When planning a trip to Texan beaches, research is key. The Lone Star State’s coast can be a murky one and folks don’t simply rock up to whatever patch of sand is the closest.
But over 600 miles of coastline means there are sandy treasures to be found and wonderful communities coming together. You see, Texas is all about the people, and these shores are the beloved hosts of big family barbecues, students who play sports, and spectacular fireworks.
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The wildlife is also a huge draw – close proximity to Mexico and a share of the border with Louisiana means that goodies of the tropics are in abundance along many points. And for those seeking a touch of secluded romance, there’s that too, with the beauty of emerald green over turquoise blue.
Couples, families, friends, and solo travelers, come take on the big and bountiful Texas seaboard – here are the best beaches to dip your toes in, along with essential planning tips.
1. Sea Rim State Park
Against the frontier with Louisiana, Sea Rim State Park is an over 4000-acre wetland with a 5.2-mile bend of sandy beach tacked on. This is one for the wildlife watchers, who will love the rich birdlife, alongside ghost crabs, river otters, and alligators. The Gambusia Nature Trail boardwalk is especially good for sightings.
Kayakers will relish the network of waterways back from the shore for paddling. Basic camping is available for a fee, attracting those who want to enjoy the broad, un-crowded sweep of butterscotch sands for a little longer.
Planning tip: Mosquitoes are rife all year round, so lather on the bug spray before you get here.
2. East Beach, Galveston
Everyone in Texas knows Galveston is the place for gatherings. That basically means it’s where the party’s at. East Beach holds this sprightly status because it is the only one where alcohol is permitted. Frequent live music events and an annual sandcastle-building competition happen here alongside the drinking and barbecuing.
Planning tip: Glass is prohibited on the beach. Bring a cooler (you will definitely need a cooler) with reusable plastic cups or tumblers for the party.
3. Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula
The Bolivar Peninsula, a 27-mile-long hook of land outlined in sand, shields Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. A seven-mile stretch of sand within it, called Crystal Beach, forms an especially fetching focal point. It is an un-manicured and wild-feeling buff-colored sandy expanse backed by a thin crest of dunes, where hermit crabs and migratory bird species outnumber beach-goers. This calm oasis feels a world away from nearby bustling Galveston.
Planning tip: The peninsula is only connected to the big port by ferry and land access is via a 35-mile-long road from Winnie.
Texas has some incredible beaches suitable for tiny bathers © Cavan Images / Getty Images
4. San José Island
Mustang Island lies between Corpus Christi Bay and the open ocean, and from Port Aransas at the northern corner, you can take a spin by ferry across the ship channel to another of the state’s peaceful sand-rimmed barrier islands. Only two miles wide at its broadest point, San José Island extends to 21 miles in length and, with the next island up being the still wilder Matagorda Island, becomes less busy the further north you explore. It receives a smattering of visitors, most of whom are here for beach-combing or for some of Texas’ finest fishing.
Planning tip: You’ll need to take everything with you for a day on the island as there are no stores on San José. Bring your own trash bag too and don’t leave anything behind.
5. Padre Island National Seashore
The Padre Island National Seashore is the world’s largest undeveloped barrier island. Not to be confused with the contrasting South Padre Island, a big and boisterous spring break destination, this is a gangly teased-out piece of road-less, car-less, unpeopled paradise along which 65 miles of white sand and shell beaches await you.
Grassy dunes, tidal flats, and one of only six hypersaline lagoons on Earth (Laguna Madre) complete a vigorously protected ecosystem frequented by the best of the Texas coast’s fauna, including 360 bird species, coyotes, and sea turtles such as the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley.
Planning tip: Access to the seashore is from Corpus Christi via Hwy 358 and John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway, at the northern end. You can camp with a permit in five designated areas.
6. Rockport Beach
One of the cleanest sandy coastlines in the state, Rockport was the first scoop of sand in Texas to achieve Blue Wave Beach designation (the USA equivalent of Blue Flag Beach status), and the immaculate yellow crescent of the bay and gently shelving shallow water make it the best beach in Texas for families with small kids. The facilities, from shady picnic areas to playgrounds, are very good.
Planning tip: As much as fur babies are considered part of the family for many, this beach does not allow dogs or other pets, so find a sitter before the (human) clan heads down.
Fancy a long solitary walk away from it all? Head to Boca Chica Beach © Getty Images / iStockphoto
7. Boca Chica Beach
Welcome to the very end of the road. Boca Chica Beach is an away-from-it-all slice of sand and dunes brushing the Rio Grande River mouth. Surreally, the SpaceX Launch Facility, a rocket production and testing site, is located nearby, but adventurers will still be over the moon arriving at this sandy retreat. Apart from border city Brownsville from where the 23-mile road out here begins, this is the most southerly point in Texas and pretty undeveloped.
Planning tip: Texas is mahoosive, so if you’re driving all the way to Boca Chica, chances are you’re going to pay Mexico a visit. Either way, checkpoints are dotted throughout the border, so bring passports in case you stumble upon one.
8. Matagorda Island
Matagorda Island is the destination of choice for those who want a break from absolutely everything. It is deservedly fabled amongst fanatics of the great outdoors: you must charter your own boat in Port O’Connor to get here and take camping equipment if you wish to stay over. This is a pristine, unspoiled seaside paradise, flanked by the least crowded beaches in Texas.
The wildlife billing includes bald eagles, whooping cranes, alligators, coyotes, and white-tailed deer, and without the presence of other humans, you will likely get much closer to such creatures than elsewhere. Get information, including permits for camping, at the park office in Bay City.
Planning tip: There is no electricity or drinking water on the island. Charge up those devices, and bring plenty of water in your reusable containers.