South Padre Thanksgiving

A recent visit inspires a reassessment of my favorite Texas coast destination. Going down to the Rio Grande Valley to visit inlaws for Thanksgiving and staying at the Radisson at South Padre was a pleasant reminder how much fun the far South Texas coast can be this time of year. The weather was pleasant, with highs in the 70s and 80s, and the Gulf of Mexico water temperature hovered around 70 degrees, far warmer than it gets on the Pacific coast or the eastern seaboard in the middle of summer. The offseason prices made it all the better. I found a $75 a night internet rate at the Radisson, one of the main resort hotels on the island, less than half what you'd pay in the summer or over spring break. Other hotels and condos offered deeply discountred rates--the new La Copa Suites next to the Bridgepoint, the tallest condo on SPI, advertised $50 a night deals including breakfast. The Motel 6 and HoJo's listed rooms under $30 a night.

The best part was checking in and hitting the surf with Andy. We bodysurfed all the way past a gorgeous sunset that lit up the water, dodging a little bitty man 'o war jellyfish and ignoring the little mullet running through the water. After dark, Andy returned to try to catch mullet with his bare hands under an almost full moon. The morning walks along the beach rejuvenated the soul and reconnected me to that universal seashore experience.

I'm amazed how much SPI has grown over the forty years I've been visiting. I can remember where there were all but three motels on the island, the Palmetto Inn, and a convenience store and gas station, and otherwise a whole lot of empty coast. I miss that natural state and am disturbed to see a new La Quinta going in next to the Bahia Mar at the north end of the town, and a new development being built beyond that with newly planted palms lining the highway. Progress is fine but not when the dunes that hold the island together are destroyed to accommodate it. I hope the development, built by the Franke family, one of the leading realtors on the island, is the last one built. The rest of South Padre deserves to be open space to remind the millions of visitors what the island once looked like.

As much as I enjoyed the hotel's heated pool, the crab races in the bar, all the fine dining options (except NO TEXAS CRAB anywhere; they must be shipping it all up to Maryland), the wetlands and birding area by the convention center, the ability to rent bikes, surfboards, kiteboards and parasails, and partake of all the amusements and diversions SPI offers, I think I liked the island a little more when there wasn't much to do but lay out on the beach and play in the waves. But as long as there is that fine powdered sand, the clean beaches and a horizon free of oil rigs (the only part of the Texas coast like that), I'll tolerate progress and the crowds that come with it, especially in the off season.

I'll keep coming back all right. Someday, I'm even going to figure out how to surf.

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