Ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida

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Embark on a Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida to savor a coastal region like no other. From a wild Padre Island, a stone’s throw from Mexico, to the quirky Key West, closer to Cuba than Miami, picking just one favorite stop is an overwhelming task. If you like stunning beaches, incredible nature and towns with character, this unbeatable drive along the Gulf Coast is for you.

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  • 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 journey for the beach bum than this 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.

Texas beach watch sign on North Padre Island
Embark on a stunning Gulf Coast road trip.

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

1. South Padre Island, TX

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 this 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 itinerary.

Because South Padre Island is a very likable destination, that’s a decision easy to motivate.

When you visit Padre Island, you notice that the island is much more than the popular spring break party hub it has become known as. Texas’ southernmost Gulf Coast destination is a great place for anyone who likes beaches and the outdoors.

Above all, the main attraction on South Padre Island 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 always possible to get away from the crowds.

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

Many birds migrating across the Mexican Gulf make their crucial first landfall on South Padre Island, creating a paradise for birdwatchers. But as you wander the South Padre Island boardwalks, you on top of a wide range of feathered wildlife also have the chance to spot alligators and tortoises — this is a beautiful introduction to the coastal South Texas area and a superb way to kick off the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida.

Empty boardwalk on South Padre Island, TX
Explore the South Padre Island boardwalks.

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 taking you directly from its south to its north, you need to drive on the mainland to get to the next stop on the Gulf Coast road trip itinerary.

2. Corpus Christi, TX

  • 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 your Gulf Coast bucket list.

The USS Lexington Museum, on the bay of Corpus Christi, is nothing less than an iconic experience. Stepping aboard the long serving but nowadays retired aircraft carrier of USS Lexington, nicknamed the Blue Ghost, is thrilling and educational. The huge floating museum is in immaculate condition and teaches a good history lesson.

Literally a stone’s throw away, Texas State Aquarium is another popular attraction for 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 JFK causeway, on North Padre Island, you find the always peaceful Padre Island National Seashore. The park protects 66 miles (106 km) of wonderful coastline, boasting 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 gazing out across sand dunes in Padre Island National Seashore
The wild Padre Island National Seashore.

3. Mustang Island, TX

  • 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. 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 full of 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.

Waves lapping 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.

The further south and away from the liveliness in Port A you go, the more secluded the setting gets until you reach 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 shoreline on Mustang Island, TX
Change to 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 itinerary but still appreciated. In addition, you in the area also find the smaller Goose Island State Park and more extensive Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which both are popular spots for wildlife viewing.

Row of empty cabanas on Rockport Beach, TX
The small but popular Rockport Beach, TX.

4. Galveston, TX

  • 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 this coastal town brimming with history has to offer to the road trip along the Gulf Coast.

The historic Strand District, or just The Strand, is the heart of the town and island. Facing Galveston Bay, the historic-building-dotted district is recognized as a national historic landmark. In the outstanding setting, you find great potential for everything from daytime sightseeing and shopping to entertaining nightlife.

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. Its inside is full of architectural treasures and a must for history buffs to explore 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 of 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, during sunrise
The sun rising 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 all about space and space travel.

5. New Orleans, LA

  • 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.

To take it all in, lace up your shoes and walk the heart of New Orleans, guided by street signs in both English and French.

The number one New Orleans street for visitors who want to let loose is 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. Strolling along the riverfront is energizing, or you can take a steamboat cruise to experience the city from the river.

Hotel in the French Quarter in New Orleans, LA
Tour 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 of 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

  • 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, Alabama. Often mentioned as one of the best small towns in the South, you can’t miss its charm when you stop by on the Texas to Florida Gulf Coast road trip.

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

Downtown Fairhope is the town’s hub of activity. Here, on Fairhope Avenue, you find an eclectic mix of shops, cafés and restaurants. As you stroll the street, you can feel that 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. Watching a sunset from the pier, or anywhere else along Mobile Bay, is the perfect end to a day on your Gulf of Mexico journey.

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

7. Pensacola Beach, FL

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

You know that you have arrived in the Sunshine State when all you see is seemingly endless sugar-white sand. Not far from the Alabama border, Santa Rosa Island welcomes visitors to the quintessential Florida.

Pensacola Beach is the island’s most well-known community. The pristine Gulf Coast destination has everything you need for a beach getaway — from dreamy hotels and quirky shops to yummy restaurants and fun bars — 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, offering spectacular views over the ocean and beach.

