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Best Things to Do in South Padre Island with Kids

Best Things to Do in South Padre Island with Kids

I am no stranger to South Padre Island. My childhood summers were always spent there. Now, as a parent, I can enjoy all the fun family activities in South Padre Island with my children.

South Padre Island is one of the best family-friendly destinations in Texas. Whether you visit during the summer or winter, there are always plenty of things to do with kids in South Padre Island. 

You can quickly fill an entire weekend at South Padre with fun family activities and only scratch the surface of all the island offers. Take the family to one of the best waterparks in Texas, get up close with some amazing sea creatures, learn a new skill, enjoy thrilling activities, play on the beach, and more. 

A family in front of the Beach Waterpark's iconic sand castle kid's water attraction at South Padre Island.

Best Time to Visit South Padre Island with Kids

South Padre Island is the perfect beach getaway in Texas with kids (almost) year-round. However, I would not visit in March because the island is overcrowded with many Spring Breakers, creating an atmosphere filled with parties.

The best time to visit South Padre Island with kids is during the summer. Everything is open for the season, and there is a cool breeze from the ocean. Plus, spending your day at the waterpark or beach makes it easier to beat the Texas heat!

Best Things to Do in South Padre with Kids

A sand sculpture of an alligator and iguana on top of a block saying "Greetings from South Padre Island".

Known as the “Sandcastle Capital of the World,” there are so many fun things to do with kids on South Padre Island, including several sandcastle activities.

Play on soft sand beaches, ride water slides, go on a dolphin watch cruise, feed a tortoise, hold an alligator, learn how to surf, and more. There is something for everyone of all ages to discover at South Padre Island.

Climb the Port Isabel Lighthouse

Port Isabel Lighthouse, a white historic lighthouse in South Texas on top of a grassy hill.

Begin your family vacation at South Padre Island by climbing to the top of the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse. The Port Isabel Lighthouse was built in 1852 and still stands 72 feet strong. 

Visitors climb 75 winding stairs and a few short ladders to reach the top of the lighthouse, where they enjoy sweeping views of South Padre Island and Laguna Madre Bay. They can also see the stunning 3rd Order Fresnel Lens, which illuminates softly at night.

It takes about 3 – 5 minutes to reach the top of the lighthouse. Children under 5 are not allowed to climb the lighthouse.

Spend the Day at Beach Waterpark

A giant sandcastle aquatic playground with a tipping bucket at Beach Waterpark in South Padre Island - one of the best things to do in South Padre Island with kids.

When I think of South Padre Island, the Beach Waterpark is the first thing that comes to mind. It holds some of my most cherished childhood summer memories. I went every summer with my family since it opened.

To this day, Beach Waterpark remains one of the best things to do in South Padre Island with kids. It has several fun kid areas including the iconic Sand Castle Grove—a five-story sandcastle aquatic playground filled with slides, water cannons and geysers, and a giant 1,400-gallon water tipping bucket!

Families can splash in at the “beach”, ride body slides, go down several single and double tube slides, surf waves, and enjoy the lazy river rapids. For young families, there is also a baby and toddler splash pad and a kid-friendly wading pool.

I highly recommend booking a cabana rental. It will make elevate your experience at Beach Waterpark, especially with kids. The cabana rental includes a ceiling fan, TV, safe, complimentary water bottles, and a server. You can order food and drinks from your cabana and relax in the comfort of your cabana.

Bonus tip: if you have young kids, pick a riverside cabana (1-6) because it’s close to the Sand Castle Grove!

Embark on an Eco-Friendly Dolphin Cruise

South Padre Island is home to several large pods of bottle-nose and spinner dolphins year-round. Embark on an eco-friendly dolphin watch cruise to see the playful marine mammals swim in the channel.

There are many tour operators offering this family-friendly activity, and I highly recommend The Original Dolphin Watch. The Original Dolphin Watch has incredible customer service and excels in finding dolphins in the area. It is almost always a guarantee that their guests will see dolphins!

