The majestic Gulf Coast waters lap the shores of seven US states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Spanning hundreds of miles and welcoming millions of tourists each year, it’s not hard to find a sandy place to soak up some sun. But to make it an even easier decision, we’ve narrowed down the best Gulf Coast beaches to visit.
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Gulf Shores is home to incredible beaches, including West Beach, a heavenly retreat for vacationers looking for a quiet place for a getaway. This destination is less crowded than the more well-known beaches in the area and one of the best Gulf Coast beaches for a relaxing vacation. Here, there is an abundance of single family beach house rentals mixed with the occasional complex of condo rentals for vacationers to enjoy. The added space and privacy that these rentals provide make West Beach an ideal destination for families and those traveling in large groups.
The beach itself stretches for six miles and soft, sugary-white sands carpet the expansive shoreline. West Beach becomes less congested the farther west you go, and it is impressively clean for the amount of beachgoers that camp out here each day. Seasonal lifeguards are on duty at this top Gulf Coast beach from March until September each year, but the waters remain relatively calm, so families can enjoy the beach at ease. Another perk of visiting West Beach is that the water temperatures become bathtub-warm during the summer and are slow to cool off during the off season as the weather along the Gulf Shore remains mild year-long.
Located on the Fort Morgan peninsula and jutting into Mobile Bay, West Beach is easy to reach by car as West Beach Boulevard runs parallel to the coast. While the majority of the beach is free and open to the public, parking is not free at all lots. Park at one of the lots on West 4th or West 5th streets to save money on parking, otherwise you’ll pay a nominal fee to park. The perks of paying to park are that these lots typically have restroom and shower facilities. West Beach does not have concession stands but many beachfront restaurants and cafes are only ever steps away from the beach.
The Emerald Coast, aptly named for the brilliant blue-green waters that lap its shores, is home to Destin, Florida. One of the best Gulf Coast beaches to vacation, this destination beckons millions of visitors each year to stay in the plethora of Destin vacation rentals available on and around its beautiful beaches. It is the perfect place for those interested in pure, white-sand beaches without the distraction of over-the-top tourist attractions.
Destin has so much pristine coastline to enjoy, but Henderson Beach State Park in the eastern part of the city is one of the best Gulf Coast beaches here to visit. Admission to the park is on a per car basis and the small entry fee is worth it to relax amongst swaying dunes and sand pines. Boardwalks give visitors access to excellent swimming, sunbathing and fishing spots, and there are pavilions for picnicking and grilling spread out around the grounds. Henderson Beach even has air conditioned and heated bathhouse facilities open to vacationers year-round. Although there are no lifeguards on duty at this beach, colored flags are posted along the shoreline and indicate the swimming conditions at that time.
The area got its start as a small fishing village, and it has not lost its appeal for vacationers that look forward to spending enjoyable days fishing at one of the top beaches on the Gulf Coast. The city’s underwater population is vast, and the surrounding waters teem with trout, grouper, and flounder, among many other types of fish. Choose between casting a line from a spot in the sand or venture out to the deep seas off shore to reel in fresh catch during one of your vacation days.
Lather on sunscreen, grab your towel and head to the breathtaking beaches of Siesta Key. Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach and Crescent Beach are three of the best along this barrier island’s 35 miles of coastline. Each spot has white-quartz sands that almost shimmer in the sunlight and the sand stays cool to the touch all day long, making it perfect for strolling along the beach. Siesta Beach has relatively shallow waters and it is monitored by lifeguards year-round. For those looking to stay active, take advantage of the horseshoe pit, playground, volleyball courts and picnic areas at Turtle Beach. Crescent Beach has limited parking, which helps give it a more secluded feel than the other Siesta Key beaches. Here, visitors can enjoy tranquil waters that provide a safe spot for swimming in the warm, azure waters.
Just off the southern tip of Crescent Beach is Point of Rocks, one of the best places for snorkeling and underwater exploration along the Gulf Coast beaches. It is made up of large chunks of limestone covered with coral and sponges and a range of sea life inhabit these underwater formations.
Siesta Key is a top beach town to visit on the Gulf Coast year-round as the weather is consistently mild to warm in temperature. Stay in an oceanfront rental for ultimate convenience, so you never have to leave the beach or rent a place amidst the quirky shopping and nightlife options. During your stay, there will always be something unique to see, whether it’s wildlife or locals performing the Siesta Key Drum Circle, and the beach and bay will always be within reach.
