22 Best Gulf Coast Beaches
The beaches of the Gulf Coast are some of the best in the United States. Consistently ranked as a favorite among beachgoers, the coast along the Gulf of Mexico is known for its white, sugar-sand beaches and calm emerald green waters. Access to the water is found in beach towns in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida, and each one offers a unique experience to its guests. Here are the best gulf coast beaches. Photo: volga river/Fotolia
» Fort Myers Beach, Florida
Fort Myers Beach is a popular Florida gulf shore town located on Estero Island, a barrier island on the southern part of the state’s western coast, next to Sanibel Island. The water here is crystal clear and quite shallow, making it ideal for the little ones.
The town is known for offering many water sports such as parasailing, waverunner rides, and kayaking, but the seven-mile coastline here is also great for a day of lounging on the sand. Fort Myers retains its small-town charm, with cottages and one-story beachfront properties dominating the rental scene. Beyond the beach, visitors also enjoy Lovers State Park, a marshy nature reserve and popular spot for biking and hiking.
Photo: luna marina/Fotolia
» Biloxi, Mississippi
Biloxi, Mississippi sits along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, an area fondly referred to as the “Playground of the South.” The region is probably best known for its plethora of casinos, many of which sit right on the shoreline. Beyond gambling, there are many outdoor and family-friendly activities in and around Biloxi, including boat charters, fishing, shopping, museums, and seaside classics like miniature golf and amusement parks. The region is also home to famous landmarks, like the Biloxi Lighthouse and Ship Island, an island 12 miles off the coast that not only serves as the site of historic Fort Massachusetts, but also has some of the loveliest beaches around.
Photo: Robert Hainer/Fotolia
»Gulf of Mexico Beaches: Bonita Springs, Florida
Bonita Springs is a southwestern Florida city, part of which lies on Little Hickory Island, a barrier island situated between the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay. Bonita Springs contains several beaches, some of which are Florida state parks. Bonita Beach Park has a dedicated swimming area and a boardwalk, while Barefoot Beach, an undeveloped piece of territory, has been nationally ranked as one of the country’s top ten beaches according to Forbes and Dr. Beach. Bonita Springs is particularly well equipped for lovers of water sports, as the town is lined with small businesses offering jet ski, kayak, sailboat, paddleboard, and other equipment rentals.
Photo: Jesse Kunerth/Fotolia
»Florida Gulf Beaches: Bradenton Beach
Bradenton, Florida is a small beach town on the southern tip of Anna Maria Island. The community prides itself on its hospitality and preservation of Old Florida charm and sits between the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Tampa Bay on the other.
Bradenton Beach keeps its small-town feel with artisan shops and a distinct lack of drive-through restaurants, which are in fact prohibited here. Perhaps the most famous feature of the town is City Pier, a popular fishing pier complete with both a café and bait store on the premises. Beyond the pier and the sugar-sand beaches, the historic town center has an abundance of small shops and restaurants to enjoy.
Photo: Edelweiss 086/Fotolia
»Cape San Blas, Florida
Cape San Blas, Florida is a quiet, secluded beach destination along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Known less as a tourist hub and more as a pristine, natural beach, this 17-mile peninsula is popular for its calm atmosphere. Even in the high season, the sands here are never crowded, and outdoor activities are the norm rather than the exception.
In addition to standards like fishing, golf, boutique shopping, kayaking, cycling, and horseback riding, Cape San Blas is also known as a shelling and scalloping hotspot. Scallopers can harvest shellfish from boats or along the shoreline, and those seeking out beautiful shells along the sand need not search long to find unique Cape San Blas treasures.
» Florida Gulf Beaches: Clearwater Beach
As Gulf Coast beaches go, Clearwater Beach, Florida is more of a built-up resort town rather than a quaint and cozy village. Clearwater Beach is located on a barrier island on Florida’s west coast just outside the city of Tampa.