After the dolphin watch, the captain and crew present an educational talk about dolphins and other sea creatures in the Gulf of Mexico. Crew members walk with a few species they collected from a net during the boat ride. Visitors can touch and see the marine life up close before they are safely released back into the water.

Learn How to Build a Sandcastle

A family of grandparents, parents, and three boys standing proud behind a sandcastle they built - one of the best things to do in South Padre Island with kids.

What better way to embrace being at the “Sandcastle Capital of the World” than making a sandcastle? Not just any sandcastle, but with some of the best sand sculpturists in the world!

One of the best things to do in South Padre, with or without kids, is to take a sandcastle lesson. It is a fun activity on the beach that everyone of all ages can enjoy.

Sandy Feet Sandcastle Services has award-winning sand sculpturists ready to teach you all the necessary tricks, skills, and techniques to build an epic sandcastle. What’s fantastic about Sandy Feet is that they teach you how to make a sandcastle with everyday items like plastic silverware.

By the end of the lesson, you will learn the basics of building a sandcastle, how to carve doors, build staircases, connect a wall to two towers, and make intricate details.

Play on the Best Beach in Texas

Of course, playing on the beach is one of the best things to do with kids at South Padre Island. The island stretches for 34 miles of powder-soft sand, perfect for relaxing, swimming, building sandcastles, and enjoying water sports. 

At the southernmost point on the island is Isla Blanca Beach—the best beach in Texas! The beach is not only beautiful, but it also offers abundant amenities and facilities. It has cabana rentals, a boat ramp, a full-service marina, restrooms and showers, shaded picnic areas, fishing on the jetty, and the best waves for surfing.

In addition to Isla Blanca Beach, the coastline has over 23 public access points to wonderful beaches with free parking. Moreover, if you stay on a beachfront property, you will probably have direct access to the beach, too.  Check out this beach access guide to help plan your trip to the beach. 

Read next: Best Things to Do in Brownsville, Texas – A Weekend Guide

Enjoy Thrilling Activities at Gravity Park

Do you have a thrill seeker in your family? Then head to Gravity Park, one of the best things to do in South Padre with kids or kids at heart!

Gravity Park is an adventure and amusement park with several fun activities for the entire family. You can play a round of mini golf, drive go-karts (including a kiddie course), ride a 60-foot Ferris Wheel, play games at the arcade, and ascend a climbing wall.

For those thrill seekers in the family, enjoy a view of the island from the giant swing or take a crazy ride on the tallest reverse bungee in the world.

See Sea Turtles Up Close

Two boys watching a rescued sea turtle swim across the glass at Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island.

Sea Turtle Inc. is a beautiful gem of South Padre Island. It is a sanctuary for rescued sea turtles and protects them through dedicated conservation, medical care, applied research, and education.

During your visit, you can attend a turtle feeding or “turtle talk” to learn about these amazing creatures in the Gulf of Mexico. You can also enjoy a self-guided tour to meet rehabilitation and non-releasable sea turtle residents. Seeing the sea turtles up close and learning about their rehabilitation efforts was a highlight of our trip.

Find all the Sea Turtles

South Padre Island has a curated Sea Turtle Art Trail with 13 beautiful sea turtle sculptures designed by talented artists. The sculptures are scattered throughout the island, making it a fun game to find them all.

Most can be found while visiting restaurants and family-friendly attractions, or you can use the art trail map. Can you find them all?

Follow the Sandcastle Trail

South Padre Island is also home to another art trail, the Sandcastle Trail. The trail has over 20 sand sculptures built by local and worldwide professional sand sculptors.

Some sand sculptures are traditional castles, while others play to the theme of the local business they are located at, such as tipsy leprechauns at the Irish pub. You can find the full list on the art trail map.

Walk Through an Incredible Sandcastle Village

An incredible sand sculpture of a futuristic city at the Sandcastle Village in South Padre Island.

Continue your newfound love of sandcastles by visiting the Holiday Sandcastle Village of South Padre Island—one of the best FREE things to do on South Padre Island with kids.

