The 9 Best Gulf Coast Beach Towns

If you want to enjoy the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico without splurging on an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, never fear. We’ve created a list of the best beach towns along the Gulf Coast that are perfect for a warm-weather getaway that doesn't require a passport. They’re filled with sandy shores, warm water, and plenty of fun, whether you are traveling solo, as a couple, or with the kids. Check out our great list that stretches from Texas to Florida and includes everything in between. 

1. South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island has plenty to brag about, like being the only island in Texas and having 34 miles of sandy beaches. It’s also a major destination for U.S. college students during spring break and features non-stop parties on the beach and at many of the resorts. But that’s not to say that it isn’t a great destination for couples or families. It’s a fairly walkable city and has a free public shuttle called the Wave. There’s plenty of water activities each day like kayaking, fishing, and dolphin watching. However, you can’t go wrong with a leisurely swim or laying in the sun at the beach all day.  

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2. Galveston, Texas

Courtesy of Flickr/Katie Haugland Bowen

Courtesy of Flickr/Katie Haugland Bowen

Galveston is a must-visit beach destination. Similar to South Padre Island, there are warm waters, 32 miles of sandy beaches, great weather, and plenty of water-related activities. But Galveston provides much more beyond that. It was first visited by the Europeans in 1528, meaning there's a great dose of history on the island. For entertainment, head to Pleasure Pier or the historic downtown filled with restaurants, museums and historic sites. The city also hosts lots of festivals like Mardi Gras and ArtWalk. Be sure not to miss Moody Gardens (an awesome destination with beautiful greenery, a rainforest pyramid, and an aquarium) and the fun-filled water park Schlitterbahn. 

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3. Grand Isle, Louisiana

If you don’t want the typical beach experience with big resorts and loud crowds, consider heading to Grand Isle for a more relaxed, wildlife-driven beach experience. This remote beach town is Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island and draws many sportsmen to its world class fishing spots and bird habitats. There are seven beaches in Grand Isle alone, and more in Grand Isle State Park, a beautiful wildlife area with trails, campsites, and a large pier for fishing. For dinner, it's easy to find Cajun-style seafood, which in an amazing experience in itself. And if things get too quiet for you, drive a few hours to New Orleans for a livelier night and return the next day to Grand Isle for more peace. 

4. Gulport, Mississippi

Gulfport was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but that didn’t stop this beach town from rebuilding itself. In Gulfport you can enjoy 26 miles of beautiful sandy beaches, or hop on a ferry and visit Ship Island, which provides even more beaches, water fun, and the historic Fort Massachusetts to explore. Back at Gulfport, the casinos and Gulf Islands Waterpark are great places to spend time away from the beach, too. 

5. Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi draws visitors for three main reasons—casinos, golfing, and beaches. Golf courses are world-class, casinos are plentiful among the hotels, and the water is calm and warm here, which makes it great for swimming. As from Gulfport, there's a ferry to Ship Island for a fun day trip. Mardi Gras may not be as big in Biloxi as it is in New Orleans, but it’s still a pretty happening place to celebrate the holiday. Plus, there's the benefit of a beach to relax on the day after the big parade.

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6. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Courtesy of Flickr/Faunng's Photos

Courtesy of Flickr/Faunng's Photos

Gulf Shores is exploding on the beach city scene. It has 32 miles of white sandy beaches—something you might not expect to find in Alabama. Deep-sea fishing is king at Orange Beach, and travelers can’t get enough fun and sun in front of the resorts that line the beach areas. Travelers aren’t just limited to the beach here. There’s the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, water park Waterville USA, and casinos to enjoy. Plus there are a few state parks like Gulf State Park and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge that provide fun hikes and great trails to explore. 

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7. Pensacola, Florida

Florida is arguably the queen of beach destinations in the U.S. On the Gulf Coast side of the state, Pensacola is an amazing beach town destination for many reasons. It offers Gulf Islands National Seashore, a beach that was voted Best East Coast Beach in USA Today. This beach town not only has white-sand beaches, but plenty of wildlife, water sports, and three historic forts and a lighthouse. You also can’t miss the boardwalk filled with restaurants and shops ,or the 1,470-foot pier—a great place to watch the sun set over the water. 

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8. Destin, Florida

In the northwest corner of Florida sits Destin, a beach town with white beaches that contrast wonderfully with the emerald water. Fishing is a huge sport here, and it isn’t hard to catch something as the waters along the beach host huge populations of fish. Though it has the Big Kahuna’s Waterpark and plenty of restaurants and shopping, Destin is really best experienced as a quiet beach getaway. 

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9. Panama City Beach, Florida

Panama City Beach is a great vacation destination along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Beaches are serene and filled with water sports, eco tours, and fishing charters, especially at St. Andrews State Park. Pier Park offers great shopping, restaurants, and fun amusement rides. Like many of these coastal cities, it has its own water park, Shipwreck Island Waterpark. While the town was formerly a spring break haven for college students, it has since banned alcohol on the beach for the month of March, allowing families to enjoy peace and quiet on its pristine shores year-round.

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Update 2/10: This article was amended to reflect Panama City Beach's alcohol policy.

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