Where do Arkansans hit the beach?
Considering Arkansas’s landlocked status, it may be surprising to find that many locals enjoy beach trips in the summertime. And we’re not talking about Beaver Lake, as fun as that can be. We’re talking white sand and clear, blue and green water. A survey at Rogers Public Library revealed some of our staff’s favorite spots within reasonable driving distance and on a coast.
The preferred “local” beaches are located on the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama, Florida, and Texas. Nearly all of these can be reached in 11-12 hours by car. When asking people about what makes their favorite beach the best, the answer is usually related to the quality of the beaches, the atmosphere, and the activities. Some prefer quiet retreats; others like a busy, fun vibe. The consensus is that if you like a lot of options for activities, you will also have larger crowds. The perception is that Gulf Shores is laid back and family friendly (It makes top 10 US beach lists.), Destin is busier and more crowded, and Pensacola Beach is less touristy. Dauphin Island has a much smaller population, and Navarre and Santa Rosa beaches are secluded.
If you want to do more than catch rays and splash on the shore, there are some activities you can find at any of these beaches. Water sports abound: boating, sailing, fishing, scuba or snorkeling. If you’d prefer someone else drive, boat tours and dolphin/wildlife cruises abound. You can usually find at least one place to golf or mini-golf. Trails for hiking, piers, and boardwalks are universal. Each of these beaches also have unique draws.
Take a look and see if any ignite your enthusiasm. While you’re at it, check out some Gulf beach-y reads for kids and adults (some set on our favorite beaches!), cookbooks, and guidebooks.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
11 hours (684 miles) from RPL
Pop 1610 (2020)
Audubon Bird Sanctuary
Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Estuarium
Indian Shell Mound Park
Fort Gaines (also hosting a Renaissance Fair October, 2022)
Accessible via 3-mile-long high rise bridge
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama
11.5 hours (710 miles) from RPL
Pop 12,550 (2020)
Gulf Shores Museum
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
OWA Fun Park
Pensacola Beach, Florida
11.5 hours (723 miles; w/ tolls) from RPL
This is not Pensacola City. It is on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Santa Rosa.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary (artificial reef)
Pensacola Beach Eco-Trail
National Naval Aviation Museum
12.25 hours (764 miles; w/ tolls) from RPL
Population 14,482 (2020)
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge
Gulf Breeze Zoo
Henderson State Park
Jolee Island Nature Park
Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park
Air Force Armament Museum
Destin History & Fishing Museum
Shopping – Destin Commons
South Padre Island, Texas
14 hours (919 miles) from RPL
Population 2,798 (2020)
Padre Island National Seashore
Sea Turtle, Inc. (sea turtle hospital)
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
Largest Outdoor Sandcastle in the USA
Laguna Madre Nature Trail
Sand Castle lessons