15 Best Gulf Coast Beaches For Families

Gulf Coast Beach

Explore the beauty of the Gulf Coast of the USA at one of these incredible beaches

The Gulf Coast of the USA is an ideal family vacation destination, offering a mix of vibrant activities and tranquil retreats along its diverse beaches. From the bustling Clearwater Beach with its family-friendly attractions and soft sand to the serene stretches of Captiva Beach, perfect for shell collecting and sunset watching, there’s something for everyone.

Spanning through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, the Gulf Coast boasts some of the best family-friendly beaches in the USA. The wide stretches of pure white sand and endless sunshine that seem to hug the Gulf of Mexico come with huge appeal.

This post is part of our beach vacation series and Discover the USA

Best Areas to Vacation on the Gulf Coast

We have experienced the Gulf Coast, both road-tripping from Texas to Florida and taking the scenic Florida coast on several occasions, and we know that choosing just one ‘best’ location to vacation along the Gulf Coast is near impossible as each area has something unique to offer.

If you are looking for a city beach experience with high-rise condos, party crowds, shopping opportunities and luxury resorts, you should focus on beaches along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Biloxi, Mississippi, also offers a plethora of casino resorts situated right on the beach.

If you prefer a quieter, laid-back, and secluded beach experience, check out the beaches on Bonita Springs and Anna Maria Island, or how about the Emerald Coast along the Florida Panhandle? To access lots of water sports and kid-friendly activities, check out one of our family favorites, Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

A couple of side notes to be aware of when planning your Gulf Coast vacations:

  • We mention several beaches that are reported to be good for fishing – do note that each state will have different fishing licencing rules if you plan to go fishing. (See licencing rules for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida)
  • Almost everywhere we researched has parking fees; they’re kind of hard to avoid these days, from State Parks to condo/resort parking fees, even if you’re staying right on the beach. It’s an important cost to factor in on top of your flights and accommodation.
  • Be alert to hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. The’ peak months’ run from June to November, and August to October are the ‘peak months’. If you’re visiting during a higher-risk period, you should be prepared with a backup plan.

Best Gulf Coast Beaches for Families

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama

With over 32 miles of crystal-white sand, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach (the two pretty much blend into each other these days) offer some of the most beautiful beaches on the Gulf Coast. An easy drive from New Orleans, Nashville and Atlanta it’s no wonder this is a favorite beach vacation destiantion in the Deep South.

Families enjoy the convenience of having numerous amenities on hand, including beachfront accommodation, restaurants, amusement parks, and recreational activities like fishing, boating, and golfing.

Where to stay: Try a beach holiday rental on the waterfront or spoil yourselves at Perdido Beach Resort

Mustang Island, Texas

Located near Corpus Christi, Mustang Island is a beautiful barrier island park that remains one of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast. This island’s coastline stretches over five miles and covers about eighteen miles of shoreline.

With well-kept campsites, restaurants and boutiques as well as tons of fun family activities, Mustang Island offers one of the best family vacation experiences and is certainly one of the best beaches in Texas. When visiting Mustang Island, make plans to fish in the bay, participate in bird watching, go kayaking and swimming or just hang out on the beach while the kids build sandcastles.

Where to stay: A great spot for getting yourself a holiday rental property on VRBO – try this fabulous 3 bed home that can sleep up to 10.

Seaside, Florida

Seaside on the panhandle is a wonderful contrast to nearby Panama City for families looking for a more relaxed beach getaway. Known for its picturesque cottages and emerald waters (hence the very apt nickname of the Emerald Coast!), this is one of our favorite places.

Summer in Seaside brings nightly entertainment to Central Square and farmers markets on the weekend for a classic relaxing beach break.

If that’s not enough, nearby, you’ll find Seagrove Beach, a small mile-and-a-half beach that screams tranquillity, along with Point Washington State Forest, popular for cycling and hiking.

Where to stay: On a budget try Grayton Beach State Park Campground offering cabins, camping & RV parking, or this gorgeous family cottage adjacent to the beach

Lowdermilk Beach Park, Naples, Florida

Located in central Naples, Lowdermilk Park is one of the best family beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast. With plenty of parking, an expansive shoreline for kids to run around, a duck pond, and a bubbling concession stand and snack bar, it is undoubtedly one of the choice Gulf Coast beaches for a family vacation.

A visit to Lowdermilk Beach Park is one of the best things to do in Naples, Florida. Here you can find stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals for those looking to explore more water adventures. There are about eight thatched-roof palapas available for free at the beach. These palapas are wide enough to provide shade for the entire family and are available at no cost.

If you are able to get to the beach early, you may even get to enjoy watching turtles and dolphins swim off the coast.

Where to stay: Right on the waterfront try Edgewater Beach Hotel or rent a beautiful beachfront Condo

Galveston Island, Texas

Sitting just an hour away from Houston, Galveston offers one of the best beach towns in Texas for a weekend getaway. East Beach on Galveston Island is famed for its party atmosphere in the summer, but there are plenty of things to do in Galveston for families, too.

ulf Coast Beaches -Galveston Texas

Besides exploring the famous Seawall and enjoying the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, there are many water-based and nature activities to enjoy on Galveston Island. Kids will want to check out Schlitterbahn Waterpark, one of the best places for families to visit in Texas, and make time for the Moody Park pyramids for unique nature experiences on the Gulf Coast.

