With 350+ miles of shoreline along the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, Texas has a bigger, better beach life than you might have imagined. Whether you love a bustling spot with fried seafood joints and beach bars or a pristine stretch of tawny sand (or both), here are the 10 best spots to park your beach chair, from the Rio Grande to Galveston.
Padre Island National Seashore
On the southern Texas barrier island of the same name that separates the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay, the Padre Island National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. What this means is 70 miles of pristine coastline and glorious beaches that shelter the rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and more than 380 bird species, plus offer walking, swimming, birdwatching, and enjoying the wild beauty of the Texas coast. Among the beaches here, Malaquite Swimming Beach has a Visitor Center and Pavilion, beach wheelchair access, is closed to driving, and conducts a sea turtle hatchling release during the summer season (go here for more information). For beachcombers, Little Shell and Big Shell beaches are aptly named for their bounty. Entrance fees include $10 per vehicle for a one-day pass, $10 per person for pedestrians and bicyclists (go here for all fees).
Galveston Island State Park
At the west end of this popular island just an hour from Houston, this quiet treasure protects 2,000 acres of upper Gulf Coast barrier island ecosystem, including beautiful beaches, lagoons, bay, and salt marshes. Note: the beach-side area of the park is closing for renovations on July 15, 2019, and will remain so for approximately three years. However, the north side of the park will stay open throughout, and the park remains a beautiful asset worth visiting for people who love to swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, paddle, and camp. Entry fee is $5 per adult (children 12 and younger are free).
Seawall Urban Park
It doesn’t get beachier than these 10 miles of Gulf-facing sands on charming and historic Galveston Island. Named for the seawall that runs along the low-lying shoreline (and the boulevard that bears its name), this park has every kind of beach experience, from quiet stretches to access to beachfront restaurants, beach bars, and resorts, to the colorful Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. And pets on leash are welcome. Parking along the Seawall from 6th to 69th streets and 81st to 103rd streets can be purchased via Pay By Phone for $1 per hour, $8 per day or a $25 annual pass.
Boca Chica Beach
Nestled in the embrace of the 40,000-acre Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge on the southernmost stretch of the Texas coastline, this pristine beach marks the place where the Rio Grande River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. These miles of quiet shores are one of the few places where the world’s most endangered sea turtle—the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle—nests, and they also provide rich terrain for a broad variety of migratory and resident species of birds. There’s also excellent beachcombing and surf fishing. Access to the refuge is free.
Mustang Island State Park
This 18-mile-long barrier island stretches from Padre Island and Corpus Christi to Port Aransas, and is home to beautiful and shifting sand dunes, some of the best fishing on the Texas coast, more than 300 species of native birds, and this gem of a park that protects nearly 4,000 acres for quiet recreation and escape. With five miles of coastline on both the Gulf and Corpus Christi Bay, the pet-friendly park is a serene setting for beach combing, swimming, paddling, and camping (48 sites with electricity about 400 yards from the water, and 50 primitive campsites on the beach; go here for fees and reservations). Day use entry fee is $5 per adult (children 12 and younger are free).
With 27 miles of beachfront, this slender peninsula that lies between Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico is home to broad, tawny sands that are all about beachcombing and birding (the whole peninsula is part of the Great Texas Birding Trail), and also about beach camping, bonfires, and driving on the beach. There’s easy beach access through neighborhoods (including the lively community of Crystal Beach) and there’s a ferry that runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year between the peninsula’s westernmost end and Galveston, making both beachy destinations easy to play between.
South Padre Island
A classic beach destination for every age, SPI does swell with Spring Breakers during peak season, but it has hidden riches from one length of its 34 miles of pale, soft sands to the other. With strong and steady winds, SPI is a kite surfing destination, and the beaches are also pet-friendly. At the southern end of the this slender barrier island that lies between the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay, Isla Blanca Park has more than a mile of pristine sand along the Gulf and is known for its surfing, fishing, and dolphin-watching; for a quieter day on the Gulf, head to the island’s north end.
With a passion for clean waters and sands, this beach in the historic small city of the same name on Aransas Bay was the state’s first Blue Wave Beach—an environmental certification granted by the Clean Beaches Coalition. With no vehicles, dogs, beach bonfires, fireworks, or overnight camping allowed here, this is a beach that’s finely tuned for simple pleasures like playing in the surf and fishing from its pier. And the line of thatch-roof palapas grant it a charming tropical vibe you don’t see many places on the Texas coast. There’s no charge to enter the beach on foot or by bicycle; parking is $5 per day or $20 for the year.
Southwest of Galveston, this little beach town is an under-the-radar gem with clean waters and four miles of beaches. One stretch between Thunder and Welk streets does not allow any vehicles (there’s free parking at both edges); north of Welk, vehicles are allowed on the beach (permits are $12 for the year). Horses are allowed on the beach from May 15-September 15, so Surfside is a great place to do a little horseback beach exploration along with walking, surfing, crabbing, and fishing.
Port Aransas Beach
This beloved family beach town on Mustang Island known affectionately and proudly as Port “A” has done a remarkable job of recovering in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and its 6.3 miles of broad, flat sands remain a great place to enjoy old-fashioned fun. All the beaches in Port A allow vehicles; the city requires a $12 permit (available at City Hall, Family Center IGA, and The Islander shop) to park along the beach.
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