On the Road
Seafood and sand await in Cameron County's Rio Grande Valley
The title for the southernmost county in Texas belongs to Cameron County, part of the Rio Grande Valley. And heading due south on a road trip pays off, with everything from sand and surf to the best local seafood — and even a taste of outer space.
Consult this short list of not-to-be-missed attractions.
South Padre Island
As the Sandcastle Capital of the World, South Padre Island has the beach sculptures — and sculptors — to prove it; you can even take a lesson to work on your sand skills when you’re not swimming, snorkeling, or exploring the barrier island.
You can also go fishing, and then have your catch cooked at a local restaurant. Or just grab a seat at one of more than 40 local dining and live music spots for amazing seafood, entertainment, and bayside views.
For the nature tourist, the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center boasts premier birdwatching and Sea Turtle, Inc. harbors the endangered Kemp’s Ridley species.
Plus, there are fireworks nearly every night, all summer long.
Just across the bay from South Padre Island is the SpaceX Boca Chica launch site, where some of the most advanced rockets are being tested for everything from near orbital satellite deployments to the Mars mission.
One of the best places to watch a launch is the Isla Blanca Park, which you’ll want to go to anyway for its mile-long pristine beach on the southernmost tip of South Padre Island.
Gladys Porter Zoo
The Gladys Porter Zoo is located on 31 acres in central Brownsville, where there’s a diverse ensemble of 377 species of animals and 225 species of plants.
The park is divided into four zoogeographic areas: Africa, Asia, Tropical America, and Indo-Australia.
There is also a herpetarium for reptiles and amphibians, a free-flight aviary, a macaw canyon, bear grottos, a Komodo dragon exhibit, and even a “small world” baby-animal nursery.
As one of the oldest cities in South Texas, Port Isabel has a long and interesting history that dates back to 1519, when it was charted by Spanish explorer Alonzo de Pineda.
You’ll definitely notice the historic lighthouse that’s right in the center of town, where you can climb to the top of the 70-foot tower to see the expansive view. During the summer, movies are projected on the side of the lighthouse every Thursday night, too.
Make sure to swing by Treasures of the Gulf Museum for a fascinating look at the Spanish fleet that shipwrecked in 1554 with artifacts ranging from silver coins to ship cannons.
Long heralded as the best seafood in Port Isabel, Pelican Station is a delicious place to grab a bite; it’s located at the historic site of the original Rio Grande Railroad. And with one of Texas’s longest lighted fishing piers, this is definitely the place to cast a line.
Palo Alto Battlefield
The Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park is the site of the first major battle of the U.S.-Mexican War. During the half-mile walk to the battlefield overlook, you’ll see a landscape very much like the one experienced by soldiers in 1846.
Two additional trails lead out to the U.S. and Mexican battle lines. But Palo Alto is more than just a battlefield — the park contains an assortment of habitats and an abundance of animal life, including many species unique to the U.S-Mexico border region.
Resaca de la Palma State Park
An especially rich birding environment, Resaca de la Palma State Park is a great place to take in nature at every turn with three main habitats, including 60 acres of wetland, 420 acres of mature woodland with ebony trees, and 720 acres of woodland and savannah with mesquite.
You can hike more than eight miles of trail while you’re there and then watch for wildlife from four different decks overlooking the resaca, or riverbed.
There is a fast, convenient, and affordable way to travel on SH 550 all throughout Cameron County, even all the way to South Padre Island: Fuego Tag. Enjoy discounted toll rates, automatic toll deductions from your prepaid balance, and easy online access.
Learn more about Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley at ExploreRGV.com.