Although Mississippi might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of the best Gulf Coast beaches, West Ship Island is a top vacation spot for adventurous beachgoers. Part of Gulf Shores National Seashore, West Ship Island is a quiet place to spend the day and leave the stresses of the mainland behind. Since no overnight stays are allowed on this barrier island, book a Gulfport beach rental or stay in a Biloxi condo rental, so you have a comfortable place to return to after a day of soaking up sun.
West Ship Island is ever-changing as its position as a first line of defense from hurricanes for the mainland causes much erosion. As a result, there are not a lot of amenities on the island and this Gulf Coast beach is not for those looking to be surrounded by lots of shops and restaurants. Prepare for a day trip here by packing snacks, sun tan lotion and a cooler with lots of beverages to avoid the long hike to the snack bar on South Beach. You can bring your own food and drinks or purchase them on the ferry ride to the island. If you’d rather travel light though, there is a boardwalk where visitors can purchase food, rent beach chairs and umbrellas, and use the restrooms and shower facilities. Seasonal lifeguards are also available at the end of the boardwalk if you choose to make the trek.
While the beautiful beaches are the main allure for visitors, the island is also home to Fort Massachusetts and a variety of wildlife. Fort Massachusetts is a great place to explore for history buffs and those who can’t sit still for an entire day at the beach. In terms of wildlife, from the shore beachgoers can enjoy birding, shelling, and watching for dolphins, while excellent snorkeling spots can be found in the surrounding waters. Although, the island is small in size, it is great in opportunities for fun.
For a bustling beach getaway on the Gulf Coast, make your way to Galveston Island off the coast of Texas. With 32 miles of sandy beaches surrounded by a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries, this destination is a perfect place to book a Galveston vacation rental and escape from reality for a few days. Here, the dune-backed beaches are some of the prettiest along the Gulf Coast of Texas and the action is non-stop for vacationers looking to make the most of their vacation time.
One of the reasons that Galveston Island is known for the best Gulf Coast beaches is because there is a beach park for everyone. From wide swaths of sand surrounded by gift shops, beach gear rental stores and public amenities, to quieter stretches of uninterrupted beach all vacationers will enjoy their time here. Seawall Urban Park is centrally located near local attractions, offers the nation’s longest continuous sidewalk for running, biking or people watching, as well as cheap parking. Galveston Island State Park offers a quieter retreat where beachgoers can spend a relaxing day among nature. There is a per person entry fee here, but it is worth it to spend the day at the park’s undeveloped 2,000 acres.
It’s impossible to consider the best Gulf Coast beaches and not include South Padre Island on the list. Situated just off the southern tip of Texas, this barrier island is only one-half mile wide, but it features long stretches of luxurious sand, sparkling blue waters, and an abundance of activities to enjoy at its Gulf Coast beaches. It is a tropical paradise for young and young-at-heart that makes for an excellent vacation spot.
The shores that line South Padre Island are impeccably clean and well-maintained, so tourists can spend relaxing days at the beaches here. The surrounding ocean is typically warm and perfect for swimming, while the shallow waters make it an ideal place for families on vacation. Here, the beaches are wide enough for visitors to spread out, and they allow ample space for sand sculpting. South Padre Island is also one of the best Gulf Coast beaches to enjoy a variety of water sports. Its waves are home to some of the best surfing on the Gulf of Mexico, and other popular water activities include parasailing, kayaking and boating.
This Gulf Coast destination does get crowded by spring-breakers during parts of March and April, so visit during a different month if you’re looking for a more relaxing or family-oriented trip. Stay in one of the many South Padre Island vacation rentals for ultimate comfort and classic beach charm.
You’re in for a treat when you visit the pristine beaches of Marco Island as this destination is for the traveler who enjoys comfort and luxury during a beach vacation. Marco Island is one of the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, and it boasts a magical and alluring atmosphere. Book a colorful Marco Island vacation rental right on the water to avoid paying for parking and to maximize your time at some of the top Gulf Coast beaches here.
