Texas is known for a lot of things — Tex-Mex, football, rodeos — but its beaches are all too often overlooked. Sure, they might not have the jewel tones of the Caribbean or the fancy resorts of Florida — but the Texas coast boasts an impressive 367 miles of scenic Gulf of Mexico shoreline with plenty to see and do. From sea turtles and dolphin sightings to fishing and kitesurfing, these are the 10 best beaches to visit in the Lone Star State.
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This quaint, central coast beach is located at the northern-most end of Padre Island. Its proximity to Corpus Christi — and easy driving distance to San Antonio, Austin, and Houston — make it an ideal home base for a wide variety of Texas attractions, as well as a chance to leave the real world behind for a relaxing vacation.
The community was hit hard during Hurricane Harvey but has since made a quick recovery. While some shops and restaurants suffered damage during the storm, there is still plenty to eat, see, and do, and the beach itself has remained almost entirely unchanged.
The 7-mile stretch features soft, white sand and crystal clear water that is perfect for splashing, swimming, and hunting for seashells. Fishing and camping are also allowed along the beach, and you can set up your tent for up to three days with a permit.
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Located across from Port Aransas, San Jose Island is a private, undeveloped island that is completely uninhabited by humans. The only access to "St Jo Island" is aboard the Port Aransas Jetty Boat, which has several drop-offs and pick-up times each day. Although there are no amenities, visitors to San Jose Island enjoy beachcombing, birding, swimming, and fishing without encountering an automobile, house, or condo. There is no other beach that offers such seclusion and privacy on the Texas coast.
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The mainland portion of Corpus Christi is metropolitan, but cross the causeway to Padre Island, and the urban feel begins to fade. As you head south on Park Road 22 down Padre Island National Seashore, the modern world disappears, making way for natural, un-manicured shoreline. At more than 100 miles long, the island is the longest stretch of undeveloped beachfront in the state.
Unlike South Padre Island to the south, the beaches on Padre Island are relatively quiet — more of a local attraction than a touristy one — and the southern part of the island, especially, is great for those looking for a little bit of solitude. If adventure is more your speed, the island's Bird Island Basin claims to be one of the best windsurfing spots in the United States.
Perhaps the best draw to this beach is the island's own inhabitants. Padre Island is believed to be home to the largest number of rare Kemp's ridley sea turtles in Texas, and if you visit the beaches between mid-June and... August, you just might catch a glimpse of these creatures hatching and scrambling over the sand to the water.
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It's hard to list the best beaches in Texas without mentioning South Padre Island. The most pristine beach in Texas is also one of the most difficult to get to. Located scant miles above the Mexican border, the South Padre surf is often a Caribbean-like clear/green as it laps against the grainy white sand. Its shoreline is also wide and clean, making it a popular spring break destination and beach vacation hot spot. Tourists show up in droves every year to take advantage of the temperate weather, well-maintained beach, and many attractions.
During your off-beach hours, try SPI’s sizzling nightlife, excellent restaurants, and a variety of curio shops. Or if you have kids in tow, opt for one of the island's many family-friendly activities like a pirate sunset cruise, mini golf, and go-carts. Day trips are also a breeze. If you want to take a break from the crowds, options for venturing include heading across the bridge to historic Port Isabel or across the border to Matamoros,... Mexico.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Across the Brazos Santiago Pass from South Padre Island is the relatively isolated shoreline of Boca Chica Beach. Boca Chica is the southernmost beach in Texas and sits right near the mouth of the Rio Grande. Compared to the bustle of neighboring South Padre Island, this beach feels almost deserted.
This undeveloped stretch offers the white sand and turquoise waters of South Padre Island combined with the raw, natural beauty of Padre Island National Seashore. But what it lacks in amenities, it makes up for in outdoor recreation. The area's year-round warm climate provides ample opportunity for snorkeling, fishing, surfing, and birdwatching. And because it's almost entirely free of commercial or residential properties, it's an ideal getaway for those looking to unplug as well as unwind.
