If you were able to wander all 600 miles of Texas’s Gulf Coast, you’d run into some pretty spectacular gems—and we’re not just talking about the popular South Padre Island or Port Aransas, beautiful as those may be. Up and down the coast, lesser-known Texas beaches like the ones below offer space to spread out and relax in the sand.

Matagorda Beach

Less than two hours from Houston, Matagorda Beach has more surf and sand than you’ll know what to do with—20+ miles of it (and even more are accessible by watercraft). With a 4x4 vehicle and a permit, you can drive right on the sand, and anyone can hike along the dune trails or even camp. For free!

It’s easy to commune with nature here, but this is an especially great spot for the family. The sand is soft and the beach is clean, quiet and great for swimming and shelling. Surfers can try their luck, too.

Mustang Island State Park

A quick drive over the JFK Memorial Causeway from Corpus Christi—and sitting just north of Padre Island National Seashore—Mustang Island State Park holds five miles of sand that leave the door open for any and every itinerary. Think swimming, surfing, camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, mountain biking (yep!), kayaking, birdwatching and sandcastle building, to get you started.

Ranger programs are offered in birding, stargazing and fishing, too. Speaking of fishing—the 20-mile Mustang Island State Park Paddling Trail isn’t just for kayakers and canoers. It travels through shallow waters many anglers consider to be some of Texas’s best.

Galveston Island State Park

Travel Channel has ranked Galveston Island State Park as one of the Gulf’s best beaches, bar none. Its 2,000 acres of beautiful barrier island scenery—lagoons, bays, dunes, salt marshes, sand, you name it—contain a vibrant mosaic of ecosystems with endless things to do. And with beach and bay sides, you get to decide: sunrise or sunset?

Besides combing the sand, make sure to explore the four miles of trails that crisscross the various coastal ecosystems, the paddling trails ribboning through the water and the ample opportunities for swimming, fishing, birding (catch a glimpse of some 300 species!) and camping.

Tip: Visit the onsite nature center first thing when you arrive. It’ll help you identify the flora and fauna of the park, from sargassum seaweed to roseate spoonbills. You’ll find info on upcoming art programs, star parties and paddling tours as well.

Rockport Beach

Rockport Beach is Texas’s first Blue Wave Beach: litter-free, managed responsibly, and handicap-accessible. Stretching for a mile along a small peninsula into Aransas Bay, there are views from every angle and the shallow waters make for worry-free beach fun for families with young children.

Palapas (thatched shade structures), grills and picnic tables invite you to pack that cooler and take your lunchtime picnic beachside. Bring the fishing pole, too—an excellent 800-foot pier sits at the sand’s eastern end.

San Jose Island

A quick ferry ride from Port Aransas (it’s just on the other side of Aransas Pass), San Jose Island is only seen by a fraction of those who visit the mainland. This is a real retreat spot—21 miles of undeveloped coastline provide some of the state’s best shelling, swimming, fishing and beachcombing. On San Jose, you’ll probably encounter more birds than humans.

Since it’s so pristine, don’t arrive expecting waterfront restaurants and sprawling boardwalks. Here, it’s just you, Mother Nature and the adventures you’ll discover together.