by Crystal - July 17, 2020
The links included in this post are for informational purposes. I do not receive compensation in any way for their inclusion.
Padre Island National Seashore just might be one of the best kept secrets in Texas. Many people, Texans included, flock to Florida’s 30A this time of year. And while Florida’s beaches are certainly beautiful and the beach towns nothing short of charming, we have our own little strip of paradise in South Texas. Why not skip the crowds this year and explore Padre Island National Seashore? You’ll be glad you did.
Located an easy drive from Corpus Christi, Texas lies a near 70-mile long slice of beach heaven known as the Padre Island National Seashore. Not to be confused with South Padre Island, well known for spring break shenanigans, Padre Island National Seashore is pristine, undeveloped, and relatively crowd-free. A rare opportunity to channel your inner beach bum and explorer at the same time. Prepare to relax and be awed by the raw beauty and power of nature.
As a native Texan, born and raised in the Dallas area, I’m ashamed to say that, before last summer, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the Texas beaches. Growing up, we didn’t go on many family vacations. When we did go out of town, we usually visited my grandparents in East Texas. As an adult, the Hill Country has been my location of choice when I want to get away from Dallas for a long weekend. My 8-year old daughter was the one who convinced me to give the Corpus Christi area a second look. I am so glad she did! We plan to make the 6-hour trek down south every year from here on out.
My Childhood Memories of the Texas Coast
I have vague memories of visiting Corpus Christi when I was small. I couldn’t have been more than 6 years old at the time. A few years later, we took a family trip to Galveston that led to one of those rare school-aged moments that I will always remember. On the heels of that trip, we were working on a paper mâché earth project in class when my teacher asked what color the ocean was. Without even thinking, I called out “grey.” I distinctly remember being miffed and embarrassed when she corrected me in front of everyone, “the ocean is obviously blue.” What?! I had empirical evidence. Based on my limited life experience, the ocean was obviously grey! I guess that memory stuck and was the impression that I have carried my entire life about the Texas Gulf Coast. Because of that, I never really felt drawn to visit as an adult. All I can say is that things have changed significantly, my memory failed me spectacularly, or we just didn’t make our way to the right stretch of beach. Whatever the reason, better late than never!
Finding A True Treasure Island
My husband and I decided on a whim to get away for a few days and started tossing a few ideas around. We were looking for a destination close to home that didn’t break the budget. Our daughter had her heart set on visiting the Selena Museum and getting in some beach time. Corpus Christi fit the bill, so off we went…
After a summer vacation spent enjoying the beaches of Malta the previous year, let’s just say we didn’t have high hopes for the Texas Gulf Coast. But we figured it would at least be a change of scenery. We knew so little about the area, in fact, that we only intended to visit Mustang Island State Park, which had been recommended by a friend. We had a great time there, too, but were absolutely blown away by PINS. I’ll be forever grateful to the barista at the Omni coffee shop, who suggested that we give Malaquite Beach a try. It truly is a national treasure.
Lasting Impressions of Padre Island National Seashore
Nothing puts my place in the grand scheme of life into perspective quite like being near the ocean. I’ve been to some beautiful beaches in my life, and PINS is in a league of its own in this regard. There are no restaurants, no boardwalk shops or ice cream vendors, no cocktails in hollowed-out pineapples, no party boats. No cabanas, chairs, or umbrellas for rent. It’s just you and the expanse of ocean, sand, and sky as far as the eye can see. Talk about being at one with nature! It’s nothing short of magnificent. It may seem a little corny, but we Texans are rather renowned for our state pride, and I have to admit that my heart was full at the end of that first relaxing day at Malaquite Beach.
Perfect Beach Days
We visited over the last few days of June. Since it was our first time visiting, we began each day at Malaquite Beach. It’s near the Visitor Center, so we thought it would be a good place to get our feet wet. Considering the accessible location, I expected it to be somewhat crowded. We probably saw a total of 10-12 other people on the beach each day we were there. It doesn’t get any better than that!
