12 Top Gulf Coast Beaches to Visit

2020-06-09

This southern shoreline beckons with charming oceanfront locales.

Fill up the car and head to these coastal destinations for an affordable beach vacation.

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful seaside escape or a beach with amenities like shops and water sports equipment rentals, the Gulf Coast – which spans Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – offers it all. Plus, many Gulf Coast shorelines sit close to budget-friendly accommodations, attractions and dining venues, making them terrific choices for a cheap beach trip. Regardless of your budget and interests, these stretches of sand overlooking the Gulf of Mexico serve as ideal settings for your next beach getaway.

Sanibel Island, Florida

For a quiet nature-filled getaway, look no further than Sanibel Island. Considered one of Florida’s best beach destinations, this island off of the coast of Fort Myers provides countless opportunities to go shelling at Bowman’s Beach and fishing at Lighthouse Beach, which features a 100-year-old lighthouse. Plus, Sanibel boasts 25 miles of sidewalks, trails and bike paths alongside buildings that stand no taller than the surrounding palm trees. At J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, look for wildlife like manatees, sea turtles and crocodiles during a 90-minute educational tram tour. Book a beachfront stay at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa – which offers accommodations with kitchens and separate bedrooms – or reserve one of the island’s many vacation rentals. When hunger strikes, grab a burger at Cheeburger Cheeburger, a local spot that’s famous for its many burger toppings.

Captiva Island, Florida

Continue driving northwest of Sanibel Island and you’ll reach Captiva Island. Measuring nearly 11 square miles long, Captiva is home to two beaches. Captiva Beach is famous for its sunsets and romantic ambiance, but on-site parking is limited, so plan on arriving early. Meanwhile, Turner Beach at Blind Pass is ideal for fishing and shelling, though its currents make it unsafe for swimming. Be sure to eat at Captiva Island’s famed English pub-inspired restaurant, The Mucky Duck, which sits right on the beach. If you’re looking to enjoy some retail therapy, head to the quaint boutiques lining Andy Rosse Lane and in Chadwick’s Square.

Mustang Island, Texas

A budget-friendly vacation spot near Corpus Christi, Mustang Island boasts 18-plus miles of shoreline. Head to Mustang Island State Park, where you can hunker down at one of 48 campsites equipped with water and electricity. This top beach destination in Texas offers plenty of outdoor activities, including kayaking, fishing, swimming and birding. When you’re not at the beach, tee off at the island’s seaside golf course or check out the restaurants, boutiques and art galleries in Port Aransas.

Naples, Florida

Naples draws visitors with its beautiful turquoise waters, superb art scene and excellent shopping and dining. It offers many beaches, including Vanderbilt Beach (a public stretch of sand with on-site amenities like restrooms and parking, as well as proximity to multiple resorts, shops and restaurants) and Naples Municipal Beach (a family-friendly option with a concession stand and a historic pier that’s great for fishing). But considering Naples houses more millionaires per capita than any other Florida locale, prices can be steep. Properties like LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, where beach butlers, a golf club, a spa and private cabanas are available, offer a high-end stay. However, you can find deals if you visit outside of the peak travel season – which runs from December through February – and bed down at more wallet-friendly hotels, such as the Bayfront Inn 5th Ave.

Marco Island, Florida

South of Naples and northwest of Everglades National Park sits Marco Island, a small haven popular among retirees and families. Tigertail Beach Park is a top choice for families thanks to its playground, boardwalks, concessions and restrooms, while South Marco Beach is a convenient option for those staying at Marco Island’s top hotels. Vacationers can ride the waves on Jet Skis, search for manatees swimming past mangroves or take a boat tour with the survey crew of the Dolphin Explorer to identify and catalogue area dolphins. Reserve a room at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, a large property with eateries, pools, a spa and even an adults-only area called Paradise by Sirene. The resort’s 10K Alley gaming center and restaurant offers bourbon, craft beer, bowling and virtual reality games. Vacation rentals in a range of prices are also available.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area boasts more than 30 miles of white sand beaches and sea oat-covered dunes. History buffs can explore the 90-mile-long Civil War Trail and check out Fort Morgan State Historic Site, both of which have ties to the Battle of Mobile Bay. Other nearby attractions include the USS Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama, and the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. In terms of lodging, you’ll find thousands of vacation rentals and properties affiliated with hotel brands like Courtyard by Marriott, Holiday Inn Express and Best Western. If you want to stay at a higher-end resort, consider bedding down at Kiva Dunes Resort, Caribe Resort or The Beach Club.

