The ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida

  • Post last modified:March 12, 2023
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The ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida shows you a coast rich in beauty. From a wild Padre Island to the quirky Key West, you find gem after gem on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary. If you like stunning beaches, incredible nature and towns with character, the road trip along the Gulf Coast is for you.

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Gulf Coast road trip route

Highlights on the Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida are listed below. For even more great Gulf Coast road trip destinations, you also find additional stops along the way.

  • Total distance: 1,981 mi / 3,188 km
  • Total driving time: 38 h

Why take the Gulf Coast road trip?

It’s hard to imagine a better road trip for the beach bum than the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip. As you drive from Texas to Florida, you find more pretty beach towns than you can count.

From the golden beaches of South Padre Island to the white South Florida beaches it’s one of the most mouth-watering road trips in the US to take.

In particular you find some of the whitest and most famous beaches in Florida. Pensacola Beach, Clearwater Beach and Sanibel Island are just a few of Florida’s many Gulf Coast beach gems.

But the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip is not solely about beaches. It’s also about the fun towns and cities that you find along the way.

New Orleans is one such unique Gulf Coast city as you drive from Texas to Florida. The Louisiana city, appropriately known as the Big Easy, offers both great sightseeing and eye-catching drinks.

If you prefer a shorter Gulf Coast road trip, the Orlando to Florida Keys drive also follows the lovely coastline but starts in the theme park capital.

1. South Padre Island, TX – The ultimate Gulf Coast road trip starting point

On the southern tip of Texas the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip adventure begins. South Padre Island is both an island and the southernmost town along the extensive Texas Gulf Coast.

You can of course begin the Gulf of Mexico road trip at any other destination along the way from Texas to Florida. However, if you want to see every mile of the Gulf Coast you need to include South Padre Island on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary.

South Padre Island is also a very likable destination to explore. When you visit, you notice that the island is much more than just a popular spring break party hub. The southernmost Gulf Coast destination in Texas is a great place for anyone who likes beaches and outdoor activities.

Above all the main attraction on South Padre Island to enjoy is its beach. With wide dunes and inviting blue Texas water it’s easy to find peace on the island. As South Padre Island is so big, it’s also always possible to get away from the crowds.

To further appreciate the stunning coastal South Texas environment a good idea is to walk the popular South Padre Island boardwalks. Laguna Madre Nature Trail is perfect for a short walk, while the adjacent South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center has a longer boardwalk and offers a more complete experience.

Many birds make their crucial first landfall on South Padre Island, and the area is truly a paradise for bird watchers. But as you walk the boardwalks, you on top of a wide range of birds also have the chance to spot alligators and tortoises. A visit is both the perfect introduction to the coastal South Texas area and a beautiful way to kick off the Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida.

Empty boardwalk on South Padre Island, Tx
South Padre Island boardwalk, TX.

Route info: Padre Island is Texas’ longest barrier island, and it stretches out all the way from South Padre Island in the south to Corpus Christi in the north. But as there is no road that takes you from south to north on the island, you need to drive on the mainland to get to the next stop on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary.

Texas beach watch sign on North Padre Island

2. Corpus Christi, TX – City fun meets North Padre Island as you road trip from Texas to Florida

  • Driving distance: 175 mi / 282 km
  • Driving time: 3 h

When you reach Corpus Christi, you reach a Gulf Coast city that offers some great Texas attractions. Next to each other in the North Beach area you find the city’s historic military vessel and an appealing aquarium. It couldn’t be more convenient to tick them both off the Gulf Coast bucket list.

The USS Lexington Museum on the Bay is nothing less than an iconic experience. To step aboard the long serving but nowadays retired aircraft carrier USS Lexington, also called the Blue Ghost, is thrilling and educational. The huge floating museum is in immaculate condition and teaches a good history lesson as you take the Gulf Coast road trip.

Literally a stone’s throw away Texas State Aquarium is another popular attraction to include on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary. The aquarium works to build a brighter future for the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and beyond. Its exhibits and fascinating creatures are enjoyable for animal lovers of all ages.

But a Corpus Christi visit is also about exploring the wild Texas coastline. Across the causeway to North Padre Island you find the always peaceful Padre Island National Seashore. The park protects 66 miles (106 km) of wonderful coastline with an incredibly spacious beach and ideal conditions for wildlife viewing. It’s an exceptional stop to further grasp the vastness and beauty of the Texas Gulf Coast.