Where to stay: Galveston Island offers many beachfront condo options or for a touch of luxury, try Hotel Galvez & Spa

Barefoot Beach County Preserve, Bonita Springs, Florida

While Naples is known for its beautiful turquoise waters and pristine white sand, Barefoot Beach is primarily known for being one of the most beautiful unspoilt beaches in the country. Located in Bonita Springs, this beach has a one-mile nature trail that runs through the dunes. Here, you can relax and watch nesting turtles in season.

With its unbelievably soft white sand and clear, shallow waters, this beautiful beach is more secluded than many others on the Florida Gulf Coast, making it one of the best for a quiet family day enjoying water based activities. Beyond just the beach, it is an excellent spot for off-sand adventures such a kayaking through the mangroves.

NB Barefoot Beach has reopened after extensive damage received during Hurricane Ian, though not all car parking and facilities are fully operational as at early 2024.

Where to stay: Nearby you’ll find several great vacation rental properties in Bonita Springs perfect for families, try this great option with a pool

Marco Island, Florida

Sitting south of Naples, Marco Island is home to several stunning beaches. If you are looking for the best beaches on the Gulf Coast for families and retirees, head on to Marco Island. This small haven offers playgrounds for kids, concessions and restrooms, and boardwalks.

Your older teen thrill seekers can hire jet skis and ride the waves or join the Dolphin Explorer crew on a boat tour to explore and engage with the many dolphins known to frequent the area. Also, keep an eye out for manatees swimming around the mangroves.

Where to stay: For a touch of luxury, try JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, or you can grab a beachfront condo for under $200 a night

Gulfport, Mississippi

The Mississippi coastline is relatively narrow, at just 80 miles, but it packs in what it can from Biloxi in the east to the small coastal community of Henderson Point to the west.

Devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the coastal communities here have been rebuilt over the past 20 years, though you will note most of the beach properties here stand on towering stilts.

Gulfport Mississippi dawn over the pier

The wide, soft, sandy beaches of Gulfport, halfway along the Mississippi coast, offer the perfect family playground year-round. Perfect for sandcastle making and beach games, the coast is punctuated with piers and playgrounds. Summer brings many beachfront concession stands, and the beautiful Jones Park offers a great kids’ splash pad as well as lush gardens to cool off.

Off the beach, families can look forward to several fun attractions here, including the Mississippi Aquarium, The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center and TrainTastic! We prefer the family atmosphere in Gulfport to Biloxi, but it’s only a short drive away if you’re looking for a fun night out for the grown-ups.

Heading further west, Pass Christian is a great small town away from the crowds for boating enthusiasts to base themselves on the Mississippi coast.

Where to stay: The coastline here is dominated by private rental properties rather than big chain hotels. Holiday Inn Express (formerly Wingate by Wyndham) is a surprisingly good value option on the beach, or check out some of these exceptional beachfront properties in Gulfport for the perfect family beach vacation in Mississippi

St. Pete Beach, Florida

Are you looking for a great place to soak up some sun and get a tan? The entire St. Petersburg beach area gets about 361 days of sunshine each year! Talk about an unending summer. It’s the ideal place to vacation on Florida’s Gulf Coast at any time of year, though you’ll find it’s busiest from March through summer.

There are lots of fun activities for families to enjoy at St Petes and surrounds, both on and off the beach. Visit the Salvador Dali Museum or take a walk on the St. Pete Pier (much larger and extensive than your ordinary old wooden fishing pier, this is a hub of activity with playgrounds).

Close by, take a day trip to Weedon Island Preserve for some fun kayaking in the mangroves or take a nature hike to the impressive lookout tower. Out on the water, there are many companies offering cruises, from family-friendly Pirate Ship Cruises to private charter boats for fishing and snorkeling.

Where to stay: On a budget try Treasure Island Beach House Hotel or a luxury stay on St Pete’s beach try Bellwether Beach Resort.

Siesta Key Beach, Florida

Plan your next family beach vacation at Siesta Key Beach, and you will understand why it is one of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast – in fact, it’s been voted best beach in the USA by Trip Advisor readers three times!

With its soft, pristine white sand, a large picnic area, and gazebos that provide shelter for the entire family, you and your kids are sure to have a splendid time at Siesta Key Beach. If you are looking at staying on one of the best islands or keys in Florida, you’ve found it.

There are several playgrounds nearby where your kids can enjoy some off-beach fun time. Other fun off-beach activities on Siesta Key include going on a Marie Selby Botanical Gardens tour and exploring the vast species of wildlife at the Mote Marine Aquarium.

Nearby Crescent Beach can be a little quieter if you’re not a fan of the big crowds at Siesta Key Beach or at the southern tip of the 8-mile-long Siesta Key; Turtle Beach is a favorite for seashell hunting at low tide. It’s no wonder it consistently comes up as one of the best things to do in Florida for families.