In addition to its 2.5 miles of lush, white sand beaches, the city also has man-made attractions such as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where Winter the bottle-nosed dolphin from the movie Dolphin Tale lives; pirate cruises; and water-based activities such as parasailing, boat tours, and jet skiing. Pier 60, a long fishing pier with a snack bar and nightly live performances, is another favorite spot in Clearwater. Things to Do in Clearwater
» Florida Gulf Coast Beaches: Destin, Florida
Destin, Florida is a beautiful coastal locale on the state’s panhandle between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay. Thanks to waters teeming with hungry fish, Destin is often known as “the world’s luckiest fishing village.” The city is one of the most popular places for visitors in the region, drawing in about 80% of the Emerald Coast’s tourist traffic.
In addition to its sugar-sand beaches, Destin also has many golf courses, the activity-packed Destin Harbor Boardwalk, and Big Kahuna’s water park, as well as beautiful natural dunes in the local Henderson Beach State Park. Resorts and rentals along the water provide convenient accommodation close to the action. Things to Do in Destin
Photo: digi dream grafix/Fotolia
»Florida Gulf Beaches: Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is a barrier island off the southern coast of Florida with seven miles of white sand and beautiful Gulf of Mexico waters. The island, which Native Americans who hunted and fished in the gulf setting originally settled, has remained an unspoiled, charming locale free from towering condominiums and hotels.
Anna Maria Island has three small cities, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria. Each of these towns has plenty of accommodation options in the form of beachfront cottages and villas just off the gulf. The pace of life is slow here, and there is plenty to enjoy along the water’s edge, on the island’s boardwalks, and at its numerous delicious seafood restaurants.
Photo: Eye Mark/Fotolia
» Galveston Island State Park, Texas
Galveston Island State Park is a Texas natural area that offers gulfside recreation without the atmosphere of tourism. Because the park is a protected territory, it contains a number of coastal habitats such as dunes, wetlands, and of course, beaches. Galveston Island State Park is conveniently located about an hour outside bustling Houston, but the tranquil environs of this barrier island are a complete change from the big busy city.
On the island, visitors can relax on the sand or take a more active trip, complete with hiking, biking, paddling, or geocaching. Cabins and campsites are available at the park as options for accommodation, and there is an educational ranger program that sponsors regular nature-themed events. Things to Do in Galveston
»Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach run along 32 miles of Alabama’s southern edge, which leads out to the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf Shores prides itself on its stunning sands made of tiny grains of quartz from the more northern Appalachian Mountains.
The area has a little something for everyone along its sprawling coastline; favorite activities here include boat rentals, dolphin cruises, kayaking, parasailing, and deep-sea fishing. Beyond the water, the small town has several championship golf courses, a range of amusement parks, and extensive opportunities for shopping. Even museum fans can get their fill here, as the town is home to venues such as the National Museum of Naval Aviation and the Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum. Things to Do in Gulf Shores
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» Gulfport, Mississippi
Located right on the coast with sand and palm trees abounding, Gulfport is Mississippi’s second-largest city after its capital of Jackson. The city is a diverse one, hosting both local history and a thriving tourism scene. One of the Gulfport’s major draws is its casino, which allows gamblers to enjoy both the slots and the sun all in one place. Like many other towns along the Gulf Coast, Gulfport has a long stretch of pristine white-sand beach—6.2 miles long, to be exact. And in addition to its beaches and the casino, Gulfport is also a coveted destination for water sports and golf enthusiasts.
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»Gulf Coast Beaches: Madeira Beach, Florida
Madeira Beach, Florida has quite the reputation; legend has it that the first settler of this small town outside St. Petersburg was in fact a pirate by the name of John LeVique. Although today Madeira Beach, fondly known by some as “Mad Beach,” sees many more tourists than pirates, it has not lost its sense of fun and adventure.