Bird on sand dunes in Padre Island National Seashore, TX
The wild Padre Island National Seashore.

3. Mustang Island, TX – Changing the time zone to island time on the Gulf Coast journey

  • Driving distance: 29 mi / 47 km
  • Driving time: 0.5 h

After exploring Corpus Christi and North Padre Island the Gulf Coast journey continues further north. Roughly only 30 minutes from Downtown Corpus Christi and next to North Padre Island you find Mustang Island.

Mustang Island has 18 miles (29 km) of shoreline and wide sandy beaches to enjoy. Above all it’s the perfect Texas destination to unwind as you road trip the Gulf Coast.

At the northern end of Mustang Island you find the island’s town, Port Aransas. Also known as “Port A” it’s a classic beach town with a character. In the downtown area of Port Aransas you have everything you need for a pleasant vacation, including the beach, restaurants and shops, within walking distance.

Quiet beach in Port Aransas
Crashing waves on Port Aransas Beach, TX.

All over Mustang Island you find an appreciated slow pace. The locals call it that you’re on island time when you visit Mustang Island. But the further south and away from the liveliness in Port A you go, the more secluded the setting gets.

The seclusion culminates as you reach the island’s Mustang Island State Park. There you in an untouched state park environment find all the room you need to recharge your batteries before you continue the ultimate road trip along the Mexican Gulf.

Serene beach on Mustang Island, TX
Island time on Mustang Island, TX.

Additional stop: Rockport is an idyllic bayside town that’s a pretty addition to the Gulf Coast road trip. Its Rockport Beach is shorter than many other beaches on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary but still appreciated. In addition you in the area also find both the smaller Goose Island State Park and the more extensive Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Both are popular spots for wildlife viewing.

Cabana on Rockport Beach, TX
The small but popular Rockport Beach, TX.

4. Galveston, TX – A Gulf Coast road trip destination brimming with history

  • Driving distance: 220 mi / 354 km
  • Driving time: 4.5 h

Galveston can brag about mile after mile of sandy Gulf Coast beaches to relax on. But that’s just the start of everything that the coastal town brimming with history has to offer to the road trip along the Gulf Coast.

The historic Strand District, also just known as the Strand, is the heart of the town and island. Facing Galveston Bay the district with many historic buildings is recognized as a national historic landmark. In the outstanding setting you find shops, restaurants, nightlife and much more to enjoy.

Not only in and around the Strand but throughout Galveston there is a rich selection of history and museums to explore. The 1892 Bishop’s Palace is an old Galveston mansion that looks a lot like a castle from the outside. The inside is full of architectural treasures and a must for history buffs to enjoy on the Gulf of Mexico road trip.

On the gulf side of Galveston the historic Galveston Seawall since long protects the town from large waves. Built after the Galveston hurricane in 1900 the seawall is nowadays closely associated with the city. With the sea by your side the seawall is an excellent stretch to walk, run or bike as you visit the historic Galveston.

Shoreline and amusement pier in Galveston, TX
The sun rises over the pier in Galveston, TX.

Additional stop: Houston is the largest city in the Gulf Coast region and a must stop to include on the Texas to Florida itinerary if you want some big city fun. Above all the city is home to the renowned Houston Space Center where you get to learn about space and space travel.

5. New Orleans, LA – The Gulf Coast road trip leaves any remaining tensions behind

  • Driving distance: 382 mi / 615 km
  • Driving time: 6 h

If you this deep into the road trip from Texas to Florida still feel any tension, it’s time to finally shake it off. New Orleans, also known as the Big Easy, values the easy going and appreciates all the temptations in life.

In the renowned French Quarter you find a cocktail of historic French, Spanish, Creole and American architecture to admire. The district’s homes with signature iron balconies truly showcase the city’s multicultural heritage. As you find your way through the historic quarter, you also notice the charming touch with French on the street signs.

The number one street in New Orleans that visitors head to when they want to let loose is the famous Bourbon Street. It’s nothing less than a legendary spot for a cold drink on the Gulf Coast road trip. The neon green Hand Grenade is a popular New Orleans cocktail, but there are less shiny beverages to try too.

Just a few streets away from Bourbon Street the timeless Mississippi River flows. North America’s second largest river is muddy, but you didn’t come to New Orleans to swim it anyway. To stroll along the riverfront is energizing, or you can take a steamboat cruise to experience the city from the river.

The French Quarter in New Orleans, LA
The French Quarter in New Orleans, LA.

