Top 10 Beaches in the South
Some of America’s southern beaches rival those of more tropical destinations without the travel and sticker prices that come with going international. In fact, many of America’s coastal locales feature calm, crystal-clear waters, welcoming white sand, and a host of other amenities. (We’ve listed them in alphabetical order. It was hard to pick one over the others, simply because when summer’s here, any beach is a good beach!)
So, if you’re looking for sun, surf and sand sans passport, get ready to point your smartphone maps app to one of our top 10 beaches in the South.
1. Biloxi Beach—Biloxi, Mississippi
Though its waters may be murky, Biloxi Beach is widely known for its wide, typically uncrowded, swaths of pristine white sand. Biloxi Beach is open to the public, with beach chair and umbrella rentals (in-season) and lots of off-street parking. Nearby amenities include bathrooms and assorted restaurants, as well as a variety of food trucks which open for business on weekends.
2. Caladesi Island State Park—Dunedin, Florida
One of Florida’s top beaches can be found in its state park system. Caladesi Island State Park is open to visitors every day from 8 a.m. through sunset and is only accessible via boat. There are a playground and picnic pavilion nearby, as well as restrooms. If you want to do more than swim, sunbathe and hunt for seashells, there are canoes and kayaks available to rent on Caladesi, too.
3. Clearwater Beach—Clearwater Beach, Florida
Clearwater Beach is a hands-down favorite of both Florida residents and visitors alike. Known for its soft sand that never seems to get hot, Clearwater Beach is one of the few beaches on this list staffed by lifeguards. There’s plenty of things to do nearby, including browsing the shops along Pier 60, dining at any number of bars and restaurants, parasailing, jet skiing, dolphin watching and more. Pro tip: The beach along the north side of the pier tends to be less crowded than the south side.
4. Dauphin Island Park and Beach—Dauphin Island, Alabama
Dauphin Island is situated where Mobile Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. The only pet-friendly beach in the area, Dauphin Beach is a great getaway for families looking for low-key fun, with plenty of seashells, as well as sightings of hermit crabs, guitarfish, turtles and more. It features Fort Gaines, a Civil War-era military installation, as well as expansive, inviting Gulf-front beaches with a partial pier and public restrooms and showers.
5. Driftwood Beach—Jekyll Island, Georgia
Located on the north end of Jekyll Island, Driftwood Beach was named for its unique landscape, dotted with upside-down trees and scattered with driftwood. The entire area is hauntingly beautiful and extraordinarily photogenic—and it’s a great place for crabbing and seashell hunting, too.
6. Front Beach—Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Front Beach lies along the waterfront of Ocean Springs, just a short distance from the Biloxi Bay Bridge. This is a little hidden gem of a beach, known mostly to locals. Visitors can relax on Front Beach’s white sand, wade in calm waters and catch dinner from a wooden pier that’s perfect for fishing and crabbing. There’s plenty of public parking, and the Fort Maurepas City Park and Nature Preserve is just across the street, offering restrooms, a playground and a splash pad.
7. Grayton Beach State Park—Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Florida has nearly 1,200 miles of coastline, so there’s plenty of beach for everyone. One of the Sunshine State’s top beaches is located in Grayton Beach State Park, which sits along the Panhandle just northwest of Panama City. Grayton Beach State Park encompasses a lake and miles of hiking trails, but the oceanfront beach—with emerald green waters and pure white beaches—is its star attraction. Admission is just $5 per vehicle, and Grayton is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. until sunset.
8. Gulf Place West—Gulf Shores, Alabama
One of the most popular beaches in Gulf Shores is Gulf Place West, which has volleyball nets, beach attendants and lifeguards from May through October. GPW features three open-air pavilions and a picnic area, along with white sand and even some palm trees! Other amenities include parking, restrooms and showers. Beware the occasional volleyball tournament, which can make parking spots hard to come by.
9. North Beach at Tybee Island—Savannah, Georgia
Known as “Savannah’s Beach,” Tybee Island is just 18 miles away from one of Georgia’s most historic cities. North Beach is the beach to visit if you like fewer crowds. Simply access it by a boardwalk and stake your claim to one of several swings, from which you can watch the ships go by far offshore. Amenities include restrooms, showers and a snack bar, with parking available for just $2 per vehicle.
10. West Ship Island—Biloxi, Mississippi
Ship Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a network of regions protected for their historical and natural resources. The western side of the island features Fort Massachusetts, which you can tour or explore on your own. The beach has more active water than Mississippi’s bayside beaches, and amenities include a snack bar, restrooms and showers. Because the island is about 12 miles offshore, visitors need to take the ferry or a charter boat to get there—another cool, relaxing experience.
BONUS! Rock Island State Park—Rock Island, Tennessee
Although Tennessee is landlocked, it does include several lakes and rivers with beaches. The best of these may be found at Rock Island State Park, located in the northern part of the state, east of Nashville. Besides a small sandy beach, Rock Island also features waterfalls, white water kayaking, hiking, camping, fishing and more.