10 Best Gulf Coast Beaches in the USA With Picturesque Shorelines

Adirondack Beach Chairs for a Summer Vacation in the Shell Sand.

The Gulf Coast is home to some of the best beaches in the United States. From Texas to Florida, so many of these sunny shorelines look like they were plucked right off a postcard! But there are too many incredible spots to count – that’s why we’ve rounded up a list of the best of the best Gulf Coast beaches in the U.S. for you to visit.

1. Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas

South Padre Island, Texas

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With just 10 national seashores in the U.S., Padre Island National Seashore is practically guaranteed to be a special spot. These 66 miles of untouched coastline are truly a gem.

The quiet of Padre Island National Seashore lends itself to a peaceful day at the beach. Simply soak up some sunshine, go for a relaxing swim, or maybe even read that novel you’ve been meaning to get to.

Since this strip of coastline is undeveloped, many animals like to make Padre Island National Seashore their home. As a matter of fact, you can spot over 380 bird species in this one location. And if you happen to visit over the summer, you might be lucky enough to see some turtle hatchlings too! Between June and August, these little sea creatures will break out of their shells and scuttle their way into the Gulf for the first time.

Our personal favorite area to explore is South Padre Island. Be sure to catch a dolphin tour – so cool.

2. Bay St Louis Beach, Bay St Louis, Mississippi

Bay St Louis Beach

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Out of all of the states on the Gulf Coast, Mississippi has the least amount of shoreline at just 44 miles. But that doesn’t stop it from snagging a spot on this list with the beautiful Bay St. Louis Beach.

Unlike many of the other shorelines on the list, no one really knows about Bay St. Louis Beach. After all, people don’t typically connect Mississippi with pristine white sand and clear waters, but that’s precisely what this Gulf Coast beach offers. It’s safe to say that you’ll likely get a huge chunk of beach all to yourself.

But no beach day on Bay St. Louis Beach would be complete without some fresh seafood. Luckily, there are quite a few fantastic nearby options, like Field’s Steak and Oyster Bar, Cuz’s Old Town Oyster Bar & Grill, and Dan’s Poboys and Seafood.

3. Orange Beach, Orange Beach, Alabama

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Like Mississippi, Alabama doesn’t have all that much coastline either – it has just 53 miles of it, to be exact. But within that small sliver of sunshine is one of the best Gulf Coast beaches: Orange Beach.

Situated in a town of the same name, Orange Beach is great for just about every beach activity, although watersports and boat tours are particularly popular. Rent a kayak, try your hand at jet skiing, or keep an eye out for dolphins on a sunset cruise.

4. Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida

Henderson Beach State Park

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As expected, most of the best Gulf Coast beaches are in sunny Florida. And the first one we simply have to share is Henderson Beach State Park.

Located in Destin, this lovely beach is filled with eye-catching scenery. Swim in the emerald waters, walk on one of the many nature trails, or climb up the towering sand dunes. You can even spend the night at one of the 60 beachfront campsites if you’d like.

But if there’s one activity that Henderson Beach State Park is known for, it’s fishing. Below the surface, the sandy area quickly tapers off, meaning that both coastal fish and deep-sea fish can be found here. Pompano, amberjack, flounder, and blackfin tuna are just the start.

Please keep in mind that fishing is prohibited between the boardwalks at Henderson Beach State Park, although you can fish just about everywhere else at this Florida beach.

5. Shell Island, Panama City Beach, Florida

Shell Island, St Andrews State Park, Florida

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While you can simply drive up to most of the beaches on this list, it’s not quite as easy to make your way to Shell Island. This little slice of paradise is only accessible by boat, after all.

The easiest way to reach this seven-mile-long undeveloped barrier island is to hop on board the Shell Island Shuttle or the Shell Island Ferry at St. Andrews State Park. Either way, after a 15-minute boat ride, you’ll reach this breathtaking isle.

Since Shell Island is a smidge more remote than other Panama City Beach shorelines, the water is quite a bit clearer. As a result, it’s perfect for swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling. And don’t forget to spend some time on shore too! As its name implies, Shell Island is home to some epic seashells, including conch shells and whelk shells.

We visited a few summers ago and Shell Island is paradise.

6. Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida

Clearwater Beach, Florida

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Clearwater Beach in Clearwater, Florida, is consistently named one of the best beaches in the U.S. – if not the best beach. Home to sunny skies, blue waters, and 2.5 miles of golden sand, it’s a beach lover’s dream.

