Like most Texans, I live in a big, congested city that I frequently long to leave behind. The state’s wide-open spaces call to me constantly, and during the summer, as the temperature rises, what invariably beckons are the more than 350 miles of Texas coast, stretching from the final spit of sand at Boca Chica in the south to the waters of the Louisiana-bordering Sabine Lake in the north. Can there be anything more restorative than the shore’s wild splendor for as far as the eye can see?

Of course, splendor is probably not the first thing you think of. Because, let’s face it, Texas doesn’t rank among the supermodels of the world’s beachfronts. Its waters are not the bluest, its sands not the whitest. The flares from off-gassing petrochemical plants, the myriad cheek-by-jowl resorts, and the RV parks that cater to snowbirds in the winter months—not to mention disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill three years ago—are a constant assault on the coast’s beauty. 

But beauty remains, if you know where to look. I’ve fished, birded, kayaked, biked, hiked, and swum along our vast watery border for years—sometimes on my own, sometimes with a guide, sometimes with knowledgeable (and boat-owning) friends—and I’m here to tell you that there are stretches of unspoiled sand, wind-bent oak motts, wickedly weird bayous, and grassy marshlands that are still so stunning and so primitive you’ll feel like you’re seeing the same landscape that Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca did when he washed ashore on Galveston Island almost five centuries ago.

I recently explored the length of our coastline in search of the best places to go this summer to experience this unfettered, unspoiled world. The fifteen destinations you’ll find on the following pages, numbered according to the more-or-less south-to-north trajectory I took, are a mix of secret and not-so-secret sites, some more tame and some more rugged, but they all offer an exhilarating glimpse of our coast at its natural finest. Most important, they’ll revive your soul. I know because they revived mine.