The South’s Gulf Coast is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Why just stop at one? The cities are all less than three hours apart, meaning you can spend just one day before driving to the next destination.
Must-Treat: Everyone knows that it’s not a trip to New Orleans without a beignet. But, another sweet you might not know to get are sno-balls. Check out Hansen’s Sno-Bliz for a range of traditional to experimental flavors for the icy delight they’ve been serving up for 75 years.
Beach to Visit: No beaches here, though when you drive from Mississippi you might want to take the scenic route to experience the 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the longest bridge over water in the world. Don’t worry, you’ll see beaches soon.
Next Stop: Drive an hour and a half on I-10 to get to Biloxi, or take the 2-hour Pontchartrain route.
Must-Eat: As a town brimming with casinos, there’s no shortage of upscale hotel steakhouses. If you’re looking for some good southern po-boys, gumbo, and pub food with pricing that the locals love, check out Adventures Pub & Spirits.
Beach to Visit: Take the ferry to Ship Island. It’s worth the price to rent the chairs ($5) and umbrellas ($15) instead of having to lug them down to the beach and back to port. If you want to really travel light, ditch the cooler and visit the snack bars on the boat and on the island. Note: the island is cash only with no ATM.
Next Stop: Pensacola is just about 2 hours away via I-10.
Must-See: You could spend hours exploring the free National Naval Aviation Museum where you can see over 150 restored, historical aircraft from the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Join a guided tour, see the IMAX film and if you’re lucky, visit on a day when the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron is practicing. Arrive to the museum early – it starts getting very crowded in the afternoon.
Beach to Visit: Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island
Next Stop: You’ll be in Panama City in 2 ½ – 3 hours.
Panama City Beach
Must-Drive: Once again, we have to recommend the scenic route. Instead of following I-10, take Highway 98 to Scenic Highway 30A. This will keep you with the Gulf on your right and the Bay on your left for about 60 miles before taking you through the picturesque Seaside community. This drive takes many people longer than 3 hours, considering there are so many great stops along the way.
Beach to Visit: Panama City Beach includes 27 free public access points, but not all of them provide parking. Try Rick Seltzer Park, which has free parking, restrooms, picnic spots, and more.
Alternate Route: Start in Galveston
Bonus Stop: If you’re not one to back down from a drive and are ready to get your feet in the sand, consider starting your road trip from Galveston Island, Texas. Galveston is home to museums on a wide range of subjects, including flight, oil rigs, sculptures, mansions, ships, railroads…we could go on.
Beach to Visit: While you’re on the island, check out Porretto Beach or Stewart Beach. Be sure to bring cash as you’ll be paying for parking, plus umbrella and chair rentals and concessions are available at both.
Next Stop: From Galveston Island, take the free ferry to Bolivar – there’s a good chance you’ll see dolphins from the observation deck. Say goodbye to the gulf for now before driving inland for about 6 ½ hours to New Orleans.