Bitumen road surrounded by 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 either east or west from the island’s centerpiece pier.

To the east, between Pensacola Beach and the neighboring community Navarre Beach, the untouched beaches in Gulf Islands National Seashore appeal. Here, 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 exploring the fort is a highlight on the Gulf Coast itinerary. To no surprise, white beaches abound in the far west of Santa Rosa Island too.

More info: Where to stay in Pensacola

Passage through Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach, FL
Discover Pensacola Beach’s Fort Pickens.

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 itinerary if you crave for some more time on the beach.

8. St. George Island, FL

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

As you reach St. George Island, you find a Northwest Florida destination much different than the more famous Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach. Embrace the so called Forgotten Coast, a tranquil place without the liveliness found elsewhere.

There are no high rises on St. George Island, and you don’t find the endless selection of hotels and off-the-beach distractions that many other Florida destinations pride themselves for — how incredibly refreshing.

St. George Island is a splendid destination for 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, the uncomplicated things to do are the most appreciated ways to spend a day. Hitting the beach, hiking in St. George Island State Park or visiting the iconic St. George Island Lighthouse are highly valued island activities.

Considering 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

  • 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. In Central and South Florida, more beautiful palm-fringed beaches await.

First out, Clearwater Beach is an all-round beach destination catering to most roadtrippers. Unfold your towel and savor its 2.5 miles (4 km) long shoreline — it’s wide, sugar white and simply gorgeous.

But Clearwater Beach is an active beach town offering more than just a beautiful beach to the Gulf Coast itinerary. The southern part of town (around Pier 60) is lively with plenty of 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 entire stay. However, for a change of scenery, there’s much more to explore in the immediate surroundings.

Directly north of Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island 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 — escaping the Clearwater crowds couldn’t be any easier.

More info: Best Clearwater hotels

Chairs on the sand of North Clearwater Beach
Recline on 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 Island are only a few of the many stunning Florida Islands in the region.

10. Sanibel Island, FL

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

Southwest Florida’s Sanibel Island is a real contrast to Clearwater Beach’s lively beach scene. When you cross Sanibel Causeway, the island’s only mainland connection, you go back to the basics.

Life on Sanibel is uncomplicated. Sure, the island is dotted with resorts, but no buildings are permitted to be taller than the tallest palm tree, and nature is everywhere around you.

In particular, J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge boasts an untouched Florida environment and superb wildlife viewing opportunities; it’s a haven for tropical birds of different sizes and colors.

There are numerous beaches to enjoy on Sanibel 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 its westernmost point, you reach Blind Pass Bridge. It takes you to the neighboring Captiva Island where the laid-back Southwest Florida island life continues.

More info: Sanibel Island accommodation

Stack of shells on beach on Sanibel Island
Look for pretty 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 you visit on the Gulf Coast road trip, it’s easy to see why.

11. Everglades, FL

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

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

Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of unique South Florida wilderness.

Make sure to look where you place your feet; it’s a busy park. Most famously, the area is home to the iconic American alligator; other Everglades reptiles include 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 — lucky visitors may spot the Florida panther.

To take full advantage of the setting, join a guided Everglades airboat tour. Numerous airboat companies happily take visitors deep into the exciting depths of the huge wetland.

Young or old, encountering tropical animals in their vast and timeless habitat is an extraordinary experience. Everglades wildlife viewing is a memory for life to bring with you home from the Texas to Florida road trip.

More info: Where to stay when visiting the Everglades

Alligator swimming in the water in Everglades National Park, FL
View wildlife 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.

Take the Overseas Highway to Key West.

12. Key West

  • 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.

That’s pretty manageable, isn’t it?

View of the water through palm trees in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
The tropical Key West, FL.

Still Key West has much more to offer to the Texas to Florida road trip 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 — in quirky Key West fashion, of course — takes place each evening.

As you admire the golden Mallory sunset, your head points out over the Gulf of Mexico. What a perfect spot to end the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida, which started across the ocean.

Where to stay in Key West

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.

Booking.com
Sunset cruise in Key West.
Celebrate the sunset in Key West.

Gulf Coast itineraries with days

For the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip from Texas to Florida, we recommend setting aside 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 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
Enjoy the perfect Gulf Coast itinerary.

Road trip along the Gulf Coast FAQ

How long is the ultimate Gulf Coast road trip?

This 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 by car.

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 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 for the Texas to Florida road trip?

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

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