Additional stop: Coastal Mississippi between Louisiana and Alabama is a destination off the beaten path. The Mississippi Gulf Coast, including Gulfport and Biloxi, is famous for its casino scene and delicious seafood offerings. But on the Mississippi Sound you don’t find beaches that can compare to beaches further east on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary.

Additional stop: On the way to Fairhope you drive through the Alabama city Mobile. In Mobile you find interesting museums, such as Mobile Carnival Museum and the USS Alabama. Either visit Mobile attractions on the way from New Orleans, or take a day trip from the nearby Fairhope.

6. Fairhope, AL – A charming southern small town on Mobile Bay

  • Driving distance: 161 mi / 259 km
  • Driving time: 2.5 h

It’s hard to find a place along the Gulf Coast that’s more pleasant than Fairhope in Alabama. Often mentioned as one of the best small towns in the South you can’t miss its charm when you visit on the Texas to Florida Gulf Coast road trip.

Located a short distance from the much bigger Mobile the simple things in life are appreciated in Fairhope. Among moss-covered oak trees and on streets surrounded by colorful flowers it’s easy to enjoy yourself.

Downtown Fairhope is the hub of activity in the town. There, on Fairhope Avenue, you find an eclectic mix of shops, cafes and restaurants. As you stroll the street, you can touch the warm southern hospitality.

At the end of Fairhope Avenue, a medium walk or a short drive from the downtown area, the landmark Fairhope Pier extends out into Mobile Bay. To watch a sunset from the pier, or anywhere else along Mobile Bay, is the perfect end to a day on the Gulf of Mexico journey.

Sunset over Mobile Bay in Fairhope, AL
Sunset over Mobile Bay, AL.

7. Pensacola Beach, FL – Florida welcomes visitors with endless white beaches

  • Driving distance: 67 mi / 108 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

Not far from the Alabama border Santa Rosa Island welcomes visitors to enjoy its endless white dunes. On the dreamy island you really feel that you have arrived in Florida on the tour of the Gulf Coast.

Pensacola Beach is the island’s most well-known community. The pristine Gulf Coast destination has everything you need for a beach getaway including hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and of course lovely beaches.

On the popular Casino Beach the 1,471 feet (448 m) long Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier is located. The pier stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico and offers spectacular views over the ocean and the beach.

Road and white sand dunes on Santa Rosa Island
Endless white dunes on Santa Rosa Island, FL.

Although Casino Beach can be rather busy it’s never hard to find a private spot on the spacious Santa Rosa Island. If you want to escape the crowds just head to beaches either further east or west on the island.

Between Pensacola Beach and the neighboring community Navarre Beach the untouched beaches in Gulf Islands National Seashore are spectacular. Everywhere your eyes go you find white beaches and the inviting Mexican Gulf.

In the other direction, on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, the historic Fort Pickens magnificently stands. It was completed in 1834, and to explore the fort is a highlight on the Gulf Coast itinerary. To no surprise there are also white beaches to enjoy in the far west of Santa Rosa Island.

Where to stay

There are places to stay in Pensacola Beach at Casino Beach if you want to have most things to do near. For more solitude it’s wise to stay either east or west of the Casino Beach area.

Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach,FL
Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach, FL.

Additional stop: When you follow the Gulf Coast from Pensacola Beach to St. George Island, the route goes through Panama City Beach. The sublime Northwest Florida destination is a great addition to the Gulf Coast itinerary if you crave for some more time on the beach.

8. St. George Island, FL – The Gulf Coast road trip reaches the Forgotten Coast

  • Driving distance: 171 mi / 275 km
  • Driving time: 4 h

As you reach St. George Island, you find a Northwest Florida destination that’s different than the more famous Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach. On the so called Forgotten Coast the tranquil island doesn’t offer the liveliness that you find elsewhere.

There are no high rises on St. George Island, and you don’t find the great selection of hotels, places to dine and watering holes that other Florida destinations have. But that’s the whole charm with the serene Florida island.

St. George Island is a splendid destination if you want some quiet time before the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary takes you down to South Florida. With its natural appearance still intact and an in general slower pace the island offers the perfect opportunity to unwind.

On St. George Island uncomplicated things to do are the most appreciated ways to spend a day. To hit the beach, hike in St. George Island State Park or visit the iconic St. George Island Lighthouse are highly valued island activities.

With the island’s undeniable beauty it’s hard to imagine that such a gem ever could be forgotten. What St. George offers to the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary is humble but still alluring.

White lighthouse across a bridge on St. George Island, FL
St. George Island Lighthouse, FL.

