Dreaming of a beach escape? You might be surprised at what Texas has to offer.
Texas is probably not the first state that comes to mind when you think of going to the beach, but don’t forget that a good portion of Texas hugs the Gulf of Mexico, covering more than 350 miles of coastline. The state also has seven major islands, including the world’s longest barrier island, which by itself would be reason enough to take a Texas beach vacation.
With so many choices scattered up and down the state, it may be difficult to decide where to begin with your coastal adventures. To help narrow things down a bit, check out the best beaches in Texas below. Whether you’re looking for a place chock full of attractions and amenities or you’re interested in something calmer and more isolated, there’s a destination here for you. And that doesn’t even include the state’s swimming holes, which are as varied as the landscape itself.
Related read: The 6 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Texas
1. Mustang Island State Park
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Just across the causeway from Corpus Christi, Mustang Island State Park is on (you guessed it!) Mustang Island, an 18-mile-long barrier island.
Aside from the state park’s five miles of coastline, one of the great things about this spot is that it offers dozens of campsites, including primitive sites on the beach. Visitors here during the spring or fall also have a chance to spot the many different migratory birds, and if you’re visiting in the spring or summer, you should keep an eye out for sea turtles laying their eggs. Be sure to tread carefully (literally) to keep them safe.
Want to get out on the water? Consider going for a paddling adventure along the Mustang Island State Park Paddling Trail, which is just over 20 miles long.
2. Padre Island National Seashore
The National Park Service calls Padre Island National Seashore “The Longest Stretch of Undeveloped Barrier Island in the World.” And at 70 miles, it is!
Not to be confused with South Padre Island (its neighbor with a reputation for rowdy partying), this peaceful spot offers primitive beach camping with a permit, the chance to watch sea turtle hatchling releases, and the opportunity to cruise along the beach on your bicycle or 4WD vehicle.
Another highlight here is having access to the Laguna Madre, one of just a handful of lagoons around the world with water saltier than the ocean. You can enjoy the natural wonder by renting canoes and kayaks, going windsurfing, or taking an evening glow-in-the-dark paddle tour.
3. South Padre Island
Speaking of South Padre Island — yes, it has a reputation for partying. But is that a bad thing? This island is a favorite destination for spring breakers and summer vacationers who flock to the long, inviting stretch of beach on its eastern coast. It’s definitely one of the top beaches in Texas if you’re trying to let loose for a few days and meet other social, friendly 20- and 30-somethings.
From the tranquil areas in the north marked by picturesque dunes to the more touristy sections in the south near restaurants and hotels, it’s hard to pick one spot that’s the “best.” But the good news is you don’t really have to decide, since you can walk the entire beach without interruption. There are tons of activity and rental companies near the beach, so you won’t be hurting for things to do.
4. Rockport Beach
Rockport Beach is “Texas’ First Blue Wave Beach,” and no, that doesn’t just mean it has good waves and clear water. In fact, it’s not the spot for waves, so take heed, surfers. The “Blue Wave” designation actually refers to a national certification for beaches that follow certain clean, responsible, and environmentally safe practices.
Perfect for picnicking or larger get-togethers, the beach has several pavilions and dozens of covered tables with grills where you can post up for a day at the beach.
While packing for your getaway to Rockport Beach, note that there are no glass containers allowed. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed either. But it’s nothing against Fido — it’s a bird sanctuary and dogs spook the feathered friends.
5. Whitecap Beach
Whitecap Beach is sandwiched between two other spots on this list: Mustang Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore. While its name refers to the white caps of the waves, it’s also known for its white sand and dunes.
The beach is about 1.5 miles long and a favorite with travelers looking for a quieter place away from large crowds and loud partiers.
You can park on the beach as long as you have a parking permit. Permits last for a year and work for other beaches around Corpus Christi. Most people park on the beach and set up for the day directly in front of their cars, which makes it easy to bring beach toys like floats, inflatable paddleboards, or even one of those super-cool group rafts with an ice cooler in the middle.
6. Matagorda Beach
With around 58 miles of beach, Matagorda Beach is unique among beaches in Texas in that only half of it can be reached by car. To reach the rest, you’ll need a boat. The two sections are divided by the Colorado River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Kayaking is one of the most popular activities around these parts, and you’ll find a variety of serene paddling trails to explore around Matagorda Bay. Deep-sea fishing is also popular, and you can charter boats for a day on the water from several local outfitters.
