South Florida is home to some of the best beach towns globally, including (arguably) the best one—Miami. However, to the west, the United States has around 1,600 miles of Gulf Coast coastline spanning four states and littered with fantastic, unique beach towns. Along this corridor, the best beach towns on the Gulf of Mexico offer some of the best tropical vacation experiences in the country.
Located along Florida’s historic 30A highway, Seaside is a town unlike any other on this list. Even if you have never been to Florida, you probably recognize Seaside as the idyllic backdrop to the film The Truman Show. The city is a master-planned town built with 20th-century urbanist design. When it was constructed in the early 1980s, it was meant to serve as a vision for the potential of American small towns when they rejected the ever-growing urban sprawl. The entire town is extremely walkable, with bikes being the preferred mode of transportation within the community.
Another advantage of the area is its proximity to the other best 30A communities and the larger beach cities of Panama City and Destin. The 30A highway is a 25-mile stretch of road between the two major cities, and along the way, you’ll find countless small beach communities with unique vibes and amenities—many of which you can also reach by a bike.
Orange Beach, AL
The most well-known beach towns in Alabama are the sister cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. A short 15-minute drive separates them, with Gulf Shores State Park serving as the divider between the two. Gulf Shores might have the more renowned beaches, but the city of Orange Beach has more vibrant shops and restaurants that earned the town its spot on this list. When visiting, make sure to check out the entertainment district, known as the Wharf, if you’re looking for a night out on the town.
Sanibel Island, FL
Located just outside Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is the jewel of southwestern Florida; the area is well-known for its preserved charm and wildlife. Since the 1970s, locals have made a point to preserve the town’s character, going so far as to ban fast-food chains. Today, there are only a Dairy Queen and a Subway, both of which were there before.
However, these conservation efforts weren’t just about protecting local small businesses from outside competitors—they’ve also set aside half the island as a wildlife refuge. There’s also still a ban on high-rises within developed areas to keep the small-town charm intact. This small beach town is as beautiful and unique as its 100-year-old landmark lighthouse.
South Padre Island, TX
South Padre Island has been the premier beach destination for Texans for generations. In South Padre, you can get a home along the beach, near the historic downtown, or along the Laguna Madre if you’re looking for a backyard boat dock. Laguna Madre is a hidden wonder of North America, being one of six hypersaline (saltier than the ocean) lagoons in the world.
South Padre has traditionally been one of the most popular beach destinations for collegiate spring breakers; however, the city’s rise in affluent vacationers has slowly caused the island’s entertainment offerings change to reflect a more family-friendly atmosphere.
After familiarizing yourself with some of the best beach towns on the Gulf of Mexico, which one would you like to visit soon?