9. Clearwater Beach, FL – The Texas to Florida road trip takes a turn down south

  • Driving distance: 310 mi / 499 km
  • Driving time: 6 h

After St. George Island the Texas to Florida road trip takes a real turn as it follows the Gulf Coast down south. There the state of Florida continues to spoil you with beautiful beaches.

Clearwater Beach is an all-round beach destination that has all you need for a good time. A beautiful beach, the entertainment you crave for and a convenient location for day trips.

The 2.5 miles (4 km) long shoreline is a true joy to enjoy as you visit on the Texas to Florida road trip. It’s huge, sugar-white and simply gorgeous.

But Clearwater Beach is an active beach town that offers more than just a beautiful beach to the Gulf Coast itinerary. The southern part of town is lively with places to grab a bite, bars and shops.

As you find everything you need in Clearwater Beach, you can keep your car parked during your stay. However, for a change of scenery there’s also much more to explore in the immediate surroundings.

Caladesi Island to the north is an untouched island where it’s easy to unwind. A stone’s throw to the south Sand Key Park is another pristine spot for quiet Gulf Coast days in the sun. To escape the Clearwater crowds couldn’t be any easier.

Where to stay

From Clearwater Beach hotels on the southern part of the island you have most restaurants and attractions within walking distance. North Clearwater Beach and Sand Key Park are excellent alternatives if you prefer a quieter Gulf Coast road trip.

Clearwater Beach North sun and chairs on the sand
Clearwater Beach, FL.

Additional stop: Between Clearwater Beach and Sanibel Island there are many more pretty destinations to add to the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary. Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key and Gasparilla Island are a few of the many stunning Florida Islands in the region.

10. Sanibel Island, FL – A laid-back Southwest Florida bubble on the Gulf Coast drive

  • Driving distance: 165 mi / 266 km
  • Driving time: 3.5 h

Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida is a real contrast to Clearwater Beach. Instead of a lively beach scene you go back to the simple things on the Gulf Coast drive when you cross the Sanibel Causeway from the mainland.

Just like on the previously visited St. George Island life on Sanibel is uncomplicated. No buildings are permitted to be taller than the tallest palm tree, and the nature on the island is well preserved.

In particular J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a true natural treasure to explore as you visit on the Texas to Florida road trip. In the refuge you find an untouched Florida environment and superb wildlife viewing opportunities. Most of all the refuge is a haven for tropical birds of different sizes and colors.

After an exciting wildlife adventure there are numerous beaches to enjoy on the island too. Sanibel Lighthouse Beach is a popular and scenic spot with a small pier, but the further west you go the smaller the crowds get.

If you travel all the 11 miles (18 km) across the island to the west, you reach Blind Pass Bridge. The bridge takes you to the neighboring Captiva Island where the laid-back Southwest Florida island life continues.

Where to stay

All over Sanibel Island you find a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. But in particular Sanibel Island hotels in the Mid Island area are very strategically located for exploring the island.

Shells on Sanibel Island, FL.

Additional stop: Naples is located on the southwestern edge of Florida. The pretty Florida city is known for its white beaches and upscale vibe. It’s one of the US cities with most millionaires per capita, and when visiting on the Gulf Coast road trip it’s easy to see why.

11. Everglades, FL – The beaches give way for wild and untamed nature

  • Driving distance: 92 mi / 148 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

After Naples the pristine beaches give way for wild and untamed nature. Finally the Texas to Florida road trip reaches its climax for nature lovers.

In the southern portion of the Florida peninsula nature still rules. Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of unique South Florida wilderness.

Most famously the area is home to the iconic American alligators. In addition other Everglades reptiles are crocodiles, turtles, lizards and snakes.

But that’s just the start when it comes to wildlife viewing. On top of reptiles a wide range of mammals and birds also thrive in the immense wetland.

To make acquaintance to the Everglades locals as you visit on the Gulf Coast road trip, a good idea is to take an airboat tour. Numerous airboat companies take visitors deep into the exciting depths of the huge wetland.

No matter if you’re young or old, it’s an extraordinary experience to view tropical animals in their vast and timeless habitat. Everglades wildlife viewing is truly a memory for life to bring with you home from the Texas to Florida road trip.

Where to stay

Everglades City is the perfect location with hotels near Everglades National Park. The small Florida town is situated on the western border of the huge park. There you find both the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and airboat companies.

Alligator swimming in the water in Everglades National Park, FL
Wildlife viewing on the Gulf Coast road trip.

