Sombrero Beach at Marathon, Florida Keys. Image credit Erika Cristina Manno via Shutterstock

8 Lovely Small Towns to Visit on the Gulf Coast This Summer

From Western Florida to Texas on the border with Mexico, the Gulf Coast is one of the most exotic and picturesque regions in the United States. Along the coast are megacities and resorts complementing the shorelines and creating a haven for tourism. However, the coast is also long enough to accommodate small magical towns, where the allure of the Gulf of Mexico shines brightly and effortlessly. For a sneak peek, towns like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer seductive beaches to bask under the sun, while Crystal River and its manatees are for eclectic experiences. Without further ado, uncover eight lovely small towns on the Gulf Coast to visit this summer.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

Stilt houses with long docks in the low-lying town of Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Stilt houses with long docks in the low-lying town of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Grand Isle is a little scenic town on a barrier island of the same name in the Gulf of Mexico and the mouth of the Barataria Bay, where it joins the Gulf. On the island, ocean views are magical at every turn, and the beach at Grand Isle State Park is a melting pot of summer activities. The boardwalk on the beach is perfect for catching the sunset, while the beach is great for sunbathing, picnics, and swimming. Besides the beach, Grand Isle State Park offers more activities like hiking, fishing, and boating.

For history buffs in Grand Isle, visit Fort Livingston by boat to see a 19th-century defense fort on Grand Terre Island, representing one of the largest forts in Louisiana. Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge is another captivating destination to visit on a summer vacation here, as it is home to gorgeous beaches, salt marshes, mangroves, coastal dunes, and several birds.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

The Hancock Bank of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on Main Street, stands out with a big clock and flag.
The Hancock Bank of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on Main Street, stands out with a big clock and flag. Image credit Buttbongo via

Bay St. Louis is one of the charming towns on the Mississippi Sound, off the Gulf of Mexico, where summer vacationers can ride out the season without the crowds. The town's beach along South Beach Boulevard is usually almost empty but breathtakingly gorgeous, overlapping the azure waters of the Mississippi Sound. Here, visitors can kayak, canoe, boat, and paddle on the water or embark on cruise expeditions to explore the larger Gulf.

The Jimmy Rutherford Pier is available for those who love to fish on the waters of Bay St. Louis. Afterward, visitors can have seafood for lunch at the Blind Tiger, which features an open-air setting and great water views. For art lovers, check out the Alice Moseley Folk Art and Antique Museum, for authentic paintings and artifacts of renowned folk artist Alice Moseley, who once lived in the town.

Fairhope, Alabama

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

Fairhope is one of the most popular Gulf Coast towns in Alabama for relishing a summer vacation. The town sits on the eastern shoreline of Mobile Bay, where the Fairhope Municipal Pier and Park stands as a tourist jewel. The pier doubles as the town's square, featuring a landscaped rose garden and fountain, a boardwalk, a marina, picnic areas, a fishing pier, and a massive sandy beach. The park is also home to a tree trail featuring 500 species of trees alongside a shoreline walking and biking trail for sightseeing.

Fairhope also features Weeks Bay National Estuarine Reserve, where nature lovers can have a field day exploring salt marshes, forests, wetlands, and wildlife. On the side of history, the town is home to the Fairhope Museum of History, which immerses visitors in the past through exhibits and artifacts detailing the life and times of the town's bygone days.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
Downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Image credit Fotoluminate LLC via

Ocean Springs is an irresistible town along the Gulf of Mexico with so much to love. For art lovers, this town is home to many amazing art establishments featuring sensational works from some of the best artists in the world. Must-see art establishments in town include Hillyer House, Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Mary C O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center, and Shearwater Pottery. Next, visitors can head to the town's Front Beach for picnics and outdoor recreation.

Proceed to the highest point on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the Fort Maurepas State Park to hold picnics, see the monument of a French explorer, enjoy grills, and wander around the park. From this park, a walkway leads to the McPhearson Jr. Fishing Pier, where anglers can enjoy great fishing. Hikers and bikers are not left out as the town features the Live Oak Bicycle Trail featuring jaw-dropping views as it stretches to the Davis Bayou Area. For more exploration, rent a kayak and explore the town's numerous bayous, especially the Fort Bayou waterways.

