7 Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots

Gulf Coast vacation destinations are known for their long, white beaches; cool, peaceful waters; and secluded locations, perfect for weekend getaways and longer-term stays. Here are the 7 best Gulf Coast vacation spots.

7. Mustang Island, Texas

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Mustang Island
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Mustang Island

Located just southeast of Corpus Christi, Mustang Island is a barrier island that stretches over 18 miles in length, with over five miles of beaches. Accessible by ferry or via the causeway, Mustang Island is a popular Spring Break and summer vacation destination. It is also a popular winter home for some residents of the island, who spend their summers in the northern United States of Canada.

The island got its name due to a herd of wild horses that lived on the island in the 18th century. Up until the mid 19th century, Mustang Island served as a frequent hideout for pirates and smugglers. Since then, the island has developed into a premier tourist destination, with calm, peaceful waters that are perfect for swimming, boating, shell collecting, parasailing, kayaking, and more. 

Mustang Island State Park is home to a wide variety of birds and fish, and the 20 miles of trails through the park offer some of the best shallow-water fishing areas in the country.

6. Galveston Island, Texas

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Galveston Island
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Galveston Island

A barrier island located in the City of Galveston, 50 miles outside of Houston, Galveston Island has 32 miles of beautiful gulf beach, which attracts tourists from around the world. Accessible by bridge, the island is a popular vacation spot in summer months, and a common place for snowbirds to spend the winter. 

The history of the island dates back to ancient times, when native Americans used it for seasonal fishing and hunting trips. The first permanent European settlements were built on the island in 1816, and the island quickly became a base for pirates and smugglers. During the Civil War, Confederate and Union troops clashed over the island, and in 1900, it was severely impacted by a major hurricane. Rebuilt over the ensuing decades, by the late 1900s, Galveston Island had become a premier tourist destination.

Today, the island’s beautiful gulf beaches, wilderness trails, and calm, serene atmosphere make it a perfect vacation spot. Embark on a kayaking trip, visit the local amusement park, shops, and aquarium; or take part in boating, fishing, biking, golfing, and more.

5. Marco Island, Florida

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Marco Island
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Marco Island

A small barrier island in the Gulf, located 20 miles south of Naples, Marco Island is a popular Gulf Coast vacation spot among those “in the know” in Florida. A great place for spring and summer rentals, the island is the year-round home to over 16,000 people and sees approximately 2 million visitors per year. The island’s population also more than doubles in the winter months, and residents with second homes on the island move in for the season.

Long considered one of Florida’s best kept secrets, Marco Island is far from the hustle and bustle of Florida’s major resort cities, but still offers luxury accommodations and a wealth of activities and attractions. 

Marco Island is home to a golf course, yacht club, nature preserve, and many parks. With over 100 miles of canals crisscrossing the island, Marco Island is great for boating and kayaking. The beaches are long, wide, and uncrowded, with white sands and calm, blue waters that are characteristic of gulf beaches. Perfect for swimming, surfing, shell collecting, or just relaxing on the shore, Marco Island has something to offer for every vacationer.

4. Sanibel Island, Florida

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Sanibel Island
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Sanibel Island

A 12 mile long barrier island located west of Fort Meyers, Sanibel Island is a popular vacation destination due to its beautiful gulf beaches and its wildlife refuges. 

Originally inhabited by the Calusa, a native American people who inhabited the southwestern coast of Florida, Sanibel Island has a rich history, changing hands to the Spanish in the 1600s, and later serving as a hideout for Haitian refugees, pirates, and smugglers, according to local legend. 

Sanibel Island was abandoned in 1849, but later repopulated in 1862, and was home to a small community for the next hundred years, until the construction of the Sanibel Causeway in 1963 turned the island into a tourist destination. 

Today, the island’s tourism infrastructure is well developed, with rentals and luxury hotels for accommodations, piers for boating, secluded beaches famous for the wide variety of seashells that wash up on their shores, and calm waters, great for fishing, swimming, and parasailing. 

3. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Gulf Shores
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Gulf Shores

Located along Alabama’s Gulf Coast 30 miles west of Pensacola, FL and 50 miles south of Mobile, Gulf Shores is a scenic vacation spot that attracts 7 million visitors per year. The calm blue-green waters and white, sandy beaches are a perfect place to beat the heat in the summer, and the year-round temperate climate makes Gulf Shores a good vacation spot even in the winter, and many residents make Gulf Shores their winter home, while spending summers further north.

Popular activities on the waterfront include beach fishing, boating, swimming, parasailing, cruises, and dolphin watching. Nearby, popular attractions including golfing, visiting Little Lagoon, seeing the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, and Waterville USA, a water and amusement park make Gulf Shores one of the best Gulf Coast vacation spots.

2. Dauphin Island, Alabama

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Dauphin Island
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Dauphin Island

The best Gulf Coast vacation spot in Alabama, Dauphin Island is a barrier island on Alabama’s Mobile County shores. A secluded and scenic island connected to the mainland by the Dauphin Island Bridge, Dauphin Island is home to only about 1,300 permanent residents, but sees tourists from all over the country who come to enjoy the white, sandy beaches; blue-green waters; nature sanctuaries; waterfront activities; and restaurants.

Inhabited by Native Americans as far back as 1,500 years, Dauphin Island changed hands between Spain and France during the colonial period, before becoming part of the United States in 1795. The island was the sight of the Battle of Mobile Bay during the American Civil War, and was the sight where U. S. Admiral David Farragut’s famous phrase, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” was supposedly uttered.

Today, Dauphin Island’s main attractions include its beaches, bike paths, walking trails, water parks, campgrounds, bird sanctuary, and shopping outlets. 

1. Naples, Florida

Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots - Naples, Florida
Best Gulf Coast Vacation Spots – Naples, Florida

Located in south Florida, Naples is a city of 20,000, which attracts millions of tourists each year. Naples encompases the best of everything the Gulf Shores have to offer, making it the premier Gulf Coast vacation destination. From high-end dining and shopping, the beautiful beaches, nature trails, and a wealth of waterfront activities and sports to partake in, Naples has something for every visitor.

Founded in the 1880s and named after the city in Italy, Naples quickly became a major destination for tourism. Several major wildlife and land reserves in the area, including Everglades National Park, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge make excellent camping, hiking, and cycling destinations. The beaches are excellent places to relax, swim, jet-ski, boat, fish, or surf, and nearby golf courses, theaters, shopping centers, spas, fitness centers, and restaurants ensure you will never run out of things to do.

See Also: 10 Domestic Beach Vacations That Won’t Break the Bank

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