Bucket List: Best Beaches in the South

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America has some of the best beaches in the world. Even folks who dwell outside of the country can tell you about Malibu, Palm Beach, and the Hamptons. But fewer people know about the hidden treasures in the deep South. The Gulf of Mexico may get a lot of press for oil spills and hurricanes, but you don’t have to look too hard to find a secluded paradise that rivals many of the big name tourist spots. Check out some of our top picks below.

South Padre Island, Texas

Situated on the coastal tip of Texas, the Island is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre Boy. Crystal blue waters and white sand beaches will make you forget you’re in Texas. Well, until you try some of the local Mexican food and go for a horseback ride along the beach. Windsurfing, kiteboarding and parasailing are available for the adventurous. Or you could just sit back and watch the dolphins while being served tropical drinks at one of the many resorts.

Check out: South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Walk the boardwalks and observe the birds, butterflies, and natural wildlife of coastal South Texas. Or take cover in one of the bird blinds for an authentic birdwatching experience. They have a gift shop for souvenirs and even a web cam on their website so you can keep birding after you get home.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Just 21 miles from Charleston, SC, Kiawah Island boasts the motto “the happiest seaside town in America.” You’ll find miles of pristine beaches, beautiful woodlands, and five award-winning golf courses. Nearby resorts offer even more options for the sports enthusiast with tennis courts, basketball and soccer many of which include activities for the kids.

Check out: Kiawah Resort – Vacation villas feature cottages ranging from 1 to 4 bedrooms with a homey feel. You can choose to stay in villas close to the action and shopping, or more secluded locations near Night Heron Park.

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is only 27 miles long and 3 miles wide, but there’s a Texas-sized helping of activities for everyone. Stewart Beach offers beach volleyball tournaments and sandcastle competitions throughout the summer. The Galveston Historic Homes Tour gives visitors an up-close look at historic residences that have been restored from hurricanes past. And don’t forget Schlitterbahn – the island’s water park is fun for the whole family. And no worries if you visit during the cooler months, they transform part of the park into an indoor experience.

Check out: Gaido’s. No trip to Galveston is complete without a trip to the famous seafood restaurant. They shuck oysters, peel shrimp, and fillet the fresh fish by hand just as they have done since the restaurant opened in 1911.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

With over 32 miles of white quartz sand beaches, this is a hidden jewel of the Gulf Coast. Since it’s not well-known as a beach destination, rental rates are much more affordable than in the nearby Florida Panhandle. Alabama’s Gulf Coast is home to one of the largest charter fishing fleets, or there are over 2,448 feet of pier available if you prefer to fish closer to the shore. Diving enthusiasts can explore Alabama’s first purpose-sunken shipwreck, the LuLu.

Check out: The Original Romar House Bed and Breakfast Inn . This historic home was built in 1924 and offers complimentary wine and cheese, as well as a full Southern breakfast served poolside every morning.

Siesta Key, Florida

Across the bay from Sarasota, Siesta Key is a popular destination for Yankees looking to replace white snow with white sand. The Siesta Public Beach was recognized as the #1 beach in the United States by renowned beach critic “Dr. Beach.” They offer playgrounds, tennis, volleyball and picnic areas abound. For a more secluded experience, Crescent Beach offers a scenic and tranquil environment. Available accommodations range from beachy cottages to luxurious condos. Whatever you’re looking for in a beach vacation, Siesta Key’s got it.

Check out: Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar. Key West style dining with American and Caribbean classics. Daiquiri Deck offers casual dining for lunch, dinner and late night. And true to their name, their menu boasts 25 different daiquiri flavors.