Padre Island's Little Shell and Big Shell Beaches, Texas
Unlike South Padre, the rowdy island synonymous with indulgent spring breakers, Padre Island's National Seashore and its secluded beaches are the more reserved, modest types. Big Shell Beach and Little Shell Beach, at the northern end of the 70-mile barrier island near Corpus Christi, are accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle. These beaches cover a section of shoreline where several Gulf currents meet and toss large deposits of unbroken shells onto the sand. In summer, Kemp's ridley sea turtles nest and dolphins play in the surf.
What to Do: Attend a sea-turtle hatchling release at sunrise in front of the Malaquite Beach Visitor Center to see the coin-sized babies take their first steps into the ocean. Other massive stretches of desolate beach are open to four-wheeling. Bird-watching, kayaking, windsurfing, and fishing are also popular here.
Getting Here: Enter the park at Malaquite Beach and head south with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.