which gulf coast beach is best?
- South Padre Island, Texas.
- Port Aransas, Texas.
- Ocean Springs and Ship Island, Mississippi.
- Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama.
- Pensacola Beach, Florida.
- Destin, Florida.
- Rosemary Beach, Florida.
- Clearwater Beach, Florida.
The Gulf Coast has something for every beachgoer. Siesta Key has one of the best beaches in Florida and St. Pete Beach has some of the clearest water, while Bay St. Louis in Mississippi is known for its fresh seafood and charming downtown shops.
Below are seven of the best Gulf Coast beaches where you can park your blanket on soft sugar sand by blue-green waters for some much-needed R&R.
Welcome to Florida’s Panhandle — the long, narrow strip of land bordered by Alabama, Georgia, and the Gulf of Mexico. In Destin you’ll find prime golfing, a bustling spring break and summer culture, and Henderson Beach State Park. Here, nature trails wind through the 30-foot-tall white dunes and the coastal scrub habitat, where wildlife finds refuge under the pine and oak canopies. Because of its location near the edge of the Continental Shelf, Destin has been dubbed "the world's luckiest fishing village,” where you can cast a line for the blackfin tuna, grouper, amberjack, and king mackerel that gather in the area.
The emerald green waters are calm and shallow making them perfect for snorkeling, kiteboarding, and paddle boarding (keep an eye out for the dolphin pods that take advantage of the fish found just offshore). When you’re not relaxing on the snow-white, soft sands, you’ll find entertainment, rides, and treats like funnel cakes, shaved ice, and “pier-to-plate” seafood at HarborWalk Village. You can also stop by Florida’s largest candymaker for fresh salt water taffy and pralines for shoreline snacking.
Biloxi gets all the press, but if you have your heart set on a clean, pristine stretch of sand and clear waters, head to the quiet seaside city of Bay St. Louis. The clean, dog-friendly beach here has that white sand the Gulf Coast is famous for so you'll want to camp out for the entire afternoon. Paddle the Grassy Point Blueway in a kayak to really appreciate the gorgeous namesake bay.
When you’ve caught too much sun, make your way through the shops and restaurants in Old Town Bay St. Louis, right off Beach Boulevard. Grab a cone of lavender-honey ice cream from Creole Creamery, a plate of fresh seafood at the Thorny Oyster, or a frozen concoction at the Daiquiri Shak before you head back to the beach.
This protected stretch of the world's longest barrier island has 66 miles of undeveloped coastline and one of the last intact coastal prairie habitats in the United States. Padre Island National Seashore also borders the Laguna Madre, one of the few hypersaline lagoons in the world. Windsurf the lagoon, lounge on pristine beaches, swim in the calm, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, or discover the area's unique environment, home to tidal mud flats, more than 380 different species of birds, and sea turtles whose hatchlings are released around June and August.
The 99-percent pure quartz sand on Siesta Key is always cool to the touch — an important aspect when it comes to vacationing in the Sunshine State, where summer temps average around 90 degrees. You can cool off in the blue-green, shallow waters of this barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Sarasota, Florida or join the drum circle that forms on the beach every Sunday at sunset. Beyond its Edenic shoreline, Siesta Key is known for its fun atmosphere and activities. Go sailing, fishing, or sightseeing out on the water, or hit the oyster bar or Daiquiri Deck at Siesta Key Village. Other than that, all you have to worry about — as the name suggests — is relaxing the day away on your quintessential Florida vacation.
This subtropical getaway has that quintessential Gulf Coast look: A long strip of white quartz sand and aquamarine waters. Popular with spring breakers and families alike, Orange Beach has plenty to do and see from the shore and beyond. The water sports hub is perfect for boating, jet skiing, kayaking, and sailing. You can also swim and dive beneath its glassy waters. Spot playful dolphins during a sunset cruise, or paddle along the Back Bay Blueway to see the sugary sand and cypress swamps the Alabama Gulf Coast is known for. When you want to stretch your legs, hop on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, a 15-mile route that passes through several ecosystems, including those that house otters and alligators.
Many of Florida’s beach towns are quaint little seaside respites. Not Panama City Beach, though. Located in the Panhandle, this is the closest you’ll get to Miami’s party beaches so far north. But, if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, it's hard to top a day on nearby Shell Island, which is only accessible by boat and feels like your own private island. The seven miles of wild coast is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay and is a mostly undeveloped oasis perfect for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and beachcombing. Keep an eye out for the island’s namesake shells as well as the ample wildlife — like deer, ghost crabs, and sea turtles — that call it home.
To get here, take the Shell Island Shuttle or the Shell Island Ferry, or rent your own private boat to take over. Don't forget to pack plenty of water and snacks, since the island is void of shops and services.
For example, you might want to check out Blue Mountain Beach, an extraordinary combination of geographical features, particularly unusual in flat Florida.
The highest point stands over 65 feet tall, which can make accessing the beach tricky – but it's worth the effort.
It offers sandy stretches and rich blue waters, plus stunning Floridian sun.
There are also beautiful blue flowers growing on the hillside, which may have given the beach its name.
If that doesn't appeal, you could check out Crystal Sands Beach.
As the name suggests, this is a stunning beach with sand that positively glimmers in the sunlight.
It's quiet, and there aren't many activities, making it the ultimate spot for relaxing and letting go of the stress of everyday life.
You can also try Henderson Beach State Park, one of Destin's most popular beaches, offering enticing emerald waters and the perfect spot for picnicking.