The water was warm and beautiful, and the sand was a clean, soft white sand that felt wonderful underfoot. The surf was excellent, too. Not just for jumping and splashing the day away, but for that unmistakable majestic ebb and flow sound that only ocean waves can make. And here, unlike so many other places, there were no competing sounds, except for birds. And not aggressive sandwich stealing seagulls either. We were able to identify several kinds of birds, most notably, pelicans, herons, and egrets. We were also lucky enough to spot several sea turtles when we ventured out into waist-deep water.
Sea Turtle Haven
We didn’t know it until we arrived, but the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles, a rare and endangered sea turtle species, make their home in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and nest on the beaches here from April-July. Park rangers actively patrol the beach and move any found nests to a protected area where they are monitored and kept safe until they hatch, and the baby turtles can be released into the Gulf of Mexico. If the timing is right, the hatchling releases are open to the public. We didn’t get the opportunity to witness a hatchling release when we were there, but we did ‘adopt a turtle.’ In addition to the Kemp’s Ridley Turtles, several other species live in the waters around the park. For more details on sea turtle conservation efforts or to check the predicted hatchling release schedule, you can visit the national park service website.
Helpful Tips For Your Trip
Where We Stayed.
We wanted to visit a few places in Corpus Christi, so the Omni was our home base, and we made the easy drive to the beaches each day. Next time, we’ll likely try to find a condo or vacation rental a little closer in.
If you enjoy camping, several year-round campgrounds are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Although you don’t need to make a reservation, you do need a camping permit, which you can purchase upon entrance.
We were able to use the restrooms and rinse off near the Malaquite Visitor Center. Other than that, there were no gas stations, restaurants, shops, or food vendors anywhere in sight. This isn’t your hang out along the boardwalk type of beach atmosphere. That’s great as far as I’m concerned because it helps to keep things clean and mitigate crowds but come prepared for the day with everything you might need. Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, first aid supplies, fluids, and snacks, etc.
Beat the Heat.
The Texas sun is scorching hot in the summertime. Even with an ocean breeze. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats are not optional. Don’t forget to reapply and drink plenty of water!
Beach Entry is not Free.
Since PINS is part of the U.S. National Park System, there is a per-vehicle charge to access the park as well as additional fees for boat ramp access and overnight camping.
Beach Driving is Fun.
Except for the stretch of beach in front of the Malaquite Visitor Center, you can drive on the beach here (if you have the right vehicle, of course). My husband really enjoyed taking his 4-runner off-road a bit.
Brush Up on Ocean Safety.
There were no lifeguards and rip currents are common occurrences, so we never went out further than just below waist-deep. I love the ocean, but it scares me more than a little. I read a few resources on ocean safety before we went just for my own peace of mind. For reference, I linked the American Red Cross page here. There is also a good animated video created by the National Ocean Service that you can find here.
Catch a Sunrise or a Sunset.
Rumor has it that the sunrises and sunsets are nothing short of spectacular. Don’t swim around dawn or dusk, but do enjoy the view.
Everything is Bigger in Texas.
The stars really are big and bright. And the mosquitoes are really big and hungry, too, especially in the evening. Bring some repellent just in case.
You Can Visit Year-Round.
Even if you can’t make the trip in the summer, winter and early spring are supposed to be great for camping and birdwatching.
A Few Thoughts for the Road
There are a few places I’ve been that I feel drawn to return to again and again. Padre Island National Seashore is one of those destinations. It never gets old. What makes it even more remarkable is that it flies somewhat under the radar. Even for a few of us native Texans. I guess that’s a good thing. Maybe we don’t want the secret getting out!
It’s a perfect beach escape, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you get the chance to visit, I hope you love it as much as I do. If you have a memory from PINS that you’d like to share, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about it.
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy summer,
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Originally Posted on May 26, 2020. Updated with photos, links, and text on July 17, 2021