South Padre Island is a special place for many Texans as well as out-of-staters. The beaches and clear waters are the best on the Texas coast, and the food is pretty darn good, as well. I’m lucky to have a few friends who grew up in this area - and who speak a little Spanish - show me around and share their favorite haunts.
I try to make it to the coast a few times a year, sometimes with my family and some specifically to focus on photography, and in either situation, I have a good time. The more I make the long drive down from the Hill Country, the more places I find to explore and photograph. That said, here are my favorites (at least until my next trip!)
Laguna Madre Nature Trail – Located at the north end of town, this boardwalk through sea grass and marshland provides views of the bay as well as opportunities to spot many varieties of birds – some local and some migratory. Egrets, herons, ibis, mockingbirds and sandpipers are just a few that frequent this boggy area.
The boardwalk traverses 1,500 feet of trail and makes for a nice area for families or photographers. When toting a camera, telephoto lenses definitely come in handy in this area. I always have a tripod, but some folks may prefer to use the stabilizers on their lenses. Either way, as in nearly every case when carrying a camera, the hours around sunrise and sunset are the most productive.
Isla Blanca Beach – This beach is found on the southern tip of the island with a long jetty marking the end point. The water here tends to be clearer from springtime sargassum (seaweed) thanks to a jetty acting as a barrier, but it can still end up dotting the beach with blobs of goo. This beach does require payment, and I usually purchase a month pass - $30 as of this writing – that allows beach-goers and fishermen to enter at 6am. One of my favorite times to visit this area, as well as any area in South Padre, is late spring when the wildflowers appear. A coastal variety of morning glories bloom in shades of pink and violet, turning the dunes and some sandy areas into colorful mounds.
These flowers don’t bloom until first light, so be prepared to show some patience as they gradually awaken and open their petals for the day. On this beach, I use both a wide-angle lens (16-35L and 11-24L) for the wildflowers as well as a tele (70-200L or 400L) for the birds that scamper along the beach in the first hours of sunrise.
Isla Blanca Jetty – As mentioned above, this jetty marks the end of Isla Blanca Beach on the south side of the island. It is a prime spot for fishermen, and for us photographers, makes a nice place to shoot north across the beach and capture the South Padre skyline in the distance.
Lenses I’d use here would include both wide-angle and telephoto depending on what I wanted.
Queen Isabella Causeway – Covering 2.5 miles over the bay (Laguna Madre) and connecting South Padre Island to the mainland, the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge opened in 1974. This long bridge is nice to photograph from either end. On the South Padre side, there are walkways that extend out and make for a nice place to see the entirety of the causeway. You’ll have to jockey for spots with fishermen, as well, because this seems to be prime real estate for anglers.
I’ve used both 16-35 and a 24-105 lenses here, and this is a good place to take several images and turn them into a panorama.
Port Isabel – Across the causeway and just under three miles from South Padre sits Port Isabel. Dating back to 1519 and founded by Alonzo de Pineda, this south Texas town offers shopping, food, and enough history to make for a nice day of exploring. Arguably, its most famous site is the Lighthouse built in 1852. I’ve visited this location several times – both for sunrise and midday photography – and it never disappoints. I’ve always used a wide-angle lens here, as well.
Shrimp Boats – While not a specific location, I find shrimp boats fun to photograph. Most times, you’ll need permission. This is when it is helpful to speak Spanish or have a buddy that speaks the language. If you can gain permission, these ragged and rugged boats, along with their nets and ropes, offer some interesting perspectives. Lenses? Your vision and perspective will determine this!
If you visit this area, I hope you have fun. There is so much to do and see – and there are a lot of people who want to take your money for various activities and entertainment. Enjoy!
Images from Texas