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Top 5 Gulf Coast Beaches

Summer in the US is the time where most families head to the beach. These are my picks for the 2008 beach season. This list is based on personal experience, family friendly offerings, sand quality, and overall good times. Feel free to comment on the destinations included or add your own picks for Gulf Coast beach destinations.

5. Galveston Island, TX

Galveston is on the list because it is home to Moody Gardens and a new Schlitterbahn Waterpark. The boardwalk along the beach is a great place for families who like walking along the beach without getting all the sand in your shoes. Also, there is a lot of pirate history, with Galveston Island being home to Campeche, a settlement once inhabited by Jean Laffite and his crew.

4. Gulf Shores, AL and Orange Beach

courtesy Alabama Gulf Coast CVBThese two are really separate, but when many people around where I live say they are going to Gulf Shores, they could be going to Orange Beach instead. The two are side by side and offer shopping for Mamas at nearby Foley, an abundance of golf courses for the dads, and so many family friendly activities. The beaches are really nice and clean with many restaurants overlooking the Gulf. I spend time there one summer with my family when the kids were very small. We were able to find an affordable 2 bedroom condo on the beach through Brett Robinson Rentals. Be careful though, as the Gulf Shores area has become a bit pricey.

3. Panama City Beach, FL

I know what you are thinking, isn’t this a Spring Break destination? Yes, it used to be and I almost fondly remember a high school trip there where we stayed at The Chateau. You remember that old place don’t you? We used to call it the S—hole. Anyways, I returned one summer with family in tow. It has definitely changed to a family friendly destination. Beware of the evening traffic along The Strip. It is perfect if you are a family with teenagers, as many activities include parasailing and those bungie drop things. If you have younger children, there are plenty of go-cart tracks and waterslides.

2. Destin, FL

Destin, Sandestin, and the northwest coast of Florida offer some of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen. This place has the shopping, the golf, the activities, and even the spas. One thing that sets it above other beaches is the relaxation factor. Be sure though that when you book your lodging, make sure it is ON the beach, not near the beach. Many condos here are located across the highway from the beach. This isn’t the best when you have little ones. Destin does offer some fantastic seafood. I remember many childhood summers at the buffet! The sand here is so fine, it actually barks when you walk.

1. The Florida Keys

image courtesy Monroe County TourismThe Florida Keys is one of those places in the US that makes you feel as if you are on a tropical island somewhere. The Keys offers a variety of atmospheres, from Key West, which is a beach version of The French Quarter, to Islamorada, which is laid back and slow. If you don’t have the money to actually stay at the legendary Little Palm Island, you can still visit this hideaway for lunch. The same goes for Sunset Key. There are so many Keys to choose from with a variety of activities for families of all backgrounds.

Families can swim with the dolphins, visit a butterfly museum, learn about pirates at an interactive attraction, and see how turtles are taken care of at The Turtle Hospital. Families can’t go wrong when visiting The Keys.

So these are a few of the many favorite family travel beach destinations along the US Gulf Coast. Remember that a vacation is a time for travel, relationship renewal, and most importantly, fun. Be spontaneous and make the most of your time together this summer.

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  1. Is there a place in/near Gulf Shores AL where my kids could swim with Dolphins?

  2. I think the Sarasota/Anna Maria Island area should certainly be added to the list…we live in the ATL area and travel to Sarasota almost every other month–it’s beautiful, there is a tremendous amount of activities to participate in, in addition to beaching, boating, snorkeling, etc…

  3. Hello all Mamas! I just joined your post because my lifelong best friends and I all are turning the BIG 4-0 really soon. My b-day is Xmas Eve and my BFF’S turn 40 in Feb and Mar.
    We are looking for some kind of crazy little girlie-getaway and need some help. We are on a budget of about 1000.00. We live near Harrisburg,Pa and we are all MAMA’S who are in need of some FUN! We are hoping some of you can help us come up with some ideas. We would like to get out of here but are not opposed to renting a suite or a social hall. Anyone have theme ideas? We are all a little on the wild side and like murder mysteries, ghost hunting, casinos and dancing. Hope you can help. This post is part of the TravelingMamas.com Tripapalooza Contest. Thank you, Natalie

  4. I’ve been in Gulf Shores and stayed in Gulf Front Resort. Great location…right on the beach. Close to shopping, lots of places to eat. ( I recommend Docs…yummy food and good service)
    there are capret stains and the elevator is a little slower, but truely in the scheme of life…thats not a big deal. It is a older hotel.
    We stayed in a suite (beautiful room & it was clean and fabulous view)
    breakfast was ok
    only irration…asked for a late check out (last day with husband before being deployed…) night guy said 12:00, but I could double check with the morning person (happened to the manager) and could possibly stay in until 1.
    When i asked, he abruptly and honestly rudely said….we dont do late check outs. (not Im sorry we arent able to do that…just “we dont do late check outs)
    so we left at 12 because I was already told…..

  5. This is a good list, except that it says top 5 “beaches”. Key West doesn’t really have any beaches. I was born there and also have lived in Destin for 8 years. Key West is amazing for scuba, swimming, key lime pie, and cuban food. Destin, Panama City, and the rest along the panhandle are great for *beaches* along with seafood and visitor offerings.

  6. Key West does have a few beaches at some of the resorts, and paired with the overall destination, they are pretty amazing, which puts them on our beach list.

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  8. I’ve always had a good time traveling in Florida and yes their beaches are some of the best (next to Cali that is!). White sand and warm water, you couldn’t ask for a better scenario. For matters of the wallet and having a great beach nearby-the Palm Bay Hotel in Palm Bay is an excellent choice. I was lucky enough to take my family there and spend some time and we had a wonderful trip!

  9. Yes, yes, and yes! Great list and your number 1 is right on the money- the Florida Keys are the best beaches when it comes to Gulf beaches. Some of the best food and bars I have ever been so besides some out of country places. I was actually just in Florida and though I wasn’t on vacation, it was an awesome time. I had a huge work conference in Palm Bay at the Palm Bay Hotel (www.palmbay-hotel.com). It was actually nice and fit the event perfectly, affordable as well to stay there.

  10. South padre island should be on that list. Schlitterbahn, dolphin tours and deep sea fishing. Beautiful beaches. Our family loves to travel there. Don’t go during spring break. Lots of condos and motels on the beach.

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