No, Texas isn’t exactly known for its beaches, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beach vacay in the Lone Star State—it is on the Gulf of Mexico, after all. Texas is home to several islands, many of which boast quiet, pristine beaches, abundant wildlife, and quaint seaside towns. And though you’ve probably heard of Galveston and South Padre, you probably haven’t heard of Matagorda or Mustang. Check out this list of the best islands to visit in Texas.
Mustang Island: Best for Fans of Beachy Natural Beauty
With its white sand, cobalt blue water, and towering, deep green dunes, Mustang Island State Park is one of the nicest, most scenic sections of publicly owned land on the Gulf. This 18-mile barrier island is chock-full of wildlife, including migratory birds, white-tailed deer, sea turtles, armadillos, jackrabbits, and an estimated 600 species of saltwater fish. Plus, there’s so much to do here; visitors can kayak, swim, fish, hike, bird-watch, and spend the night in a tent right on the beach.
Padre Island National Seashore: Best for Wildlife Lovers
Padre Island National Seashore is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, and it’s bursting with natural, secluded beauty, and diverse wildlife. The island is also one of Texas’s most underrated destinations. Stop by the Malaquite Visitor Center on your way in, to gather information about the area—Padre Island is way more than just a pretty beach. There’s exceptional bird-watching here, water sports galore, and if you come in mid-June to August, you could catch a sea turtle hatchling release. Camping is permitted in five camping areas and campsites are open year-round, on a first-come, first-served basis. Not in the mood to rough it? The Lighthouse Inn and Pearl South Padre Resort are both excellent beachfront lodging options.
Galveston Island: Best for Families
Bustling Galveston Island is the perfect place for families who want to soak up the sand and the sun. This is the most popular island in Texas and while the beaches don’t really compare to Mustang Island or Padre, there are tons of family-friendly attractions to enjoy here. Aside from the beach, the kids will love Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn (the world’s first “convertible waterpark”), and Pleasure Pier, which features dozens of thrilling carnival rides right over the water.
Matagorda Island: Best for Sporty Types
Galveston’s much less frequented neighbor, Matagorda Island, consists of 56,688 acres of offshore barrier island and bayside marshes, and the island supports a variety of wildlife—including over 15 threatened or endangered species. Outdoorsy, sporty visitors will love exploring Matagorda Bay Nature Park. Work up a sweat on one of the many walking and hiking trails, then rent a kayak and cool off in the water. Just note that the beach here is pretty primitive, so you’ll want to bring everything with you and leave with all your trash. (Oh, and don’t drive on the beach with anything less than four-wheel drive—you will get stuck in the sand.)
San Jose Island: Best for Lone Wolves
A privately owned, undeveloped island across from Port Aransas, San Jose Island is one of those hidden-gem destinations you simply have to experience for yourself. Most of the island is off limits to the public; there are usually very few (if any) people here, so this is the ideal spot if you’re in the mood for some private beach time. There are miles and miles of undisturbed stretches of sand to explore, and the water is some of the clearest you’ll find in the state. The barrier island is closed to the public except for the beach. For $12 a passenger, Jetty Boat provides round trip ferry service to the island from Fisherman’s Wharf in Port A. Be sure to pack food and drinks (and any other supplies you’ll need for the day), as there are no facilities or amenities of any kind on the island. And always pack out what you pack in; this is one of Texas’s most special beaches, so it’s important to protect the land and water by cleaning up after yourself.