When it comes to the country’s hottest beaches, we’re fairly certain Texas isn’t the first place that pops into one’s mind. The Third Coast may just be America’s most overlooked beach paradise because, not only does it stretch 367 miles without even leaving the state, it also plays home to a Texas-sized number of crazy cool activities. These are your Gulf Coast must-dos.

Get away from it all at Boca Chica Beach

Brownsville
Lying still at the bottom tip of Texas, just detached from the rowdier South Padre Island, this 8-mile, nearly untouched strip of sand is protected by as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Meaning though it’s close to the spring break crowd and their brethren, the desolate beach feels a million miles away. It’s a choice spot for beach camping, fishing, snorkeling, kiteboarding, and straight up chillin’ without the noise of the modern world. So put away your iPhone (you probably don’t get service anyway) and take in the au natural beauty of Texas’ Deep South. -Brooke Viggiano

Clayton's Beach Bar and Grill

Party at one of the world's top beach bars

South Padre Island
What do you get when you combine a massive seaside deck with top-name concerts and the ability to hold 5,000 people? You get the rager that is Clayton's, the "Biggest Beach Bar in Texas" that feels like something out of the movie Spring Breakers. Minus the armed robbery and replacing James Franco with French Montana, obviously. Head there Friday and Saturday nights March through October for a side of fireworks with your beachside imbibing. -Brooke Viggiano

Watch your favorite movie, drive-in style, at this historic lighthouse

Port Isabel
While most folks probably consider lighthouses an icon of the Northeastern US, the Port Isabel Lighthouse is not only a real-deal lighthouse, it’s also part of the Treasures of the Gulf Museum. And everyone knows that lighthouses make for great Instagram selfies that will immediately make your friends stuck in a cubicle insanely jealous. But wait, there’s more. During the summer, the lighthouse shows classic films and recent blockbuster hits, screened right there on the side of the lighthouse. So if you’ve ever had the urge to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens projected onto the side of a lighthouse while ocean waves gently crash behind you, you’re in luck. -Amanda Cobra

Catch sunsets & starry skies on Matagorda Island

Matagorda Island/Calhoun County
Charter a boat -- or take your own if you’re a baller -- from Port O’Connor to this remote island, where you’ll find 38 miles of primitive shores and bayside marshes. Known for its seclusion and natural charm, Matagorda Island provides ample stargazing and sunset watching opportunities. Check out the lighthouse dating from 1852 that stands at the north end of the island, then head to Sunday Beach to relax and catch views of the wide-open skies. Upping the romance factor with a blanket and box o’wine also never hurt anyone. -Brooke Viggiano

Flickr/stu_spivack

Go on a chili & beer quest

Galveston
You can do so at Yaga's annual Chili Quest & Beer Fest, held on the Strand every January. Chili aficionados from all over the South bring their hottest, meatiest, most flavor-packed concoctions to compete in a one-pot chili showdown. Show up, pay like 15 bucks, and taste all the chili you possibly can. Then head over to the beer fest (for additional bucks) to taste all the craft beer they will allow you to. Wash, rinse, repeat. -Brooke Viggiano

Go windsurfing at Bird Island Basin

Padre Island
Not only is this Padre Island basin slightly deeper than the rest of the Laguna Madre, it also boasts good wind and water conditions pretty much year round, making it a popular spot for surf-sailing the waves. It’s also no joke the best flat water windsurfing site in the continental US, at least according to Windsurfing Magazine (we’re going to believe them here, windsurfing being their jam and all). -Brooke Viggiano

Check out the patio scene at the Port A Beach Lodge

Port Aransas
The Port A Beach Lodge is what a Jimmy Buffett music video would look like if it were directed by Quentin Tarantino (and that’s a compliment). The ultimate retro motel located directly on the beach, the Port A Beach Lodge is to beach bums as the flashy nightclubs are to NBA stars. The hotel rooms usually fill up very quickly in the peak season but don’t fret. Even if you can’t get a room reserved, the hotel’s bar and patio overlook the beach and offer an ideal spot for late night drinks with sunburned locals and tourists alike. Or a good spot for some greasy breakfast and a cup of coffee the next morning. -Amanda Cobra

The Tremont House

Have a drink on the roof of The Tremont House overlooking The Strand

Galveston
The town of Galveston is a tough old broad. It was the site of one of the worst natural disasters in American history, the historic hurricane of 1900. Miraculously, some of the most breathtaking structures and homes on the island survived the storm and, upon completion of the seawall, the island’s famous Strand was once again a tourist destination. Think of The Strand as Galveston’s French Quarter where souvenir hunters and families flock by day and revelers congregate by night. And there’s no better perch to watch that nighttime crowd than from the rooftop bar of the historic Tremont House hotel. -Amanda Cobra

Drink beer, shoot pool, and eat oysters like the locals at the dive bar Pop's Place