Where to stay: Accommodation for families doesn’t come cheap here but try your own holiday rental property or on a luxury retreat spoil yourselves to Tropical Beach Resort

Grand Isle, Louisiana

Louisana’s coastline is largely made up of swamps, marshes, and barrier islands, so you will not find many traditional sandy beach fronts with resorts along this stretch of the Gulf Coast. However, you will find many state parks and nature preserves.

Grand Isle, the state’s only inhabited barrier island, is your best pick for fishing and bird watching. Sitting around 2 hours away from New Orleans, the scenic drive is well worth the journey, as is the fresh seafood on offer in this remote oasis.

Grand Isle is a brilliant choice for those who prefer their beaches without the crowds and high-rise resorts. What the town lacks in family amusement parks and typical coastal treats, it makes up for in spades with fresh ocean breezes and ample opportunities to get out on the water with charter fishing boats.

Where to stay: Taking an RV is your best bet for camping in Grand Isle State Park, otherwise you can check out these amazing vacation rental homes immediately adjacent to the State Park, perfect for a big family group.

Surfside Beach, Texas

Spend the day crabbing at the crabbing pier or going deep-sea fishing at one of the best family beaches on the Gulf Coast of Texas. With tons of fun on-water and off-water activities fit for visitors of all ages, this is an excellent destination for a family vacation.

Come prepared to spend the night on the beach under the vast, clear skies and over a beachfront campfire. You can also rent a kayak or boat and go splashing through the waves. If your kids would like to enjoy some off-beach fun, take them to the Jetty Park playground or go horseback riding in the surf.

Where to stay: No big hotel chains, it’s one of those perfect places to rent yourself a holiday home right on the waters front

Navarre Beach, Florida

Located on the Florida Panhandle east of Pensacola, Navarre Beach is a quiet, serene beach that is less frequented by tourists than some of the neighbouring beaches. As well as boasting some of the softest white sand in Florida, it is also home to the state’s longest pier (1,545 feet long!)

Navarre beach pier in florida

You can enjoy beautiful views of the Gulf Coast from the pier (admission is just $1 per person), and watch pink jellyfish and dolphins swim around in the clear waters below.

You can spend your days playing on the beautiful beach or check out what else is on offer on Santa Rosa island, such as Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Centre.

Where to stay: There’s presently only a few suites and condominiums, try SpringHill Suites by Marriott Navarre Beach, or rent a beachfront condo to be in the heart of the action.

Clearwater Beach, Florida

For a thrilling, bubbly family beach vacation, head on to Clearwater Beach. Known as one of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast – and the closest Gulf Coast beach to Disney World & Orlando – Clearwater Beach is filled with families and kids splashing around in the water, playing volleyball, building sandcastles and enjoying the luscious white sand.

At Clearwater Beach, you’re also not far from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, one of the best natural springs in Florida and one of the deepest, where families can enjoy kayaking, tubing and giant slides at Buccaneer Bay.

Combined with waterfront entertainment such as the Clearwater Aquarium and the option to take dolphin cruises and fishing trips, it’s one of our favorite family destinations on the Gulf Coast if you’re looking for an action-packed vacation.

Clearwater is only 2 hours from Orlando – making it easy to combine the best of the beaches and theme parks in one family vacation!

Where to stay: On a budget, try New Hotel Collection Harborside or for luxury on the beach, try Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa.

Captiva Island, Florida

We couldn’t complete our list of Gulf Coast beaches without including the stunning Captiva Island in Florida. Home to two beautiful beaches, Captiva Island elegantly stretches 11 square miles. Captiva Beach is best known for its stunning sunsets and romantic ambience, and it’s also the safest beach for kids to go swimming.

Turner Beach, to the south of Captiva Island, is best known for shelling opportunities and fishing. If you choose to spend the day at Turner Beach, be sure to check out the popular Mucky Duck, an English pub-themed restaurant. Note that Turner Beach is not considered safe for swimming because of its high currents.

Where to stay: No big chain hotels here, just superb beachside condos to rent for the perfect Gulf Coast family vacation

Ready to plan your Gulf Coast family vacation?

One thing we’d caution when selecting your beach is to be clear on what sort of beach vacation you are after; we’ve tried to choose a selection here of beaches known for thriving activity on and off the water, as well as those more remote beaches that will appeal to nature lovers.

In our experience, although our kids love to have attractions nearby, we find the crowds at peak times, such as spring break, a little suffocating. If only we could bring our camping gear with us on our US road trips, we’d pick more nature reserves and state parks than the high-rise cities that line the coast if you are truly after a relaxing Gulf Coast vacation.

More for Your Family Beach Vacation

Have we mentioned how much we love a family beach vacation? We have a whole section of our site dedicated to beach vacation planning. Here you can find;

If you love your beach vacations, don’t miss our bumper guide to the best beach destinations around the world for a family vacation.

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15 Best Beaches on the Gulf Coast - collage of US Gulf coast beach images

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