Stretching more than 350 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, this region of sun, sea, and sand offers the ultimate escape from cities, suburbs, and small towns. Its moderate beaches and waves don’t attract crowds the way Florida’s mighty surf does, but the call of the ocean draws casual beachcombers, salty fishermen, and frolicking families.
Occasionally referred to as the country’s “Third Coast,” the Gulf region offers something for everyone: quiet, natural seashores, crazy Spring Break parties, and world-class museum facilities. The warm ocean water is almost always inviting, though it sometimes approaches an uncomfortable soup-like temperature in the summer and it’s technically responsible for stirring up horrific hurricanes far out at sea.
The constant breeze off the ocean keeps sailors and windsurfers blissfully cruising along the shore and the temperatures down a few degrees (though the humidity is always hair-curling).
All along the Gulf Coast you’ll find anglers of different stripes, from solo artists casting lines off a pier or from the surf’s edge to groups of tourists on chartered deep-sea boats with professional guides. Regardless, the promise of a fresh catch—flounder, trout, bull reds, snapper, and even shark and tuna—is a rewarding prospect and one of the region’s main draws.
Naturalists flock to the area for the abundant birding opportunities. The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail ties together all 300-plus miles of shoreline, from hummingbirds near Galveston  to whooping cranes and tropical species on Padre Island . Two major migratory flyways intersect along the Gulf Coast, allowing birders to potentially capture (on a camera viewfinder) an elusive species on their “must-see” list.
Though it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to abandon the recreational opportunities along the shoreline (perhaps your skin is already too parched), the cool air-conditioning at numerous Gulf Coast museums offers a welcome respite. Galveston’s Moody Gardens  and several Corpus Christi  attractions are world-class facilities for learning about regional history, wildlife, and art. Top your day off with a fresh catch from one of the seaside restaurants for a perfect ending to a Gulf Coast day.
Aside from the festive annual springtime activity in Galveston  (Mardi Gras) and South Padre  (Spring Break), most of the Gulf Coast is a year-round, slow-moving vacationland, where the biggest challenge is determining the day’s activities—swimming, fishing, shell collecting, sunbathing, surfing, boating, or sand-castle building. Visitors responding to the call of the sea find the region to be as low-key as the gulf’s lightly lapping waves.