When I started the process of planning our 2023 travel itinerary, I only knew that we wanted to spend the first part of the year somewhere warm(ish) and next to the water. The moment I saw photos of Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, I was sold.
There are very few beaches on which you can pull a 43-foot 5th wheel and not get stuck. But, after seeing photos of big rigs parked right on the sand of Crystal Beach, we felt confident that we could do the same thing and made a plan to spend the first few weeks of January there.
So, how did we like camping on Crystal Beach? Well, we planned to spend 2 weeks there and ended up staying for 7. Once we got there, we simply didn’t want to leave.
What You Need to Know About Camping on Crystal Beach
Bolivar Peninsula is an unincorporated part of Galveston county in Texas separating the eastern part of Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The narrow peninsula includes the small communities of Port Bolivar, Crystal Beach, Caplen, Gilchrist, and High Island.
Bolivar peninsula is about 70 miles from Houston and just a short 18-minute ferry ride from Galveston island.
Crystal Beach, the area along the Gulf of Mexico where most people choose to camp, is about 7 miles long, so there's plenty of room for campers. The sand is very hard-packed, and driving and camping are allowed anywhere on the beach. This is boondocking at its best - just find a place you like and set up camp.
We were there from early January until late February 2023. This is the off-season, so the beach was mostly uncrowded and quiet.
We've heard it's a much different story in the summer months. For example, Crystal Beach is home to an annual Jeep weekend that attracts about 40,000 people, nearly all of whom camp on the beach.
Bolivar Peninsula and Crystal Beach Fast Facts
- Bolivar Peninsula includes miles of hard-packed beach along the Gulf of Mexico open to driving and camping. Crystal Beach covers a 7-mile section of the coast.
- The beach is solid enough to drive any vehicle. On any given day you'll see golf carts, electric bicycles, motorcycles, small cars, large trucks, and every size camper and RV.
- There are several live webcams along the beaches of the Bolivar Peninsula so you can see what the area is like for yourself.
- Bolivar Peninsula is home to a lot of RV parks. It’s easy to head to a full-hookup park for a night or two to do some laundry, empty your waste tanks, and fill up with fresh water before heading back to the beach.
- On Bolivar Peninsula, you'll find food trucks, restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, and a small grocery store.
- A ferry from Bolivar Peninsula to the city of Galveston runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is free.
- From January to March parking on Crystal Beach is free. From March through December, purchase a $10 annual pass. You can purchase the pass at most convenience stores on Bolivar Peninsula, at the Chamber of Commerce, and at the only grocery store in the area - the Big Store. There is no limit to the amount of time you can camp on the beach.
- Bolivar Peninsula is home to abut 2400 year round residents.
- While Crystal Beach is a popular tourist destination during the warmer months, it's rarely as crowded as the beaches of Galveston.
Things to Do and See in Crystal Beach and on the Bolivar Peninsula
- Walk, bicycle, drive, picnic, fish, and camp on the beach. The beach is the big draw to this area and there are few restrictions on what you can do. Camping, campfires, and fishing are all permitted.
- Restaurants: There are quite a few places to eat in Crystal Beach but our two favorites were Stingaree Restaurant and Marina and B & Dub's Food Truck.
- Take the free ferry to Galveston Island. While on the ferry, look for dolphins which can often been seen in the waters between Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula.
- If you're looking for some beach apparel and souvenirs, visit Latitude 29.2 Surf Shop.
- Right near the Galveston Ferry you'll find Fort Travis Seaside Park. At the park, you can visit the remains of the batteries used to protect the Galveston harbor during the Texas Revolution in 1836, the Civil War, and WW II. This is another great dolphin spotting location!
- Rent a beach house! There are HUNDREDS of beach houses for rent throughout the Bolivar Peninsula, like this gorgeous home owned by some friends of ours!
- Fireworks on the beach. Fireworks are sold year round in Crystal Beach and unless there's a fire ban in place, you can shoot them off on the beach any time you like.
