Texas is known for barbecue, Tex-Mex and live music, among other things, but perhaps lesser known for its beaches.
One visit and you’ll wonder why. Miles of sand on the sparkling Gulf of Mexico offer a relaxing, laidback counterpoint to Texas’s big city thrills. These beach towns are places where today’s catch becomes tonight’s entree, where an ice-cold beer or margarita while the kids play is the perfect vacation activity, and where small town hospitality is always on the menu.
Here are our favorite Texas beaches (and beach towns) for families to check out during your next Lone Star State vacation.
1. Port Aransas Beach
A top favorite for Texas family getaways, Port Aransas (or “Port A,” as Texans refer to it) is a haven for fishing enthusiasts and beachgoers. Families can camp right on the beach here, or rent one of the many colorful charming vacation rentals that line the coast. The vibe of this town is perfect for families—very laidback, with plenty of casual restaurants and shops, plus many spots near the pier to sit and watch the fishing boats bringing in their haul.
Recommended Hotel: BEST WESTERN Port Aransas
2. Mustang Island State Park
Located just a few miles south of Port Aransas, you’ll find five miles of preserved beachfront at Mustang Island State Park. Pack a picnic and enjoy the serenity of being surrounded by nothing but birds, sand and a few picnic tables. The view of the Gulf is truly beautiful here, with spacious areas for kids to frolic in the sand.
Recommended Hotel: Tropic Island Resort
3. East Beach, Galveston
Escape the bustle of Houston with a trip to Galveston Island, where you can take your pick of more than half a dozen beaches. One of our favorites for family time is East Beach, which has a playground and regularly scheduled festivals and concerts. It’s also the location where the American Institute of Architects hosts its annual Sandcastle Competition, with eye-popping creations. Are your kids inspired to make their own masterpiece? Visit nearby Stewart Beach for Sandcastle Days to learn how to create amazing sandcastles of your own.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Galvez & Spa, A Wyndham Grand Hotel
4. Rockport Beach
North of Corpus Christi you’ll find the beachside town of Rockport, where the beach was the first in Texas to be “Blue Wave Certified,” an environmental certification that indicates the local commitment to keeping the beach clean. This means that visitors get to enjoy pristine sand on this fairly quiet mile-long stretch of beach. There are plentiful palapas, plus a natural saltwater pool in an area that’s ideal for small children to wade in. Depending on the time of year, you might be lucky enough to spot dolphins frolicking in the Gulf waters.
Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Rockport / Bay View
5. Malaquite Beach, North Padre Island
Padre Island National Seashore measures 113 miles long—the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. Some of Texas’s most gorgeous beaches dot this stretch of land—and you can even drive on them, including Malaquite Beach on North Padre Island, which frequently is named to top U.S. beach lists. This pristine beach is quiet and family-friendly, and plays host to endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. The public can witness these hatchling releases in early mornings mid-June through August.
Recommended Hotel: Hawthorne Suites by Wyndham Corpus Christi Padre IS
6. Sea Rim State Park, Port Arthur
Located near a salt marsh teeming with wildlife, Sea Rim State Park has five miles of natural beach where visitors can camp right on the waterfront—or even in the water: paddle out to a marsh-side raft and stay the night while gently bobbing along. The Gambusia Nature Trail features a boardwalk extending out over the water, and a new elevated birding stand allows the family to peep some feathered friends.
Recommended Hotel: Three Rivers Inn & Suites Port Arthur
7. North Beach, Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi is a major coastal city—the second largest city in South Texas behind San Antonio. So you’ll find plenty to do here, from the Texas State Aquarium to the Selena Museum. But if you’re craving some beach time and you don’t feel like driving to Mustang Island or Port Aransas, you’ll find it at North Beach, a small stretch of land with views of USS Lexington and several family-friendly restaurants to grab a bite to eat while overlooking the water.
Recommended Hotel: Schlitterbahn Riverpark & Resort
8. South Padre Island
Famed for the spring breakers that have flocked here to party throughout the decades, South Padre Island is quite family friendly the rest of the year. You’ll find plenty of kid-approved restaurants in the area, as well as excursions such as wildlife sanctuaries, sandcastle building lessons, and even the Black Dragon Pirate Ship. South Padre also hosts Sandcastle Days in October.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island
9. Surfside Beach
Located near Freeport, Surfside Beach is known for attracting anglers and surfers. The beach is the star of the show in Surfside, and most visitors like that just fine, spending their day picking for shells, fishing and just relaxing on the soft sand.
Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Club Vacations Galveston Beach Resort
Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.