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Best Gulf Coast Beaches in the USA

The Gulf Coast has it all – from the sun-drenched sands of Florida and Alabama to the “Secret Coast” of Mississippi, the mouth-watering cuisine of Louisiana, and the exhilarating atmosphere of Texas beaches. With endless shores to unwind on, you will be spoiled for choice! But that also makes finding the ideal one for your family a challenging task. 

Best Gulf Coast Beaches

That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best Gulf Coast beaches for families that offer all the amenities you and your little ones might need. These come packed with pristine restrooms, experienced lifeguards, delicious dining options, and unique activities to keep the whole family engaged. If you are searching for the warmest places in the USA in October, then these options might just suit you too!

Best Gulf Coast Beaches

Our list of the best Gulf Coast Beaches covers Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Scroll through for our recommendations for each state, plus the reasons why we love each one so much.

Orange Beach, Alabama

The white sand and turquoise waters of Orange Beach will beckon you for your next family Gulf Coast vacation. Offering a mix of laid-back and adventurous vibes, the beach comes with picnic facilities, restrooms and showers, easy access points, and a range of restaurants with mouth-watering cuisines.

There’s so much to do for all ages and interests, be it jet skiing and kayaking for teens, boating and sailing for kids, or just paddling in the pristine waves for toddlers. You can always head to the visitor center to gather more information on the local attractions and activities.

An absolute must-try while you are here is the dolphin cruise. There’s nothing quite like watching the dolphins race through the warm waters with your excited little ones as the sun sets over the ocean.

Siesta Key Beach, Florida

Run barefoot through soft white quartz sand without burning your toes, or simply splash about with your kids in the cool, shallow waters of Siesta Key, one of the best Gulf Coast beaches for families. 

If you are planning to drive down, you can park your car here for free. Head to the restrooms for a quick change, and then shower outdoors before letting your kids go for a dip under the watchful eyes of the lifeguards. 

Once tummies start rumbling, grab your fave snacks at the concession stands and have an impromptu picnic at the picnic area. For a post-meal activity, pack some sturdy shovels (as the sand here is dense) and help your kids build mighty sandcastles.

Challenge them to a game of beach volleyball at the volleyball nets, or let them run around in the playground while you and your partner unwind by yourselves. 

If you’re there on a Sunday, make sure to stay till sunset to participate in the drum circle!

St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, Florida

Among all the Gulf Coast family vacation spots, St. Andrews State Park stands out as an untouched beauty. For an entry fee of $8 for cars, $4.00 for motorcycles, and $2.00 for bicycles or walking, you can spend a day among white crystal sands, deep blue waters, and diverse flora and fauna.

Drop by the Visitor Center to discover facts about the local wildlife before heading out to look for deer, birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and even gators (in a separate lake). The northern side of the jetty has a pool where younger kids can swim and snorkel, while the south side has some soft waves for older kids to get their surf on.

Nearby, you’ll find rental stores for pontoons and kayaks, a gift shop, an aquarium, and even some of the best grounds for camping overnight. For quality family time away from other tourists, take a quick boat or ferry ride to Shell Island and relax on its undisturbed shores. 

St Pete Beach, Clearwater Florida (1)
St Pete Beach

St. Pete Beach, St. Pete Beach, Florida

Discover a unique piece of paradise for your Gulf Coast vacation at St. Pete Beach. With 360+ days of sunshine a year, this is where adults can work on their tan as their little ones swim, parasail, stand-up paddle board, and windsurf.

Kids will love the see-through kayak that offers an up-close look at the dolphins and manatees, or hunting for treasure aboard a pirate ship. 

You don’t have to break a sweat about creature comforts for your little ones here. The beach comes equipped with all the amenities you could need; showers and changing rooms, snack bars, playgrounds, and even beach-accessible wheelchairs.

Take a stroll along one of the longest piers in the Gulf of Mexico, St. Pete Beach Pier, before visiting the Dalí Museum and the Imagine Museum with the family. You can even stop by the century-old Sunken Gardens which houses a variety of tropical flora. 

Tip: Use the runner bus to avoid the hassle of looking for parking on busy days.