- Play a unique round of golf. The Ranch is a small 9-hole golf course where tee times are not required, $25 allows you to play all day, and even your pets are welcome. No alcohol is served at The Ranch but guests are more than welcome to bring their own.
- For groceries and basic supplies: The Big Store is a funky store in Crystal Beach with most anything you could need. The store contains groceries (including fresh meat and produce), hardware, beach essentials, fishing supplies, beer and wine, and even small appliances and grills.
Destinations Near the Bolivar Peninsula and Crystal Beach
- You can see Galveston from the gulf side of the Bolivar Peninsula and a ferry runs between Galveston Island and Bolivar Landing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's free to ride the ferry and while the line to board can sometimes be long, the ferry ride itself is only about 18 minutes.
- Beach City, Texas is about 23 miles from Crystal Beach.
- Houston is 70 miles from Crystal Beach if you head west through Galveston and 90 miles if you avoid the Galveston ferry and head northeast to I-10.
- If you head to Houston, be sure to spend a day at Houston Space Center. We spent a Sunday there in early February and really enjoyed the visit.
And, as a totally unique activity, did you know that there are several Drive Thru Zoos in Texas??? The state is home to several ranches where you can see camels, giraffes, zebras and many other kinds of wild animals in unique settings!
RV Parks in Crystal Beach
During our 7 week stay in Crystal Beach, we spent several nights at Bolivar Peninsula RV Park and highly recommend it. The park is clean and well-maintained, the staff is friendly and accommodating, and the price is reasonable. If traffic noise bothers you, choose a space near the back of the park. The large pull-through spaces at the front of the park are convenient, but also near the main road through town.
Other RV parks in the area include:
- If you're looking for a resort experience, check out Camp Margaritaville Resort Crystal Beach.
- Lenas RV Park is a basic, no-frills park that's close to the beach and includes a few covered RV spaces.
- The Palapa RV Park is a small park in Gilchrist (located between Rollover Pass and Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula) with concrete pads and spaces very near to the beach.
Watch the Tide!
One final tip for people camping on Crystal Beach: do your best to pay attention to the weather and watch the tide.
During our 7 week stay on Crystal Beach, there were a couple of times we opted to pack up and move off the beach to Bolivar Peninsula RV park to escape a storm and waves that were too high and rough for our comfort level.
We also had a couple of days when the tide was high enough for water to roll up and under our camper and we felt perfectly safe. Our camper was on blocks and stable, the weather was not threatening, the waves were not tall, and the undertow was not strong.
The important thing is to be flexible and move off the beach any time you feel unsafe.
One of the best things about the area is how many RV parks you'll find throughout Bolivar Peninsula. While I can't speak to how busy the parks are during peak season, while we were there in January and February, it was easy to find a space at a park any time we wished.
If it looked like the weather was going to cause the tide to rise higher than we were comfortable with, we just packed up and moved to an RV park for a night or two. While at the park, we did our laundry, emptied our tanks and washed the sand and salt off of everything as best we could. Then, we simply moved back to the beach.
Yes! Unless you see a sign posted, you can camp anywhere you like on Crystal Beach. Pay attention to the color of the sand - dark sand is wet sand and marks how high the tide has reached in recent hours. If you can, find a spot of sand high on the beach with light-colored sand.
It's free to camp on Crystal Beach from January until March, then you must purchase a $10 annual beach parking pass. Passes can be purchased at most convenience stores and at the local Chamber of Commerce.
How long can you camp on Crystal Beach?
As far as we could tell there are no time limits to camping on Crystal Beach.
Can you park any size RV on Crystal Beach?
Yes! We parked our 43-foot 5th wheel on Crystal Beach with no issues. We did have one morning after a particularly windy day when we had to do a bit of digging to move sand out from around our tires so we could move off the beach. But, the sand on Crystal Beach is hard-packed enough in most places to drive any size rig right on the beach.
Do you have any questions for us? Drop your question in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer!