Here’s where to plan your next beach vacation on the Gulf Coast.
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There are five states lucky enough to have a coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, often referred to as the Gulf Coast. These states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida — bring in millions of travelers each summer with promises of emerald waters and white-sand beaches. The problem? With hundreds of miles of picture-perfect shoreline, how does one choose exactly where to go to soak up some sun?

Virgin Airlines
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We've made narrowing down your decision much easier. Below are seven of the best Gulf Coast beaches where you can park your blanket and get some much-needed R&R.

Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida

Boardwalk, Henderson State Park, Destin, Florida, USA
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Located near the idyllic Florida beach destination of Destin, Henderson Beach State Park has a protected natural beach lined with 30-foot white sand dunes. The soft, white sand makes lazing around comfy and cozy, but you won't want to miss taking a dip in the warm waters or getting out of the sun on a hike or bike ride along the park's trails. Fishing is also a popular pastime in Destin — so popular, in fact, that it dubbed itself the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village."

Bay St. Louis Beach, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

A family walks on the beach in Bay St. Louis, Miss
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Biloxi gets all the press, but if you have your heart set on a clean, pristine stretch of sand and clear waters, head to Bay St. Louis. The seaside city takes a lot of pride in the cleanliness of its stretch of the Gulf Coast, providing visitors with a welcoming, relaxing experience. Once you've had your fill of white sand, make your way through the galleries and antique stores downtown, or swing by a restaurant and order the catch of the day (the area is known for its excellent fishing).

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas

Sand dunes at Padre Island's North Beach
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There's a little something for everyone on this island, which is known for being the "longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world." In addition to lounging on pristine beaches, you can get out on the water via kayak, try windsurfing, or walk along the wide shoreline. Those looking for more can swing by the visitor center to see if there's a sea turtle hatchling release taking place (usually mid-June through August).

Siesta Key Beach, Siesta Key, Florida

Lifeguard stands at Siesta Key Beach, Florida
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Siesta Key's namesake beach lives up to the hype — the long stretch entices thousands of visitors with its white quartz sand and warm, shallow waters. Plus, the area's year-round mild weather means that your beach vacation doesn't necessarily have to happen in the summer. And don't be afraid to go for a dip, as lifeguards look over the beach throughout the year, making it safe and fun for the whole family.

Orange Beach, Orange Beach, Alabama

Sunset At Orange Beach in Alabama.
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The long stretch of white sand and dunes at Orange Beach make it easy to find your own little nook, but when you want to stretch your legs, hop on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, a 15-mile route that passes through several ecosystems, including those that house otters and alligators.

Shell Island, Panama City Beach, Florida

Sunset Sky on Panama City Beach
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Panama City Beach has 27 miles of shoreline, but it's hard to top a day on Shell Island, which is only accessible by boat and feels like your own private, deserted oasis. To access the seven miles of white sand, you'll have to hop on the shuttle or rent a boat (bottlenose dolphins are often spotted on the trip). And don't forget to pack plenty of water and snacks, since the underdeveloped island is void of shops and services.

St. Pete Beach, St. Pete Beach, Florida

the shore at St Pete Beach, Florida
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St. Pete Beach stands out for its near-daily sunshine, clear water, and walkability. When you tire of the sun and sand, book a day of animal-focused activities, like kayaking with the dolphins or manatee spotting.