View of 5th avenue at sunset in Naples, Florida. Image credit Mihai_Andritoiu via Shutterstock

7 Breathtaking Towns to Visit on the Gulf Coast

America's Gulf Coast stretches approximately 1,680 miles from the southern tip of Florida to the eastern border of Texas, touching the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. This region is characterized by its warm, shallow waters, extensive wetlands, and fertile deltas, notably the Mississippi Delta, one of the largest river deltas in the world. The coastline features barrier islands, bays, and lagoons that provide critical habitats for an array of wildlife.

Thanks to its coastal setting, the Gulf Coast is home to breathtakingly beautiful small towns. These seven will make you do a double take.

Fairhope, Alabama

Alabama Gulf Coast Sunset on Mobile Bay
Alabama Gulf Coast sunset on Mobile Bay.

Fairhope, Alabama, is a town on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. Founded in 1894 by a group of idealistic reformers and free-thinkers, known as the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation, it was based on the economic principles of Henry George and the single tax theory, which aimed to improve social conditions and promote fair land use. Today, the town's natural environment, characterized by sweeping views of Mobile Bay and lush, flowering landscapes, makes it a popular destination for visitors seeking beauty.

Fairhope Pier and Park, located at the town's waterfront, is a spot for strolling and fishing, especially during sunset. It is also a central gathering place for community events. The Marietta Johnson Museum, dedicated to the progressive educator Marietta Johnson, who founded the School of Organic Education in 1907, educates visitors on her educational methods and the community's early history. The Eastern Shore Art Center further enhances Fairhope's artistic legacy with galleries featuring contemporary art exhibits and workshops.

Seaside, Florida

Homes in Seaside, Florida.
Homes in Seaside, Florida. Image credit Felix Mizioznikov via Shutterstock

Seaside, Florida, is a quintessential example of New Urbanism, a design movement that emphasizes walkable urban neighborhoods that encourage community interactions and sustainable living. Established in the early 1980s, Seaside was designed by architects Robert Davis and Andres Duany as a model town aiming to revive the old-fashioned sense of community often missing in modern urban planning. Its architecture features pastel-colored houses and white picket fences, and its streets are laid out so that everything is accessible by foot.

Grayton Beach State Park is an oasis with one of the most beautiful beaches in the US. The park is for swimming, sunbathing, and fishing, and its nature trail winds through a coastal forest where visitors can observe wildlife and ecosystems. The Seaside Farmers Market is a spot to immerse in local culture, offering fresh produce, baked goods, dairy products, and other local artisan foods every Saturday morning. Lastly, The Chapel at Seaside is a place for worship. The Chapel’s simple, elegant design makes it a popular destination for reflection and weddings.

Naples, Florida

Tourists walking and shopping along the restaurants and luxury stores of 5th Avenue in downtown Naples, Florida.
Tourists walking in downtown Naples, Florida. Image credit AevanStock via

Naples, Florida, is a sophisticated town located on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida. Naples was founded in the late 19th century as a fishing village and soon gained fame for its similarity to the sunny Italian peninsula, from which it draws its name. Over the decades, it has transformed into a haven for luxury living, with elegant boutiques, world-class golf courses, and gourmet dining. The town has miles of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

The Naples Pier, originally built in 1888, is a landmark and a favorite spot for fishing, bird-watching, and sunset viewing. Stretching far into the Gulf, it has views of the ocean and is often visited by dolphins. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is another go-to destination, with stretches of beaches. The park is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and picnicking, with facilities for boat launches and exploring the natural estuarine systems. The Baker Museum, part of the Artis—Naples campus, houses a significant collection of modern and contemporary art in a three-story, 30,000-square-foot facility.

Key West, Florida

Key West famous Duval street view, south Florida Keys
Key West famous Duval street view, Florida.

