Stretching 1,600 kilometers from the Texas-Mexico border to the tip of Florida, the five U.S. states lining the Gulf of Mexico are renowned for their year-round beaches. Consistently warm blue waters, exceptional fishing and exciting outdoor attractions add to the allure of the sandy shores of Texas,Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Here are five Gulf Coast beaches you won’t want to miss.
Galveston Island, Texas
Galveston Island, Texas, about 96 kilometers southeast from Houston, Texas, features 51 kilometers of shoreline, with different beaches catering to a variety of experiences. Stewart Beach is the family-friendly destination; while adults can drink alcohol openly at East Beach, the largest beach in Texas. It’s known for its festivals, live music and annual sand castle competition. Go hiking, bird-watching or horseback riding at Galveston Island State Park, or enjoy cultural attractions like the historic Moody Mansion and Pleasure Pier, an amusement park built in the early 1900s, featuring roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, a carousel and spinning teacups.
Orange Beach, Alabama
Home to one of the world’s biggest artificial fishing reefs, Alabama’s Orange Beach (about 300 kilometers east of New Orleans, Louisiana) is a popular destination to spot dolphins off the shores of its white sand beaches. Book a ride on a glass-bottom boat tour or rent snorkeling gear for a peek at the dolphins playing in their natural habitats. By day, the Orange Beach wharf is busy with travelers shopping, playing miniature golf and seeking shade in the movie theater. At night, locals head to The Wharf Outdoor Amphitheater to see musicians like Miranda Lambert and Jimmy Buffett.
Take the kids to Sarasota, Florida, 370 kilometers northwest of Miami, Florida, where the shallow waters make it easy to learn to swim and float in the ocean. Named best beach in the USA by TripAdvisor in 2015, Siesta Key is known for its white sand beaches of pure quartz and its year-round fishing, with charters at marinas lining the downtown harbor that will take you to catch local species like redfin, cobia, mackerel and speckled trout. In November, the beach turns into an art museum during its annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic, a festival featuring intricately designed sand sculptures.
Paddle your way through southern Mississippi by heading 125 kilometers east of New Orleans toGulfport, Mississippi. This Gulf Coast beach town is known for its extensive water trails, with rentals available for paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. Board the ferry from the Gulfport Small Craft Harborto visit West Ship Island, a protected barrier island and national park 19 kilometers off the coast featuring sand dunes and knee-high grasses. Find indigenous wildlife here, like birds, dolphins and alligators, then stop by Fort Massachusetts to learn about the island’s colonial history. If you prefer to relax, Gulfport has 41 kilometers of soft white sand beaches where you can soak up the sun.
EMERALD COAST CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU
There is no shortage of things to do in Destin, Florida, a coastal town about 500 kilometers southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Every summer, you’ll see families splashing around in the warm, bright blue water and building white sand castles. Get close with marine life at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, which lets you feed penguins and snorkel alongside dolphins and stingrays. Dubbed “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin features world-class recreational fishing charters at theHarborWalk Marina. Take a walk along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk to pose for caricature artists, book a tour on a Buccaneer pirate cruise and then stay to watch the sunset.
By LILIT MARCUS
Lilit Marcus is a Brooklyn, New York-based journalist and Condé Nast Traveler’s contributing digital editor.