Aerial view of the Fairhope Municipal Pier on Mobile Bay, Alabama.

11 Of The Most Quaint Small Towns In The Gulf Coast

While big, roaring cities have their place, other times, one just needs to move at a slower pace and take in the pulse of a small, quaint town. The Gulf Coast of the United States, with its beautiful bayous, massive oak trees, white-sand beaches, pristine lagoons, and a network of rivers and parks, is, fortunately, also star-studded with a delightful array of quaint, small towns. If you are looking for a Gulf Coast spot to vacation and are keen on something cute and quaint, discover 11 of the most quaint small towns on the Gulf Coast.

Dunedin, Florida

Sign welcoming visitors to Dunedin, Florida.
Sign welcoming visitors to Dunedin, Florida.

Offering pretty beaches with soft sand like baby powder, "the Home of Honeymoon Island," as the town styles itself, is a Florida gem known to captivate first-time visitors. Besides its beautiful palm trees and flamingos, Dunedin is on the Intracoastal Waterway and is mainly known for craft beer. For perspective, the town hosts Dunedin Brewery, reputed to be the oldest microbrewery in Florida. To cement its craft beer fame, Dunedin boasts what could be the highest breweries per capita in Florida. Aside from strolling through the town, you cannot miss Honeymoon Island, an awesome island getaway famous for its undulating sand dunes. For some kick-ass tomatillo salsa with an addictive tartness or any other food, Casa Tina Mexican, situated steps from the Pinellas Trail that runs through the town, is an excellent pick.

Tarpon Springs, Florida

The landmark Sponge Diver statue in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
The landmark Sponge Diver statue in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Just 10 miles north of Dunedin on the beautiful Anclote River bayous, Tarpon Springs, known as the Sponge Capital of the World, will be waiting to cast a spell on first-time vacationers. If looking to explore Greek culture, including food and architecture, one does not need to jet set to Santorini. Tarpon Springs boasts the highest percentage of Greek Americans in the United States. A treasure chest of Greek delights, including traditional Greek restaurants, will draw one's attraction, especially along Dodecanese Boulevard. For a specific recommendation, grab a table at Mykonos and enjoy what could be the most authentic Greek cuisine. The recipes here are seldom adjusted to fit the American palate. If sated, wend your way to Craig Park, a bewitching spot and a model of what every park should look like. While you should peel your eyes for dolphins and manatees, a scurry of squirrels will want to keep you entertained.

Fairhope, Alabama

Aerial view of Fairhope, Alabama.
Aerial view of Fairhope, Alabama.

With towns whose names are sweet and evocative as Fairhope, "The Heart of Dixie" should not be overlooked. There is a quaint, artistic element to Fairhope that is arguably unmatched by any other town in Alabama. This storybook town sits on the eastern shoreline of Mobile Bay and hosts several artsy spots, including The Eastern Shore Art Center, which features five galleries, a gift shop, and four studios. To enjoy the warm breeze coming from the water — amid the lights of Mobile in the backdrop, The Fairhope Municipal Pier is a must-see. But wait for this. If there is a spot that packs so much fascinating history into a tiny, rustic place, it is Tolstoy Park. The improbable story of Henry Stuart, popularly known as the 'Hermit of Montrose,' often leaves first-time visitors completely blown away.

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.
Aerial view of Indian Rocks Beach, Florida.

If the word "quaint" has meaning, its best pictorial representations would include the town of Indian Rocks Beach, a Florida eye candy located about a 20-minute drive south of Clearwater. Small and laid back, expect lots of foot traffic here; not an endless whirl of cars, magical sunsets, and soft, white-sand beaches. The nicely-maintained Indian Rocks Beach Nature Preserve, a highlight of the town, features a boardwalk that takes you through the mangroves and offers heart-melting views of the area. After splashing in the waters at Indian Rocks Beach — or strolling on the sand — ensure you check out the nearby bird sanctuary before sitting down for some delectable chicken melt sandwich at Crabby Bill's, a welcoming seafood restaurant conveniently close to the beach.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

The Chester M. McPhearson Pier in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
The Chester M. McPhearson Pier in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Editorial credit: Fotoluminate LLC /

Ocean Springs, a Jackson County coastal village that overflows with awesome art and interesting galleries — deservedly earns a spot among the most quaint small towns on the Gulf Coast. Ocean Springs was the first permanent European settlement in the lower Mississippi River valley. Today, it serves as the headquarters of Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Mississippi district and the Davis Bayou area. America's largest national seashore is a vast expanse where visitors can enjoy numerous outdoor activities along the water. One will also love walking barefoot at Front Beach or exploring the awesome art of Walter Anderson at the museum named for him. Walter Inglis Anderson, a legendary Gulf Coast artist and naturalist, was best known for his jewel-like watercolors and extraordinary murals.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Aerial view of the Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Aerial view of the Gulf Shores, Alabama.

