Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site is one of the most iconic sites in Texas. This towering structure stands as a testament to the rich maritime history of the Gulf Coast. It is also the only lighthouse in Texas that allows visitors to climb to the top. Needless to say, it was on the top of our bucket list when we visited Port Isabel and South Padre Island during Thanksgiving Break.
Locals also call it the Point Isabel Lighthouse, due to its location on the point on Laguna Madre Bay. The impressive structure is hard to miss when you reach this corner of South Texas. The whitewashed light towers over downtown Port Isabel. Visitors can see it even from the Queen Isabella Causeway, when coming from South Padre Island.
Fun Fact: Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site is Texas’s smallest state park!
Where is the Point Isabel Lighthouse located?
Port Isabel Light is located in downtown Port Isabel in South Texas. It is at the foot of the Queen Isabella Causeway which connects Port Isabel to South Padre Island. The brick light is located on a 30-35 feet tall hill within Lighthouse Park.
Perched atop the mound, the lighthouse offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It stands proudly near the shores of the Laguna Madre Bay, with the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. The location itself adds to the allure of the site.
The area adjacent to the light is the Lighthouse Square. The lighthouse guides ships through the Brazos Santiago Pass between the barrier islands of South Padre and Brazos Island, where Boca Chica Beach is located.
Address: 421 E Queen Isabella Blvd
Port Isabel Lighthouse: History and Facts
The Port Isabel Lighthouse was built in 1852 when the Texas coast was peaking with maritime trade and bustling seaports. Its construction was prompted by the growing need for a navigational aid to guide ships safely through the treacherous waters of the Brazos Santiago Pass and into the Port of Matamoros in Mexico.
Work for the lighthouse was commissioned on September 28, 1850 and construction began in February 1852. With a height of 82 feet and a 3rd order Fresnel lens, the lighthouse was a beacon of safety for ships traveling to Texas. The light shone over a range of 16 miles, guiding ships to harbor. In 2022, a replica Fresnel Lens was installed to light up the area, details of which you can read here.
The lighthouse was kept dark during the Civil War and occupied by soldiers from the Confederate army at the beginning and by the Union soldiers towards the end to serve as a lookout post. You can read more about the history of this light here. The light has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. Today, the lighthouse and its grounds are a revered historic site in Texas and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
The light enjoys a strategic and commanding position on the coast. Add in the fact that Old Fort Polk (a former military hospital during the US-Mexican War) was once located adjacent to the lighthouse, and you can appreciate the maritime heritage, war history, and natural beauty of the light even more.
Interested in more history? Check out this fascinating FREE book about the lighthouse here.
Museum at the Keeper’s Cottage
When the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department acquired the lighthouse, they reconstructed the original Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage adjacent to the light and opened it as a museum. Today, the exhibits in the Keeper’s Cottage Museum are as exciting as seeing the lighthouse itself.
The Keeper’s Cottage serves as a gateway to understanding the site’s rich history. Inside, visitors can explore a series of exhibits that provide a glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper and the maritime heritage of the region. You’ll discover artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays that bring the past to life, including the lighthouse’s crucial role in guiding ships safely to their destinations.
Climbing to the top of the Port Isabel Lighthouse
One of the most exhilarating experiences at the Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site is the opportunity to climb to the top of the lighthouse itself. The ascent consists of a series of narrow, spiral steps that lead you to the lantern room. At the very top is a series of small ladders that leads you to the observation platform. There are a total of 75 stairs and 3 ladders and they will get you out of breath! But the view is worth every step!
Along the way, you’ll encounter informational plaques that detail the lighthouse’s history and significance. As you ascend, the view gradually unfolds. From the top, you can enjoy breathtaking vistas of the bay, the town of Port Isabel, and the shimmering waters beyond. It is a truly mesmerizing site. You can also see SpaceX rockets across the Brazos Santiago Pass in Boca Chica.
Port Isabel Light Timing and Fees
The Point Isabel Light is open daily in winter from 9 am to 6 pm. Summer hours are 10 am to 9 pm. The lighthouse occasionally closes during a SpaceX launch or if maintenance work is being undertaken, so check the website before you visit.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children 5-12 years of age. Seniors have discounted admission for $4. You can purchase the tickets at the lighthouse itself or at the Keeper’s Cottage Museum and Visitor Center.
Children under 5 are not allowed to climb the lighthouse because of the tricky spiral stairs and ladders. Children under 12 need to be supervised by an adult. There is low headroom in several areas, be prepared to bend low. Do not touch or get close to the Fresnel Lens.
Food, drinks, and large bags including backpacks are not allowed inside the lighthouse. Those with heart or respiratory problems are advised caution. Do not overexert yourself trying to reach the top of the light.
Special Events at the Lighthouse
Throughout the year, the Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site hosts special events, educational programs, and guided tours that enhance the visitor experience. These events provide a deeper understanding of the lighthouse’s history and the coastal culture of South Texas.
Most popular event is Movies at Lighthouse Park, a summer celebration that projects family friendly movies on the whitewashed lighthouse walls. The movie screenings are quite popular with locals as well as visitors to Port Isabel. An Easter Egg hunt also takes place at the light every April.
The Port Isabel Lighthouse has weathered storms, witnessed history, and guided countless ships to safety. Today, it stands as a guardian of the past, a symbol of maritime heritage, and a testament to the enduring spirit of those who have called this region home. By visiting this historic site in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, you not only gain insight into the history of the Texas coast but also contribute to its preservation for future generations to cherish and explore.
The Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site is a beacon of history and heritage that offers a fun, educational experience. It is a must when visiting Port Isabel and South Padre Island. We hope you enjoy your visit, drop us photos in the comments below.
Attractions near Port Isabel Lighthouse
After seeing the Port Isabel Light, be sure to visit the many attractions nearby. The Lighthouse Square itself has plenty of boutiques and stores for souvenir shopping and buying beach themed goods. It also has restaurants and cafes.
Pirates Landing located across from the Light is a fun place to visit with the kids. You can enjoy a meal with the pirates, climb aboard a pirate ship, or take a stroll on the longest fishing pier in Texas. Port Isabel Museums are also a must for history lovers.
Just a short drive across the causeway, you can visit South Padre Island. This is the only tropical island in Texas and famous for its white sand beaches and excellent birding at SPI Birding and Nature Center. Sea Turtle Inc on South Padre is a perfect place to watch some sea turtles. The island makes a great family beach vacation.
Have you climbed to the top of the Port Isabel Light yet?