The Texas Expedition: South Padre Island

South Padre Island is lovely. It’s a giant pain in the ass to get to.

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After we left San Antonio we headed further south to South Padre Island which sits on the Gulf Coast near the Texas-Mexico border. We ended up having to make a detour into Corpus Christi to get new front tires on our daily driver after we discovered a giant crack in the driver’s side tire while we were in the middle-of-nowhere Texas. So we dropped the car off at a Walmart and took the bus south.

It feels like you are driving through Satan’s armpit driving down to South Padre. It’s so hot and humid and still and bright. There are border patrol signs all over the place and it’s empty. It’s really quite a miserable drive.

The island itself is lovely though. It’s a fairly small barrier island and very much reminded us of Florida Gulf side towns. Same colors, same architecture, same climate- it made me very homesick.

We arrived in Port Isabel pretty late that night (Port Isabel is the last town on the mainland before you hit the causeway that takes you to South Padre). We had planned to just camp out at the Walmart parking lot there (reviews said they were friendly to boondockers and beach towns typically have ordinances against overnight parking in parking lots) for the night and be up early the next morning to see the sunrise on the beach and explore around. As it turns out we didn’t quiteeee make it into Port Isabel but instead we stopped at a Walmart in Los Fresnos thinking it was the Port Isabel Walmart. The Walmart in Los Fresnos is NOT boondocker friendly as we found out at 4am when they threatened to tow us. Cool.

On the plus side we really had ample to time to scope out the beaches and figure out where to park to catch the sunrise.

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The best part about South Padre Island though? It’s all dog friendly. This is something I’ve been waiting to find because Florida beaches tend to, largely, be very un-dog friendly. We once took Finn to a “beach” dog park in New Smyrna but it was on the Intercoastal and not really the same but he loved it. He ran around, made doggie friends, and splashed through the water. He hates pools but loved the beach.

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So we got Finn out and on the beach as we strolled around at sunrise and he had a blast. He was sprinting all over the place (well, as far as he could get on his leash), jumping on the waves, and rolling in the seaweed.

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A good time was had by all. After watching the sunrise we decided to drive up the coast and check out the rest of the island. We knew the road ended at some point and that we’d have to turn around (the rest of the island is the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and there are no paved roads) but we didn’t expect that the road would be slowly getting eaten by the dunes.

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It was otherworldly. The dunes are blowing across the road, slowly swallowing it and just spreading out all the way to the sea. It’s just sand and rocks with a glimmer of water behind it all.

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At some points the road was almost totally covered in the sand drift and we were a little concerned about getting stuck (well, I was concerned…Mike was totally chill about the whole thing) but everything was all right. We did eventually, and rather abruptly, come to the end of the road.


We made, like, a 12 point turn and headed back to town. It sounds so simple and so not extraordinary, it’s really hard to convey how the place felt. It felt like we were the last people on Earth. It was eerie but peaceful, kind of melancholy but dynamic. It was worth the drive there and back, Satan’s armpit and all.

We had had grand plans of doing ALL THE WATER ACTIVITIES but the rather unexpected expense of having to get two new tires meant that our already tight budget was now a little too tight to rent kayaks or paddleboards. So sad, it’s all good, our home base is a 45 minute drive from the beach so it’s not like we will never have the opportunity to do water activities again. So we just enjoyed being on the beach for the first time in nearly a year. Mike and I are both beach people and really miss it when it’s not available.

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On our way back north to Corpus Christi to retrieve our daily driver we got stopped by Border Patrol which was, not gonna lie, a little scary and we are U.S. citizens. It was a mandatory check point with K-9s and a LOT of agents. We stopped and they asked if we were citizens (yes), if there was anyone else on the bus (no, just the dog who was going nuts), had we stopped and picked anyone up (no), could they look inside the bus (sure, don’t mind the mess). The agent peeked inside and loved it and then let us go on our way. As each car sat in line agents were walking around the dogs smelling each car which I thought was really interesting. We’ve only driven through Border Patrol coming in and out of Canada and it was a much more lax environment (U.S. Border Patrol barely even flicked an eye at our passports before waving us through). I also thought it was interesting that they never asked about guns or drugs. Although, I guess that’s what the dogs were for. They were solely interested in people.

Another fun little something, all of the gas stations that we stopped up in south Texas had taco places instead of sandwich or chicken shops. And they were great tacos too.

We made it back up to Corpus Christi, grabbed the car, and headed to Sinton which had the closest truck stop with showers. We were so gross after 2 super hot and sweaty drives plus the stickiness that you get after going to the beach that showers became the #1 priority. The Love’s in Sinton has great showers btw. Very new and very clean. Long wait though- probably because it’s the only truck stop with showers for miles- I waited almost a half hour to get in and Mike (who was right behind me in line) waited almost an hour.

If you’ve never had a truck stop shower, let me tell you, they are amazing. We always check reviews first because (ew) public bathrooms but, so far, we’ve only had good experiences. They typically run $10-$12 and the water pressure is usually great. Some of those truck stop showers have been “nice hotel” nice. Love’s gives you towels, washcloths, and a bath mat to use. I never do (I think that’s too gross and yes, I have similar issues with hotel towels but with a truck stop my home is in the parking lot and I can just grab one of my guaranteed clean towels and bring it with me) but Mike always uses them and has never had a problem. We’re not sure how they feel about couples taking a shower together. We’ve thought about asking so that we only have to buy one shower butttttt usually we’re gross to the point that the thought of sharing a shower- even with each other- makes us both a little irrationally angry and the extra $12 seems worth it to get to hog all the hot water.

We stayed the night in Sinton and got caught in a huge storm that flooded the bus. We had left the hatches open and some windows cracked and so much water got in during that surprise storm. Finn was not all bothered though. We get back to the bus and water is pouring in and Finn is sitting in the front seat just as content as can be.

The next morning we headed out and moved on to Galveston and (my favorite part!!) the bus’ first ferry ride.



One Comment

  1. I love your blog and have learned much. Your presentations are articulate, very informative, and helpful. I am trying to join the school bus travelers. I live in St. Pete, FL and wonder if you could give me info on where you purchased your bus and do you know someone who could help me with the conversion process? Thank you so much, Jill

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