Aerial view of Sanibel, Florida.

8 Of The Most Welcoming Towns On The Gulf Coast

Too many beach vacations are the same. Tan, drink, swim, repeat. Many Gulf Coasters began as humble tourists, seeking a warm paradise to sink their toes into. For travelers who want something extra, Gulf Coast towns have built a culture out of the very love that has kept the residents there. Indulge in the fruits of their labor by trekking through the communities they have created. Smell the salty Atlantic air while wandering through the best of FloridaMississippiAlabamaTexas, and Louisiana

D’Iberville, Mississippi

Fountain Pier, Back Bay in D’Iberville, Mississippi.
Fountain Pier, Back Bay in D’Iberville, Mississippi. Image credit: D'Iberville, Mississippi via

Enjoy the view of the Biloxi Bay sunset between putts at Lava Links Golf Club. Lava Links is the type of miniature golf course that everyone wishes they could visit, complete with the type of stagecraft and live effects that dazzle kids and adults alike. If putters cannot take the heat from Lava Links’ volcano, round up the troops and head to Satchmo’s Jazz Café, where the tunes and drinks are equally smooth. Satchmo’s has weary travelers covered, offering easy access to rooms at the D’ville Mansion next door. Paddlers have a gateway to paradise with the kayak launch in D’Iberville’s Riverside Park. 

Sanibel, Florida

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

Go to Sanibel Island for the beaches, and stay for everything else. The Sanibel Lighthouse on Periwinkle Way began illuminating the path into the San Carlos Bay in 1884. Not even Hurricane Ian could kill the lighthouse; the storm managed to take one of its legs, and yet it still stands tall. The JN Darling National Wildlife Refuge spans over 6,400 acres, providing crucial breeding and feeding grounds for more than 240 species of birds. Entrance is free. Families can take the car tour for ten dollars per vehicle. Contact Tarpon Bay Explorers for a view of the refuge from the seat of a rented paddleboat.

Orange Beach, Alabama

Perdido Pass, Orange Beach, Alabama
Aerial view of Perdido Pass, Orange Beach, Alabama.

Tourists flock to Orange Beach for its white sands and clear, blue-green waters that are painted orange with every sunset. Attempt contact with a potentially wiser species with a two-hour dolphin spotting tour aboard a pontoon-style catamaran. Art lovers can absorb their fill in the 10,000-square-foot gallery at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach. The gallery features some of the best works of Gulf Coast artists. Pop over to the Hot Shop, a facility in the Center where visitors can try their hands at glass blowing. Amass a complete dining set by moving on to the Center’s clay studio and professional-level kiln.

Tarpon Springs, Florida

Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Sponge diver statue landmark in the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs, Florida. 

Places with nicknames such as the ‘sponge capital of the world’ do not usually merit an impressive tourist draw. Tarpon Springs is like nowhere else on Earth, however. Greek sponge divers moved to the area in droves after applying their singular diving techniques to the discovery of enormous sponge beds in the 1900s. The 21st-century result of this influx is nothing less than the finest concentration of Mediterranean food on the North American east coast. Let Tarpon Springs prove this with a visit to Hellas Restaurant. Hellas’s bakery empowers fanatic travelers to fill their deep freezes with trays upon trays of baklava.

Port Aransas, Texas

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

Look down upon the pristine beaches of Port Aransas from an especially high-flying seat with the help of the Chute ‘em Up Parasailing Company. For those who lack the inner ear for parasailing, the view from the observation tower at Robert’s Point Park cannot be beaten. Stroll through the native pollinator garden and gawp at impressively tall trees at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. Bring binoculars and meet Port Aransas’s community of birders every Wednesday at 9:00 am on the sprawling boardwalks that protrude over salt marsh and tall grasses. Sample the best of southern barbeque with a sea-salty twist at MacDaddy’s Family Kitchen.

Venice, Florida

People bathing in sea in Venice, Florida.
People bathing in sea in Venice, Florida. Editorial credit: Bilanol /

Anyone who spends enough time on Caspersen Beach in Venice, Flordia, may be lucky enough to find their very own shark’s tooth to turn into a necklace. The propensity for the razor-sharp keepsakes to wash up on Caspersen has earned the town of Venice the moniker of ‘Shark tooth capital of the world’. Book a tour with a clear-bottomed boat operator to catch a peek at the most beautiful coral reef outside of the Australian continent. Romance sparkles in the warm Venice air every day, allowing couples to walk hand in hand down streets lined with umbrella-topped Canary Island date palms and Italian Renaissance buildings.

Mandeville, Louisiana

Sunset Point Fisher's Pier in Mandeville, Louisiana.
Sunset Point Fisher's Pier in Mandeville, Louisiana. Image credit: Stockstill, Tiffany via Wikimedia Commons.

Playgoers often cannot handle the truth of how stellar the performers are at Mandeville, Lousiana’s 30 by Ninety Theater. Plan a trip around 30 by Ninety’s staging of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men for their 2024 season. Take a break from Mandeville’s urban delights with a trip to Northlake Nature Center’s three well-manicured protected ecosystems: the hardwood forest, the pine forest, and the swamp. Beavers are responsible for the natural exterior design work of the cypress swamp. The rodents’ habitat is visible from an observation post in the Center. It is wise to set aside an afternoon, at the very least, to take in the work of New Orleans artist MaryAnn Bonura at MBonura Fine Art Studio and Gallery.

Rockport, Texas

The charming waterfront area of Rockport, Texas.
The charming waterfront area of Rockport, Texas. Editorial credit: Grossinger /

Ride across the Copano Bay Causeway into the most welcoming town on the Gulf Coast. Rockport residents have imbued their town with love for centuries. The town survived major hurricanes in 1919 and 2017 and has continued to thrive afterward. Rockporters are always looking for the next big reason to organize a festival or at least a giant party. The Rockport Arts Festival draws thousands per year, hoping to score handmade jewelry that cannot be found on Etsy. The HummerBird Celebration explores the intersection between birding and art. Do not leave town without sneaking a peek at the Second Empire-style Fulton Mansion State Historic Site. 

Everyone who falls in love with Port Aransas can support the Mission Aransas Reserve by donating or volunteering. In fact, anyone with regular access to coastline anywhere can help. All oceans are connected, after all. Collecting pieces of plastic at low tide ensures the safety of birds and amphibious marine life before the garbage can wash back out into the wonderland from which all animal life evolved. Report sightings of eggs and potentially stunned sea turtles to the Global Sea Turtle Network. Sea turtles caught in cold waters can find themselves caught in currents and wash as far north as Canada.

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