You can also enjoy just about every watersport in existence at this picture-perfect Gulf Coast beach. You can parasail, jetski, wakeboard, wake surf, and more. And if you want to think outside the box, you can even hop on board a pirate ship for a once-in-a-lifetime tour! Clearwater Beach is one of the best beaches in Florida.

7. Coquina Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Coquina Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida

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About halfway between Tampa and Fort Myers lies the little gem of an island known as Anna Maria Sound. Filled with charming hotels and adorable shops, this island is already fantastic. But when you add gorgeous shorelines like Coquina Beach into the mix, it’s a must-visit.

Like many other beaches on this list, Coquina Beach has the signature Florida Gulf Coast white sand and crystal clear waters. But it also has a grove of Australian pines, which makes for some nice shaded areas to escape the Florida heat.

Plus, Coquina Beach has quite a few bonus amenities. So grab a bite from the concession stands, let your kids loose on the playground, or play a pick-up game of volleyball.

8. Siesta Key Beach, Siesta Key, Florida

Siesta Key Beach, Florida

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Siesta Key is arguably home to some of the most stunning beaches in the country, not just on the Gulf Coast. And while there are a few different shorelines on this little island, you can’t go wrong with the classic Siesta Key Beach.

This particular Florida beach looks extra postcard-worthy, thanks to its pristine white sand, bright blue sky, and sparkling turquoise waters. You quite literally could not pick a better spot for a day at the beach.

On top of all that, Siesta Key Beach is known for its Sunday evening drum circle. This weekly event is filled with tribal-style drummers, belly dancers, and sword balancers, so it’s definitely an experience you won’t want to miss out on.

9. Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida

Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida

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Sanibel Island has earned itself the title of “the shelling capital of the world” – and for good reason. The beaches on this little Gulf Coast island are laden with some of the coolest shells around, including conch shells, olive shells, and whelk shells. And if there’s just one beach on Sanibel Island that you need to visit for shells galore, it’s Bowman’s Beach.

While most people visit Bowman’s Beach to shell, that’s not the only thing you can do there. Swim, suntan, sail, and windsurf to your heart’s content. And don’t forget to stick around for a picture-perfect sunset!

Please keep in mind, as of 2023, Sanibel Island is still suffering the effects of Hurricane Ian.

10. Keewaydin Island Beach, Keewaydin Island, Florida

Keewaydin Island

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Like Shell Island in North Florida, Keewaydin Island is another spot that is only accessible by boat. But it’s totally worth the extra step of hopping aboard the Hemingway Water Shuttle from Marco Island.

After a 30-minute boat ride filled with turquoise waters and soaring birds, you’ll reach Keewaydin Island Beach. There, you’ll be able to enjoy a little more peace and quiet than on the other best Gulf Coast beaches (after all, Keewaydin Island is a little less accessible).

While you can easily spend your entire visit just laid out in the sun or swimming in the water, Keewaydin Island Beach has a couple of fun surprises. First, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins playing in the waters off this Floridian isle, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

And second, don’t forget to spend some time shelling! Keewaydin Island Beach is loaded with some of the coolest shells on the Gulf Coast, including kings crown conches, banded tulips, and murices. If you’re extra lucky, you may even find a few sand dollars lying around.

You may also find some eye-catching cone shells at Keewaydin Island Beach. But be careful! The cone snails that live inside them are VERY poisonous, so make sure that the shells are empty if you decide to collect them.

Final Thoughts on the Best Gulf Coast Beaches

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I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a day at the beach! So grab your beach towel, your swimsuit, and your reef-safe sunscreen! The only real question is which one of these incredible Gulf Coast beaches you’ll decide to visit first.

Featured Image Credit: cmcderm1/Depositphotos.com.

This article was produced and syndicated by The Happiness Function.

Sarah Etinas

Sarah Etinas is a full-time travel writer and avid adventurer. She has written for dozens of renowned publications, including Time Out, Insider, Honolulu Magazine, and TripAdvisor. When she's not writing, Sarah practices what she preaches by traveling to new destinations, hiking to beautiful waterfalls, and exploring her home. You can find more of her professional work on her portfolio website and follow her adventures on her Hawaii travel website.

1 Comments

  1. Burt Randall on May 10, 2023 at 4:04 pm

    These beaches are the best !!

    Have a good time guys when you visit again.