Lowdermilk Park, Florida

Jazz up your beach vacation with a visit to Lowdermilk Park, one of Florida’s finest beach parks. Azure waters, white sand, and abundant seashells promise nothing short of a relaxing holiday. 

Whether you choose to start your day at the park and head to the beach at sunset, or vice versa, there’s plenty to keep your family occupied. The park has stand-up paddleboarding, kayak rentals, and a duck pond too!

While the kids let loose at one of the 2 playgrounds, moms and dads can relax under the thatched-roof palapas or pick up some snacks at the concession stand or the on-site restaurant.

As the sun gets milder, slip into your swimsuits in the changing rooms and head to the shores for a dip. Build sandcastles, play a match on the sand volleyball courts, or try to spot dolphins with your tiny tots at sunset. 

Parking here is limited and can fill up quickly, so try to get there early in the morning for a spot.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

If you are looking for the clearest water on the Gulf Coast, look no further than Anna Maria Island where the charming Floridian ambiance brings back old-school memories of the beach. These stunning shores are also home to mesmerizing marine life like dolphins, sting rays, sand dollars, and more that your kids will adore. 

For families, Manatee Beach is the perfect spot, complete with play areas, restrooms, and concessions. Worried about safety? You can rest easy knowing that vigilant lifeguards are always keeping watch.

After a day of soaking up the sunshine, head over to Bradenton Beach, and challenge your family to mini-golfing at the delightful Fish Hole Mini-Golf. And the best part? You don’t even need to drive. Just hop on the free trolley bus and get off wherever your heart desires.

Fort Myers Beach, Florida

Treat your kids to a day of non-stop excitement at Fort Myers Beach. Whether you want to lie down on the sandy beach and soak up some rays, cool off with a quick swim in the ocean, or take a stroll on the lovely boardwalk, there’s something for everyone.

Energetic teens will love the beach volleyball court, while little ones can splash around in the gentle waves. For odds and ends, there is a convenience store within minutes and a good selection of beach shops to rent beach umbrellas, chairs, and other essentials.

Satisfy your family’s hunger with mouth-watering snacks, ice cream, and more from the tempting food trucks nearby. Don’t miss out on the live music on the pier, where you can enjoy the stunning views and spot dolphins at the break line. 

Just be sure to get there early on weekends and holidays to secure a parking spot.

Pensacola Beach, Florida

Stretching out over 18 miles of perpetually warm shorelines, this island wins at being the ultimate family vacation spot because it allows you to bring furry family members along too! There are dedicated dog areas along the coast, making this one of the more popular dog-friendly gulf coast beaches.

With grills at your disposal, you can enjoy a delicious BBQ with your little ones. Plus, with free parking, shower facilities, and lifeguards on duty, you will be able to spend more time enjoying yourself and less time worrying about logistics and safety.

Get your adrenaline pumping with jet ski tours that offer a thrilling opportunity for kids to spot dolphins in their natural habitat. Grab some bikes and explore the beach for the best places to surf, paddleboard, or parasail.

For something truly unique, take a night kayak tour on see-through kayaks that offer striking views of marine life beneath. And when it’s time to impart some worldly wisdom or share stories with your teens, there’s no better place and time for it than at the pier over some fishing lessons. 

Sanibel Island, Florida

Easily accessible from Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is the quintessential laid-back place for families that want a low-key vacation. Feel rejuvenated in the crystal clear waters of the beaches here, which come with basic amenities like restrooms, showers, and picnic areas, to name a few. Parking is also available at a small hourly fee.

Start the day with a round of fishing at Lighthouse Beach Park before wandering around the iconic 138-year-old lighthouse that provides a gorgeous background for a family picture. Older kids or teens can try snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, and more under the watchful eye of their parents.

As the sun starts to set, beach comb at Bowman’s Beach for shells, a popular activity on Sanibel Island. 

After toweling off, hop on a bike and explore the many curiosities around town. Check out the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where a tram tour will educate you about alligators, sea turtles, manatees, and other wildlife in the area. 

Tip: Try to get there early, as parking is limited, and you don’t want to waste your day driving in circles.

