A 5-Minute Guide to the Texas Gulf Coast

Where to eat, play and stay.

With more than 360 miles of coastline, the state of Texas has its own heavy-hitting seaside offerings with uninterrupted sandy beaches, stunning waters, great swimming, snorkeling, fishing, kiteboarding and bird-watching to occupy the long hours between sunbathing or just dipping your toes in the surf. The state’s best-known beaches include Padre Island National Seashore with more than 70 miles of undeveloped dunes, prairies and tidal flats and, of course, sandy stretches of Mustang Island State Park with endless hiking trails and jaw-dropping beauty. But that’s not all the Gulf Coast has to offer beachgoers looking for something different.

Find solitude at Boca Chica Beach between the Rio Grande delta and the lower Laguna Madre, catch a concert at the always-lively Galveston Island East Beach, or have a family picnic at the peaceful Rockport Beach. And if that’s not enough, spend the day collecting shells along Magnolia Beach on the coast of Lavaca Bay, or kick back and relax at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula for the best in small-town coastal getaways.

The Gulf Coast of Texas is bursting with great beaches to backdrop your sun-and-surf daydreams, and when the sand and waves aren’t enough, there’s plenty here to keep you busy. What really sets the Gulf Coast experience apart from those faraway destinations is the unmatched Texas-style hospitality of home coupled with an abundance of unique eateries, rooms and adventures. So pack your SPF and a bathing suit and rediscover the best parts of the Texas Gulf Coast this summer.

Stay: The only historic beachfront hotel on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Hotel Galvez and Spa offers guests the best in luxury and a timeworn charm that dates back to 1911. Resort-style amenities include a 10,000-square-foot, full-service spa, a heated saline pool with a swim-up bar, and a bone-chilling ghost tour to boot. Meanwhile, a room at Harbor House Hotel and Marina puts you in the middle of Galveston’s Pier 21 and the Strand Historic District for the best shops and restaurants.

Eat: Finding great seafood on the Texas Gulf Coast isn’t challenging, but Gaido’s has been serving some of the best since it opened in 1911. Whether you settle for the daily catch or the shrimp peques, basted with brown sugar chipotle glaze, save room for some pecan crunch, served with Cowboy Bourbon sauce. In nearby Crystal Beach, grab a table overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway at Stingaree Restaurant and Marina, or pull your boat right up to the marina and hand your day’s catch over to the chef.

Play: Galveston is packed with historic sites like Old City Cemetery and the Grand 1894 Opera House, as well as one-of-a-kind museums like the Texas Seaport Museum and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum. Annual festivals abound here, including the Kemah Crawfish Festival, the Great Texas 300 Catamaran Race and the Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival with more than 400 regional and international craft beers.

Corpus Christi
Stay: Spend an evening at Emerald Beach Hotel, Corpus Christi’s only downtown hotel located directly on the water, claim your upscale condo on Mustang Island through Sandpiper Condominiums for a more private beach getaway, or pitch a tent and build a fire on the beach at one of Mustang Island’s 75 primitive campsites. Oceanside camping is also permissible at the Matagorda Bay Nature Park, a 1,300-acre nature preserve at the mouth of the Colorado River.

Eat and Drink: The Gulf Coast is home to some of best breweries in Texas. Lazy Beach Brewing is a small microbrewery in Corpus Christi with 10 original brews on tap each week, while a beer at Lorelei Brewing is served on the patio alongside one of the local food trucks that visit. For breakfast, reserve a table at Glow, a rustic bistro best known for Texas game and seafood but loved for its bread pudding French toast smothered in caramel rum sauce and fresh berries.

Play: The 20-mile Mustang Island State Park Paddling Trail follows the western shoreline of the island in Corpus Christi Bay and passes through unrivaled birding habitat, coastal marshes and spoil islands, and some of the state’s best shallow-water fishing. For experiencing the thrill of riding horseback on the beach, check in at Horses on the Beach Corpus Christi. And for Texas-size entertainment for kids, visit Schlitterbahn Riverpark & Resort Corpus Christi and its longest interconnected river system for endless floating.

South Padre Island
Stay: Unwind at the best beachfront resort in South Texas, Pearl South Padre, where all 251 rooms have a private balcony with an ocean view. Kids will stay busy at Pearl South Padre Kids Camp while the big kids head out on jet skis and parasails. Afterwards, the whole family can enjoy sand castle lessons on the beach. Or experience the island’s original resort with a beachfront cabana at Isla Grand Beach Resort, built in 1959.

Eat and Drink: For a creative spin on South Padre seafood, visit the local favorite Dirty Al’s and try what they claim is the world’s best fried shrimp. Blackbeards has been serving some of the freshest seafood (and the best chicken-fried steak) since they opened in 1978. When seafood gets old, enjoy the brick oven pizza with a crisp, woody flavor from Gabriella’s Italian Grill, or order a hardy breakfast at the unassuming but popular Yummies Bistro.

Play: Whether it’s viewing the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle at Sea Turtle Inc., enjoying the best birding in Texas, riding the wind on a parasail or snorkeling the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico, South Padre is packed with exciting things to do. Kids can see 16th-century shipwrecks at the Treasures of the Gulf Museum and experience the excitement of zip lining at South Padre Island Adventure Park.