LeVique lives on in John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, a large outdoor space with options for dining, drinking, and shopping, while the beaches along the coastline offer endless opportunities for relaxing and sunbathing. The city is also famous for its excellent seafood scene, with grouper being the town’s main specialty.
Photo: Jeff Kinsey/Fotolia
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» Gulf of Mexico Beaches: Marco Island
Marco Island is located in the southwestern part of the state of Florida and is the largest island in the group known as the Ten Thousand Islands. Still, Marco Island is relatively small at only six miles long, and it maintains a casual, cozy feel. The island has several different beaches, with Tigertail Beach Park being one of its most visited.
Tigertail provides access to the Gulf of Mexico, and it also has a small lagoon area known as Sand Dollar Spit, which creates a habitat for different species of wildlife such as horseshoe crabs, conchs, and needlefish. This area is also known for its bird watching opportunities and is listed in the Great Florida Birding Trail Guide. Read more
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» Naples, Florida
Naples is another hot Gulf Coast destination in southwest Florida. The city is known for its luxury shopping and top-notch golf courses as well as for its fun, family-friendly beaches. It has several historic sites, such as the famous Naples Pier and Tin City, a complex with more than forty small shops and boutiques. This beach city attracts many visitors interested in dolphin watching and fishing, but it has plenty more to offer in the way of activities, with venues like the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, the Naples Zoo, and the Naples Botanical Garden, as well as the exciting Sun-N-Fun Lagoon waterpark.
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»Navarre Beach, Florida
Florida’s Navarre Beach has much more to offer than just its picturesque sugar-sand beaches; this community is also a hub for exploring nature and participating in eco- and agro-tourism. A number of farms located just off the coastline give guests grand tours of the harvesting processes of goodies like berries and peanuts, and Panhandle Butterfly House and Navarre Beach Marine Park are well-outfitted facilities that teach both parents and kids about the local ecosystem and its flora and fauna. Outdoor fun here is nearly unlimited; Navarre has the Gulf Coast’s longest fishing pier, as well as a host of opportunities for hiking, birding, zip lining, diving, and canoeing and kayaking.
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» Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beach is a hopping beach town in the northwestern part of Florida known as the Panhandle. Despite its reputation as a spring breakers’ paradise, Panama City Beach is also an accommodating location for families with young children.
In addition to 27 miles of sandy beaches, this city has two state parks, artificial reefs for scuba divers, and loads of fish just waiting to be caught. For the little ones, PCB offers eco tours, adventure parks, laser tag, and arcades, to name just a few attractions and activities, while adults can enjoy the area’s delicious seafood restaurants, thriving nightlife scene, and numerous spas and wellness centers.
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» Sarasota, Florida
Sarasota, Florida is a Tampa-area city that includes six islands known as keys that separate the Sarasota Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. With all this coastal territory in its limits, it is no surprise that this city has many great beaches to choose from. Sarasota supports water sports such as wakeboarding, paddling, and parasailing, in addition to boating and fishing.
For those who prefer staying on dry land, the downtown area of the city is hopping with things to do. Sarasota has a flourishing arts scene, the highlight of which is the Ringling Art Museum, as well as several botanical gardens and even a small village featuring the area’s Amish and Mennonite communities.
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»Seagrove Beach, Florida
Seagrove Beach is a charming South Walton, Florida neighborhood that oozes quaintness with its cottages, mangrove trees, and smattering of local boutique businesses.
As its name implies, Seagrove has lovely tucked-away white-sand beaches where visitors can quietly relax and soak up the sun. However, it is also home to some unique spots such as two coastal dune lakes and a state park with eleven distinct wildlife habitats. The cozy environment here means no large shopping centers or theme parks, but the area is still equipped for a good time with water sports equipment rentals, great local shopping, and crowd-pleasing cafes.
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»Florida Gulf Coast Beaches: Siesta Key, Florida
Siesta Key, a barrier island located between mainland Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, has earned its stripes as a great beach destination. Trip Advisor named the island the best beach in the United States in 2015, and it is not only beautiful with pristine white sands, but also easily accessible by car and replete with convenient amenities.