Clearwater beach florida

Clearwater Beach, Florida

If a trip to Disney World is on the cards, then set a day aside on your itinerary to visit one of the best gulf coast beaches near Orlando and the closest to Disney World – Clearwater Beach. 

Popular among Floridians and visitors for its white coasts lapped by warm blue waters, the beaches here are surrounded by a wide range of easily accessible hotels and eateries. You’ll never have to worry about finding a tasty bite for your hungry little ones.

Be sure to take the marine enthusiasts in the family on a fun, educational visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Pier 60 is the ideal spot for parents to get some fishing time while the kids watch the pelicans or the street performers in the evenings.

Being a popular spot, the beach can get quickly crowded. So, if you are craving some quiet time with your loved ones, take a boat or ferry to Caladesi Island State Park. Paddle amid the mangroves here or rent boats for a night under the stars at the marina. 

Navarre, Florida

Aptly and often referred to as “the most relaxing place in Florida”, Navarre Beach makes your dream of warm sands, refreshing waves, loads of seashells, and playful dolphins a reality. Unwind on these uncrowded shores by walking the longest pier in Florida or paddling along the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The kids can indulge in their own version of relaxation by spotting dolphins, manta rays, and pink jellyfish at the pier. Rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards on the beach, and enjoy a mini-adventure with them.

Your little marine enthusiasts will also adore a fun and educational trip to the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle and Navarre Beach Marine Science Station. If you are visiting between May to October, you can catch the turtle nesting season right on these shores!

James Lee Park, Florida

Tucked away in the postcard beach town of Destin is the stunning and extremely family-friendly James Lee Park beach. Nicknamed “the world’s luckiest fishing village”, it is home to the largest fishing fleet in Florida. 

Rent out beach umbrellas and get comfy in the sand while the kids frolic in the water or burn off some energy at the playground. Pack a basket with your family’s favorite foods and lay them all out at the picnic tables on the beach or on a blanket under the shaded pavilions. 

With a range of amenities and facilities available, it’s no wonder why this beach is a favorite among parents. Outdoor showers are present to make washing away the sand eas. Other

Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida

Nestled in Florida’s Panhandle is the breathtaking Henderson Beach State Park. The park offers some of the most exciting places to stay on the Gulf Coast, with 60 campsites that are a short walk from the beach.

Camp amid the serene and private mangroves for some quality family time. Top-notch bathroom and laundry amenities, ample parking, spacious pavilions to plan a picnic, and a walkway down to the beach (wheelchair accessible) make this an easy favorite for kids and parents alike.

Walk through gentle nature trails that wind around white dunes and help your kids spot the local wildlife. When it’s time to relax, hit the beach and laze around in the emerald waters. The calm waves are perfect for teaching kids how to swim, paddleboard, snorkel, and kiteboard. If you are lucky, you might even be able to spot dolphin pods!

Tigertrail, Florida

Considered one of the more quiet Gulf Coast beaches, the Tigertail Beach Park is also an underrated adventurer’s paradise. While it is a bit of a walk, especially when doing it with kids, the solitude and peaceful environment, local wildlife, and glowing sunsets more than make up for it. 

To reach the beach from the street entrance, push through the lagoon or walk the half-mile sandy path around the lagoon. The beach is perfect if your children love seashells and wish to add them to their collection. 

For a closer look at the native birds and animals in the area, rent out a kayak with your older kids. Spot dolphins playing along the coast or explore the tropical island and its mangrove forests which are home to manatees.

The only downside is that there are no restrooms once you cross the lagoon, so you have to go before you make the trek. All things considered, this trip is best enjoyed with older kids.

Okaloosa Island, Florida

Okaloosa Island’s emerald water and bustling Boardwalk are an undeniable favorite when talking about the best Gulf Coast beaches for families. Food, dancing, entertainment, and recreational beach activities all in one spot – what more does your family trip need? 

Find a comfortable spot under one of the beach umbrellas, and sit back as your kids build sandcastles or play a game of beach volleyball. Take your older kids to catch fresh fish from the pier or to ride the waves.

