How to Visit Starbase Texas | Planning a Trip to the Starbase Area
So maybe you’re a casual space enthusiast who just came across a Starship test video online and you’re starting to feel the launch fever. Or maybe you've been obsessively following development at Boca Chica for years and have been planning a visit to Starbase for a while now. Either way, now you’ve decided to buckle down and make the trip to Starbase to see those big shiny rockets up close and in person. But how do you start the planning process? Well, that's where this guide comes in! Welcome to the comprehensive guide for all of your Starbase trip planning needs.
The Starbase Area
To get started, it can be useful to know a bit about the geography of the county that Starbase is located in, Cameron County. For incoming space tourists, it’s good to be familiar with three major parts within the county, Starbase, South Padre Island, and Brownsville. They are roughly laid out in a triangle, and getting your bearings within these areas will make it much easier to plan out your trip.
The first area is (obviously) Starbase itself. Starbase is located on the very southern tip of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico, just below the Rio Grande River. It's in the most southeastern tip of Cameron County which happens to be the most southeastern tip of the entire state of Texas. It’s certainly off of the beaten path.
The two main areas of Starbase are the Build Site (the factory where they build the rockets) and the Launch Site (the area where they launch the rockets). The Build Site is located just off of Highway 4 and is home to famous structures like the High Bay, the Mega Bay, the Starfactory, the construction tents, and the Stargate building. A couple of miles east (just a few hundred yards off of Boca Chica Beach) is the Launch Site which is anchored by the massive Orbital Launch Tower and multiple Launch Mounts. For more information on the facility, check out our guide to Starbase!
Fun fact: the geography of Starbase is actually beneficial for rocket launches. The closer a rocket is to the Equator when it launches, the easier it is to get to orbit due to being able to take advantage of Earth’s rotation. This reduces fuel costs and maximizes payload to orbit. Additionally, being located directly on the Gulf of Mexico allows rockets to take off due east over the water which is much safer than flying over populated land in the event of a rapid unscheduled disassembly.
Brownsville is a bustling city located west of Starbase. Known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and warm climate, Brownsville is also the largest city in Cameron County. With its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican border, the city offers a unique blend of coastal and cultural attractions. From museums and historic sites to outdoor recreation and shopping, Brownsville offers a little something for everyone. Recently Brownsville has been undergoing a historic renovation to the downtown area which was partially financed through a donation from Elon Musk.
Location-wise, Brownsville is located around 25 miles west of Starbase. It is easily accessible via Highway 4 and you can get there in a roughly 45 minute drive due directly east.
South Padre Island
South Padre Island, commonly abbreviated as SPI, is a cute little beach town located a few north of Starbase. Commonly recognized for having some of the nicest beaches in Texas, SPI is a popular summer destination for Texan families. It also happens to be the Spring Break destination of choice for many college students in Texas.
Many South Padre Island locals live in-land across the island bridge in a quieter town called Port Isabel which is also on the water. From Brownsville, there is one route in and out of the SPI/Port Isabel area. To get there, you must take Highway 48 past the Port of Brownsville.
Because rockets at Starbase will take off due east over the Gulf, South Padre Island is one of the best viewing areas for watching a rocket launch.
Unfortunately, the geography of the Rio Grande river makes actually driving between these three destinations challenging. There is no direct route across the water from South Padre Island to Starbase so to get there, you must backtrack most of the way to Brownsville, and then wrap around near the Port of Brownsville to follow Highway 4 out to Starbase. This drive takes nearly an hour, even though it’s only a couple of miles as the crow flies.
There have been discussions of adding some sort of bridge (or tunnel) at some point in the future but there have been no concrete developments here yet. (Though SpaceX employees have begun commuting via hovercraft.)
Where to Fly When Visiting Starbase
If you're looking to make a trip to Starbase, the first thing you'll probably need to figure out is where to fly into. (Feel free to skip this section if you're already within driving distance, of course.)