Key West, Florida, is the southernmost town in the continental United States, located closer to Havana than Miami, at the end of the chain of islands known as the Florida Keys. Its maritime history includes shipwreck salvage operations and sponge fishing. Known for its laid-back lifestyle, pastel-hued Conch-style houses, and coral reefs, Key West is a tourist hotspot and acultural melting pot, blending American, Cuban, and Caribbean influences.

Mallory Square is the center of Key West's historic waterfront and the site of the famous "Sunset Celebration," where locals and visitors alike gather to watch the sunset while enjoying live entertainment, arts and crafts exhibitors, and street performers. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where Hemingway lived during the 1930s, is a must-visit for literature fans. The home is preserved with much of Hemingway’s furnishings and personal items. Finally, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a glass-enclosed habitat with hundreds of butterflies, colorful birds, and lush tropical plants.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi, Mississippi, USA Lighthouse at dusk.
Biloxi, Mississippi, lighthouse at dusk.

Biloxi, Mississippi, located on the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the oldest towns in the United States, first settled by the French in 1699. It was influenced by French, British, and Spanish rule before becoming part of the United States in 1811. Historically significant as a center for the seafood industry, particularly shrimping and oystering, Biloxi is also known for its saltwater recreation.

The Biloxi Lighthouse is one of the town's most famed landmarks. Erected in 1848, it has become a symbol of resilience and recovery, especially following its survival in several major US hurricanes. Visitors can take guided tours up the lighthouse for views of the Gulf Coast. Beauvoir, the historic post-war home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, is a museum. Here, visitors can learn about the life and times of Davis and the Confederate South, set against the backdrop of restored gardens. Finally, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, designed by architect Frank Gehry, celebrates the innovative spirit of potter George E. Ohr.

Tarpon Springs, Florida

Downtown street in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Downtown street in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

Tarpon Springs, Florida, is a unique coastal town known for its strong Greek cultural influence. Located along the Gulf of Mexico just north of Tampa, Tarpon Springs was settled in the late 19th century and became a hub for the sponge diving industry in the early 20th century when Greek immigrants, skilled in sponge harvesting techniques, were brought to the area. The town's architecture, cuisine, and annual festivals celebrate this Greek heritage.

The Sponge Docks is a must-visit, where guests can explore the historic waterfront district that shows the sponge industry's history through various tours, sponge diving demonstrations, and maritime activities. The area is also lined with shops selling natural sponges. Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, known for its Byzantine architecture and elaborate interior, looks at the spiritual side of the community. It is especially known for hosting the Epiphany celebration, which draws thousands of visitors. Lastly, Fred Howard Park has a white sandy beach, clear waters, and abundant wildlife, ideal for swimming, kayaking, and picnicking. The park's causeway is a popular spot for windsurfing.

Orange Beach, Alabama

Aerial view of the Perdido Pass full of boats in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Perdido Pass full of boats in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Orange Beach is a coastal town with white sandy beaches and warm, crystal-clear waters. The area was relatively undeveloped until the late 20th century when it transitioned into a major tourist destination. Prior to this development, Orange Beach was a sleepy fishing village with a history of maritime activities and was largely influenced by the natural abundance of the Gulf's resources.

The Wharf at Orange Beach is a comprehensive entertainment experience with shops, restaurants, concert venues, and a marina. It is also home to one of the tallest Ferris wheels in the Southeast. Gulf State Park is another prime destination, with over two miles of beaches, a fishing pier, hiking and biking trails, and a nature center. This state park is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the wildlife of coastal Alabama. Additionally, the Hugh S Branyon Backcountry Trail has over 28 miles of paved trails that wind through six ecosystems for hiking, biking, and bird-watching.

The Gulf Coast's small towns are not just points on a map but treasured destinations. From the artistic vibes of Fairhope, Alabama, to the quaint and vibrant streets of Seaside, Florida, these towns captivate visitors with their coastal views and eclectic cultures. Key West stands out with its colorful history and street life, while Naples offers a slice of sophistication with its upscale living. Each town along the Gulf Coast has its own personality and story, making them must-visit locations for anyone seeking the true essence of coastal beauty.

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