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286 miles S of San Antonio; 366 miles SW of Houston; 531 miles S of Dallas; 815 miles SE of El Paso

South Padre Island is a resort town at the southern tip of this long, long barrier island. Any farther south and you would be in Mexico. The beach is much like the beach on the northern portion of the island, but the water here often seems clearer. Padre Island is a great place to stretch out on the beach, feel the Gulf breeze blowing, and hear nothing but the wash of the surf. If you get bored, you can busy yourself with boat rides, watersports, or taking the kids to the popular local water park.

On July 23, 2008, a category-1 hurricane named Dolly made landfall on South Padre Island. No one was killed in this area, but there was extensive damage to the hotels and other businesses. The recovery will largely be complete by the spring of 2009. A couple of hotels may be slow to reopen, but the city is running normally.

This part of the island is narrow -- 2 or 3 blocks wide -- and the town starts at the southern tip and extends north for about 5 miles, with a good bit of vacant land the farther north you go. It's a small town. Most of it consists of stores, hotels, a small convention center, restaurants, condos, and vacation houses. Regular housing is in short supply because storm insurance and other costs make it prohibitive. Most of the locals commute from the mainland, from either Port Isabel or Brownsville.

South Padre Island gets a lot of families who make the trip by car or RV. Many come from northern Mexico, driving up from cities such as Monterrey and Saltillo. It also gets winter Texans. And it gets some convention business. Conventioneers and weekenders will often come by plane, via the airports at Harlingen or Brownsville. You'll find reasonably priced flights from major cities in Texas, mostly on Southwest Airlines or Continental Express. South Padre Island is famous for being a spring-break destination. Hotels will fill up with college kids, often several to a room. It's a good time to be somewhere else.