Additional stops: Between Everglades and Key West there are many fun additional road trip stops to make. The ultimate Miami to Key West road trip itinerary takes you from key to key on the Overseas Highway all the way until the road ends.

The Overseas Highway to Key West.

12. Key West – The end of the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida

  • Driving distance: 209 mi / 336 km
  • Driving time: 4.5 h

When you reach Key West, you have traveled all the way from the southern tip of Texas to the southernmost point of Florida. After an extensive Gulf Coast road trip Key West is an excellent place to round off the journey.

The southernmost point of Florida is also the southernmost point of the continental United States. So no matter when you take the Gulf Coast drive, it’s likely that you will end the trip with some nice and warm days.

In the depth of winter the daily average maximum temperature is 75°F (24°C) in Key West. Even at night the temperature on average in January doesn’t go down below 65°F (18°C) on the island.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Key West, FL.

Still Key West has much more to offer to the Texas to Florida road trip itinerary than pleasant weather. Above all it’s an island where something fun always is going on.

In Old Town you find tasty restaurants and all the watering holes you could ask for. The area is also home to many popular island attractions including the Hemingway House, Key West Lighthouse and Butterfly Garden.

But the conventional way to end a day in Key West is to gather with other visitors on Mallory Square. There the traditional sunset celebration takes place each evening.

As you admire the golden Mallory sunset your head points out over the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the perfect spot to end the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida that started across the ocean.

Where to stay

The Old Town area is the best place to stay in Key West for access to attractions. In the historic district you have all you need for a good time within walking distance.

Sunset cruise in Key West.
Sunset in Key West.

Gulf Coast itineraries with days

For the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida it’s recommended to have 3 weeks or more. If you have less time you can do a pacier road trip or break up the Gulf Coast itinerary and focus on your favorite parts.

Ultimate Gulf Coast itinerary (3 weeks)

  • Day 1-3: South Padre Island
  • Day 3-4: Corpus Christi
  • Day 4-6: Mustang Island
  • Day 6-8: Galveston
  • Day 8-10: New Orleans
  • Day 10-11: Fairhope
  • Day 11-13: Pensacola Beach
  • Day 13-14: St. George Island
  • Day 14-16: Clearwater Beach
  • Day 16-18: Sanibel Island
  • Day 18-19: Everglades
  • Day 19-21: Key West

Houston to the Florida Panhandle (1 week)

  • Day 1-2: Houston
  • Day 2-4: New Orleans
  • Day 4-5: Fairhope
  • Day 5-7: Pensacola Beach
White sand and a red lifeguard tower
The perfect Gulf Coast road trip itinerary.

Final words about the Gulf Coast road trip

Stretching from South Padre Island, where the USA and Mexico meet, to Key West, the end of the continental US — this Gulf Coast road trip is loaded with character. Along the way, the awe-inspiring stops are many.

While Texas’ Gulf Coast doesn’t get as much attention as the Florida counterpart, each leg offers its own unmistakable charm. Which will be your favorite chapter when discovering the Gulf Coast?

Road trip along the Gulf Coast FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Gulf Coast road trip.

How long does it take to drive the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip?

The ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida is 1,981 miles (3,188 km) long. Driving it takes about 38 hours, not including any stops along the way.

How many hours is Texas from Florida?

In contrast to the ultimate Texas to Florida road trip, you can also take a much shorter Texas to Florida drive. From Houston to Pensacola Beach, without detours, it’s 533 miles (858 km) and roughly 8 hours.

Which states do you pass from Texas to Florida?

The Texas to Florida Gulf Coast road trip includes 5 states. After Texas you in order pass Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama before you arrive in Florida.

Where should I stop on a road trip from Texas to Florida?

The main stops included on the ultimate Texas to Florida road trip are South Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Mustang Island, Galveston, New Orleans, Pensacola Beach, St. George Island, Clearwater Beach, Sanibel Island, Everglades and Key West. You also find several appreciated additional Gulf Coast road trip destinations along the way.

What is there to do on a road trip from Texas to Florida?

From the golden beaches of Texas to the white South Florida beaches a road trip from Texas to Florida is just packed with fun things to do. Along the coastline you find not only beautiful nature, but also towns and cities with top US attractions.

How many days do I need to take the Texas to Florida road trip?

For the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida it’s recommended to have 3 weeks or more. But if you have less time, you can take a pacier road trip or break the Gulf Coast itinerary up to focus on your favorite parts.

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