Depending on where you will be flying from, there are a few airport options of varying complexity. For those already in Texas looking for a short flight, there are direct flights to the Rio Grande Valley from a few major airports. If you’re flying from further away and you don’t want to connect (or if you’re just up for a bit of a drive!), then you can fly into an airport a few hours further north. If you are an international space tourist who will be visiting Texas for an extended period of time, we’d recommend flying into either Austin or Houston to see a bit more of the state.
Brownsville (Airport code: BRO)
For the easiest possible journey, you'll want to fly directly into the Brownsville area. Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport is located east of the Brownsville city limits towards Starbase. From here, it is around a 30 minute drive east to Starbase or South Padre Island, or a 10 minute drive west to downtown Brownsville.
The Brownsville airport is serviced by three rental car companies: AVIS, Budget, and Enterprise/National. There is also a free shuttle service called the Island Metro that runs to South Padre Island which picks up at the airport every 40 minutes.
Unfortunately, there aren't many origin airports that offer direct flights to Brownville. In order to land there, you'll need to connect via either Dallas or Houston. If you do end up around this airport though, make sure to check out the Starship flap on display right outside of the entrance!
Harlingen (Airport Code: HRL)
Valley International Airport in Harlingen is the largest airport in the lower Rio Grande Valley and is another option for a near-ish flight. It's a bit further from Starbase than the Brownsville airport, but is only about an hour northwest so it is still very driveable. Harlingen is serviced by American, Southwest, and United Airlines. From here, you can rent a car from AVIS, Budget, Enterprise, or Hertz and make the drive to wherever you are staying.
Austin (Airport Code: AUS)
If you’re up for a bit of a drive, Austin is a great option. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is located just over a 5 hour drive away from Starbase. This large airport offers direct flights from many cities in the US, as well as international cities in Mexico and Canada.
Austin is a city like no other, and it's the perfect stopover destination for anyone looking for an amazing blend of culture, music, food, and nature. As the state capital and one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Austin is a hub of activity and excitement. If you choose this option, plan to spend at least a day or two exploring the city and its numerous food truck parks, craft breweries, music venues, and various outdoor activities.
To drive to Starbase from Austin, take I-35 south to San Antonio and then follow I-37 and local highways down into the Rio Grande Valley towards Brownsville.
Houston (Airport Code: IAH)
As one of the largest cities in the United States, Houston has a lot to offer for visitors of all ages and interests. George Bush Intercontinental Airport is serviced by most major airlines and offers direct flights to South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Arriving here will put you around a 6 hour drive from Starbase.
Fellow space nerds absolutely have to visit NASA's Johnson Space Center while in town. This world-renowned facility offers a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the American space program. You can take a tour of the center, go inside a Space Shuttle, be up close with a Saturn V, visit Mission Control, and learn about all of the exciting research and development that takes place there. There are even opportunities to meet astronauts, who can answer any questions you have about life in space.
Houston is also a hub of culture and food, and has a thriving art scene that includes The Museum of Fine Arts, one of the largest art museums in the country.
To get to Starbase from Houston, take I-69 west out of the city to Highway 59. This will eventually turn into Highway 77 which runs down into the Rio Grande Valley.
Getting Around the Starbase Area
Things are a bit spread out here in Texas. Because of this, the easiest way to get around Starbase and the surrounding areas is definitely by car and we strongly recommend this route. There are plenty of car rental places or other options for those who choose to fly in, and if you drive to the area, then obviously you already have this covered.
By public transport
If you do decide to take public transit, there are options, but be prepared for a fairly slow and limited method of getting around. Brownsville has a local bus system that can be utilized. There are 14 different bus routes that can take you to different parts of the city. Route 50 picks up at the Brownsville airport and runs out to Port Isabel near South Padre Island.
Over on the island, there is a different bus system called the Island Metro which services all of South Padre Island and Port Isabel with regular pickups.