Pack light, as you will find several rental stores offering kayaks, scooters and bikes, and beach essentials. Pick up delicious bites from the eateries here, and set up your picnic by the beach.

Explore other local attractions like the Emerald Coast Science Center, where the exhibits are immersive and educational, Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone, and the Heritage Park and Cultural Center. 

Tip: Beaches are not too crowded in the winter, but get there early in the summer to find parking.

South Marco Island Beach, Florida

Escape tourist haunts and head to Marco Island, where you will find some of the most stunning yet least crowded beaches on the Gulf Coast.

South Marco Island Beach is a must-visit, offering essential amenities like restrooms and a parking area. Moreover, it’s conveniently located near various shops, restaurants, and rental homes, making it easy to meet your child’s needs. 

The beach is famous for the unique shells that wash up on its shores, so don’t miss the chance to hunt for seashells with your little ones. If you’re in the mood for something more active, organize a game of beach ball and let your children unleash their competitive spirit.

For a change of scenery, head to Mackle Park, a community park with a soccer field, basketball court, game room, and a lovely lake, among other attractions. The play area is spacious and divided for different age groups, ensuring that everyone has fun.

Madeira Beach, Florida/Madeira Beach/Redington Shores Beach

Opening out to the Gulf of Mexico, the award-winning Madeira Beach is a prime spot for family summer holidays. Get the best of the sun, the sea, and the energetic life at this stretch that is equipped with restrooms, parking, beach rentals, and more to put parents at ease.

The southern end is the ideal fishing site, with charters offering deep-sea fishing options. The north end has the Redington Beach Town Park, where you can catch a game of basketball, soccer, or volleyball with your kids. 

That’s not all, you’ll be delighted to find a play area for the tiny tots, exercise equipment, a water fountain, and comfy picnic tables for a delicious meal. After cooling off by the seaside, head to the Boardwalk for splendid vistas of the Gulf.

But it is the wide collection of stores and the diverse range of restaurants to dine at that will win you over on your much-deserved vacation!

Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

Another quiet escape from the crowds, this state park invites families to relax on its sandy shores and waters and catch fantastic sights of the Gulf of Mexico from its 400-ft long pier. These warm waves can be enjoyed all through the year, but beware when with younger ones on the off chance you encounter rip currents. 

Climb the many observation towers with your little nature lovers to watch sunrises and sunsets and look out for the pelicans and porpoises. If that’s not enough, take them to the Grand Isle Butterfly Dome to spot magnificent winged creatures that are sure to leave your children spellbound. 

With a short and scenic walking trail, plenty of fish to catch, and clean restrooms, this park is a lovely respite from the city buzz. If you have time to spare, plan a trip to the nearby Elmer’s Island for birdwatching and feasting on fresh local seafood specialties.

Biloxi Beach, Mississippi

Boasting warm waters and well-maintained, soft sand shores, Biloxi Beach is ranked at the top of the Gulf Coast beaches that Mississippi has to offer. Easily accessible by car, the beach is only a few feet away from the casinos, mini-golf courses, and other attractions on Beach Blvd.

Despite being close to popular tourist spots, the beach still manages to offer a slice of serenity with its calm waves that make swimming with the little ones stress-free. If your active teens want an action-packed day instead, rent out jet skis and race over the waters or trikes with them.

Make sure to hit this spot when it’s nice and sunny outside as the water can get a bit cold during wintertime. Keep in mind that bathrooms and restaurants are a bit far off, so plan accordingly.

Take a break from swimming to hit up other close-by attractions. The Biloxi Lighthouse, Ship Island, and the INFINITY Science Center are a few that will leave your kids with lasting memories.

Gulfport Beach, Mississippi

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast beaches are hidden gems that offer both adventure and relaxation, and Gulfport Beach is one of the top choices when it comes to family-friendly destinations! Due to it being a barrier island, the waves here are relatively calmer and perfect for little ones who want to swim and play in the water. 

The nearby pier is perfect for adults to throw a line and reel in some fresh catch, while teens and tweens launch personal watercraft and boats. Pack a hearty spread that you can munch on at the covered picnic area or check out one of the many eateries and restaurants lining the shore.

