Family Beach Vacations on the Gulf Coast

  • 01 of 06

    From Texas to Florida—The Best Beaches in the South

    Gulfport is the largest city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
    ••• Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

    When you're planning a vacation with children, finding a family-friendly destination can be a challenge, but cities along the Gulf Coast offer plenty for kids to do, including going to these great beaches.

    From Destin, Florida to Padre Island in Texas, cities along the Gulf of Mexico offer year-round warm weather, kid-friendly attractions, and plenty of outdoor adventures appropriate for the whole family. Whether you're traveling with an infant or taking your teenage kids to the beach, you're sure to find something to do for everyone at these destinations.

    Be sure to book your hotel accommodations and any event tickets well in advance so that your family doesn't miss out on any of the fun. Especially during the busy summer tourist season from May through September, you'll want to give yourself plenty of time to beat the crowd to the best spots along the Gulf Coast.

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  • 02 of 06

    Destin, Florida

    ••• Florida State Parks

    With sand like powdered sugar and the brilliant turquoise Gulf of Mexico, Destin is a gem on the Emerald Coast. Located in the northwestern part of the state just a few miles outside of Pensacola, Destin offers a bit of a quieter vacation than the nearby college town.

    Destin is home to a number of golf courses, relaxed hotels, nature trails, and some of the best beaches in the Panhandle without the college-age party crowd of Panama or Pensacola. You won't have to worry about too many wild nights in Destin, but it does have a nightlife scene as well.

    The most popular stretch of beach, Henderson Beach State Park, is adjacent to the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, which offers chartered boat tours, great restaurants, ice-cream shops, and plenty of chances to people watch. Another popular destination for children is Big Kahuna's Destin's waterpark that features raft rides, surf simulators, and pipeline slides.

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    St. George Island, Florida

    ••• St. George Island Lighthouse

    Tucked into the crook of Florida's Panhandle, the 28-mile St. George Island is renowned for its unspoiled beaches—far away from most tourist destinations and secluded enough from local traffic as well.

    Located just off the coast, the barrier island is part of the long stretch of beaches known as Gulf Islands National Seashore. The uninhabited St. George Island offers a chance for families to truly escape from it all, but that does mean attractions in the area are limited to outdoor adventures.

    However, you can stay on the island itself if you wish, and there are quaint beach cottages available to rent or you could lodge at one of the two island hotels or inns on St. George. Whichever way you decide to visit this secluded beach, know you're in for a treat as St. George has consistently been voted one of the best in the United States.

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  • 04 of 06

    Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama

    ••• Gulf State Park Pier

    With 32 miles of spectacular, sugar-white beaches and a raft load of outdoor activities and family attractions, the neighboring towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are premier family beach vacation destinations in Alabama.

    While many Americans often overlook this southern state for its beaches, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are among the highest-rated beaches in the U.S. Both known as water sports hubs, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores perfect for surfing, jet skiing, and even parasailing.

    Popular attractions nearby include the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum, the Wharf, and the Backcountry Trail along the beaches to Gulf Shores. There are also a number of accommodations and camping spots in the area, so there's no shortage of where you and your family can stay relatively inexpensively in coastal Alabama.

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  • 05 of 06

    Sanibel & Captiva Islands, Florida

    ••• Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce

    For shell-collecting and dolphin-spotting outside of popular destinations like Orlando and Miami, you should consider heading to Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Florida with your family.

    On Sanibel and Captiva Islands, you won't find any amusement parks, traffic lights, billboard-lined highways, glaring neon, or tracts of high-rise condos. Instead, you'll find a laid-back vibe, terrific restaurants, chic shops, and 15 miles of drop-dead-gorgeous beaches.

    You can also enroll your kids in the marine biology classes of the Sanibel Sea School (which offers morning and full-day programs for kids aged 6 to 13 (as well as an adult program). Alternatively, you could kayak through a ​mangrove swamp, sample some local ice cream, or visit the islands' lighthouse on Point Ybel.

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  • 06 of 06

    Padre Island, Texas

    ••• South Padre Island Adventure Park

    Running north to south off the coast of mainland Texas, Padre Island is the world's longest barrier island and a playground for beachgoers and sun lovers alike.

    Aside from the town of South Padre Island on its southern end, the island is quite sparsely populated. The central portion of the island is preserved in a natural state as the Padre Island National Seashore, but North Padre is where you'll find the pristine, unencumbered Texas coast—a dramatic contrast to the often congested scene of South Padre.

    Along with the fabulous beaches, you can also take your family to see Texas' biggest waterpark Schlitterbahn, visit Sea Turtle, Inc., tour the Point Isabel lighthouse, or explore the Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center.