The Top 13 Texas Beaches for Beating the Summer Heat

Escape to these Gulf of Mexico beach towns for sand, sun, and plenty of ice-cold drinks.

Ask the average summer breaker where they’re heading, and they’re likely to mention beach destinations in Florida, California, Mexico, or some remote island that makes you insanely jealous. Hey, the world is filled with great beaches. But Texans know that some of the sunniest, sandiest coastlines are located just to the south.

The Gulf coast spans 600 miles of shoreline, offering plentiful and diverse options for your next beach trip. If you want a party atmosphere with music and drinks, that can be arranged. If you’d rather keep things family-friendly, with more sandcastles and fewer college kids, no problem. And if you’d like to avoid the crowds entirely by camping on a deserted stretch of sand and fulfilling your lifelong dream of living as a beach bum—we’ve got you.

These are 13 of the best beaches in Texas, along with helpful tips on what to eat and drink when you get there, plus a few recommended activities for the less-developed destinations. So, all you have to do is pack your suit, shades, sunscreen, and maybe a frisbee, and head for the water.

Visit Corpus Christi
Visit Corpus Christi

Visitors to Padre Island and Corpus Christi can swing by Whitecap Beach and Michael J. Ellis Beach, side-by-side strips with clean, white sand. Whitecap is less trafficked than neighboring beaches, making it a good spot for quieter hangs and picnics. And, as the name implies, it’s known for having some of the area’s better waves, so you can grab a board and attempt to hitch a ride.

Know before you go: Whitecap Beach is relatively no-frills, but that’s the appeal for vacationers looking to escape the crowds. Ellis Beach is also quiet, but it’s where you’ll find bathrooms, showers, lifeguards, and free parking, plus vendors selling food and drinks.

What to do: Whitecap Beach is home to Padre Island Surf Camp, helpful if you’d like to acquire a new skill during your trip. You can also explore the water via paddle boards, skimboards, and kayaks. Both beaches have packed sand, perfect for taking a comfortable stroll or a bike ride near the waves.

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 any glass at home.

Know before you go: The beach charges a per-vehicle admission of $12 Monday through Thursday and $15 Friday through Sunday. March draws lots of spring breakers, while 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 is home to The Porch Cafe, which features a wraparound deck and a surprisingly upscale menu serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner on 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 purchase snacks and drinks at concession stands along the beach.

Stewart Beach
Stewart Beach

While East Beach is party central, nearby Stewart Beach is better for families and anyone looking for a tamer experience (in other words, alcohol is prohibited). It’s located just outside Galveston’s historic downtown, where Broadway meets the seawall, and the beach is packed with activities, including volleyball, cornhole, and giant Jenga, plus a playground for kids.

Know before you go: Just like East Beach, there’s a per-vehicle admission charge of $12 Monday through Thursday and $15 Friday through Sunday. Once you’re in, Stewart Beach has everything you need for a chill day on the beach, including chair and umbrella rentals and concession stands selling snacks and drinks.

What to eat/drink: If the concession stands (or your own cooler) aren’t cutting it, you’re a short walk from several beachside restaurants. Russo’s New York Pizzeria is pretty self-explanatory, while Seawall Cuisine serves a large menu of sushi and Asian dishes. Mario’s is a local favorite for Italian food, or if you just need something quick, there’s also a handful of sandwich shops and chains nearby.

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 rival 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 (locals don’t love it, but it looks cool on Instagram). 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 nest 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 Island may be the epicenter of wild Spring Break antics in March, but the rest of the year is much more reasonable. Spend the day fishing with one of the many trained guides, charter a boat to visit some dolphins, or hang with turtles at 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 one of the famous Turbo Piña Coladas—or just BYOB, because that’s fair game on SPI.

Know before you go: Drinking on the beach is allowed, provided you’re not packing 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 lively (if overpriced/overpopulated) 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 and cheese load at Gabriella’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria, or dig into great fried shrimp at Dirty Al’s. Louie’s Backyard is a perfect spot to start your night with al fresco drinks, steaks, and seafood, while Coral Reef is the place to go for late-night karaoke sessions.

San Jose Island
San Jose Island | PurpleAcidRain04/Shutterstock

Called St. Jo’s by locals, this 21-mile-long, privately owned island is a popular day-trip destination and is only accessible via the Jetty Boat from Port Aransas (tickets run $18 per person for roundtrip rides). 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 the 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.

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 to civilization leaves at 6 pm. There aren’t umbrellas or pavilions, 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, cheese, and brisket, for good measure, is a tried-and-true favorite. Channel the Caribbean at Irie’s Island Food, watch sports alongside 20 taps and a Bloody Mary bar at Stingray’s Taphouse, and listen to late-night music 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, this is a great spot for people with kiddos looking to track down shells and hermit crabs without getting pummeled by waves. There’s a nearby pier for fishing, and parking costs $10.

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 each March, so keep that in mind if you want the party scene (or similarly, if you’d rather avoid it). Otherwise, plan to spend your days on the sand and then enjoy the numerous art galleries or restaurants in the town.

What to do: Outside of its beach access, 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, or grab a burger from Steer Burger. 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 (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 beach—hey, 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: Tiki drinks, beachfront views, and 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 a solid 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.

Mustang Island State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Mustang Island State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife

Situated 11 miles down the coast from Port Aransas, Mustang Island has simple beaches and a lot less foot traffic than its neighbors. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more primitive beach experience, this is the place to be. Spread your towel along the five miles of shoreline, or set up camp at one of the 48 campsites—they have water and electric hookups, plus bathrooms and hot showers.

Know before you go: The park store sells a few supplies, but otherwise, you’re on your own. Fill a cooler with plenty of food and drinks, and bring your own towels, chairs, umbrellas, and whatever else might improve your day. You might also consider bringing a bundle of wood to have yourself a little bonfire, as Mustang Island is one of the few beaches that legally allows it.

What to do: Activities here are centered on enjoying the great outdoors. Play in the waves, build sandcastles on the beach, and have a picnic. When you’re ready to explore further afield, hit the state park’s Paddling Trail, which follows the island’s shoreline and covers 20 miles across three segments. Keep your eyes peeled for indigenous birds, or bring a fishing pole and drop a line in the water, as the area is known as one of the best shallow-water fishing spots in Texas.

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 leave with everything you brought 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, assuming you dream about pool tables and chili dogs.

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. It’s $10 per car or $5 for individuals who show up on foot or bicycle. 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 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. 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.