If you’re willing to board a flight, you can visit top beaches all over the world, from Hawaii to Portugal. But you don’t have to go that far to sip cold drinks on the sand. The Texas coastline spans hundreds of miles and is dotted with beaches that beckon travelers during the summer season and beyond. Options range from crowded party spots to remote shores with few frills, and several places between. These are five of the best beaches in Texas, plus a few nearby offshoots, and tips on what to do when you arrive. Pack a bag, point your car roughly south to southeast, and enjoy a long weekend in the sun.
South Padre Island is a barrier island that sits at the southern tip of Texas, with 34 miles of white sand beaches and clear waters. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure situation, as the northern end of the island is more peaceful, while further south brings dining and nightlife in droves. It’s a favorite destination for spring breakers, but the expansive shoreline provides enough space that all types of travelers can coexist. For peace of mind, visitors who want a quieter experience can simply steer clear of the island for a few weeks each spring.
Wherever you head, you’re never far from outdoor activities like fishing, kiteboarding and windsurfing. There’s an adventure park with zip lines and horseback riding, sandcastle construction is like a competitive sport, and the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a boardwalk spanning four acres of marshland, is a go-to for birdwatching. In an unexpected twist, you can even book a dolphin-watching expedition. History buffs should swing by the Port Isabel Lighthouse. It was built in 1852 and served the area for decades, but remained dark for 117 years until its light was rekindled in December 2022. It’s open to the public for self-guided tours.
From Port Aransas in the north to Mustang Island State Park in the south, you’ve got 18 miles of beachfront at your disposal. Port Aransas is stocked with restaurants and bars, so you’re always near good seafood, cold beers and cocktails. It’s also teeming with activities, including opportunities to sail, parasail, jet ski, kiteboard and windsurf. Port A, as the locals often call it, is known as the fishing capital of Texas, so you can drop a hook off one of the many piers, or take an excursion out onto the water to angle for bigger fish. There’s also the annual Texas Sandfest each April, which is the largest sand sculpture contest in the country. Add Mustang Island into the mix, and you get 4,000 additional acres of beaches, campsites and wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for whooping cranes and other coastal birds.
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Just a short drive from Houston, Galveston draws visitors for its mix of sandy beaches and city amenities. Bars and restaurants line the shore, and a historic downtown provides ample opportunities to eat, shop and stroll. If you’re staying in town, you’re in close proximity to several beaches. There’s the always-popular East Beach, which allows alcohol and attracts younger crowds. There’s the more family-friendly Stewart Beach, which has calm waters and a generally quieter scene. And then there’s Galveston Island State Park, which reopened recently following a three-year, $10.6 million project to spruce up the area after it was hit by Hurricane Ike. It’s the best spot for beach camping, if that’s your thing, with nearly 100 new campsites. Explore the area, and you’ll also find a newly remodeled nature center, hiking trail and boardwalk, plus canoe and kayak launch points perfect for a relaxing paddle or fishing on the water.
Rockport Beach is Texas’s first certified Blue Wave Beach, and one of only four on the Texas Gulf Coast, so you can be assured it meets certain environmental and conservation standards. Part of that means no vehicles or bonfires allowed, but there are playgrounds, sand volleyball courts and an 800-foot fishing pier to keep you occupied. Palapas dot the sand to provide shade, and there’s a saltwater pool at the north end of the beach, where you can take a wave-free swim. If you need supplies or want to go out for dinner, there’s plenty to eat in town, including seafood, Tex-Mex and Italian.
Head up the coast from Galveston, and you’ll hit the Bolivar Peninsula and its 27 miles of beachfront. The laid-back Crystal Beach has wide stretches of sand and warm waters, so there’s plenty of room to spread out. You can drive on the beach, or leave your car at home and rent a golf cart to explore the coast, which is helpful when lugging a cooler and chairs around. If you prefer pools to oceans, the nearby Camp Margaritaville has a resort-style pool and swim-up bar, so that’s an easy way to kill a few hours. Catch some fish by casting a reel of the jetty, or let someone else source your meals, and stop for fresh seafood and cold drinks at Stingaree Restaurant & Marina.
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