Boardwalk at Port St. Joe, Florida.

7 Coolest Towns on the Gulf Coast for a Summer Vacation in 2024

Home to some of the best beaches in the South, the Gulf Coast of Mexico is a mystery patchwork, both unglorified and a summer vacation hub in 2024. From the beguiling Sunshine State destinations to its hidden gems, the four other states touching the gulf are Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama, home to the shortest coastal stretch of only 50 miles. Captiva features great beaches, a nature preserve, a bayou for kayaking, and road access to Sanibel.

Whether you are an avid beachgoer or seeking various outdoor adventures, these seven are full of sunny vibes for seaside relaxation and exciting opportunities away from the beach. Freeport, famous for some of the state's best saltwater fishing, offers night fishing, nature trails, and beaches like Bryan Beach for camping, as well as access to the northernmost reef in the continental US.

Cameron, Louisiana

A boardwalk leading to a gazebo in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge on the Creole Nature Trail, Cameron Parish, Louisiana.
A boardwalk leading to a gazebo in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge on the Creole Nature Trail, Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

The small southwest Louisiana town of Cameron is quite an anomaly—somewhat a crossover between the largely Cajun south and the uplands of the northern countryside but unlike Shreveport or Monroe. Nestled along the infamous Creole Nature Trail, the beach town defines itself simply as the southwestern gateway to Louisiana's share of the Gulf. Hidden from the oblivious on a thin neck between Calcasieu Lake and the Gulf of Mexico, it is where great summertime memories are made with access to ten brown-sanded beaches.

Just 30 miles east of the Lone Star State border, visitors can enjoy easy access to the most popular Holly Beach, just 10 miles from downtown. From innumerable waterways around to countless RV parks, there is something for every passerby, local, and out-of-towner to unplug. Staying free of crowds that define the neighboring state and Florida beaches in the summer under the balmy 83 degrees, join crabbers or sunbathers and let Anchors Up Grill grill up the fresh catch for you before catching the sunset from the beach.

Captiva Island, Florida

Aerial View from a Drone Featuring Boats Docked on the Bay with an Island and the Gulf of Mexico in the Background in North Captiva Island, Florida
Overlooking Captiva Island, Florida.

Captiva has a small-town feel with an island-time philosophy that is truly captivating to unwind on your summer vacation in 2024. Whether you are into relaxing on the beach or browsing downtown shopping and dining with your loved ones, Captiva takes care of the ideal setting, with idyllic views and remote vibes permeating the salty air. From the natural beauty along the stunning central white-sand Captiva Beach—a little offbeat and most magical—to the abundant bird life, there are plenty of ways to explore the long island, like a fishing charter or serene kayaking along the crannies of Chadwick Bayou.

Take out a boat to Buck Key Preserve and return for a misty sunset dinner at the beachfront Mucky Duck Restaurant. The popular Turner Beach at the southern tip offers minute access via road to the sister island of Sanibel, with the best shelling opportunities to scavenge for a perfect souvenir. The Bubble Room is a Christmas-themed eatery year-round, while the secluded South Seas resort with three pools really is splurge-worthy based on its popularity. Among a couple of art galleries, Jungle Drums Gallery is unmissable, with a giant chair out front, as if symbolizing a place to sit, kick back, and relax in your favorite way, letting the worries escape into the seascape.

Freeport, Texas

Colorful beach houses and palm trees in Freeport, Texas
Beach houses in Freeport, Texas. Image credit E's & D's Adventures in Life, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Freeport, a small coastal city, really feels freeing after Texas's stuffy metropolises in the summertime heat. From two marinas, many boat ramps, and the sandy Bryan Beach, perfect for sunbathing, camping, and birding over its three-mile stretch, visitors can also enjoy some of the state's best saltwater fishing. For an easy, memorable escape, several boat charters offer an exciting overnight trip to fish under the stars, but if you prefer to eat it already cooked and seasoned on your dinner plate, nothing tastes as good as a meal after the Wetlands Trail & Bird Observatory for year-round bird watching. Established in 1912, Freeport, once a booming shrimping capital of the world, delights guests with succulent seafood at the popular Jetty Shack on the gulf, On the River Restaurant, or La Sirenita Seafood N Grill's local take.

The timeless riverfront downtown area of 1900s buildings is centered around Memorial Park. Next door, the Freeport Historical Museum features over three centuries of local history with life artifacts from the days of Spanish-occupied Texas. Offering access to eight beaches like the Lake Jackson Freeport Beach on the river with a pier, visitors can chill under the balmy 85 degrees in the summer and virtually year-long suitable for swimming. The Brazos River is great for kayaking in town, while the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary, 100 miles off the coast, is home to the northernmost coral reefs in the continental US. Don't miss the RiverPlace on the banks of the Brazos River, with floor-to-ceiling windows for unparalleled views of the water, part of Freeport Municipal Park.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

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

Just a quick drive from Orange Beach, this historic town along the pristine beach fringe under the blue summer skies and 82 degrees in the gentle breeze epitomizes a laid-back vacation destination along the tiny portion of the Gulf Coast in the "Heart of Dixie." Alabama's 50-mile shoreline feels seclusive, while Gulf Shores' own famous waterpark, the Waterville USA/Escape House, and Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo offer memories with your loved ones that will outlast any vacation time. The long swimming season lasts 152 days to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes along the turquoise waters and sugar-white sands. From local history to festivals, incredible seafood, and live music, there is much to experience beyond the beach without the hustle.