The beaches here have sun-washed, white sands that stretch for miles and waters that remain warm for the majority of the year. Tigertail Beach is one of the most popular options for visitors and locals alike as it offers beachgoers all of the essential amenities. There are restrooms available, beach equipment rentals, a concession stand and ample parking, so all you need to bring is yourself for fun in the sun. Seasonal lifeguards are also on duty at this beach, so it is a safe place to bring the entire family. At the opposite end of the island, South Marco Beach is a bit smaller, but vacationers can also enjoy this hot spot from sunrise to sundown each day. There are also countless private beaches that outline the island, so check with the owners of your Marco Island vacation rentals to see if beach access is included during your stay.
Marco Island offers an upscale retreat and attracts mostly families and older travelers. Here, breathtaking beaches and stunning natural beauty is the focus, rather than rowdy bars and cliché tourist attractions.
When you just want to dip your toes in the Gulf of Mexico and sunbathe in peace, St. George Island is the perfect vacation spot. Part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, this Florida barrier island offers beachgoers a rare swath of totally undeveloped coastline perfect for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and playing around. With a variety of cozy beach rentals to choose from, vacationers will feel right at home during a trip here.
Visitors flock to St. George Island to enjoy the sugary sands and crystal-blue waters that lap the untainted shores. Nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachicola Bay, the island has two public beaches, Massingale Park Beach and Coast Guard Station Beach, both of which have lifeguards on duty during the summer season and a bathhouse open to beachgoers. At these beaches, the waves are calm and the water’s warm temperatures are inviting to swimmers. Families love these beaches as the sands are smooth and soft and there is an abundance of seashells to be collected along the shore. For adults, drinking is permitted in the sand and relaxing by the beach is a way of life.
St. George Island is also a dream for nature-lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. The island beaches here are lined with swaying seat oats, scrub and splash pine flatwoods, which provide a pretty setting or walk to the beach. Whether actively looking or not, it’s also likely that visitors will see nesting loggerhead sea turtles when visiting between the months of May and October. The island is home to many turtles and unique wildlife, which is part of what makes it one of the best Gulf Coast beaches for vacationers to escape to.
Orange Beach lies at the easternmost part of Alabama’s coast and it borders Florida’s Perdido Key along the state’s Emerald Coast. It offers the perfect combination of beautiful beaches and outdoor adventures, which has helped this destination earn its reputation as one of the best Gulf Coast beaches.
Dig your toes in the sand and allow yourself to sink into the pristine beaches that makes up this coastal paradise. Orange Beach Waterfront Park is a popular spot to bring the family as it is open year-round and offers public beach access. Work up a sweat jogging the nearby Back Country Trail before cooling off in the surrounding waters. Set right on Wolf Bay, this park is a scenic setting to spend the day and includes amenities like picnic tables, a playground, restrooms, and a 400-foot fishing pier that juts into the bay.
Another advantage of Orange Beach is that vacationers have access to both the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the interior bays and bayous just north of this beach town. Explore these waters by kayak, sailboat or a deep sea fishing excursion and realize the area’s natural beauty. Book an Orange Beach vacation rental close right in the heart of things, so you can enjoy the town’s stunning beaches and lively atmosphere.
Panama City Beach is among the best Gulf Coast beaches to enjoy all year long – not just during Spring Break. It is one of the most breathtaking of the Emerald Coast beaches along the Florida Panhandle, with crystal-clear blue waters and snow-white sands that shimmer in the sunlight. Panama City Beach condo rentals provide easy access to public beaches and ultimate convenience during a trip to the beach.
There are over 27 miles of beaches to choose from here, with nearly 100 public access points, and each one has its advantages. Follow the crowds to Schooner’s beach where vacationers can see and be seen while grabbing a cold drink on a hot day. Join a beach volleyball game here or show off your tan among the younger crowd. For a quieter escape at a more undeveloped beach, head to Camp Helen State Park or St. Andrews State Park. You’ll never be far from a refreshing sea breeze at either beach and the parks’ natural beauty is breathtaking. Enjoy swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling or scuba diving along the Gulf Coast, but pay attention to the beach warning flags as there are no lifeguards on duty at either park.
Vacationers come to Panama City Beach for its soft, quartz sands and spectacular sunsets and return for its lively beach atmosphere and friendly vibe year after year.