Beaches

Best Gulf Coast Beaches

Filed Under: Alabama, Florida, Texas

The scores of Gulf Coast beaches beckon travelers with promises of emerald waters, brilliant white beaches, picturesque sand dunes with waving sea oats, excellent nature hikes and ample bird-watching. Read on to discover our picks for the best Gulf Coast beaches.

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Destin, Florida
With brilliant blue waves lapping gently upon sands as soft and white as sugar, it makes good sense that the stretch of Florida shore where Destin lies would be coined, "The Emerald Coast." Truly, this tranquil, charming beach town in Florida's Panhandle is a gem. Twelve beach access points can be found along Destin's coastline; while all are truly lovely, the 1 1/2-mile Henderson Beach State Park is a waterfront Eden.

Beach lovers and families set up camp with myriad towels, chairs and umbrellas, whiling away hours basking in the sun, quietly reading a novel or splashing in the surf. When lying by the beach grows tiresome, charter one of Destin's ubiquitous fishing boats for a day spent trawling the Gulf for a catch. Fishing has grown so popular in Destin that it now claims to be home to Florida's largest fishing fleet, and has boldly dubbed itself "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village." The area is also a popular golf destination; head to nearby Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and find 72 holes spread over 3 painstakingly manicured courses.
Dan Thibodeaux, flickr
Galveston Island State Park, Texas
The port town of Galveston, located on a barrier island off the Texas coast, has earned its marks as a popular vacation destination, particularly for residents of nearby Houston. Still, the appeal of its swaths of beaches and its downtown historic district lure travelers from across the country to Galveston's shores. As a whole, Galveston Island feels like a major resort destination; 32 miles of beaches, numerous resorts, restaurants, shops and galleries can be explored, particularly in the quaint Victorian downtown.
For respite from the masses, head to the quiet oasis of Galveston Island State Park's 2,000 acres, a mostly undeveloped stretch of land and shore. Here, you'll be able to take dips in the water (be careful, there are no lifeguards in attendance), or enjoy a number of outdoor activities like bird-watching, biking, fishing and picnicking. Camping is one of the park's most popular activities, and 66 campsites exist in the park, including 36 sites facing the beach.
Rachel Kramer, flickr
St. George Island, Florida
Tucked into the crook of Florida's Panhandle, St. George Island tops many locals' list of Florida's best beaches. A 22-mile-long barrier island located just off the coast, St. George's is technically part of the long stretch of beaches known as Gulf Islands National Seashore. The island appears to be a mecca for wildlife. In fact, the island's far eastern end is home to St. George Island State Park, 9 miles of completely undeveloped coastline, where you'll likely see scores of birds, like black skimmers, nesting amid the island's rolling sand dunes.  

Come early summer, the beach proves attractive to another visitor: loggerhead sea turtles that come ashore to dig nests and lay eggs. At nightfall, the baby sea turtles can be seen making their way toward the water. A number of trails, boardwalks and viewing platforms wind through the park, and make for excellent, easy hiking and wildlife viewing. St. George's is also an excellent destination for fishing and many charter companies offer daily trips into the surrounding Gulf waters, rich with flounder, trout and redfish.
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Not everyone considers Alabama a likely Gulf Coast beach destination, preferring instead the Florida Panhandle beaches. Oh, but they should reconsider. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL, lie in proximity to the splendid shores of Florida's "Emerald Coast," and offers beachgoers 32 miles of spectacular, sugar-white beaches, as well as nearby outdoor activities and family attractions. But first, the beaches.

Hit the sands at Gulf State Park, set amid the dunes and wild sea oats. This family-friendly beach features a newly built outdoor pavilion with air-conditioned restrooms, showers, tables and benches for eating, a snackbar and even a fireplace, perfect for warming your toes on chilly afternoons or evenings. For a bit more action, hit the sands at Gulf Shores Public Beach, a favorite local hangout, where volleyball games and sipping cold beers with pals can occupy your laidback time. For outdoor activities, make a trip to nearby Dauphin Island, where you'll find the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and fishing pier. Should the kids get restless, head to Adventure Island amusement park or the waterpark at Waterville, USA.
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West Ship Island, Mississippi
Back in the days before multiple hurricanes had battered the Gulf Coast, there was but one Ship Island. Then in 1969, rising water and erosion from Hurricane Camille split the barrier island into East and West Ship Islands, though local officials have presented plans for reconnecting the two in the coming years.

Today, visitors can take the Ship Island Excursions ferry from Gulfport, MS, on a 12-mile journey to West Ship Island, where they'll spend the day lounging on the shores, or exploring Fort Massachusetts, built in the mid-19th century to protect the coast from attacks by foreign navies. Besides swimming in the calm waters or lounging on the beach, the island is an ideal destination for quieter beach pursuits, such as shelling, birding, fishing and nature photography. West Ship Island is part of Gulf Shores National Seashore, and remains open to visitors from sunrise to sunset; no camping or overnight stays are allowed, and visitors must traverse the island by foot.

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer, editor and producer who has worked with the Travel Channel for more than 14 years, specializing in travel topics including the world's best beaches, outdoor travel and romantic getaways. Her work also appears in many online and print publications including, Aol Travel, Discovery Channel, World Hum, Frommer's Travel Guides, the Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets. She blogs about her travels at PassengerConners.com.

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