Gulf Coast of Texas: Vanlife & RV Paradise

Our first visit to the state of Texas was in 2016.  If you’d told me at that time that Texas would be perfect place to spend some time on the beach, I’d be like – “WHAAAAT”?  It never actually occurred to me that Texas had a coastline.  Maybe it’s ignorance but I suspect that a lot of other Canadians and Americans from northern states would be just as surprised.

For me, Texas conjured up images of  football (definitely football… Friday Night Lights, anyone?), cattle, steak, oil, ranches, southern accents, pick-up trucks and all things BIG.  Endless sandy beaches, palm trees and seashells were certainly not among these images.  Yet when we first drove down the Bolivar Peninsula, it had all of these things and one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.  The sky turned orange, red and purple and the water was the most shiny, navy and cyan blue I’ve ever seen.

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With each year of travel, Texas grows on me and I’ve come to embrace the Gulf Coast as a Vanlife and RV paradise.  Our two favourite spots along this coast are Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula and the Padre Island National Seashore.  Some of the things that appeal most to us about these destinations are: excellent boondocking and cheap camping; proximity to cities and services; beautiful, sandy, dog-friendly beaches; perfect winter beach-walking temperatures; and friendly locals.

/// CRYSTAL BEACH ///

Crystal Beach – one of our favourite beaches in Texas – is located along the Bolivar Peninsula.  With the purchase of a $5 beach sticker, you’re allowed to drive, park and camp on the beach all year long (price goes up to $10 in March – gasp).  This is serious #campinggoals for Vanlifers and RVers.  We went to “The Big Store” in Crystal beach (yes, it’s the biggest store in Crystal Beach), bought our sticker and then found a perfect patch of sand between two beach houses.  Lucky for us, tons of people drive on the beach so it’s well-compacted and even a rear-wheel drive little piggy like Sally won’t get stuck!

There’s nothing quite like waking up, lying in bed in the van and looking out the window at the ocean, lapping the sand just 50 feet or so from the van.  It’s unreal.  We eat breakfast with the same view and then hop outside for long walks or runs on the beach.  As it’s not swimming and lying in the sun weather, we often have the beach to ourselves on weekdays with just a few locals wandering by.  I can describe it but the pictures tell a better story.

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When we’re not at the beach, we’re shopping at “The Big Store”, which has the most random assortment of things you can imagine (groceries, clothing, hardware supplies, souvenirs, etc.) “borrowing” WiFi from the tourist information centre while parked in our van and eating fish tacos from the nearby seafood restaurant while watching the sunset.

Another wonderful thing about the Bolivar Peninsula is that it’s just a short (and free!) ferry ride away from the City of Galveston.  If you drive down the main beach strip, you may be fooled into thinking that the city is just hotels and large retail stores strewn along the shore.  BUT, if you head inwards to the historic centre, there’s plenty of charm including cafes, cute shops, restaurants, historic landmarks and lots of dog-lovers to pet Walter.  And I have to admit, although the stores along the strip are a bit ugly, there’s every store for any thing you could possibly need, which is pretty convenient.

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/// PADRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE ///

Padre Island is SO cool.  It’s 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats.  Because it’s protected within a park, there’s almost no development.  Just nature.  We camped at Bird Island Basin, which borders Laguna Madre – the sound side of the island.  It costs just $8 per night and we were literally parked along the shoreline.  At that price, we could afford to live there!  It’s a gorgeous spot and we have only 2 beefs with it.  1: the sites are SUPER tight.  If a Class ‘A’ RV ends up beside you, it can feel a little like being parked beside a high-rise.  2: As there aren’t any hook-ups, people run their generators a lot.  Like, A LOT.  A little disruptive to the peaceful surroundings.

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Complaining aside, there is lots to do here.  It’s known for windy conditions and is super popular with wind surfers.  My big plans to wind surf dissolved when the chilly wind rose above 20 MPH meaning it would be a very cold activity and making the chances of me being launched off the board much too high.  Basically, I wimped out.  There’s still lots to do, even if you don’t windsurf.  Walking along the long sandy beaches, fishing, watching seabirds, swimming (if you’re feeling brave enough for the chilly water temps!) and kayaking.

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Corpus Christie is just a 20-minute drive from Padre Island and with ½ a million people, it has everything a Vanlifer or RVer might need.  We’ve only ventured into the outskirts to do errands – I have to admit the extent of the sprawl is a little intimidating!  I imagine the port area is pretty cool though, so we’ll have to do some more exploring someday.

It’s worth mentioning that Padre Island is really close to the Mexican border, which is handy if you plan to head south.  It’s only a few hours from there to the Columbia border crossing near Laredo – the best crossing to Mexico we’ve found so far.

Our next stop after the Gulf Coast was the El Potrero Chico canyon in the little town of Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.  But more about that in the next blog!

7 thoughts on “Gulf Coast of Texas: Vanlife & RV Paradise

    1. Thanks AnnM! Yes – if you’re travelling in a van, the Texas coast is great. Especially at this time of year as the beaches are pretty quiet. It’s incredible that they let you just camp on the beach. Enjoying following your Thailand travels. The sailing looks awesome!

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