The beach is everywhere at South Padre , so you won’t have any trouble finding a place to park and tote your gear to the soft, white sand (don’t forget to bring plenty of sunscreen and bottled water). Look for public beach access points every few blocks along Gulf Boulevard.
For a few more amenities—pavilions, picnic tables, and playgrounds in addition to the restrooms and showers—go to one of the county beach parks on the southern or northern ends of the island.
Like most coastal communities, fishing is a huge draw in South Padre. Everywhere you look you’ll see men (and the very occasional woman) with a fishing pole standing on a beach, jetty, or pier. If they aren’t standing on shore, they’re in a chartered boat. Shoreline anglers tend to snag redfish, speckled trout, and flounder, while deep-sea adventurers seek tarpon, marlin, kingfish, mackerel, red snapper, and wahoo.
Many fishermen use the services of the venerable Jim’s Pier (209 W. Whiting St., 956/761-2865), which bills itself as the original South Padre Island  fishing guide company. Jim’s provides boat slips, fueling docks, a launching ramp, and fish-cleaning facilities. The company also offers two bay fishing trips daily on its renowned 40-person-capacity party boat.
To find out more about fishing locations and services, consult the Port Isabel/South Padre Island Guide’s Association at www.fishspi.com , offering a lengthy list of endorsed professional fishing guides.
Even though you don’t technically get in the water to take on this activity, it’s ocean-based, and certainly worth experiencing. The Laguna Madre Bay is home to myriad bottlenose dolphins, and there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing them up close in their natural environment. The best way to get an intimate experience is through an independent tour company like Fins to Feathers (tours operate from Port Isabel’s Sea Life Center (956/761-7178, www.fin2feather.com , call for tour schedule).
Enjoy the quiet, smooth ride from a smaller boat allowing up-close views and facilitated interaction with the knowledgeable guide. Anticipate the surge of excitement you’ll feel when that first dorsal fin ascends from the water and the sun glistens off the smooth grey surface of these magnificent and elegant creatures.
With its clear water and fine sand, the South Padre Island  area is a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers. The fish aren’t as varied and colorful as you’ll find in more exotic tropical locales, but the marine life is certainly intriguing, and you never know what you might find among the reefs and rigs.
Those interested in snorkeling and shallow shore dives can explore the underwater action at the Mansfield Jetties, the beach at Dolphin Cove (look for sand dollars here), and the adjacent Barracuda Bay. Scuba divers will enjoy the artificial reef (a wreck dive known as “the tug”) located seven miles southeast of the Brazos Santiago Pass Jetties. Further out and most compelling to experienced divers are the oil rigs, where fish of all sizes are plentiful around this submerged skyscraper.
South Padre has several full-service dive shops offering equipment for rent and for sale, organized excursions to prime spots, instruction, and service. One of the most reputable companies is American Diving (1 Padre Blvd., 956/761-6039, www.divesouthpadre.com ).
Beachfront property is too valuable to allow for many camping options in the commercial area of South Padre . In fact, there’s really only one main option for serious RV-style campers, and fortunately it’s a swell one. The South Padre Island KOA (1 Padre Blvd., 800/562-9724, www.southpadrekoa.com , $30–60 nightly) is geared toward RVs and mobile homes, but it also has a few cabins and lodges available. Site amenities include an outdoor pool, a fitness center, recreation room, and free wireless Internet service.
Those looking for a more rustic, natural experience have the option of pitching a tent (or parking an RV) on the vast unpopulated stretch of sand north of all the major recreational activity. Local officials caution campers to drive on the wet sand to avoid getting stuck in the soft traction-less powder further away from the surf. Also, be sure to bring your garbage back with you (there aren’t any trash cans in these remote areas) and take the “no trespassing” signs seriously.