A slim barrier island on the tropical tip of Texas, South Padre Island is 34 miles long and a half mile at its widest point. Surrounded by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay, it is famous for its sunsets, clear turquoise waters and miles of soft, white-sand beach. South Padre event venues are famous for their emphasis on relaxation; in fact, if it is discovered at the opening session of a convention that someone is wearing a necktie, the police arrive to arrest them. The fine: A South Padre Island "No Tie Zone" T-shirt.
South Padre Island is accessible via causeway from the town of Port Isabel or through two airports. Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport, 30 miles from the island, is serviced by American Airlines, United Airlines and AeroMexico, with daily nonstop flights from Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. From Brownsville airport, the Valley Metro Shuttle ($2 each way) public transportation system connects to The Wave (South Padre Island's free Island shuttle service) in Port Isabel. Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, 45 miles from South Padre Island, is serviced by Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, with nonstop flights daily from Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. The South Padre Island Shuttle connects that airport to the island ($25 one way/$40 round trip).
Chief among meeting venues, South Padre Island Convention Centre occupies 30 acres on scenic Laguna Madre Bay. Included in its 45,000 square feet of space are 22,500 square feet of exhibit hall space, a conference auditorium with seating for 225 people and 9,000 square feet of function space in seven rooms (largest seats 250 for a meeting).
The newest offering for meetings in South Padre Island is Schlitterbahn Beach Resort, which opened in August next to Schlitterbahn Waterpark. The new 221-room resort has its own indoor waterpark, a vintage 1950s carousel and a conference area that can accommodate up to 330 people, with meeting space expansion plans under way. Elsewhere, hotel venues in South Padre Island include six beachfront properties that can handle groups of up to 250 people. These are the 262-room Pearl South Padre; the Isla Grand Beach Resort, with 193 rooms and two-bedroom condominiums; the 147-room Hilton Garden Inn; 147-room La Quinta Inn & Suites; and the 146-room La Copa Inn Beach Front Hotel.
Special events on South Padre Island most often revolve around the water, either with a great view or actually afloat. Offering some of the best views on the island are see4ever, a 9,000-square-foot rooftop space at Schlitterbahn Resort that can handle 512 people for a banquet; Pier 19, a restaurant on a pier jutting out into the bay that can host a party for up to 70 people; and Clayton's Beach Bar & Grill, which offers both an expansive open deck and a covered area just a few yards from the waves. For those who want to set sail, there is the Black Dragon pirate ship, a replica of a 17th-century galleon that can handle a party for 85 people, and the Southern Wave, a catamaran that can accommodate 48 people.
As a tourist destination, South Padre Island is replete with places to get a bite to eat. There are fine dining restaurants such as Sea Ranch, a romantic spot that is considered the island's premier dining destination, and a number of casual restaurants with great local cuisine. Three that are especially welcoming to groups are Blackbeards, which is famous for its steak burgers and fried seafood platters; Louie's Backyard, a large seafood and stead restaurant resting on the bay that features an large deck overlooking the water; and Dirty Al's, a funky favorite with locals, many who rave about the establishment's fried shrimp.
On the action side, the area is known for great deep-sea fishing, parasailing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, dolphin watching, scuba diving, golfing and birdwatching (more than 300 species). Groups can also arrange to go horseback riding on the beach or have a team-building contest guided by local sandcastle building experts.