The Top 10 Texas Beaches to Visit This Summer

Life’s a beach.

California and Florida draw crowds of locals and visitors to their beaches each year, but with 600 miles of Gulf coastline, Texas is no slouch in the sun-and-sand department. Lone Star State beaches are plentiful and varied, offering family-friendly destinations, spring break party spots, and a little bit of everything between.

Loading up the coolers, curating a great playlist, and road tripping it out to the coast has long been a seasonal rite of passage for many of us Texans. And fortunately, a handful of those beautiful shorelines sit just a couple hours away from major cities. It’s not all umbrella drinks by the sea, though—the state’s incredible natural resources provide some of the best fishing and birdwatching in the world, along with kayaking, kiteboarding, wake surfing, and camping. 

To help you fill out your summer calendar, we’ve highlighted 10 of the finest beaches in all of Texas, along with the best places to eat and drink (or, for less developed destinations, the best things to do besides swim and sun). So pack your suit, shades, and SPF 70, and gear up for an unforgettable beach vacation, Texas-style.

East Beach
East Beach | Mark Taylor Cunningham/Shutterstock

Located at the far eastern end of Galveston Island, East Beach hosts concerts and festivals during the summer months, plus an annual sand castle competition each August that results in jaw-dropping works of art. The beach also houses a pavilion, boardwalk, entertainment stage, and concession stands, and you can rent chairs and umbrellas if you’re planning to hunker down for a while. Also, good news: Unlike most of its neighbors, East Beach allows alcohol—just be sure to leave the glass at home.

Know before you go: The beach charges a per-vehicle admission fee of $12 Monday through Thursday and $15 Friday through Sunday. March sees lots of spring breakers and the sand castle competition draws thousands of onlookers, so if you want to avoid the crowds, plan accordingly. 

Where to eat/drink: You’ll find more restaurants a few miles down the coast, but East Beach proper does offer The Porch Cafe, complete with a wraparound deck and a surprisingly upscale menu serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the weekends. Start your day with eggs Benedict, then end your night with fresh seafood and steaks. If shoes aren’t part of your plan, you can always purchase snacks and drinks at concession stands along the beach.

Boca Chica Beach
Boca Chica Beach | Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

Most Texas beach-goers never make it past South Padre Island. But keep heading south, and just before you hit the Rio Grande River and the Mexico border, you’ll find Boca Chica Beach. This lesser-traveled destination doesn’t come correct with all of Padre’s food and nightlife options, but it more than makes up for any shortcomings with the unspoiled eight-mile beachfront, peaceful surroundings, outdoor activities, and vibrant wildlife.

Know before you go: The beach itself is devoid of cafes, convenience stores, and restrooms, so you’re on your own here. Pack a cooler full of food and drinks, and either bring an umbrella to create your own shade or just load up on the SPF. And despite its remote location, Boca Chica does have one famous inhabitant: SpaceX set up its southern launch facility a half mile inland from the beach, which means you might be able to spot a rocket in the background (and yes, it’s as cool as it sounds). Note that on launch days, you may have to deal with temporary road closures leading to and from the beach.

What to do: Boca Chica is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which means animal sightings are never far away. Watch for sea turtles coming ashore to nes as well as peregrine falcons, hawks, and other birds soaring overhead. You can also fish, kitesurf, and snorkel in the clear waters—but with no rental shops on the beach, you’ll have to bring your own equipment.

South Padre Island
South Padre Island | Hundley Photography/Shutterstock

South Padre may be the epicenter of wild spring break antics come March, but the rest of the year is much more chill. Spend the day fishing with one of the many trained guides, charter a boat out to see the dolphins, or hang with turtles at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center. Head to Isla Blanca Park for family-friendly fishing, concessions, and facilities, or drive up to the north part of the island for a more sparsely-populated stretch of sand. And if you want to be in the thick of the hot beach action, post up in front of Wanna Wanna Beach Bar and order yourself a turbo pina coladaor just BYOB, because that’s fair game on SPI.

Know before you go: Drinking on the beach is allowed, but make sure not to bring any glass. There are beach bars scattered throughout the area, but they’re not as common as other popular destinations. Kite surfing is a big activity here due to the higher winds and dogs are allowed on the beach as long as they’re leashed. If you make your way further down the island, you’ll pay a small fee in exchange for being able to drive down the sandy expanse (non-four wheel drives aren’t recommended, for obvious reasons). There’s only one grocery store on the island—though there are approximately two zillion convenience stores—so stock up at the HEB in Port Isabel if you’re looking for a bigger bounty. Looking for the liveliest scene? Make a beeline to the bay side of the island for great sunsets and walkable bars.

Where to eat/drink: Grab a cold one at Clayton’s for live music and a bustling (if overpriced and overpopulated) bar scene, or cool down with a tropical cocktail on Coconut Jack’s bayfront patio. Build your own fresh ceviche at the aptly named Ceviche Ceviche, carbo load at Gabriella’s, or dig into great fried shrimp at Dirty Al’s. Louie’s and Tequila Sunset dominate the nightlife vibes, and if you’re a late-nighter, head to Coral Reef for a boisterous karaoke session. 

