Why Your Next Beach Break Should be in Texas

Travel to the Lone Star State for an underrated coastal getaway.

White sand with small grass-covered dunes

Texas’s Gulf Coast has beaches for everyone, from bird-watchers to kayakers.

Photo by Anna Mazurek

Texas boasts 367 miles of coastline spread along the Gulf of Mexico and its barrier islands. To enjoy the beaches here, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is almost as important as sunscreen; you’ll find uncrowded areas perfect for relaxing and exploring on some of the state’s remote shorelines.

While Texas’s sands are enticing, wildlife is another draw. Avian enthusiasts flock to the coastal region for unparalleled birding thanks to its location on fall and spring migratory routes. The Lone Star State’s beaches are also an important nesting site for endangered sea turtles, providing a special opportunity to attend a hatchling release.

From uninhabited wind-swept islands to adventure playgrounds, here are the six best beaches to visit in Texas.

South Padre Island

  • Location: South Padre Island
  • Come for: an adventure-packed getaway on the far edge of Texas

With 34 miles of soft white sands and turquoise water, South Padre Island is connected to the mainland by a single causeway and is less than 30 miles from the border town of Brownsville. The area attracts crowds, including families and college students, with opportunities for sailing, windsurfing, dolphin watching, horseback riding, and snorkeling.

Those seeking solitude from the commercial buzz should drive about 1.5 miles north of the city hall to Andy Bowie County Park, where beach driving is allowed. Don’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle? Drive north until the lone road ends, park on the side of the road, and explore the deserted stretch of sand on foot. Consider planning your trip around a SpaceX rocket launch: The southern tip of the island is across the bay from the launch site.

Where to stay

In a residential neighborhood half a block from the beach, the 2022-renovated South Beach Inn is a welcome place to escape the crowds in a central location with a pool.

How to get there

Avelo Airlines, American Airlines, and United service the closest airport in Brownsville, 30 minutes away. Otherwise, it’s a long drive from the major cities of Houston (5.5 hours) and San Antonio (4.5 hours).

White sand beach near a green bush

Mustang Island State Park is nearly 4,000 acres in size.

Photo by Natilyn Photography/Unsplash

Mustang Island State Park

  • Location: Corpus Christi
  • Come for: paddling, fishing, and bird-watching on marsh and coastal habitats

This state park was named after the herds of wild horses that once roamed the 18-mile island for centuries. Now, the undeveloped island is a haven for paddlers with a 20-mile trail along the western shoreline and a prime shallow-water fishing area that meanders through marshes and past spoil islands (which are artificial islands often created from dredging). The sun can get intense here, so lather on the sunscreen before swimming, surfing, kayaking, or building sandcastles along the five miles of coastline. Like much of coastal Texas, it’s a superb area for bird-watching during the fall and spring migration periods, when birds like the ruddy duck and American white pelican fly through.

Where to stay

Choose between the park’s 50 primitive beach drive-up campsites or one of the 48 with electricity and a shade shelter.

How to get there

From Corpus Christi, it’s a 27-mile journey. Take TX-358 East to TX-361 North. From Port Aransas, drive south for 13 miles on TX-361.

Aerial shot of a long beach and city, with roadway separating them

Fun fact: More than 100 years ago, Juneteenth started in Galveston.

Photo by Cire notrevo/Shutterstock

Galveston Island

  • Location: Galveston
  • Come for: a beach town with art, culture, and history

Located about 50 miles from Houston, this Gulf Coast barrier island is a port town with a rich art scene (which includes the Galveston Art Center), historic mansions, and 32 miles of beaches. The family-friendly Steward Beach is staffed by lifeguards and features such activities as volleyball, cornhole, and giant Jenga. East Beach, on the northernmost tip of the island, is excellent for horseback rides and flying kites, while kayakers can enjoy the paddling trails at Galveston Island State Park. Don’t miss the AIA Sandcastle Competition, where more than 60 teams compete for the Golden Bucket award.

Where to stay

One of the newest additions to the boutique hotel scene is the 2023-opened Hotel Lucine, a renovated 1960s motor court inn (the longest-standing in town) with Galveston’s largest beachfront rooftop bar.

How to get there

From downtown Houston, follow I-45 South for 50 miles until it dead-ends on the island.

Person sitting in an open white tent on a beach, facing water, with seagulls flying

Padre Island National Seashore is one of the best beach camping spots in the USA.

Photo by Shutterstock

Padre Island National Seashore

  • Location: Padre Island
  • Come for: beach days centered around shelling and sea turtles

Padre Island National Seashore has several claims to fame: It’s the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island, and more Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest here than any other place in the country. Between mid-June and August, the public can attend sea turtle hatchling releases at Malaquite Beach by the park visitor center.

The seashore’s 70 miles of protected coastline are ideal for exploring, camping, and shelling. (A high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle is a must!) Bird Island Basin, a day-use area located on a hyper-saline lagoon on the island’s west coast, has superb windsurfing conditions for thrill seekers.

Where to stay

Snag a tent or RV site at one of the two park campgrounds or opt for primitive beach camping.

How to get there

Despite the name similarities, Padre Island National Seashore is not connected to South Padre Island, which is a 3.5-hour drive away. The national seashore is 36 miles east of Corpus Christi on TX-358 East, which turns into Park Road 22. The pavement ends just shy of the visitor center.

Aerial shot of houses near a beach

Bolivar Peninsula is located in Texas’s Galveston County.

Photo by JStepan/Shutterstock

Bolivar Beach

  • Location: Crystal Beach
  • Come for: a scenic ferry ride to a wide-open beach for driving

The entire 27 miles of beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, which is about a 1.5-hour drive east of Houston, is open for driving with an annual permit available at local businesses. (Golf carts are also allowed.) This wide blanket of sand becomes a viewing platform come New Year’s Eve and July Fourth, when the town puts on massive fireworks displays. Visit on Mother’s Day weekend for the Texas Crab Festival—an annual tradition since 1986—which serves up seafood dishes ranging from boiled crab to crawfish étouffée.

The free, 24-hour Galveston–Bolivar Ferry itself is worth a trip to the peninsula. The one-way, 18-minute journey across the Houston Shipping Channel doubles as a free dolphin-watching trip and provides a close look at shrimping boats in action.

Where to stay

For those who want to wake up to the sound of waves, beach camping on the peninsula is allowed and free. All vehicles parked on the beach need a parking ticket, available for $10 at local convenience stores.

How to get there

From the mainland, it’s a two-hour trek by car from Houston. Travelers can also walk or drive onto the free public ferry from Galveston.

Ocean water hitting sands at sunset

Take in a beautiful and quiet moment at Rockport Beach.

Photo by Grossinger/Shutterstock

Rockport Beach

  • Location: Rockport
  • Come for: a relaxing escape in a fishing village with a pristine beach

In 2017, this Port Aransas area beach became the state’s first Blue Wave Beach, a certification given by the Clean Beaches Coalition to responsibly managed beaches focused on protecting the environment. Its cleanliness makes it an obvious choice for taking a dip, but it’s also a great place for a picnic, offering 65 sites with covered tables and grills. Visit the bird sanctuary on the beach’s west side to spot egrets, roseate spoonbills, and blue herons. Or head to the 800-foot pier for a prime fishing spot.

Where to stay

Reel ‘Em Inn, which opened in 2023, is a renovated 1950s motor court inn with nine rooms, a private pier, and modern amenities like mobile check-in and digital room keys.

How to get there

Rockport is an easy 30-mile drive from Corpus Christi and 18 miles from Port Aransas.

Anna Mazurek is a travel photographer and writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow her adventures and travel advice at travellikeanna.com.
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