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Oceans of Possibilities: Gulf Beaches

Jun 14, 2022

Beach at sunset

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

Booty bones: a Sarah Booth Delaney mystery by Carolyn Haines


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
Fort Morgan
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
Fort Pickens

Damaged: a Maggie O'Dell novel by Alex Kava


Destin, Florida

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
Gator Beach
Destin History & Fishing Museum
Shopping – Destin Commons

Crazy little thing called love: a destination wedding novel by Beth K. Vogt Extraordinary adventures by Daniel Wallace The weight of memory: a novel by Jennifer Paddock


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
Gravity Park
Sand Castle lessons


Other Novels:

Happiness Key by Emilie Richards Keeper by Kathi Appelt_ illustrations by August Hall Massacre Island by Martin Hegwood

Salvage the bones: a novel by Jesmyn Ward Terror at Bottle Creek by Watt KeyThe Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary and Sewing Circle by Lois Battle



A taste of the Gulf Coast: the art and soul of southern cooking by Jessie Tirsch Crab: 50 recipes with the fresh taste of the sea from the Pacific Atlantic and Gulf Coasts by Cynthia Nims photography by Jim Henkens Cool Gulf Coast cooking: easy and fun regional recipes by Alex Kuskowski



Family guide Florida Fodor's Florida Fodor's essential SouthTexas by Andy Rhodes