Pretty unbelievable, given a small town of just over 17,000 and what it can do for an average holidaymaker, but this is not your average small town. As a favorite family getaway with its own international airport, Gulf Shores has something new for each returning traveler, and no visit is complete until you dine at LuLu's Gulf Shores. Don't miss the historic Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores Museum, and tasting the famous shrimp through various eateries, in between treasure hunting along many boutiques, gifts, and specialty shops. From fishing charters to diving, snorkeling, and dolphin excursions, nature lovers can embark on miles of walking and biking trails along the peninsula to the west, like the Jeff Friend Trail, Pine Beach Trail, and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, all with a different vibe and views.

Pass Christian, Mississippi

Aerial view of the Pass Christian Marina in Mississippi.
Pass Christian Marina in Mississippi.

Named in 1699 by French-Canadian explorers after the deep-water pass discovered by Nicholas Christian L’Adnier just offshore, "The Pass" has long been an appealing destination thanks to its temperate climate and rich seafood resources. Standing the test of time, Indian mounds and the remains of Native American settlements give present-day visitors a glimpse into the area's deep human history before the town was chartered in 1848 after a free man of color, Charles Asmar, left the entire downtown to his heirs. So welcome to the City of Pass Christian, on a peninsula into the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico, home to a vibrant culture, two harbors, two parks, a seafood industry, and unique businesses.

Offering a laid-back feel to explore unforgettable roots along the streets with elegant historic homes, relax under the centuries-old oaks, and enjoy the local restaurants on the way to the sands. No “pass” experience is complete without lounging at the beautiful Mississippi Sound and Gulf beaches, to enjoy 213 swimming days a year, including this summer in the pleasant 82 degrees. Check out the War Memorial Park, and don't miss the popular Pirate's Cove for dinner. Flanked by nature preserves and meandering waterways, visitors can navigate a kayak or boat out into the deep sea to meet the sunset against Bay Saint Louis Bridge, which is minutes from downtown if you would rather stay land-bound.

Port St. Joe, Florida

St. Joseph Point Lighthouse from the bay.
St. Joseph Point Lighthouse, Port St. Joe, Florida. Image credit Stephanie A Sellers via Shutterstock

This little bayfront town may not have the fame of Malibu or Palm Beach, but big on character and seaside charm, it delivers a dose of cool along the state's northwest coast, some 45 minutes southeast of Panama City. Calling out to vacationers, Port St. Joe is a mecca for fishing and boating with a pristine shoreline and a protected bay of 15 miles by six miles between the town and the St. Joseph Peninsula. Popular for saltwater and dry-land outdoor activities, visitors enjoy access to seven beaches. The compact and walkable downtown is largely pet-friendly and deeply historic, with independent restaurants, shops, and unique boutiques, as well as fun and fresh eateries like Quatro Locos Tacos and Cantina.

From the popular St. Joe Beach overlooking the sparkling bay to the off-shore T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, accessible via boat, the town's own paved four-mile Port City Trail is great for a bike ride. Splitting off into the 0.7-mile gravel Bay Walk Trail along the uncrowded shoreline of St. Joe Bay, after a stroll, visitors can enjoy shelling and scalloping until the serene sunset views. Get your hands on a unique slice of Florida history at the Constitution Convention Museum State Park and the historic Cape San Blas Lighthouse at George Core Park. The Gulf County Welcome Centre offers a taste of the local tupelo honey and coffee and a guide to local hotspots like Krazyfish Grille and Sisters’ Bistro, as well as events like the Blast on the Bay Songwriters’ Festival and the Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Festival.

Waveland, Mississippi

New wooden pier by the gulf in Waveland, Mississipppi
New wooden pier by the Gulf in Waveland, Mississipppi.

With roots dating back to 1888, the incorporated town of Waveland grew steadily into its city status in 1972, next door to Bay St. Louis. Now cooler than ever, Waveland is steeped in community feel and history, weaving old-world charm into modernity against the unique architecture of downtown and the natural beauty of the Gulf Front. Having captured hearts as "the Hospitality City," Waveland is truly a one-of-a-kind summer vacation destination, not just in the state, as the only one along the entire Gulf with a prohibition law against commercial buildings on the beachfront. Visitors can sightsee the Veteran’s Memorial Monument, honoring all veterans, and enjoy the unspoiled views from the adjacent Garfield Ladner Pier, as well as fishing, strolls, and picnics, with feet dangling from the pier at sunset.

The 343-acre beachfront Buccaneer State Park features a 4.5-acre water park and over 300 campsites for RVs and tents. There's also an 18-hole disc golf course and the popular 1.8-mile nature trail among the active when not birding, crabbing, or kayaking from the shore. Preserving traditions and the purity of nature for generations to come, the friendly and passionate locals foster a feel of home away from home for holidaymakers. Dat Kitchen Too is unmissable for a southern take on seafood, while Claiborne Hill Supermarket is a great place to stock up for a fresh picnic and unwind with easy access to three beaches, under the balmy 83 degrees and low crowds for swimming in the warm gulf surf this summer.

Explore the best summer vacation destinations in 2024. Lapping up the fine, sugary sands in Port St. Joe, the turquoise Gulf's surf washes up the unique shells at Captiva Island and her sister Sanibel and sparkles under the sun indeed along the other underrated but beautiful Gulf Coast destinations. Cameron nestles along the iconic Creole Nature Trail, while Waveland is the only one along the gulf with no commercial building on the beachfront. From local history to festivals and live music, the shrimping mecca of Gulf Shores epitomizes Alabama's short coast with a waterpark, historic fort, a zoo, and even an international airport.

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