Rockport
For some, the idea of a beach bar equals colorful frozen drinks with umbrellas and served in glasses that one can take home at the end of the night. But for those who like a little more local flavor (read: cursing) and an authentic taste of the coastal life, Pop’s Place in Rockport is a hallowed destination. Foodwise, Pop’s is known for their legendary fried oysters. But if you prefer your watering holes more colorful than a swirled daiquiri, Pop’s will crack you open an ice-cold beer out of a bottle or a can or let you bring in your own liquor. It's the kind of place where you almost certainly will leave with a story to tell. -Amanda Cobra

Get shucked up at one of the best oyster bars in America

Dickinson
We’re talking about Gilhooley’s, the Third Coast raw bar has become ground zero for oyster slurping. Get some of the beautifully briny numbers fresh from the water in natural form, but be absolutely certain to also get them in barbecue form. Their namesake oyster special -- the garlic butter-painted, Parmesan-dotted, oak and pecan wood-smoked, crisp and bubbling Oysters Gilhooley -- are a taste of true coastal Americana. Visit during oyster season for prime pickins, and don’t forget the cash. -Brooke Viggiano

Schlitterbahn Galveston

Ride the world’s tallest water coaster

Galveston
Sure most people think the New Braunfels Schlitterbahn is the bee’s knees, but do they have the tallest water coaster in the ENTIRE WORLD? No, because Galveston does. The record-breaking MASSIV, cleverly named after the German word for massive, uses jet streams of water to blast you both uphill AND downhill. All you have to do is hop in a tube with your partner, which sounds pretty easy until you remember your crippling fear of heights. -Brooke Viggiano

Pitch a tent on a protected and car-free beach

Mustang Island
Have you ever had that feeling as you’re lying on the beach, listening to the relaxing sound of the waves, where you just think, “Man, I bet I could get some awesome sleep out here on this beach.” Then the sound of a Jeep full of college kids screaming, “Come at me, bro!” passes by and you give up altogether. Well, your dream can become a reality, for $10, campers can pitch a tent and rest for the night on the protected beach at Mustang Island State Park. For $20, you can camp in the area with 24-hour access to showers and electricity. Either way, think of the stars and the sound of the waves lulling you sleep. -Amanda Cobra

Dolphin watch on the ferry ride from mainland to Port Aransas

Port Aransas
Admittedly, the ferry ride between Aransas Pass on the mainland and the island of Port Aransas is a fairly short ride. In fact, once you’ve parked your car on the ferry, you may be tempted to stay in the vehicle and zone out. But do yourself a favor and get out of the car and take a look around. There’s usually a pretty good chance that you will be greeted by the sight of a group of dolphins showing off for the tourists. Now if that’s not Instagram worthy, we don’t know what is. -Amanda Cobra

Isabelle Kuehn/Shutterstock

Watch baby sea turtles hatch IRL

Padre Island
We’re pretty sure if you don’t want to see baby sea turtles take their first breath, you don’t have a soul. So prove you do by visiting Malaquite Beach, where hatchling releases typically occur from mid-June through August. Don’t rely on your GPS, use this map instead and show up around 6:45am to catch the cutest little show in Texas. Follow the nesting dates to see when you can most likely catch the hatchlings. -Brooke Viggiano

Watch winged wonders at one of the nine World Birding Centers

Various locations in the Rio Grande Valley coastline
For some, the word “Padre” in relation to a beach vacation immediately conjures mental images of spring breakers shotgunning the cheapest beer they could find and generally making a nuisance. However, Padre has much more to offer than just a place to rest your styrofoam cooler. It is home to one of the nine World Birding Centers, which offers visitors an up-close glimpse of over 500 species of birds, including many rare, exotic, and tropical species. The bonus is that proceeds from admission at these centers goes directly to helping preserve endangered species of our winged friends. -Amanda Cobra

Make amends for any previous spring break transgressions and join an Adopt-a-Beach cleanup

Various beaches
Let’s face it, you’ve probably been a beach litterbug at some point in your life, whether out of absentmindedness or a few too many tasty beverages. Perhaps even, you were once a college kid who assumed that your beer cans, styrofoam containers, and empty fried-chicken buckets would magically disappear when the seagull cleanup team showed up during the night. Now is the time to make up for your wicked, trashy ways. While vacationing on the Texas coast, you can spend a few hours lending a helping hand to the Texas Adopt-a-Beach program, joining fellow do-gooders in helping make sure our beaches stay beautiful. Bonus is that you get access to secluded and remote beaches that you might not otherwise get a chance to see and experience. -Amanda Cobra

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston writer whose summer bucket list now includes things like extremely tall water rides and baby sea turtle hatchlings. See what else she’s up to @BrookeViggiano.

Amanda Cobra is a Texas-based writer who is just buying scratch-off lottery tickets every week until she hits the jackpot and can become a full-time beach bum. Follow her on Twitter @amandacobra.

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