These include a pedestrian walkway, a playground for children, and an upscale pavilion and concession area known as the Siesta Sun Deck. The island also has several outfitters who set guests up with paddleboards, jet skis, charter boats, and other rentals for making the most of the gulf’s sparkling turquoise waters.
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»St George Island, Florida
St. George Island is a 28-mile-long barrier island situated off Florida’s northern gulf coast. Although occupied by both residents and tourists, St. George nonetheless maintains a pristine, unspoiled feel, as it lacks chain stores and restaurants and high-rise hotels.
The island has both a county and a state park, and kayaking, cycling, and paddle boarding are especially popular here. The community is home to two lighthouses and several historic homes and museums. Its clear gulf waters make for excellent fishing, while the shoreline’s clean beaches provide the perfect environment for sunbathing and shelling. Additionally, pets are allowed at many of the island’s popular spots, including on some of its beaches.
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»St Pete Beach, Florida
St. Pete Beach is another Gulf Coast gem with a solid stretch of undeveloped public beach territory. This community is located along a coastal Florida peninsula, and its immaculate sugar-sand beaches invite visitors to relax and tan on a beautiful, clean shoreline. In addition to beachcombing, tourists here can take part in a plethora of water sports or soak in the town’s art scene, which includes the largest Salvador Dali collection outside of Spain.
To take the fun up a notch, many head to Corey Avenue, a street lined with small shops, restaurants, and galleries. And in terms of accommodation, options range from Old Florida-style inns and motels to luxurious five-star hotels.
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Venice, Florida is a lovely beach neighborhood that has not only 14 miles of smooth, white beaches, but also a downtown reminiscent of its namesake, Venice, Italy. The city’s central area, which dates back to 1925, is filled with more than 130 galleries, shops, cafes, boutiques, and restaurants, all of which earn it the designation of a Florida Main Street City.
Like many other Gulf Coast locations, Venice has much to offer in the way of water sports, fishing, and boating. And as an added bonus, this area is famous for its shelling; fossilized shark teeth are easy to find burrowed in the sand here.
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22 Best Gulf Coast Beaches
- Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of luna marina - Fotolia.com
- Biloxi, Mississippi, Photo: Courtesy of Robert Hainer - Fotolia.com
- Gulf of Mexico Beaches: Bonita Springs, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Jesse Kunerth - Fotolia.com
- Florida Gulf Beaches: Bradenton Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Edelweiss 086 - Fotolia.com
- Cape San Blas, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of whuffines - Fotolia.com
- Florida Gulf Beaches: Clearwater Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Peter - Fotolia.com
- Florida Gulf Coast Beaches: Destin, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of digi dream grafix - Fotolia.com
- Florida Gulf Beaches: Anna Maria Island, Photo: Courtesy of Eye Mark - Fotolia.com
- Galveston Island State Park, Texas, Photo: Courtesy of Kubyshin - Fotolia.com
- Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, Photo: Courtesy of wade smith 22 - Fotolia.com
- Gulfport, Mississippi, Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
- Gulf Coast Beaches: Madeira Beach, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Kinsey - Fotolia.com
- Gulf of Mexico Beaches: Marco Island, Photo: Courtesy of Felix Mizioznikov - Fotolia.com
- Naples, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of poladamonte - Fotolia.com
- Navarre Beach, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of indygreek - Fotolia.com
- Panama City Beach, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Ruth P. Peterkin - Fotolia.com
- Sarasota, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of levranii - Fotolia.com
- Seagrove Beach, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Javier C. Acosta - Fotolia.com
- Florida Gulf Coast Beaches: Siesta Key, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of ArenaCreative - Fotolia.com
- St George Island, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of kellyvandellen - Fotolia.com
- St Pete Beach, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Kinsey - Fotolia.com
- Venice, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of volga river - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of volga river - Fotolia.com
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