Fort Myers Beach, Florida

Vacationers who are looking for some extra nightlife and activities should visit Fort Myers Beach. In this small town on Estero Island, travelers will find 7 miles of beaches, the Fort Myers Beach Pier (a prime fishing spot) and restaurant- and shop-filled Times Square. Highly regarded resorts here include Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, The Outrigger Beach Resort and the Best Western Plus Beach Resort. Head inland to check out interesting attractions like the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the former seasonal homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The adjacent properties feature the Edison laboratory and 20 acres of gardens, among other amenities. Additional can’t-miss sights include the IMAG History & Science Center and Manatee Park, where you can learn about these endangered gentle giants.

St. Pete Beach, Florida

Situated roughly 30 miles southwest of Tampa, St. Petersburg and its surrounding beaches – which are some of America’s best stretches of sand – see an average of 361 days of sunshine per year, making the region an excellent place to soak up some sun. Plus, the area offers unique attractions and activities, such as see-through kayaking with dolphins and manatees, the Dalí Museum and the Imagine Museum. Book a stay at The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club to be within walking distance of downtown and the St. Pete Pier, which is scheduled to open in 2020. There are also plenty of Old Florida-style inns and motels at more affordable price points should you want to enjoy proximity to St. Pete Beach without breaking the bank.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Visit this town on the Mississippi coast to explore the state’s section of Gulf Islands National Seashore, a protected area with more than 400 acres. The seashore offers ample room for camping, boating, hiking, fishing and biking. Another popular Ocean Springs shoreline is Front Beach, a white sand beach that sits near the town’s yacht club. When you need a break from the sand, check out the Charnley-Norwood House, which was designed and built by world-renowned architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. As far as lodging goes, Ocean Springs offers a variety of charming cottages, as well as affordable Country Inn & Suites, Travelodge and Holiday Inn Express outposts.

Destin, Florida

Make your way to Destin on the Florida Panhandle to take advantage of top-notch fishing opportunities, peruse charming shops and enjoy loads of family-friendly activities. The town features many public beaches, including Henderson Beach State Park (where you’ll find ample parking and restrooms) and James Lee Park (which offers picnic tables, pavilions and a playground, among other amenities). Cool off on a hot day at Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park, drive go-karts at The Track Destin or embark on a dolphin cruise from HarborWalk Village – an entertainment district with a variety of boutiques, eateries and art galleries. Destin offers all kinds of accommodations, ranging from recreational vehicle campgrounds to vacation rentals to resorts and hotels. For budget-friendly lodging, stay in nearby Fort Walton Beach at the Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach or the Holiday Inn Resort Fort Walton Beach.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

If you’re looking for a beach getaway that’s easy to reach from a big city, consider vacationing in Grand Isle. This oceanfront town’s beautiful stretches of sand are the closest beaches to both New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Top shorelines here include Grand Isle Beach, a 7-mile-long public beach with many access points, and Grand Isle State Park, the only state park on a Louisiana beach. Spend your days fishing off of Grand Isle’s two piers, and end your evenings with fresh seafood at local restaurants. When it comes to lodging, nothing beats admiring a dark sky filled with stars while camping in your RV (or tent) on the beach.

Navarre, Florida

Largely free of tourists, Navarre is situated on the Florida Panhandle and stretches 12 miles long. Head to Navarre Beach to take a walk on the Navarre Beach Pier – the longest pier in Florida – or visit the Florida side of Gulf Islands National Seashore to swim at Opal Beach. Other can’t-miss attractions located within 30 miles of Navarre include the Gulf Breeze Zoo and the 100-year-old Imogene Theater. The SpringHill Suites Navarre Beach offers many rooms with balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico or Santa Rosa Sound, as well as free breakfast, a pool, a lazy river and a waterfront restaurant.

Courtesy of USNews

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