The stunning Panama City Beach, Florida.

11 Small Towns In The Gulf Coast Were Ranked Among US Favorites

While it often depends on what you are looking for in a town, the Gulf Coast is home to some of the prettiest beaches on the planet. As a sweetener, the water on the Gulf Coast is delightfully warm — even in winter. If you have only been to the Gulf Coast, you may have no idea how cold ocean water can get. We have not mentioned how the Gulf Coast beaches have powder-soft sand that is often white and sparkling. While waves on the Gulf Coast are seldom huge, as will tickle the fancy of seasoned surfers, it is a small downside on an otherwise spectacular slice of paradise. If you want to explore this underrated region of the country, look no further than these beautiful, charming small towns you can launch out from.

Seaside, Florida

Beachfront homes in town of Seaside, Florida
Beachfront homes in the town of Seaside, Florida.

If you have not watched The Truman Show, a 1998 American satirical sci-fi psychological comedy-drama praised for its prophetic vision of runaway celebrity culture and "a nation with an insatiable thirst for the private details of ordinary lives," you have been missing out on an absolute gem. But suppose you have watched the award-winning film many believe predicted the future so accurately. In that case, you will want to set foot on Seaside, a stunner on Florida's Emerald Coast, where the movie The Truman Show was broadcast to a spellbound 1.5 billion viewership. Boasting a delicious array of pastel houses and classy local eateries, Seaside is an eye candy that deserves a spot among the favorite Gulf Coast small towns.

Biloxi, Mississippi

The lighhouse in Biloxi, Mississippi.
A view of the lighhouse along the sea in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Home to about 48,800 residents, Biloxi may not want to be called a small town. Yet, if you want a U.S. Gulf Coast town that will make you think of Las Vegas, the salacious Entertainment Capital of the World, Biloxi will come amazingly close. This is because Biloxi plays host to almost a dozen casino resorts within and around its precincts, a mind-boggling number considering the size of this Mississippi charmer. While you can gouge yourself on ocean-fresh seafood at Half Shell Oyster House, for instance, arguably the best seafood restaurant in coastal Mississippi, and in a town once called the Seafood Capital of the World, you may instead book a Biloxi Shrimping Trip, and enjoy an informative deep-dive into the town's shrimping industry.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

A historical building of a bank in downtown Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
A historical building in downtown Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Bay St. Louis is many things to many people. Located only 51 miles from The Big Easy, as New Orleans is called, Bay St. Louis, to enchanted art enthusiasts, is a funky, artsy town suitable for an art-themed vacation. To beach bums, however, Bay St. Louis is the quintessential coastal town, white-sand beaches and all. Nestled on the Mississippi Sound, on a strip of shoreline evocatively called Mississippi's "Secret Coast," this town boasts a backdrop that is seductively picture-perfect. Whether you want to cast a line at Jimmy Rutherford Fishing Pier, spend an evening strolling through Old Town, or tingle your taste buds at The Blind Tiger, Bay St. Louis is a Gulf Coast gem that will be difficult to turn your back on.

Destin, Florida

Aerial view of Destin, Florida.
Aerial view of Destin, Florida.

While only about 14,000 call Destin, Florida home, more than 4.5 million people visit this Florida gem every year. This alone should pique the curiosity of any vacationer. People do not save for a year to travel to a nondescript town with two Bread & Breakfasts, a gas station, and nothing more. Boasting a spectacular coastline that includes 24 miles of white sands, an impressive array of seafood restaurants such as the locally-owned Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer, and up to 343 sunny days in a year, Destin is a vacation destination worth its cost in gold. Then again, sandwiched between Pensacola to the west and Panama City to the east and known as the "world's luckiest fishing village," anglers will have several spots to enjoy their pastime.

Grayton Beach, Florida

Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach State Park, Florida.

Another favorite Gulf Coast small town that will not fail to plant a smile on your face is Grayton Beach, a tiny but historic beach village that sits halfway between Destin and Panama City — and extends into the crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Not every day, you visit a town and find that most of it is inside a park. Fortunately, Grayton Beach is just that rare gem. Most of the town is secreted inside Grayton Beach State Park, an almost 2,000-acre paradise that often boasts a backdrop of gold-hued sunrises and spectacular sunsets. Southern Living has described the town— not as laid back — but "fully reclining." If you want to rest and relax, therefore, Grayton Beach will be on your doctor's prescription. If you need a shopping break from the otherwise pretty beach, you may want to check out Shops of Grayton, located just north of County Highway 30A.

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Beachside homes at Grayton Beach as view from the air.
Seaside homes at Grayton Beach as view from the air.