While we probably wouldn’t recommend this option due to the distances involved, there are ridesharing services available around the area. If you get stuck somewhere late at night and you just need to get home, then ridesharing is definitely an option.
Where to Stay when Visiting Starbase
Trying to stay as close to the action as possible? If you're a hardcore rocket fan and you don't mind roughing it a bit, you really can't beat staying at Rocket Ranch. Located only a few miles from Starbase facility and run by fellow space enthusiasts, Rocket Ranch offers affordable, no-frills accommodation in the form of cabin rentals, RV camping spots and bunkhouses. The Ranch House sleeps 10 which is great for large groups, RV spots come with full hookups and access to a shared shower and bathroom facility, and the bunkhouses offer basic sleeping quarters with shared bathrooms. All three options offer the unique experience of being right near all the action at the Starbase facility, and are a great choice for those who simply can't get enough of the rockets and space-related activities nearby.
South Padre Island
If you're looking for a more traditional hotel option (or if you're trying to convince a non-space-enthusiast to join you on your trip), then pitching the whole thing as a beach trip could be the right move!
There are a variety of hotel options to choose from at South Padre, ranging from budget-friendly to luxury accommodations. From beachfront hotels with breathtaking ocean views to cozy inns tucked away in the dunes, there are options to fit every traveler's needs and budget. There are hundreds of vacation rentals on the island as well, including options like Airbnb and Vrbo. Regardless of the type of accommodation you choose, you’ll enjoy warm Gulf breezes, and there will be plenty of nearby food spots, shopping options, and other beachfront attractions.
If you're looking for something with more local vibes, Brownsville could be a great spot for you. With a population of nearly 200,000, Brownsville has a large number of hotels and Airbnbs that can easily accommodate all group sizes. Though it’s not on the beach, Brownsville offers a cheaper option for those who want to experience a more traditional South Texas trip with tons of options for food, drink, and entertainment.
Things to Do Around Starbase
While many of you probably came across this guide while searching for a way to get up close and personal with some massive rockets, there are plenty of fun things to do around town when visiting this part of Texas.
Obviously, this will be at the top of most space tourist’s lists. Like we mentioned earlier, to get to Starbase, simply take Highway 4 due east out of Brownsville for some good ol’ fashioned tankwatching. Most of Starbase is easily viewable from the road as long as you stay on the opposite side of the highway from SpaceX’s facilities. There will be security guards around so please don’t push your luck and ruin this amazing opportunity to be up-and-close with super cool rockets.
If you’re interested in learning about all of the specific sections of the facility and how it is laid out, feel free to check out our guide to Starbase where we provide an overview of the facility.
One other important thing to remember: if you’re an international traveler, make sure that you bring your passport on the drive to Starbase. There is a small border checkpoint that you must pass through when returning from Starbase on Highway 4, and it will save a lot of headache if you have your passport with you.
Relax on the Beach
Many of the top-rated beaches in Texas can be found around the Starbase area. This includes South Padre Island which we’ve touched on a few times in this guide already. South Padre is known for its stunning beaches with clear blue waters and soft sand, making it a perfect destination for beach lovers. It offers a multi-mile long and wide open sandy beach with dozens of parking lots and access points. There are also plenty of various water sport activity options such as kayaking, paddleboarding, and kiteboarding. And don't forget to bring your camera to capture the breathtaking views and colorful Texas sunsets.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more secluded beach day, Boca Chica Beach is a hidden gem located just a few hundred yards past the Starbase Launch Facility where Highway 4 dead ends into the Gulf. Known for its pristine beauty, this quiet shore is a perfect destination for those seeking a more peaceful beach day in South Texas. Boca Chica Beach is a popular spot for bird-watching, and is a great place to swim, fish, and sunbathe. It’s also the perfect place to put your photography skills to the test and take some memorable vacation photos – involving both nature and shiny rockets.
