The Smelly Reason To Avoid This Crowded Texas Beach (And Where To Go Instead)

We all love a great trip to the beach, and certain smells instantly transport us back to those treasured summer vacations. Aromas like the briny tang of salt in the air, sunscreen and cotton candy, and the tantalizing scent of fried snacks on the boardwalk, you know the ones. Unfortunately, there are also some less-desirable odors associated with the coast, and the beaches of Galveston Island in Texas have taken plenty of criticism in recent years for their abundance of smelly seaweed.

Galveston is around an hour's drive from downtown Houston. After it was devastated by the Great Storm of 1900, the island was rebuilt, revamped, and gradually developed into a seaside resort and gambling destination that was once frequented by Frank Sinatra and the Mob, among others. With 32 miles of beaches, the popular tourist hub of Seawall Boulevard, and the rides and attractions of the Historic Pleasure Pier, Galveston certainly has plenty to offer people seeking fun and sun on the Gulf Coast. That is reflected in the tourist figures, with over 7 million visitors each year, and its reputation as one of the top-rated attractions in Texas. However, in recent years, the smellier side of Galveston has also made it a viral laughing stock. And it isn't just the odors that should make you consider some of the state's alternatives.

Why does Galveston get a smelly reputation?

As with any popular tourist destination, Galveston has faced some severe backlash over the years. One of the issues the island's beaches have faced is large amounts of seaweed washing up and stinking the place out as it bakes in the sun. In 2014, the situation got so bad that a bulldozer was required to shift heaps of the stuff that reached several feet high in some locations. A similar situation occurred in 2017 when another wave of malodorous marine algae covered miles of beach and reached as far as the Seawall. The offending seaweed is Sargassum, which grows in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean and floats around on ocean currents. Certain conditions allow greater masses of it to accumulate and arrive on Texan shores, which isn't very pleasant for holidaymakers when there is a particularly bad invasion.

It's not just seaweed that has marred Galveston's reputation. Some complain that it gets crowded, especially during the high season around public holidays. One undesirable side effect is that less-considerate visitors leave popular beaches strewn with trash. Then, there is the sea itself. While the choicest postcard shots of Galveston usually show blue water, it is often turned brown by silt coming from the Mississippi River. This causes some of Galveston's detractors to associate it with sewage, which is not entirely without justification. Studies conducted by Environment Texas in 2023 found that two of the island's beaches exceeded acceptable levels of fecal bacteria.

Alternatives to Galveston Island

The beautiful Texan coast is blessed with 367 miles of Gulf shoreline, so it should come as no surprise that there are some excellent alternatives to mixing it with the tourist crowds and heaps of smelly seaweed on Galveston Island. A nearby pick is Surfside Beach, a small, leisurely beach community that is also just an hour down the road from Houston. With its long sandy beach and attractive wooden houses along the shore, it is far more relaxed than the tourist hotspots of Galveston. It has several decent restaurants, and Jetty County Park is a popular place for surfers, beachcombers, and birdwatchers.

If you don't mind a longer drive, Port Aransas is a little less than four hours from Houston. It's another U.S. island destination you can take without leaving the country, with 18 miles of wide sandy beaches, making it a beautiful place for a family vacation. You can even park your car on the sand, and it's a fabulous spot for beach fishing; if you get a bite, several restaurants in town will cook your catch for you.

South Padre Island is even further afield but worth the journey if you fancy checking out one of the best bucket list beaches in Texas. Located on a narrow barrier island not far from the Mexican border in the far south of the state, it has stunning white sand beaches, incredible weather, and plenty of amenities, attractions, and resorts to enjoy.