Aerial view of Port Aransas, Texas.

8 Underappreciated Towns To Visit In The Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast touches several American States, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and several Mexican states. It is renowned for its beaches, waters that are teeming with life, and incredible weather nearly all year long. Complementing these benefits, which draw tourists from around the world, are a number of towns lining this coast, each full of amenities and notable destinations that make for a perfect trip. Some of these towns draw huge crowds, while some others remain out of the tourist radar but are no less exciting. Whether you are looking for natural sights, historic landmarks, or cultural scenes, here are eight underappreciated towns on the Gulf Coast where there is something for everybody.

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Popular Marshall Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Popular Marshall Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Editorial credit: Fotoluminate LLC /

If Biloxi seems too busy or popular for you but you still want to travel the southern coastline of Mississippi, Ocean Springs might be the perfect place for you. Located on the eastern shore of Biloxi Bay, this small town of around 19,000 residents combines clean beaches and a number of other lesser-known tourist destinations to make it a great alternative to some of the other bigger cities on the Gulf of Mexico.

Nearby, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is a peaceful spot for hiking, bird-watching, and enjoying pristine and well-managed beaches. Ocean Spring’s proximity to the Davis Bayou also offers a chance to see diverse wildlife and enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking and fishing in the vast swamplands that are abundant in this area of the country.

In town, you should explore the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, a gallery and museum that features the works of the famous local artist, Walter Anderson, whose depictions of the Gulf Coast landscape are iconic. Another key attraction is the historic downtown area, where you will find a variety of restaurants, stores, and hotels.

Surfside Beach, Texas

Aerial view of Surfside Beach, Texas
Aerial view of Surfside Beach, Texas.

Just south of Houston on the Texas Gulf Coast, Surfside Beach is a hidden gem known for its laid-back atmosphere and expansive sandy beaches minus the crowds. The beach, which lines the entire southern side of downtown, is popular for surfing, kiteboarding, and general beachcombing, making it a haven for anyone looking to soak up as much sun as possible in the Lone Star State.

Fishing enthusiasts flock here to cast their lines from the Surfside Jetty Park. If you are interested in fishing out on the Gulf itself, book a fishing charter for deep-sea fishing at one of the many services offered in town. Oilfield Outkasts Charters is a recommended option. Looking to find some solace away from town? The Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge nearby is renowned as a place for wildlife viewing along its scenic trails and observation platforms.

For food, Surfside Beach’s local restaurants serve up fresh seafood and Gulf Coast specialties. Seahorse Bar & Grill will not only provide you with some of the best and freshest dishes in town, it has an unbeatable view of the Gulf of Mexico from its outdoor patio.

Fairhope, Alabama

Aerial view of the Fairhope, Alabama
Aerial view of the Fairhope, Alabama.

Sitting along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, the town of Fairhope also provides an alternative to a bigger nearby city, this time being Mobile, Alabama. Known for its art galleries and a fantastic selection of nearby parks, there is no shortage of things to do and see here.

Fairhope's city parks, like the Fairhope Municipal Park and the Rose Garden, are tranquil spots for relaxation and recreation within walking distance from many of the hotels and other accommodations located here. The Fairhope Pier is a popular place for both locals and tourists, with panoramic views of the bay and great fishing locations. For a touch of nature a little further outside town, the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, located nearby, is a valuable site for those interested in the area’s natural ecosystems and offers educational programs, hiking trails, and boardwalks through coastal habitats.

Port Aransas, Texas

Robert's Point Park in Port Aransas, Texas
Robert's Point Park in Port Aransas, Texas.

Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island off the coast of Texas, is a distinctive town for its unique location that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. No visit here is complete without a day spent on Port Aransas Beach, which stretches for miles and contains ample places for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. Port Aransas also hosts various festivals and events, such as the Texas SandFest each spring, attracting sand sculptors from around the country.

Just outside of the downtown core, the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is another notable destination for nature lovers, where bird watchers can observe a variety of coastal and migratory birds from an accessible boardwalk. For more to do outside, Mustang Island State Park offers more outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, and camping, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and a possible place to stay the night.

For those interested in the marine life of the gulf, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, which is located downtown, has educational exhibits open to the public.

