Historic square shopping area in Seaside, Florida. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

9 Underrated Places to Visit on the Gulf Coast

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find the time for that perfect adventure. Between work and other obligations, many folks struggle to set aside the ideal dates to escape, let alone plan a fantastic getaway. But, those who take a risk on the lesser-known gems hidden throughout the Gulf Coast are often rewarded with plenty of unforgettable memories, adventures, and a newfound appreciation for America’s small towns.

The warm water of the Gulf Coast of Mexico spans 1,680 miles, features coastal towns in five US states, and is an underrated place to visit regardless of the season.

Dauphin Island, Alabama

An aerial view of a welcome to Dauphin Island sign in Alabama
Welcome to Dauphin Island sign in Alabama.

Laying just off the shore of mainland America, Dauphin Island is the best spot to visit before crossing the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. Those who make their way to the Island are rewarded with exciting attractions for all types of travelers.

Explore the island’s history; Dauphin was once a strategic military stronghold. Visit the historic Fort Gaines to explore the region's military history. Visitors can also educate themselves on the diverse ecosystem surrounding the island, and head to the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab to get up close and personal with varying species.

Don’t forget to sit back and relax during your stay. Load up the picnic basket and head over to the crystal white sands of Dauphin Island Beach. The coastal waters are perfect for cooling off in the scorching Gulf Coast sun.

Destin, Florida

The popular Harborwalk Village, Destin, Florida.
Harborwalk Village, Destin, Florida. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.com

Located in the Sunshine State, it doesn’t matter whether you came here for exciting entertainment, the beautiful beaches, or the sense of adventure, visitors are sure to lose themselves in the relaxing seaside ambiance of the town.

Start your day with a nice walk along Destin’s boardwalk. Choose from plenty of restaurants, café, or even street vendors as you fuel up for the exciting day ahead. The town is also known as a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Consider scheduling a charter with a Gulf-angler fishing charter for your chance to land the fish of a lifetime.

If you prefer to stay ashore, venture to the Henderson Beach State Park for the top-rated beach in Destin. There are also scenic hiking trails along the beach's dunes. After ridding yourself of all the sand, sit down for an exciting meal at Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl and Grill, where visitors dine inside the aquatic environment.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

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

It doesn’t matter whether you are seeking escape from the frigid temperatures or chasing the endless sunshine of the Gulf Coast, you always have a good reason to visit this amazing Alabama town.

Without a doubt, the main reason people visit the town is Gulf State Park. The Park possesses a public beach spanning the coastline while also providing opportunities to explore the inland portion of the park. The park contains approximately 28 miles of trails that wait for your exploration and are the perfect place for a scenic walk. Test out your sea legs and hop aboard a dolphin cruise tour which will take you out in the Gulf of Mexico to get a view of the ocean's most majestic creatures.

Marathon, Florida

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

Despite the name, the town is known as a peaceful oasis for those seeking an escape to a seaside town. There will be no running involved unless you want there to be during your visit to Marathon. The town’s coastal waters are some of the best for scuba diving and snorkeling expeditions. Schedule a guided excursion with the Deep Blue Dive Center to explore the mysteries of the ocean floor.

For those wanting to stay dry, take a scenic hike through Curry Hammock State Park, which is the largest piece of uninhabited land in the region, meaning that there is plenty of nature to enjoy. Visitors can also just relax at places such as Oceanfront Park which is the ideal place to catch up on reading while enjoying the scenic views of the ocean. If you aren’t feeling up the walking, hop in the car and cruise across the renowned Old Seven Mile Bridge, which takes you across the mesmerizing blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rockport, Texas

Beach in Rockport, Texas.
Beach in Rockport, Texas. Image credit Grossinger via Shutterstock.com

Serving as a geographical divider on the peninsula between Copano and Aransas Bay, Rockport is a switch up from the popular image of Texas’s cowboy heritage.