There’s no additional cost to camp at Matagorda Beach but you will need to snag a beach vehicle permit ahead of time in order to drive onto the beach.
7. Boca Chica Beach
Is your favorite kind of beach the one where you feel like you’ve escaped civilization? If so, the remote Boca Chica Beach is for you.
Located close to the Mexico border (and the SpaceX Launch Facility, for that matter), it’s not the easiest to get to, but once you’re there, you’ll find eight miles of beautiful beach — and far fewer visitors than other places mentioned on this list. You’ll literally be about a mile from the border, so take note if you decide to paddle south that you may be moving into Mexican waters (though the nearest border crossing is in Brownsville.)
Word of advice: There aren’t any facilities or amenities here, so pack accordingly with all the food, water, and water sports toys you might want during your visit. The nearest grocery store to stock up on snacks and ice is in Brownsville, about 40 miles east.
8. R.A. Apffel East Beach Park
Galveston Island is known for its numerous tourist attractions and miles of beaches, and one of its best is R.A. Apffel East Beach Park, often just called East Beach.
It’s on the island’s eastern side, away from the bustling Seawall and Pleasure Pier. One of its distinguishing features is that alcohol is allowed at the beach. East Beach is also where you’ll find the island’s famous annual sand castle competition, which always amazes with its massive, imaginative creations.
This is one of the best beaches in Texas if you want a laid-back experience on the sand but still want some restaurants and attractions nearby. Moody Gardens is an amazing entertainment center with everything from an aquarium to 4D movies and taking a historical tour of the former Red Light district can make for a fun, quirky date night.
9. I.B. Magee Beach
On the northern tip of Mustang Island, I.B. Magee Beach is one of the most popular spots in Port Aransas, especially if you’re looking to camp. Open to RVs and primitive camping, this spot has electric and water hookups as well as a sanitary dump station.
Aside from simply enjoying the sea and sand, many like to come out here for the Horace Caldwell Pier, which extends 1,240 feet into the ocean. The pier is a must-visit for anglers, and you can access it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s a small (under $5) fee per person, and you can rent fishing poles if you don’t have your own.
10. San José Island
San José Island is yet another Texas’ barrier island but happens to be privately owned. It has a storied history, once functioning as a Confederate port during the Civil War and later welcoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his beloved fishing expeditions. Less about tourism and more about nature, this place is now an excellent destination for fishing, birding, and collecting seashells. Collecting seashells is allowed in Texas, but always — always — make sure the shells are empty. If you find a shell with a creature, leave it on the sand or put it back in the ocean.
To get to the island, you’ll need to take the passenger ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf in Port Aransas. Be sure to check the timetable in advance since the schedule changes seasonally.
11. North Beach
North Beach is much more than a place to kick it in the sun. It’s where you’ll find Corpus Christi’s two most popular attractions: the USS Lexington and the Texas State Aquarium. The first is a World War II aircraft carrier turned into a museum, and the second is a non-profit aquarium with plenty of family-friendly exhibits and hands-on encounters.
There are also hotels, restaurants, a playground, and even a ferris wheel dotted along the beach so you’ll have no trouble staying entertained for hours. As far as beaches in Texas go, this can be a good choice if some people in your group want to soak up the sun all day while others want to limit it to just a quick morning beach walk before heading out to find more to do.
12. Crystal Beach
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Been to all of Galveston’s beaches and want to try something else? Head up to somewhere a little less busy: Crystal Beach. Swimming, fishing, birding, building sandcastles — it’s all possible here. You’re even allowed to drive and camp anywhere on the beach. When you do need a break from the sun, you’re just a short drive away from restaurants and stores.
The best way to get to Crystal Beach is to drive to the eastern tip of Galveston Island, take the ferry to Bolivar Peninsula, then keep driving to the beach. If you have some time to spare, you can stop by Fort Travis Park on the way. Keep going even further past Crystal Beach and you’ll get to the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where you take guided or unguided walks along raised boardwalks to spot alligators and other wildlife.
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