Texas Beach Guide

Relax in the sun at a Texas beach- swim, surf, sun, camp, birdwatch, or fish on hundreds of miles of coastline.

Texas has hundreds of miles of coastline and many good beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Popular as vacation spots for families, spring break destinations for college students, and treasure troves for bird watchers, saltwater fishermen, and beachcombers, Texas beaches never lack visitors. While many are highly developed with condos, motels, RV parks, and numerous activities and commercial interests, others are protected and abound in wildlife and unspoiled terrain. Here's some information about some of the best beaches in Texas.

SEA RIM STATE PARK is located on the far eastern coast of Texas, near Port Arthur. The park has 5 miles of beaches, and while the beaches are not the best and the water is often muddy, there are other things at Sea Rim that are great for visitors to do. There is a large visitors' center that has restrooms, showers, snacks, a deck with picnic tables, and an observation deck, and camping is permitted on the beach. The park is located in a marshlands area, and there are boardwalks that go out into the marsh to allow the viewing of wildlife (even alligators), airboat tours, and canoe rentals. Quite a few people go to Sea Rim to bird watch, fish, or beachcomb. The park is located on Hwy. 87, and there is a small admission fee for those over 12 years of age; camping permits and airboat rides are also inexpensive.

The BOLIVAR PENINSULA begins at High Island and has over 20 miles of beaches that end at Port Bolivar, where there's a free ferry that takes visitors over to Galveston Island. There are beaches at High Island and Gilcrest, but the most popular beach on the peninsula is CRYSTAL BEACH, which has numerous rental cottages for families or groups, as well as motels and bed-and-breakfast units. Many teenagers and young adults frequent Crystal Beach, especially the area known as "The Zoo;" since driving on the beach and alcoholic beverages are prohibited on Galveston beaches, many people who want to engage in either or both come across the ferry to Crystal, and the environment around this area is not always suitable for families. Crystal Beach gets crowded on summer weekends, but for families who want to stay for a week in a rental house, this is a good area with many activities, such as water slides, golf, fishing, jet ski rentals, a crab festival, and riding the ferry. The public beaches are all free.

GALVESTON ISLAND has more than 30 miles of beaches; among them are EAST BEACH, where alcohol is allowed and concerts are often held, STEWART BEACH, which has many family-oriented attractions such as mini golf, volleyball, a large pavilion and bathhouse, and events like the annual sandcastle competition, and GALVESTON ISLAND STATE PARK, which has campsites, showers, restrooms, and other amenities. Parking at Stewart and East Beaches is $7, and admission to the state park is $3 per person. There are also good beaches on the far west end of the island with no admission fees, and the western beaches are usually much less crowded than the eastern ones. There are many attractions in Galveston for beachgoers; the Seawall is lined with restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, and Moody Gardens also has a small beach. Rollerblading, jogging, cycling, and sunning are popular activities on the Seawall; there are smaller beaches in this area too, and rentals of bicycles that hold several people, water trikes, umbrellas, skates, etc. are available.

SURFSIDE BEACH is located near Freeport; take Hwy. 288 south from Houston and turn on Hwy. 332 toward the beach, or go west on Hwy. 3005 (Seawall Blvd.) from Galveston; the road's name will change to Bluewater Highway. There are more than 20 miles of beaches at Surfside; Stahlman Park, Jetty Park, Quintana Park and San Luis Pass Park are all located there and have pavilions and other amenities. Birding is popular at Surfside, and the Texas Sea Center is a fish hatchery that has fun exhibits for the whole family. Fishermen like San Luis Pass and Jetty Park, and surfing and swimming are also popular activities at Surfside.

MATAGORDA ISLAND STATE PARK's beaches can be reached by ferry from Port O'Connor; the ferry costs $16 for adults and $9 for children, and although there's no room for cars, bikes, surfboards and kayaks can be taken along on the ferry. Mosquitoes can be bad at this beach in the summer; the Karankawa Indians used alligator grease to keep them off centuries ago, but insect repellant would probably work as well. There are more than 30 miles of beaches at Matagorda Island, and there's a shuttle ($2 for adults, $1 for kids) that takes ferry passengers to the beach. Campsites are available, and hiking, biking, swimming, surfing and fishing are popular activities there.

MUSTANG ISLAND can be reached by ferry from Port Aransas, or by going from Corpus Christi across the causeway and north on Hwy. 361. The north end of the island is more developed and has the best swimming areas and better facilities; the south end is more primitive. Camping is allowed, and wade fishing, climbing on the big granite rocks, hiking, biking, swimming and sunning are popular activities, as is spotting dolphins on the ferry ride over.

PADRE ISLAND is a very popular destination for spring break; the 113-mile long island has beautiful, white-sand beaches and lots of fun things to do, and it stretches from Corpus Christi to Port Isabel, almost to the end of Texas. Padre Island is very developed on both the northern and southern ends; typical beach activities such as mini golf, go karts, paddleboats, arcades, bars, restaurants, cottage rentals, motels, and the new Schlitterbahn water park are there, and there are also many outfitters that offer surfing, horseback riding, windsurfing, fishing charters, jet skiing, and even kiteboarding and parasailing.

PADRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE takes up the central part of the island and is managed by the National Park Service. This area is much less developed, and the most popular activities there are camping, fishing, and windsurfing. Birdwatching, kayaking, and boating are some other activities that visitors like to do at Padre, as well as beachcombing and swimming. MALAQUITE BEACH has a visitors' center and restroom, showers, observation decks, and a snack bar. Guided walks on the beach led by a park ranger offer visitors information on Padre's shells, birds, sea turtles, and other facts; informational talks are also given at the decks and the campground. There are fees for entering the park and for some of the activities such as camping.

Most towns on the Texas coast have small local beaches; some are on bays and some are on the gulf, and the quality varies from area to area. There are some dangers common to all Texas beaches. Jellyfish are found in the Gulf of Mexico and in the bays; they have a fascinating appearance, but their stings are nasty, and even those that appear dead on the sand can sting. A swimmer can be stung several times all over the body before realizing what's going on; some beaches put up blue flags when jellyfish are out in large numbers and it's best to stay out of the water when the flag is up. Sharks occasionally bite swimmers in the gulf, and stingrays are often in shallow water too. Wearing shoes is a good idea when swimming in the gulf, and children should be watched carefully while at the beach.

Visitors to Texas beaches who aren't used to being in the sun often get terribly sunburned; sunscreen should be worn even when it's cloudy. Swimming can be dangerous in certain areas, and posted signs should be strictly obeyed; many people are drowned each year while trying to swim against riptides. Areas to avoid are around the jetties, where the big rocks are, or where rivers are entering the gulf; currents there can be extremely dangerous for swimmers and wade fishers. Avoiding hazards can let visitors have fun at the beach, and there are many beaches that can be enjoyed in Texas.

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