Get up close and personal with the ocean’s most bizarre creatures at the Rockport Harbor Aquarium. Visitors can explore the nautical history of the Lonestar state at the Texas Maritime Museum, which houses everything from pirate artifacts to old war memorabilia.

Popular attractions that are highlighted by the warm Texas sun are the Rockport Beach Pavilion and the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary. During any warm day, find people trying to beat the heat by relaxing in shaded areas or wading into the refreshing waters.

South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island Beach in Texas.
South Padre Island Beach in Texas.

South Padre Island is a barrier island that runs along the Texas coastline and serves as the initial line of defense against the Gulf of Mexico waves.

Numerous beaches await your exploration along the sandy 30-mile coastline. Head to Isla Blanca Beach, which is situated on the southern side of the island, to enjoy the clear water of the Gulf of Mexico. The northern side of the island has beaches on the Laguna Madre, which offer calmer waters perfect for kayaking and swimming. If you want to enjoy the beach atmosphere without having to deal with the hassle of sand, enjoy a stroll along the beach while mounted on horseback. Schedule a scenic trot along the beaches with South Padre Island Adventure Park Horseback Tours.

Visitors can even spend time amongst the ocean's most beloved creatures. Stop by Sea Turtle Inc., a rehabilitation center for sea turtles that allows visitors to familiarize themselves with these majestic animals.

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. Image credit Buttbongo via stock.adobe.com

Bay St. Louis serves as the gateway for those venturing up the Jourdan River. The Bay itself is known as a prominent docking spot for weary fishermen coming in off the ocean.

A dishing town means one thing: fresh seafood. Be sure to bring your appetite on your visit and dine at the many restaurants that serve up the freshest seafood dishes along the coast. Local favorites are Starfish Café and The Blind Tiger restaurant.

When you are not lounging in the sun at Bay St. Louis Beach, take a stroll in the downtown core to visit fascinating landmarks. Check out mesmerizing architecture at churches such as the Our Lady of the Gulf Parish and the St Rose De Lima Church. Visitors can also check out incredible creative pieces at local galleries like the Alice Moseley Folk Art Studio or Gallery 220.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

Drone aerial photo of houses in Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Overlooking houses in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

A day in Grand Isle promises to deliver an experience of discovery, relaxation, and natural beauty. From sunrise to sunset, the island is sure to keep you as busy as you desire.

For the early risers, head to one of Grand Isle's public beaches, such as Grand Isle State Park beach or Elmer's Island, and watch the sun begin to climb as you get your early morning steps in. Or maybe you prefer a more laid-back start to your day. If so, grab a coffee and a bite at the Starfish Restaurant to fuel your day of adventure.

For the historians out there, walk inside a former Civil War outpost by visiting the historic Fort Livingston. Visitors can explore the fort's fortifications, barracks, and gun emplacements and learn about its role in defending the Gulf Coast. As the day comes to an end, board a sunset cruise and enjoy the cotton candy-colored skies as the town makes its daily retreat.

Seaside, Florida

Aerial view of the town of Seaside, Florida.
Overlooking Seaside, Florida.

As the name reveals, the town is located along the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Seaside is a paradise unlike any other; visitors often enjoy a scenic walk among the pastel-colored cottages or a beverage while basking in the sun on a patio.

Slide into your sandals and hit the beach. Seaside Beach is a great place to lay your towel and soak in vitamin D. You can also find shade at one of the town’s many pavilions, which provide the perfect escape from the Florida heat. If you are feeling up for a challenge, test out your balance by booking a surfing lesson with Austin Magee’s Surf School and see if you have what it takes to shred waves.

Shop for fresh produce at the Seaside Farmers Market which is held every Saturday at the town’s main pavilion next to the beach.

In a society often rushed and bound by daily schedules, set aside time to channel your inner explorer. So, if you are searching for the perfect destination for your next getaway, consider heading to the Gulf Coast. Visitors can expect to learn about America’s earliest histories, relax on the sandy beaches, or dine on delicious meals in these Gulf Coast towns.


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