Things to Do in Rio Grande Valley TX
Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle National Shrine
The original incarnation of this now-famous Basilica was a small wooden shrine. The second shrine, built in 1954, was destroyed by fire in 1970 when a suicidal pilot crashed into the tower, radioing ahead for children to get out. The current 3,500-seat shrine draws thousands of pilgrims each year from across Latin America. Open daily, San Juan. (956) 787-0033
A multi-entertainment complex housed in an historic movie theater. Located in the center of a designated entertainment district in McAllen, Cine El Rey has become the place to view locally produced films. 311 S. 17th St. (956) 971-9825
Coastal Studies Lab
A satellite of the University of Texas-Pan American, this lab studies and exhibits marine life such as crustaceans and marine vertebrates, as well as plant life. 100 Marine Lab Dr., SPI. (956) 761-2644 www.utpa.edu/csl
Commemorative Air Force – Rio Grande Valley Wing
This facility, positioned adjacent to the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport, houses 15 vintage airplanes in flying condition. Other exhibits include antique military vehicles, weapons and uniforms. An air show is held in March. (956) 541-8585
Dolphin Research & Sea Life Nature Center
Touch tanks provide a hands-on experience, where you can hold living specimens like starfish, hermit crabs, sea urchins and snails. Through videos, exhibits and boat tours, the Sea Life Center tells the story of its research and conservation efforts. You’ll also get an inside look at the center’s work with the Laguna Madre Tribe of Bottlenose Dolphins. Located at the end of the causeway on SPI, the Center is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday at 11 a.m. (956) 299-1957 www.spinaturecenter.com
Gladys Porter Zoo
With more than 1,500 animal specimens, Brownsville’s Gladys Porter Zoo specializes in collecting and breeding endangered species. The 31-acre park has such zoo favorites as gorillas, giraffes, lions and rhinos, as well as many other exotic animals. Virtually all animals live in open exhibits and can be viewed in their natural surroundings. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (956) 546-7187 www.gpz.org
Harlingen Municipal Auditorium
Theater productions, dance performances, fight competitions and conventions are just a few types of events that regularly visit the newly remodeled venue at 1204 Fair Park Blvd. in Harlingen. www.myharlingen.us
Iwo Jima Memorial
Fashioned from a photo of U.S. Marines planting the flag on Iwo Jima, this was the original statue used to cast the better-known monument in Arlington, VA. It is located on the campus of Harlingen’s Marine Military Academy. A Visitors’ Center includes a museum focusing on the battle with a 30-minute film and a gift shop. (956) 412-2207
La Lomita Mission
Built in 1865 by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Fathers, the little adobe chapel still stands next to the Rio Grande River, south of the City of Mission, which was named for it. In 1975, La Lomita (little hill) was entered in the National Register of Historic Places due to the important role it played in the development of the lower Rio Grande Valley. It is located off Farm Road 1016, near the Rio Grande, five miles south of Mission, in southwestern Hidalgo County.
Los Caminos del Rio
Los Caminos del Rio (the Roads of the River) features more than 45 sites along both sides of the Rio Grande that have contributed to the area’s heritage. A Los Caminos del Rio brochure, which includes site descriptions and a detailed map, may be available at the closest Chamber of Commerce or online at www.thc.state.tx.us/heritagetourism/ htcaminos.html. Explore Indian trails, Spanish colonial villages and vast ranching empires.
Los Ebanos Ferry
The sole remaining hand-drawn ferry in the U.S. connects the U.S. with Diaz Ordaz, Mexico. The ferry holds three cars and several people at a time. Visitors may park on the U.S. side and ride across and back for a small fee. Passport required!
McAllen Convention Center
Located on the corner of Ware Road and Highway 83, it hosts many music events and activities, including the Valley Symphany Orchestra. (956) 681-3800. www.mcallenconventioncenter.net
Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center
This Latino cultural arts center is named for the renowned Mexican accordion player known as the Father of Conjunto – a popular form of Tex-Mex music. The San Benito center promotes Latino heritage through art, music, theater, film, dance and literary programs. (956) 361-0110
Palo Alto Battlefield
Site of the first battle of the Mexican-American War, this field is a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service and open daily from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., with exhibits, interpretive tales, a bookstore and special events. (956) 541-2785
Palmito Ranch Battlefield
Site of the last battle of the U.S. Civil War, after most Confederate armies surrendered. Historic markers along Highway 4 east of Brownsville.
Port Isabel Lighthouse
One of the oldest lighthouses in the state, the Port Isabel Lighthouse was built in 1853 to guide ships through Brazos Santiago and the barrier islands. Recently restored to its 1880s appearance, it is the only lighthouse on the Texas coast open to the public. (956) 943-7602
A replica of the Keeper’s Cottage houses the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce, historic displays and tourist information. (956) 943-2262
Rio Grande City and Roma Historic Districts
At Rio Grande City, visit the beautifully restored La Borde House, the former Fort Ringgold, now home to the Rio Grande City Independent School District and a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in France. Roma’s National Historic Landmark District by the plaza features many restored historic buildings. Walk across the 770-foot-long, pedestrian-only Roma-Ciudad Miguel Aleman steel suspension bridge, built in the late 1920s.
Schlitterbahn Beach Water Park
This 26-acre park is the first Schlitterbahn venture outside of New Braunfels, TX, the number-one-rated water park in the U.S. The centerpiece of the park is a five-story sandcastle with animated characters mounted on six turrets connected by ramps, stairs and net climbs. There are man-made waves, five beaches, an activity pool, a wave river and sand volleyball courts. Open April-September. 33261 State Park Rd. 100, SPI (956) 772-7873 schlitterbahn.com/spi
Sea Turtle, Inc.
Established by Ila Loetscher, the legendary “Turtle Lady,” come see the sea turtles at the Sea Turtle Refuge and Museum. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at 6617 Padre Blvd., SPI. (956) 761-4511 www.seaturtleinc.org
State Farm Arena
This $20 million, multipurpose complex with a 6,800-seat arena is home to the Killer Bees Ice Hockey team, Valley Vipers Basketball NBA-D and arena football. Plus, there are a wide range of shows, events and concerts. (956) 843-6688 www.statefarmarena.com
Tejano Walk of Fame
This Edinburg attraction honors Tejano music stars. At its unveiling in 1999, the Tejano Walk of Fame inducted five musicians whose names were engraved in a marble star and placed in the walkway. Five musicians are inducted every year during Hispanic Heritage Month. (956) 383-4974
Texas Travel Information Center
Travel counselors offer free maps, calendars and literature, as well as help chart routes at this Center, operated by the TX Department of Highways and Public Transportation. There are free tourism audio/visual shows. Junction U.S. 77 and U.S. 83 in Harlingen. (956) 428-4477
Valley Race Park
Valley Race Park in Harlingen offers seasonal greyhound racing, November-April, with year-round, full-card simulcast racing from racetracks throughout the U.S. The 80,000-square-foot, air-conditioned facility has three dining areas to entertain family, friends and business associates. (956) 412-7223