Who would not rank Dauphin Island, a city described as "the Sunset Capital of Alabama," among the favorite Gulf Coast small towns? Boasting a population of about 1,700, Dauphin Island is curled up about three miles south of Mobile Bay on a spot that looks plucked straight from a romance fairy tale. If you love the seclusion of islands, the feeling of being in some -far-away place with nothing but singing waves, gentle breezes, and the sound of water as it rushes and retreats on the shoreline, you will compose an ode to Dauphin Island — and include it on your vacation bucket list. If you are a beach bum, you will need to pack some sunscreen, then find your way to Dauphin Island Public Beach. On the flip side, the 164-acre Audobon Bird Sanctuary is a birder's paradise that comes complete with a short but scenic nature trail.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

The gorgeous white sand beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama.
The gorgeous white sand beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Boasting beaches whose sands are powder-soft and sugar-white and an ambiance that is slow-paced and light-hearted, Gulf Shores easily earns a spot among the favorite Gulf Coast small towns. The southernmost settlement in Alabama features several heart-stirring, one-of-a-kind attractions that will make a vacation trip worth the time and cash. Suppose you want to enjoy a hearty burger or some other Southern fare amid beautiful waterfront views with boats passing right next to you, LuLu's Gulf Shores, a vibrant eatery located on the Intercoastal Waterway, will be the place to look for. Gulf Shores is home to first-class beaches. However, if you're tagging your kids along and are looking for something unique and fun to do at the beach, Sand Castle University is worth checking out.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

Homes on stilt along the sea in Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Homes on stilt along the sea in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

One of Grand Isle's claims to fame is that it is the only inhabited barrier island in the Pelican State, as Louisiana is known. If your favorite towns are those that give you a far-away feel and make you think you are in some surreal dreamland, Grand Isle would be it. Grand Isle is a peaceful but remote oasis secreted within Louisiana's expansive shoreline. For avid bibliophiles, it will be a rite of passage to set foot on a town that once served as the setting for Kate Chopin's The Awakening, at the time frowned upon for its portrayal of sexuality — but today celebrated as a landmark work of early feminist fiction. While you'll enjoy strolling through the town and sampling its many offerings, you may as well just opt for lounging along the miles of pristine beaches — and for maximum optical nourishment — inhaling unobscured views of the Gulf.

Naples, Florida

The beautiful downtown area of Naples, Florida
The beautiful downtown area of Naples, Florida

At the mention of "Naples," what may come to your mind is Italy's largest seaside town whose historic port is among the most popular in the world. However, miles away from the birthplace of Pizza, The Sunshine State plays host to a lesser-known Naples, a beautiful Gulf Coast resort city nestled at the edge of Big Cypress Swamp, about 35 miles south of Fort Myers. But make no mistake. This paradise on Earth is as upscale as it gets. Home to about 19,900, Naples plays host to the second-richest ZIP code in the nation. For perspective, the city's 2021 Median income stood at approximately $125,000. First-time visitors should expect an elegant variety of shopping and dining districts and several other tasteful attractions. However, since the best things in life are free, you may want to head to Naples Pier, a stunner known for its killer sunset backdrops.

Sanibel Island, Florida 

The Sanibel Island lighthouse and beach in Sanibel Island, Florida.
The Sanibel Island lighthouse and beach in Sanibel Island, Florida.

Sanibel Island has been called Florida's hidden gem. It is also known as America's Shelling Capital. There are several ways to describe Sanibel, a quaint, unspoilt island positioned just off- coast of Fort Myres. While the town is an eye candy and boasts scenery that will melt the heart of the most stolid adventurer, vacationers often enjoy their pastime foraging for the most beautiful shell at Bowman's Beach amid bucolic surroundings with no stoplights, glitzy high-rises, or big-chain grocery stores. You may also want to rent a sturdy beach cruiser and zigzag through Sanibel's 25 miles of scenic bike paths. However, if you want to lock eyes with alligators or manatees, the 7,600-acre J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a must-do.

Panama City Beach, Florida

The spectacular white sand beach at Panama City Beach, Florida.
The spectacular white sand beach at Panama City Beach, Florida.

For starters, do not confuse Panama City Beach and Panama City. Though they share names, except for one word, and also have beaches, Panama City and Panama City Beach are not exactly the same. They are also not widely different either, or far apart — but closely connected by the St. Andrews Bay Bridge, today renamed Hathaway Bridge. Boasting a population of about 18,900, Panama City Beach is a quiet tourist destination consistently ranked among U.S. favorites because of its pretty beaches, amusement parks, and classy mini-golf courses. Some of the town's famous parks include Shipwreck Island Water Park, Coconut Creek Family Fun Park, and ZooWorld Zoological Park.

The Takeaway

While you will rarely spot waves that rise like mountains on the shoreline of California, for instance, and that avid surfers enjoy riding, the Gulf Coast. is a spectacular stretch of beauty defined by some of the whitest sands in the country. The area is also dotted with many pristine islands, picturesque parks, and amazing wildlife, including alligators. If you want to explore this underrated region, there are several small towns that can serve as idyllic bases. Some favorite Gulf Coast small towns include Destin, Florida; Grand Isle, Louisiana; and Dauphin Island, Alabama.

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