While you can be detained by the white quartz sand that blankets the beaches of this Alabama gem and its sister Orange Beach, Gulf Shores boasts numerous other features, including a main street ranked as among the best on the Gulf Coast. Quaint and often quiet, Gulf Shores' downtown area is riddled with casual but classy restaurants, including The Hangout Gulf Shores, an amazing restaurant that provides a great beach view. For an outdoor experience amid some crisp, playful air, Gulf State Park, with its 28 miles of paved trails, will be at your doorstep. Moreover, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge provides winding trails through a scenic lake — as well as handsome dune views that lead to a pretty beach.

Gulfport, Florida

The waterfront at Gulfport, Florida.
The waterfront at Gulfport, Florida.

While St. Petersberg hogs all the limelight, of course deservedly, Gulfport, home to about 11,600 residents, is often quieter and more quaint — and is just about 8 minutes down the road from St. Petersberg. Bert and Walter Williams Pier is a nice place to catch dolphins playing, watch the sunset, or grab a bite at the many bars and grills. To play in the sand, Gulfport Beach has volleyball courts, nice places to walk, and swings where one can hop on to enjoy the breeze and the delicious coastal views. Plus, Gulfport's brick-paved streets are lined with moss-draped live oaks and are quite a pleasure to stroll through — regardless of the season. Besides, Gulfport Casino Ballroom sits right on the water and is the go-to place for music and dancing.

Sanibel, Florida

Aerial view of Sanibel, Florida.
Aerial view of Sanibel, Florida.

Sanibel, America's shelling capital, is gifted with an endearing, laid-back aura, a stunning look, and, compared to its peers, a surreal, fairytale feel. Located minutes from Fort Myers and sandwiched between the shimmering waters of the Gulf Coast on one side — and the San Carlos Bay on the other, this town is often an instant draw. A shoreline you will want to save on your screen, the alligators at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the abundant shells at Bowman's Beach are some of the ways this Florida gem captivates first-time visitors. For some delicious Yucatan shrimp, grab a table at Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille, located across from Bailey's Shopping Center.

South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island, Texas
Aerial view of South Padre Island, Texas.

One of South Padre Island's claims to fame is that it boasts what is arguably the best beach in Texas. However, for the most quaint feel, you may not want to visit during spring break, specifically around March. But when the tourists are mostly gone, such as September, the Gulf is awesome, and the experience is more intimate. Regarded as the jewel of the island, Isla Blanca Park has a rock pier you can explore and lock eyes with friendly dolphins — or catch one of the most magical sunsets on Earth. At Gravity Park, a Ferris wheel goes around a few times and provides a beautiful view of the island. Moreover, one will savor the experience of feeding alligators at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center — and brushing shoulders with several wild animals.

Port Aransas, Texas

Port Aransas, Texas
Aerial view of Port Aransas, Texas.

Boasting a population of about 3,400, Port Aransas is mostly known as the "Fishing Capital of Texas." The town's quaint downtown district features shops selling unique souvenirs, beach wear, and just about everything. Mustang Island State Park, just south of Port Aransas, has always been a highlight of the town. The beach here boasts clear waters and white, sparkling sand, a combination ideal for swimming, building sand castles, or surfing. Remember to pack your binoculars, however, because Mustang Island features many sites that constitute the Great Texas Birding Trail. For avid birders or those who just want to see pelicans at close distance, a trip to Port Aransas is never complete without a detour to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.

Covington, Louisiana

Downtown Covington, Louisiana.
Downtown Covington, Louisiana. Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators /

Founded in 1813, Covington is named for Leonard Covington, a celebrated United States general killed in the War of 1812. If coming from New Orleans, the best way to land at Covington is via the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the world's longest bridge over water. Covington's downtown area is quaint and walkable and hosts a delightful array of terrific restaurants, eclectic art galleries, and boutiques. Half Shell Oyster House, for instance, serves arguably the best grilled Creole oysters in Louisiana. Located where three rivers meet, including the Tchefuncte River, this town offers fantastic water-based adventures. Just outside of town, for instance, the Bogue Falaya River is a nice spot for swimming or fishing. Alternatively, you may want to feed gators at the Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery — or bike along the scenic Tammany Trace.

The Takehome

While the Gulf Coast of the United States has been witnessing a kind of growth that increasingly tends to diminish its quaint look and rustic allure, the more than 1,200-mile stretch is dotted with some towns that still retain their charming character and quaint look. At the head of this pack are towns such as Dunedin, Florida, which provides access to the beautiful Honeymoon Island, Fairhope, Alabama, and Tarpon Springs, Florida, the Sponge Capital of the World.

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