After splashing around, throw on your cover-ups and take your kids to try the educational activities at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center. End your trip with a visit to the Mississippi Aquarium or the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies where your kids can swim with stingrays, meet dolphins, and even get a kiss from a sea lion.

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

Hate leaving behind your furry buddies while on vacation? At Bay St. Louis Beach, you don’t have to. Let your kids and dogs run about in the white sand shores while you click away on your phone some heartwarming photos. 

Take a walk around Bay St. Louis Marina or head to the nearby pier for some serene me-time while the kids bike along the seaside trail. Aside from swimming in the azure waters, you can also try kayaking with your teens through the Grassy Point Blueway for awe-inspiring views of the Bay.

If fishing is more your style, grab a rod and reel and cast your line from the seaside.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head into town for some delectable seafood platters, followed by some leisurely exploration of the town’s local history and attractions. 

Galveston Island, Texas

Located close to Huston, Galveston Island State Park is a sprawling 27 miles of shoreline that promises an unforgettable family getaway. The best time to visit the beach is after the winter months of December to February when the waters are warm and welcoming.

Dive into a plethora of activities with your kids, from swimming and fishing to boating and riding the waves. For a more immersive experience, hop on a cruise and witness dramatic views of the sunsets glistening over the water. 

On-shore attractions such as the Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Moody Gardens and the historic Seawall are well worth a visit too. Head to the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier in the evenings where the entire family can play carnival games, enjoy a funnel cake, or try winning a stuffed Bob Ross.

Make sure to check your calendar for annual events, as there are plenty of them to enjoy.

Surfside Beach, Texas

Located an hour away from Houston, Surfside offers a variety of activities for all ages and interests, making it the perfect getaway for large families.

If you enjoy fishing, the crabbing pier has some of the best Gulf Coast fishing and crabbing spots. Reel in some fresh seafood and set up a beachfront campfire to cook up your catch of the day.

To amp up the excitement, get the teens to work on their kayaking skills while the younger kids horseback ride on the surf. Even toddlers can enjoy gentle boat rides or join in on the fun at the Jetty Park playground. 

Parents can relax knowing that the beach is staffed with experienced lifeguards who keep a watchful eye on the water. There are ample trash cans throughout the beach to dispose of litter. But, it’s important to note that port-a-potties are usually only available at the entrance.

Parking is allowed on the beach, but you will need to purchase a permit at the store. Another option is to park just off the beach and take a short stroll to the shores.

Mustang Island, Texas

Turn your day trip into an overnight, outdoor adventure at Mustang Island State. With 48 campsites that have water and electricity, you and your family can enjoy the magic of marshmallows and camping on the Gulf Coast.

The campgrounds have restrooms, port-a-potties along the beach, and even a gift shop. All that, and entry only costs $5 per person (free for kids 12 and below)!

During the day, take your kids and go fishing, kayaking, bird watching, try your hand at uncovering a geocache, or paddle the trails to explore the local wildlife. If you want a more simple, guided tour, book ranger programs for nature walks, birding, stargazing, beach combing, and more! 

You might even decide to just sunbathe on the shore while your toddlers hunt for seashells and sand dollars. Just make sure you keep a close eye on them and watch out for seaweed and jellyfish. 

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas

Escape the chaos of the mainland beaches and reconnect with your loved ones in the tranquility and stillness of Padre Island National Seashore. With 66 miles of unspoiled shoreline, this is both the home to natural prairie habitats and the longest barrier island in the world. 

On the edge of the beach is the hypersaline Laguna Madre, where thrill-seeking teens can learn to windsurf. But the real gem of this beach lies in its tidal, mud flats filled with tiny marine creatures.

The beach is also something of a nature lover’s paradise. Take a pair of binoculars and help your kids spot sea turtles or unique birds, as the area is known to have over 380 species of birds. 

With bathrooms and shower stations available along the shore, as well as a convenient gift shop, you’ll have everything you need for your beach day. If your kids don’t want to leave these pristine shores, you can even choose to camp overnight at one of their 5 campsites.

But be sure to come prepared, as there are no stores in the immediate area.

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