Apalachicola, Florida

St George Lighthouse in Florida
St George Lighthouse in Apalachicola, Florida.

Positioned along the Florida Panhandle, the town of Apalachicola is a lesser-known gem for anyone looking to see the Florida side of the Gulf Coast. Renowned for its oyster industry, be sure to indulge in any of the many fresh seafood restaurants here. Make it a food-inspired adventure at eateries like Apalachicola Seafood Grill or Half Shell Dockside.

The downtown core of Apalachicola is home to many well-preserved buildings and landmarks, including the Raney House Museum, a 19th-century heritage home. Continue learning about this town at the Historic Apalachicola just around the corner on the northern edge of the waterfront.

get outside and explore the Apalachicola River and its tributaries by kayak or boat, offering glimpses of abundant wildlife and scenic views. St. George Island, located nearby, is full of pristine beaches and is a great spot for fishing, shelling, and bird-watching. A visit to the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve can provide you with a deep dive into this region’s fragile and beautiful ecosystems, with exhibits and trails that wind through diverse habitats.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

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

Grand Isle, situated on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, is Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island and offers a unique coastal experience. It is one of the most southern towns you can go to in the state of Louisiana too.

Known for its world-class fishing, the island hosts the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, one of the oldest fishing tournaments in the United States. An exciting event for anyone interested in sport fishing or sports fishermen looking for an event to participate in! For the average tourist, however, The Grand Isle State Park features a beachfront campground and opportunities for bird-watching along its trails. It is also highly recommended that you go see the nearby Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge, which has a variety of clean beaches and habitats for various shorebirds and marine life.

Local seafood restaurants serve freshly caught fish and Gulf shrimp downtown, giving you a way to taste Louisiana's well-known cuisine. Homely eateries like Starfish Restaurant from morning until night every day of the week.

Punta Gorda, Florida

Aerial view of Punta Gorda, Florida.
Aerial view of Punta Gorda, Florida.

At Punta Gorda, the Fishermen’s Village on the northern edge of downtown is the main focal point. This maritime-themed neighborhood contains a marina, boutique shops, dining options, and regularly scheduled entertainment at a selection of venues like the Gulf Theater at the Military Heritage Museum. Take a leisurely walk at the Punta Gorda History Park, which includes several old buildings from the late 19th century that are being maintained and used to this day.

If you like animals, pay a visit to the Peace River Wildlife Center, a sanctuary for injured and orphaned wildlife that also offers educational exhibits for the whole family. For more nature-related fun nearby, the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park features extensive trails for hiking and launching points for kayakers, with kayak rental being available at a variety of outfitters in town like Punta Gorda Adventures. Additionally, the Harborwalk, a scenic pathway along the waterfront, is perfect for walking, cycling, and enjoying the views of the harbor.

Cedar Key, Florida

Brown pelican along the sea in Cedar Key, Florida
Brown pelican in Cedar Key, Florida.

The town of Cedar Key is part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, which is a sanctuary for numerous bird species and marine life. For more info about this gorgeous and fragile region of the Gulf of Mexico, the Cedar Key Museum State Park will give you a detailed glimpse into the area’s natural and human history, showcasing artifacts from the 19th century and the work of local naturalist St. Clair Whitman. Further your understanding of these keys and explore the surrounding waters by kayak, where you can see dolphins, manatees, and a variety of birds up close. You can launch your boat here off of the appropriately named Kayak Cove.

Cedar Key is also famous for its clams, with several local restaurants serving locally caught clams every day. Steamers is a wildly popular spot for both tourists and locals looking to get their fix. If you just can't get enough of the fresh seafood offered here, Cedar Key’s annual Seafood Festival is well worth a visit on its own, with booths serving up the best seafood dishes this town has to offer every October.

See Another Side Of The Gulf Coast

As you can clearly see, the Gulf of Mexico has much to offer outside of the bigger cities sitting on its vast shores. From hiking and paddling in delicate natural preserves to pristine beaches to lay a towel or lawn chair in to build up your tan, you can easily find an activity or two here to suit your interests. Check out any of these 8 highly recommended towns to avoid the crowds on your next summer break!

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