San Jose Island
San Jose Island | PurpleAcidRain04/Shutterstock

Called St. Jo’s by those in the know, this 21-mile-long, privately-owned escape is a popular day-trip destination and is only accessible via the Jetty Boat from Port Aransas (tickets run $18 per person). The water is some of the clearest you’ll find in Texas, and there are no cars allowed, so you’re guaranteed a fume-free experience on some unspoiled sand. The bird watching, fishing, and seashell-collecting game set this beach apart from some other more populous spots, but with no services to speak of (including water, bathrooms, shade, or any habitation in general), you’ll want to come prepared, boy-scout style: Full coolers, umbrellas, and a willingness to pee in the ocean are essential trip components.

Know before you go: There are a lot of fishermen on the beach, so keep your head on a swivel before finding your swim zone to ensure a hook-free paddle. The Jetty Boat departs every two hours, so be prepared with plenty of water and snacks, and note that the last boat back leaves at 6 pm. There aren’t any shelters, so if you want shade you’ll have to bring your own, and given the scarcity of trash cans, you should expect to leave with whatever you bring.

Where to eat/drink: It’s all BYO on the beach, but you can find some great food and drinks across the water in Port Aransas. If all that lying about in the sun has made you hungry, indulge in a hearty lunch at MacDaddy’s Family Kitchen—they specialize in barbecue, but the MacDaddy Burger, topped with fried onions, fried jalapenos, and a mound of brisket, for good measure, is a tried-and-true fan favorite. Channel the Caribbean at Irie’s Island Food, watch sports alongside 20 taps and a decked-out Bloody Mary bar at Stingray’s Taphouse, and take in some late-night tunes at Giggity’s.

Rockport | Ryan Conine/Shutterstock

Devastated by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, this little beach town has battled back in the years since, working overtime to fix its infrastructure and welcome back visitors with public palapas, restrooms, and showers. Because it remains shallow throughout, this is a great spot for folks with kiddos looking to track down seashells and hermit crabs without getting pummeled by waves. There’s a nearby pier for fishing, and parking costs a mere $5.

Know before you go: The town has rebuilt most of its facilities and improved many of them. The beach is a certified clean Blue Wave beach, and dogs are allowed on a section of it if you’ve got your furry friends with you. Take a pic with the Big Blue Crab, a giant fiberglass sculpture at the entrance to Rockport Beach Park. Oysterfest is a big weekend here, so keep those dates in mind if you want the party scene (or similarly, if you’d rather avoid it). Otherwise, plan to spend your days relaxing on the sand before taking advantage of numerous art galleries or restaurants in town.

What to do: Offshore, Rockport is a cool little town with movies in the park, a Summer Sand Dollar Market, and tons of community activities. Enjoy the island music and oysters at Paradise Key, pick up a pie at Panjo’s Pizza, grab a burger from Steerburger Grill, and treat yo’self to some frozen yogurt at Pink Octopus. Post up on Glow’s comfortable porch with a cocktail and a couple seasonal small plates, or try your luck at local dive bar Legends for karaoke and bar games.

Surfside Beach
Surfside Beach | Duane Gore/Shutterstock

Stationed within driving distance of Houston, Surfside has a reputation for being one of the cleanest beaches with the clearest waters in all of Texas. It can get crowded on weekends like everywhere else, but head a little further up the beach access roads and you’re sure to find enough space to stretch out comfortably. Fisherfolk can wade into the water and benefit from the unusual depth offshore, and the jetties provide plenty of opportunities to cast a line in hopes of snagging ling, bonita, and kingfish. Not into fishing? Walk down those jetties to bird-watch and boat-watch. And at certain times of year (read: hurricane season), this beach is a haven for adrenaline-fueled surfers looking for the next big wave.

Know before you go: Surfside is divided into two areas: One allows cars, and the other is pedestrian-only (not to mention free to access). Dogs are welcome on the beach, provided they’re on a leash. Since there aren’t many options nearby, make sure to stock up at a convenience store before getting on the beachhey, any excuse to hit up Buc-ee’s, right? If you want access to public restrooms, it’s probably best to park at Surfside Jetty Park and use the facilities there.

Where to eat and drink: Tropical tipples and beachfront views (plus tasty American fare) draw people to the Seahorse Bar and Grill; for swanky-ish seafood, the Red Snapper Inn is a go-to for visitors and locals. (Expect a wait for both spots on busy weekends, though.) Drive a little further into Freeport for barbecue at Sista White’s and crawfish at La Sirenita. For something quick, grab a snack at the Jetty Shack—they serve beer, wine, and booze setups along with an excellent burger and vegan-friendly items.

Port Aransas
Port Aransas | Ryan Conine/Shutterstock

Arguably the state’s most popular beach after SPI, Port Aransas is a family-vacation hotspot where you can easily rent houses right along the beachfront. There are showers and bathrooms available for all-day types, and the beach remains relatively clean as it’s maintained by the city. This is your quintessential shore scene rife with kids, tents, chairs, and other people’s music, so if you’re looking for a more peace-in-nature vibe, head south to Mustang Island’s official Texas State Park for rustic camping, pristine waters, and a lot less foot traffic. 

