The opening of the Gulf of Mexico was an important Mesozoic tectonic event that provides new insight in the role of magmatism and lithospheric stresses in the initiation of continental rifting. A new seismic velocity profile based on seismic refraction data in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico offshore Texas, where the basin started opening in the Early Jurassic, shows a rifted margin with strong lateral heterogeneity beneath the shelf and slope. The structure of the thinned crust is consistent with large-scale extensional faulting and moderate amounts of synrift magmatism before continental breakup. These new seismic constraints do not indicate the presence of a volcanic margin along the Texas coast, as has sometimes been proposed based on magnetic data. The Laurentian continental lithosphere of central Texas may have been too thick at the onset of rifting (>100 km) to let magmatic diking control the extension. In contrast, the continental lithosphere of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico may have been thinner, such that magma-assisted rifting formed a volcanic margin there later in the Jurassic.