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Jamaica Beach is a tiny collection of stilt houses in pastel yellows, vibrant greens, and bright blues that sits on a narrow strip of land on Galveston Island in southern Texas. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of a place bordered on the east and west by the city of Galveston and everywhere else by water.
Just 30 minutes’ drive from downtown Galveston and 90 minutes from Houston, Jamaica Beach was once a weekend vacation destination, but the town was incorporated in 1975 and it’s now a tight-knit community with a relaxed, small-town feel. The northwestern half of Jamaica Beach is carved through with canals that feed into West Bay and are great for kayaking and birdwatching, and the city also boasts a park and a public swimming pool that’s particularly popular during those hot Texas summers. But the main attraction here is the beach itself, with its wide stretches of sand and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
With the nearest airports — William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) — more than an hour away in Houston, you’ll likely want to rent a car when flying into Jamaica Beach. Cars also come in handy for getting around town, since taxis are hard to come by and there’s no public transportation, and for those interested in exploring more of the Gulf Coast region. It’s also legal to drive on the beach here — except on summer weekends and holidays. To really embrace vacation mode, consider navigating the wide surface streets in a golf cart, which are available at rental shops just outside the city limits.
Summer is the busiest time of year in Jamaica Beach, especially on weekends and holidays. Vacationers, as well as daytrippers from Houston, flock to the Gulf Coast to escape the heat and humidity by splashing around in the surf. However, July, August, and September also bring a slight risk of hurricanes, so be sure to check the forecast.
Winters here are mild and lovely, but the best times of year are really spring and fall, when the weather is still warm but not scorching, and the crowds thin out, allowing Jamaica Beach to resume its laid-back pace. These shoulder season months are also when you’ll catch local events such as the annual Easter egg hunt, city-wide garage sale, and beach cleanups, and when birders come to watch the spring and fall migrations along the Central Flyway.
Immediately adjacent to Jamaica Beach, the 2,000-acre Galveston Island State Park also stretches across the barrier island from the bay to the Gulf and contains long, clean beaches; picnic areas; four miles of hiking paths and boardwalks; and even paddling trails for canoes and kayaks.
Galveston Island is an angler’s paradise, and more than 100 species of fish are regularly pulled from its surrounding waters, including redfish, black drum, tuna, mahi-mahi, and marlin. Fish from the shore, paddle out into the bay to drop a line, or head into Galveston and book a deep sea charter, then grill up your catch at the end of the day.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the shores of the Gulf Coast were overrun with pirates, including the infamous French privateer Jean Lafitte, who spent a great deal of time at the eastern end of Galveston Island. Jamaica Beach nods to this legacy, with streets named after real-life seafaring scoundrels and nautical figures from legends. Nearby Galveston also has a themed museum and entertainment venue where you can dig deeper into local piratical lore.