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South Texas Tropics

Butterflies and tropical beauty greet visitors to the Texas Tropics

A visit to the Rio Grande Valley near the southernmost tip of Texas means experiencing a vibrant culture influenced by Mexican heritage, Spanish conquest, pioneer spirit and Lone Star State hospitality. Whether you’re an avid birder or adventurous seafarer, the South Texas Tropics are ripe with opportunities for fun and relaxation.

Safe Harbor


Port Isabel has guided sailors safely to the shores for more than 400 years, ever since it was first charted by Spanish explorers. The town’s history is displayed and shared in three museums: the Port Isabel Historic Museum, the Treasures of the Gulf Museum and the 1852 Port Isabel Lighthouse.

The lighthouse rests on land once occupied by Fort Polk. The six-sided earthen fort was constructed to serve as a depot during the Mexican War, and at one time included one of the nation’s largest military hospitals. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were stationed at Fort Polk.

Take a long walk down Texas’ longest lighted pier and spend the morning in pursuit of the day’s catch. If you didn’t bring your own, you can rent a rod from nearby dealers. Once you’ve made your own haul, watch the shrimping fleets as they bring in their own from the Gulf.

Get out on the water and see some of the sea’s most delightful creatures during a dolphin cruise, then cruise the land on a hike or bicycle ride down the El Paseo Trail. Eleven miles of marked trails run from the eastern end of the city to Laguna Heights.

Sun, Sand and Musical Fun

South Padre is a family-friendly destination with scuba and snorkeling opportunities, dolphin cruises, eco tours and Texas’ famous Schlitterbahn water park. With 34 miles of soft, sandy beaches, nothing beats a day under the sun here. You can kayak into the surf, splash through the frothy waves or take a boat out into the Gulf for some challenging deep-sea fishing.

If you’re in town in the fall, head down to the beach to marvel at competitive creations during Sandcastle Days in October; you can even take a lesson in the crafty hobby if you’re so inclined. The fun doesn’t stop when the temperature drops, either—the island’s Winter Texan Music Fest entertains snow birds and year-round residents with live music and fresh seafood.

South Padre welcomes birdlovers and game-bird hunters to its wetlands, where you’ll find mottled ducks, ring necks, blue-winged and green-winged teal, and pintails. On the shores of Padre, sea turtles return every season to lay their eggs, and lucky visitors may spot a hatchling or two making their way back to the sea by the light of a full moon in the summer. Be sure to visit Sea Turtle, Inc., the island’s rehabilitation and education center dedicated to protecting sea turtle populations.

Vibrant Valley Culture


Kenny Braun

Find your inner child, or bring the little ones you already have to the Children’s Museum of Brownsville. Hands-on displays stretch the limits of guests’ imaginations and offer a morning or afternoon of fun. Head over to Old Town Brownsville and see how early settlers lived on a tour of one of the town’s oldest surviving buildings. The Stillman House was once home to Manuel Trevino and is where Trevino and his compatriots plotted to overthrow the Mexican government in 1875.

Find some shade on the winding paths inside Brownsville’s Sabal Palm Audubon Center and Sanctuary. Sabal palms were once plentiful along the Rio Grande River, but today’s much smaller forest is protected inside the 557-acre preserve. Wander the nature trails yourself, or take a guided tour with staff to help you spot green jays, olive sparrows and other birds. The occasional ocelot or bobcat is also sighted in the sanctuary.

Head over to Edinburg for a tour of the Museum of South Texas History. The rich heritage of the Rio Grande Valley is celebrated and preserved here through educational exhibits and artifacts. Learn how the Rio Grande River has influenced the region’s growth and agricultural legacy, and listen to regional music that has shaped the culture of the Valley’s residents.

Though it’s much less wild than its “Six-Shooter Junction” days, the Valley town of Harlingen still has plenty of gumption. You’ll find it at free summer concerts during “Blues on the Hill” in McKelvey Park, and during live productions at Harlingen Performing Arts Theatre. The Rio Grande Valley Museum tells the story of Harlingen and its role in the growth of the region, and World War II heroes are honored at the Iwo Jima Monument and Museum on the Marine Military Academy campus.

Explore the creative culture of McAllen, where the International Museum of Art & Science and the Nuevo Santadar Gallery display impressive works of art and antiquities that reflect the life and inspirations of Rio Grande residents. Grab a bite to eat and enjoy the balmy evening air in McAllen’s 17th Street Entertainment District, where you can have your pick of dining spots, dive bars and live music, and end the day on a high note.

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South Padre Island




Texas State Travel Guide