building we walked into was a hospital for stranded turtles, we stood and watched one in surgery through a glass window. Then after walking out on the board walk is a nice amphitheater where we watched a great presentation about what the center does and why sea turtles need help to survive. Then we wandered through the aquarium of turtles that couldn’t be released back out into the wild. This is an absolute must see when you come to South Padre Island.
Curious Learning Moment
What are venomous marine life? One fascinating new things we learned about were the flags on the beach. The purple flag indicates the presence of venomous marine life AKA Portuguese man o’ war, Blue Dragons and Blue Buttons.
Why do Sea Turtles get stranded? There are five main reasons 1) Fishing gear entanglement, 2) Boat strikes, 3)Marine disease, 4) Predator attacks and 5) Marine Debris.
What is it called when the sea turtles hatch? Sea Turtles lay a whole underground nest of eggs. On Padre Island there are protected beaches so no one will drive over these precious clutches of eggs. The turtles all hatch at exactly the same time and begin to dig out from under the sand covering them. As this is happening, the sand looks like it is boiling. The hatching of sea turtles is called a boil take a look at this video to see a good example. Cool huh!
Extensions for your Curious Learners:
Collect some items from your trash that would be dangerous for marine animals, learn how to properly dispose of them to keep animals safe.
There is a great little book they have in the shop called The Turtle Corral by Sheryl Jones that tells the story of how one woman who took care of stranded sea turtles started a whole movement on South Padre Island that is truly making a difference in their survival.
Find some books at your local library to learn more about Sea Turtles, create an 8 page book about them.