Crystal River, Florida

Tourists from around the world travel to Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida.
Tourists worldwide travel to Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida. Image credit Nicole Glass Photography via

Crystal River is a slice of paradise where summers are always incredibly fulfilling. Known for its large population of manatees, visitors to this town can learn more about these creatures at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The wildlife refuge area is also home to Three Sisters Springs, a group of freshwater springs perfect for paddling, swimming, or snorkeling alongside the manatees.

For similar experiences and to play alongside manatees, head to Kings Bay Park, just a few blocks from downtown. Crystal River also features the Crystal River Preserve State Park, where visitors can lose track of time exploring its diverse ecosystem via hiking and kayaking adventures. For a beach experience, visitors are welcome to Fort Island Gulf Beach to bask on its sands, admire the scenery from a boardwalk, boat in the water, and fish from its pier.

Marathon, Florida

Sunset in Marathon, Florida.
Sunset in Marathon, Florida.

Marathon is a beautiful city in the Florida Keys, home to two breathtaking beaches, Coco Plum and Sombrero, making a summer vacation here unforgettable. While the beaches are nesting grounds for sea turtles, they are also great spots for kayaking, boating, swimming, fishing, sunbathing, picnicking, and snorkeling. Sombrero Beach even has volleyball courts, making it more exciting.

Marathon is also close to Curry Hammock State Park, where visitors can paddle, bike, camp, fish, hike, and see wildlife alongside lush mangrove forests and pristine coastline. Afterward, visitors are invited to the Crane Point Hammock Museum and Nature Center to explore its botanical gardens, hike its nature trails, and learn about marine life via artifacts at the museum. The center also has a fishing pond, plenty of birds and butterflies, and wildlife such as deer, bald eagle, raccoon, and alligator.

Orange Beach, Alabama

Perdido Pass, Orange Beach, Alabama.
Perdido Pass, Orange Beach, Alabama.

Orange Beach is a lovely small town on Alabama’s Gulf Coast perfect for a summer vacation. Typical of Gulf Coast towns, beaches are always a point of interest, and in Orange Beach, there are access points to several Gulf State Park beaches like Shell Beach, Cotton Bayou, and Alabama Point East. These beaches are havens for water sports, picnics, and relaxation.

Away from the beaches, visitors to Orange Beach flock to The Wharf, an entertainment district home to local shops, restaurants, a marina, a Ferris wheel, and an amphitheater for concerts and shows. Adventure Island is another prime tourist attraction in this town for fun, as it features two 18-hole golf courses, bumper boats, thrilling children's rides, arcade games, and more. Before leaving, visitors with a love for history can savor the area’s Native American history and fishing heritage at the Orange Beach History Museum.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Aerial view of a beautiful beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Overlooking a beautiful beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Only a few miles away from Orange Beach, Gulf Shores is a small gorgeous town in Baldwin County, famed as a tourist hub in summer, with the 6,150-acre Gulf State Park as a highlight attraction. The park is home to over two miles of sugar-white sandy shores for sunbathing, while the water is great for swimming and fishing. The park also features about 28 miles of trails, pine forests, coastal dunes, freshwater marshes, streams, and three spring-fed lakes. Besides the park, Gulf Shores is home to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, where visitors can interact closely with animals like kangaroos, lemurs, giraffes, and sloths, among others. For families, a lot of fun awaits at The Track family fun park, featuring thrilling family rides, arcade games, and more.

Summer in the Gulf Coast region of the United States is inviting and irresistible, courtesy of beaches, nature preserves, rivers, and resorts sprinkled across its small towns. From Gulf Shores, Alabama, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, there is no shortage of small towns to kick back and enjoy a summer retreat or satiate the need to explore after a long, harsh winter. Sunbathing in the sun on laid-back beaches, swimming alongside manatees, cruising on crystal waters, and enjoying strolls on boardwalks are activities that make summer in these towns special, and there is so much more.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 8 Lovely Small Towns to Visit on the Gulf Coast This Summer

More in Places