Parking at Boca Chica Beach is fairly minimal. There is street parking available on the side of Highway 4 near the Starbase Launch Site, but the beach is also accessible by vehicle. However, we recommend avoiding driving on the sand unless you have a car or truck with 4WD and are comfortable with off-roading. People constantly get stuck in the sand here and it can be a real pain to get vehicles out once they’re dug in.
This beach is open to the public year-round, but make sure that you check the county website for road closures before you leave since Highway 4 will sometimes be closed due to Starship testing.
Unfortunately, there aren't any good food options for non-SpaceX employees near Starbase (yet), so we recommend stopping at the local H-E-B to pick up a picnic for the beach! Just make sure you carry your trash out with you.
Learn about Sea Turtles
Sea Turtle Inc is an organization on South Padre Island dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sea turtles back into the wild. This unique facility offers visitors the opportunity to learn about these fascinating creatures through daily educational programs and hands-on experiences. Visitors can observe sea turtles in their natural habitats, witness sea turtle releases, and participate in interactive exhibits and programs.
The organization also provides a sanctuary for injured and sick sea turtles, and works to promote conservation and protection of these magnificent animals. Sea Turtle Inc is a must-visit for anyone who is interested in learning about sea turtles and the efforts being made to protect them.
For those who have been following progress at Starbase for a while, Sea Turtle Inc is the same organization that SpaceX worked with to save cold-stunned sea turtles during the deep freeze in the 2021 Texas Winter Storm.
Have a craft beer
Brownsville is relatively new to the craft beer scene, but many destinations have begun to pop up in the past few years catering to the demographic of craft beer aficionados. Recently this scene has gained a lot of traction with the emergence of some dedicated craft beer bars. In addition, the more traditional bars and restaurants have begun to stock craft options as well. This growth not only offers a fun experience for visitors and locals, but also supports the growth of the local economy through the creation of new jobs and the promotion of local businesses.
For more information and suggestions about specific craft beer destinations, you'll definitely want to check out our guide to craft beer in the RGV. (And make sure you try a Starbase brew while you’re in town!)
Conquer the Taco Trail
There are amazing food options to be found all over Cameron County, but the standout is definitely the tacos. And if you want to experience some of the greatest tacos you’ve ever eaten, we recommend the Taco Trail. Any visitor can download the Taco Trail Passport app and then drop by any of the 12 local taquerias to sample the best tacos that Brownsville has to offer. Showing the app at each stop will net you a discount, and if you stop at all 12, you get a t-shirt! Oh, and did we mention the whole thing is free?
Attend Charro Days
If you're planning a visit to the Starbase facility in February, you might want to consider adding the Charro Days Festival to your itinerary. This annual event is held in nearby Brownsville and celebrates the city's Mexican and Texan heritage with a series of parades, live music, and cultural exhibits. Some famous attractions include the Charro Days Parade, which features colorful floats and marching bands, as well as the carnival, which offers a variety of food, games, and rides. One highlight of Charro Days is a massive multi-day party called Sombrero Fest, which is definitely worth checking out if you’re in town.
While Charro Days is primarily a local event, it is open to visitors and is a great opportunity to experience some of the culture and traditions of the Rio Grande Valley. Just be sure to plan your visit accordingly, as hotels and other accommodations may fill up quickly this time of year.
Brownsville is the cultural hub of the Rio Grande Valley, and is a fun destination for visitors to the Starbase facility who want to get familiar with the local area. Downtown Brownsville offers a variety of local shopping, dining, and nightlife options that will appeal to many visitors, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re in town to check out Starbase.
One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Gladys Porter Zoo, which is home to more than 1600 animals from around the world. (Fun fact, Harambe was born in this zoo.) If you're interested in local history and culture, be sure to visit the Brownsville Heritage Museum, which features exhibits on the history of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley, as well as a variety of temporary exhibits on topics ranging from art to science.
Did we miss anything in our visitors guide to Starbase? Please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!