The Holiday Sandcastle Village of South Padre Island is a self-guided tour that showcases awe-inspiring sand sculptures crafted by the best sand sculptors in the world. Every sand sculpture is incredible, a true gift of art! A few breathtaking sculptures found in the village include a Taylor Swift mermaid, a futuristic city, and a dragon guarding a castle.

The artists constantly maintain the sculptures and update the village with new ones, each reflecting the season or a unique theme. What you see today may not be there next time!

Learn How to Surf

It is never too early or too late to learn how to surf, and the best place to learn is South Padre Island. When you think of surfing, Texas may not be one of the first destinations on your mind, but South Padre Island can hang (ten) with some of the best locations in the country.

Make it a family activity and take a group surfing lesson. Everyone will learn how to surf waves within an hour, but more so, you will create a lifelong bond to cherish forever!

Become a Pirate for the Day

A red, white, and black pirate ship cruising the bay of South Padre Island.

Set sail on South Padre Island’s infamous Black Dragon Pirate Ship! This engaging Pirate Adventure Cruise is one of the best things to do with kids in South Padre Island, but it’s equally enjoyable for adults, too.

Prepare for an interactive experience as the captain and crew engage the kids in a thrilling sword fight, a playful water gun battle, and an amusing dance-off! The kids will also search for treasure, watch pirates blast cannons, and search for dolphins.

After a day on the water learning the ropes of being a pirate, set course to Pirate’s Landing Restaurant to enjoy a hearty meal. Then, end your journey on a sweet note at Davey Jones Ice Cream Locker.

Go Horseback Riding on the Beach

South Padre Island Adventure Park offers many fun, family-friendly activities for all ages. You can easily spend the entire day here enjoying land and sea adventures.

The most popular activity you cannot miss is a picturesque horseback ride on the beach. Gallop on the beach with your family (for kids ages 6 and up) on a blissful morning, a stunning sunset, or a memorable moonlight ride.

Other activities include ziplining through the air, parasailing over the Gulf of Mexico, riding a banana boat, playing mini golf, driving go-karts, and petting cute barn animals.

Feed Tortoises and Alligators

A toddler boy feeding lettuce to a tortoise at South Padre Island's Birding Center - a fun family activity.

The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is a haven for bird lovers and a hidden gem for kids. It offers a picturesque 0.75-mile boardwalk over the Laguna Madre Bay coastal shoreline. This scenic walk leads to bird blinds, where you can spot over 350 bird species.

And don’t miss the chance to interact with the wildlife on-site! Purchase some lettuce and have a delightful time feeding the tortoise residents—my children’s favorite activity! You can also feed the juvenile alligators at the sanctuary and hold a snake to add a thrilling touch to your visit.

Catch Sand Crabs After Dark

You might be scratching your head about this one, but believe me, it’s one of the best things to do in South Padre Island with kids. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories. Plus, it’s FREE fun!

Grab a bucket, a small net, and a flashlight and hit the beach after dark to catch sand crabs. Walk on the beach and shine your flashlight in the sand to find sand crabs darting in different directions. Watch out! They might go straight to you, causing everyone, including you, to scream silly.

Use your net to catch the sand crabs and add them to your bucket. By the end of your hunt, count how many everyone caught, then release them as you cherish this new family memory of good-humored fun.

Watch Fireworks Light Up the Sky

photo courtesy of Alamy

In the summertime, South Padre Island hosts weekly fireworks shows throughout the island. They are some of the most spectacular fireworks shows I’ve ever seen, especially on the 4th of July.

There’s no better way to cap off a wonderful day on the island than by watching the fireworks. You can grab a seat on the beach, savor dinner with a view, or enjoy the display from the water on a cruise!

Check the South Padre Island event calendar to see their scheduled fireworks show.

I hope you found several fun family activities to fill your vacation in South Padre Island. It is truly one of the best destinations in Texas.

Richard Grasso

Saturday 15th of June 2024

Looks like a great fun time to be had by all!


Thursday 27th of June 2024

Yes! A great family destinations for everyone :)