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A mix of marsh and beach, Sea Rim State Park isn’t a typical beach destination. However, this state park — located just south of Beaumont/Port Arthur and the northern-most beach in Texas— is a nature lover's delight.
Perhaps best known for its feathered inhabitants, bird-watchers and beach-goers often co-exist on this stretch of sand. While you can certainly swim in the waves and lounge in the sun, this beach appeals to visitors more interested in outdoor recreation. Because it's a state park, you don't need a license to fish from the shore, and camping is permitted. If you head inland to the marshes, however, just be sure to keep an eye out for alligators.
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At less than an hour's drive from Houston, Galveston Island is a favorite beach spot for locals and tourists alike. The island has a number of waterfront spaces, including its popular seawall and adjacent sand strip. Arguably the best, however, is Stewart Beach.
While the sand on Stewart Beach isn't powdery soft, it is clean and well-maintained, and the waves are typically low and manageable. A lifeguard stand towers over the long stretch of shore, along with a host of umbrella-clad beach chairs peering out at the water. On-site bathrooms, showers, and changing areas are available, as well as beach volleyball courts, concessions, and other amenities.
What's particularly great about Stewart Beach is its proximity to the rest of Galveston's attractions. An easy distance from places like Moody Gardens, the Pleasure Pier, and myriad seafood restaurants, this beach is a great stop or day trip for families staying on the island or in Houston.
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Take a ferry north from Galveston Island, and you'll find Bolivar Peninsula — a thin strip of land populated by stilted beachfront homes and large swaths of undeveloped beaches that are popular among locals.
The peninsula stretches 27 miles and is home to several small towns, including the popular Crystal Beach. Its beaches face both the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and the closer you get to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, the more natural the shoreline and thinner the crowd.
Near the ferry you'll find more developed the beach, but if you head east from the small town of Caplen, you can pull over almost anywhere directly onto the sand, where even on warm, holiday weekends you might not see a soul. This sparsely occupied portion of the beach boasts zero amenities — no showers, restrooms, or concessions — however, it is does have peace and quiet in spades. Because its undeveloped, you can expect to step around small sand dunes, through seaweed, and over shells, but if you... don't mind that, it's a nice reprieve from the craziness of the always-busy Galveston Island. In the event you get hungry or need facilities, you can always make the short drive back toward the mainland to stop at any number of restaurants.
Pro tip: If you take the ferry to the peninsula from Galveston, be sure to watch for dolphins. You'll often see them swimming along behind the ferry boats or splashing in the bay.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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For another beach slightly off the beaten path, Matagorda offers a clean, quiet shore with very few tourists. The Matagorda area is a less commercial alternative to the busy beaches of Galveston or South Padre Island. Waves here can get a little high, but low tide provides plenty of opportunities to hunt for seashells and splash in low waters.
Nearby, 1,300+ acres of a nature preserve sit near the mouth of the Colorado River, and the local waterways are chock-full of oysters and massive speckled trout. Fishing is particularly popular in Matagorda, but you don't have to catch anything to take in delicious seafood. The beach's namesake town just a little ways inland features several bars and restaurants whose menus include Gulf Coast fare.
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An hour's drive southwest of Houston, this beachside hamlet has just 500 residents and takes up a mere 2.5 square miles of almost pure coastline. But while it might not be able to boast the fancy hotels, swarms of tourists, and busy attractions of other Texas beaches, Surfside Beach does offer a quiet charm that's ideal for low-key, no-fuss vacations.
That's not to say it it's boring. The small town is home to several restaurants, including some live music venues, as well multiple hotels with beachside views at a fraction of the prices found on Galveston or South Padre islands. That being said, the beach itself is the real draw. Waves here are nice and low — great for beginning surfers — and the shoreline has plenty of soft sand to make epic sandcastles.
A nice perk of Surfside beach is that you can drive right up onto the beach (so long as you have a permit), and you can even make small bonfires and set up camp in designated areas.
Robyn Correll contributed to this... article.