A delicately designed sandcastle on the beach.

Sandcastles at South Padre Island. Photo © Laura Martone.

Yesterday, I shared with you one of my favorite winter getaways: the desert town of Quartzsite in southern Arizona, a place that grows exponentially from November to March. As promised, I’m continuing this three-part series by featuring another one of my favorites: South Padre Island, a small barrier island near the southern tip of Texas, not far from Mexico. Like Quartzsite, South Padre Island is also a popular choice amid snowbirds, who appreciate the island for its inexpensive eateries and accommodations, annual events, and balmy temperatures.

My husband, Daniel, and I first encountered South Padre in the spring of 2001, just two months following our wedding in Las Vegas. Although many people consider it little more than a spring break destination, we initially went for an altogether different reason. You see, as amateur treasure hunters, we were in search of a man named Steve Hathcock – somewhat of a local legend, known for his treasure-hunting yarns and wealth of historical knowledge. While meeting Steve, an eccentric longtime resident, and accompanying him on a few treasure hunts did not disappoint us, we soon realized that the ever-breezy South Padre boasted a slew of other winning attributes.

Outdoor enthusiasts, for instance, will certainly never go bored on South Padre Island. Sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre, the island is home to numerous fishing charters, several dolphin and ecotourism cruises, and miles of sandy beaches. Swimmers will appreciate the warm waters, which are also ideal for those seeking kiteboarding and windsurfing lessons. Through the Island Equestrian Center (956/761-4677, times vary daily, $45-125), you can even go horseback riding along the beaches north of the city limits – just remember, reservations are required.

With such a cornucopia of outdoor activities, South Padre is an ideal place for a family vacation. Children enjoy getting up-close and personal with birds and dolphins on intimate boat rides like Colley’s Fins to Feathers (956/299-0629, $23-45), and annual events like Sand Castle Days (next scheduled for Oct. 21-24, 2010) – a non-profit showcase of incredible sandcastles, crafted by amateur and professional sculptors alike – entice kids of all ages.

Of course, adults relish this island, too. After all, you’ll find a plethora of curious boutiques, relaxing spas, cool nightspots, and delicious eateries – especially local favorites like the Palm Street Pier Bar & Grill (204 W. Palm St., 956/772-7256, 11 a.m.-close daily), where Dan and I have watched many a sunset over cocktails, fresh ceviche, and scrumptious seafood baskets.

One of the best things about South Padre Island, though, is how it appeals to every budget. Just as dirt-cheap local eateries stand side by side with fancier restaurants, so will you find a wide array of accommodations, from inexpensive motels to elegant bed-and-breakfasts to RV/tent campgrounds like Isla Blanca Park (which, sadly, is threatened by private development). As the CVB claims, South Padre plays many roles, serving as a family vacation destination, a romantic island getaway, and, perhaps best of all at this time of year, a tropical winter haven.

For more information about South Padre Island, consult the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (7355 Padre Blvd., 956/761-3005 or 800/657-2373), the SPI Visitors Center (600 Padre Blvd., 956/761-6433 or 800/767-2373), or the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce (600 Padre Blvd., 956/761-4412). If you’re interested in other winter getaways in Texas, pick up a copy of the sixth edition of Moon Texas, written by expert Andy Rhodes, or pay a visit to the helpful Texas Tourism website.

For details about my favorite winter getaways, be sure to check out the first and third parts of this blog series – and enjoy your journey, wherever you choose to go!