Know before you go: Given its popularity, Port Aransas can be loud and crowded, so even if you’re staying right on the sand, you may want to walk a ways down the beach for more open space. The party-averse should avoid big draws like spring break, Sandfest, and any three-day holiday weekend. The sand also gets murderously hot, so wear closed shoes to traverse the burning beach. If you’re opting into Mustang Island, consider grabbing some chopped wood and having yourself a little bonfire as it’s one of the few beaches that legally allow it. 

What to do: Port Aransas hosts yearly events that attract visitors from all over the region. Fishing fans can partake in the Deep Sea Roundup while the Harvest Moon Regatta is the largest point-to-point sailboat race in the U.S. Texas Sandfest celebrates sand sculptures, and there’s even a Whooping Crane festival for you bird aficionados. Those jonesing to get weird should drop into the pirate-themed Gaff Bar for their famous belt sander races. Don’t ask—just go.

Matagorda Bay
Matagorda Bay | Damon Rushing/Shutterstock

Founded as a way to promote education around the importance and preservation of the wetlands, Matagorda Bay Nature Park is a true two-fer: Not only do you have the beauty of the bay and all its wildlife, you also have the option to sink your feet into the sand. Work up a sweat along one of the many hiking and walking trails, drop a line in the water off one of three fishing piers, or take to the water in a rented kayak. There’s also a 70-site RV park on the property for those who prefer trailers over tents. 

Know before you go: This beach is less busy than most on the Texas coast, so feel free to spread out on the sand. The park has pavilions, restrooms, showers, and grills, but as with many of these natural preserves, be prepared to pack out anything you truck in. Don’t try to drive on the beach with anything less than a four-wheel drive vehicle, lest you get stuck, and definitely bring a pair of binoculars to scope out South Texas’ most breathtaking birdlife.

Where to eat and drink: There aren’t a ton of options here, but you’ll find some quality coffee about 10 minutes outside the nature preserve at Cassady’s Coffee Bar and Cafe. For lunch and dinner, Snappers Bar and Grill serves seafood and chicken that’s a step above whatever you’re whipping up in an RV. And if you manage to snag some fish, tote your prized catches over to Waterfront Restaurant on the Matagorda harbor and the kitchen will prepare it for you.

Bolivar Peninsula
Bolivar Peninsula | Dollar Travelers/Shutterstock

Escape the clamor and clutter of Galveston’s shore by heading to Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula. You’ll have to jump through some extra hoops, but it’s a small price to pay for the relative peace and quiet you’ll enjoy once you’re digging in the soft sand, searching for shells, or spending the day splashing in the waves. Overnight camping is also allowed, though the facilities (as you might expect) are sparse -- some portable restrooms and picnic tables are all you get. For a more lively weekend, catch the Annual Texas Crab Festival with music, art, and all manner of crabby creations.

Know before you go: You need to catch a ferry in order to get to Crystal Beach; to avoid lines and a wait, try to depart during off-peak times. Camping is free, but if you want to drive or park on the beach, a parking pass will cost you $10 at one of the local stops -- that parking pass is good for the duration of the year, though. For a fun touristy activity, try the Fun Spot waterslide. For more seclusion, drive down the beach. Bring your own everything (including chairs), and make sure you’ve got water. Bathrooms are scarce and can be unappealing, so it’s better to use the ones at the port.

Where to eat/drink: Take a break from the sun and stop by Steve’s Landing for swingy chairs and sunset views, or take at least one run at Stingaree’s legendary Mermaid Koolaid and barbecued crabs. For a local-heavy experience, the Ship’s Wheel is the windowless dive bar of your dreams.

Padre Island
Padre Island | Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock

As the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island, Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) is the perfect place for a beach adventure. Sure, you can (and should) laze about by the water, but it’s also an awesome educational opportunity you shouldn’t miss. Stop by the Malaquite Visitor Center for information, and to pay the entrance fee: $10 per car or $5 for individuals. If you’re doing any major exploring, you’re likely going to want a four-wheel drive vehicle as parts of this beach are more “wild beach” than boardwalk.

Know before you go: If you have a Texas State Parks Pass, entrance to this beach is free. Take a little walk down the Grasslands trail to do some easy exploring, but don’t forget the mosquito spray! The facilities do include benches, but there are no public restrooms. It’s worth bringing your camera to try and catch a photo of the various kinds of wildlife like kangaroo rats, ghost crabs, and coyotes.

What to do: There’s no shortage of communing with nature to be done here. PINS has exceptional birdwatching during early spring, fall and winter when thousands of birds migrate through the park. Plan your trip from mid-June to August, and you might be lucky enough to see a sea turtle hatchling release. But wait! There's more! You can also camp overnight in a tent or RV, surf-fish for "the big one" right off the beach, and do some serious off-roading on the sky-high dunes.

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Kevin Gray is a contributor for Thrillist.