9 Affordable Beach Vacations in the U.S.
Maybe it's April (snow) showers, or the fact that summer's still months away, but we need a beach vacation, and we need it now. Where to find a gorgeous stretch of sand without breaking the bank (or using up too many of our precious vacation days?) We've put together a list of 9 stateside beach vacations—complete with activity ideas, restaurant recommendations, and hotel options—to guide your next sandy retreat.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Looking for a nearby escape that feels far-flung? Puerto Rico is just the ticket—especially if you’re budget-conscious. Though the island was hit by back-to-back Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September, vacationers are now starting to trickle back in as hotels and restaurants have reopened their doors. Flights from the mainland are inexpensive (compared with those to nearby islands like Turks and Caicos and the BVI), and there are plenty of wallet-friendly stays offering style, comfort, and top-notch service. Our fave? El Blok, a 22-room eco-hotel with a rooftop plunge pool, Caribbean Sea views, and a curvilinear concrete façade that’s inspired by the coral reefs on the island. Hit the beach, or embark on a two-hour $30 snorkeling tour through mangrove forests and bioluminescent bays via Abe’s Snorkeling & Bio-Bay Tours. Then, watch the sunset and chow down on burgers and frozen rum drinks at Bananas Guesthouse, a divey beach bar with killer happy hour deals.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Brimming with art galleries, shingled storefronts and charming mom-and-pop restaurants, Cannon Beach has become one of Oregon’s must-see beach towns. And thanks to the area’s abundance of natural scenery, you won’t have to shell out your savings to keep busy. Hit the more than five miles of sand between Ecola Creek and Arch Cape for unbeatable views of Haystack Rock, one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks, or bike the 16-mile trail to Manzanita, stopping to take in dramatic coastal views in Oswald West State Park. After, grab a broiled shrimp sandwich and a slice of apple walnut cake from Lazy Susan Café, then check out the town’s buzzy art scene at White Bird Gallery, the oldest fine arts gallery in the area. After a long day of exploring, rest your head at The Ocean Lodge, an affordable family-friendly resort with 45 water-facing rooms, a free continental breakfast, and a cozy library stocked with books and movies.
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In most beach towns, oceanfront digs will set you back hundreds—but not in Pismo Beach, a sandy playground on the Pacific Coast of central California. Stay at Cottage by the Sea, a newly-renovated hotel set against a backdrop of shimmering surf and golden bluffs, and you can fall asleep to the sounds of lapping waves for under $200 a night. The scenic property also offers complimentary continental breakfast, an oceanfront pool, and bucolic gardens abloom with poppies, sage, and evening primrose. Wine country is nearby should you want to sip the region’s best cab sauv’s, as is the sprawling Hearst Castle, where the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst lived from the 1920s into the ‘40s. Prefer to stay closer to home? We’d recommend a guided kayak tour of the coastline through Central Coast Kayaks.
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
At party-hardy Myrtle Beach, you won’t get the peace and serenity of more under-the-radar beach escapes. What you will find? Plenty of budget-friendly accommodations, family-friendly attractions (think: mini golf courses and amusement parks), outlet shopping, and 60 miles of sandy shoreline. And if you make the Marina Inn Dunes your home base, you’ll have access to a more secluded stretch of sand—plus, free umbrellas, chairs and towels, and water sport equipment. There are more than 1,700 restaurants in the area, but you don’t want to miss the mouthwatering shrimp and grits at Mr. Fish, or the tropical drinks at 8th Avenue Tiki Bar & Grill, whose motto is “Good vibes. Good food. Good music. Good times.”
This charming beach town is super accessible, particularly for Houstonians who only have to drive 45 minutes to get there. And once you arrive, you can get just about anywhere by foot, so there’s no need for pricey cabs or rental cars. Learn about the historic island city, one of the country’s leading ports in the 19th century, at Moody Mansion, the former home of one of Galveston’s founding families, or at the East End Historical District, where you’ll find a dazzling string of restored Victorian landmarks. From there, tuck into a diet-busting feast of hush puppies, corn on the cob, and three-pound platters of steamed crawdads at Benno’s on the Beach, a casual waterfront hang with an outdoor patio and wallet-friendly prices. Your Victorian-inspired digs at the Tremont House are the perfect place to kick back and relax after a long day of exploring.
San Diego, California
There’s a reason San Diego consistently ranks as one of the most family-friendly beach destinations in the States: it’s beautiful, it’s affordable, and you’ll never run out of things to do—especially if you bed down at the funky Hotel La Jolla. The high-rise hotel sports a retro coastal design (think: wood paneling, ’70s beach photography, and mid-century furniture), and features an outdoor pool, spa services, a poolside bar, and a bike and hula hoop-borrowing program. A popular place to start the weekend is The Cottage—a sunny eatery known for its lively atmosphere and mouth-watering lemon ricotta pancakes. Grab your camera and continue on to La Jolla Cove to watch sea lions bathe on sandstone rock formations, or check out the latest exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
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South Padre Island, Texas
A popular spring break destination, South Padre Island can be touristy, but it’s not without its charms. Snag a table on the patio at The Café on the Beach to tuck into fresh shrimp tacos, crab cakes, grilled snapper and tortilla soup, or opt for a grab-and-go meal at Ceviche Ceviche (the mahi mahi with fresh mango and avocado is to-die-for). When you want to venture outdoors, there’s the boardwalk along the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, the beachfront Isla Blanca Park (a popular picnic spot), and the 70-mile Padre Island National Seashore, the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island, just three hours away. The Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island is steps from the beach and offers spacious rooms from $130/night.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
If you’re an active traveler who wants the sun and sand but not the sedentary lifestyle, put Virginia Beach on your radar. The city is renowned for its water sports (surfing, fishing, kitesurfing), its three-mile-long boardwalk—which features a separate bike path for rollerblading, biking or surrey rentals—and its sugary 100-yard-wide beach. More of an environmentalist than a beach bum? Venture out to First Landing State Park, where there are nine walking trails totaling 19 miles, and a bike path that winds around lagoons, large cypress trees and rare plants. Or simply stick around your hotel, The Founders Inn and Spa, to indulge in a pampering treatment in the spa and to treat yourself to a reasonably priced prix-fixe dinner with wine pairings at the Swan Terrace restaurant.
With pristine, white-sand beaches and a heavy dose of Southern charm, Pensacola is your quintessential all-American beach escape. It’s also wildly affordable, thanks to the many direct flights from major cities and its wide range of budget-minded hotels and restaurants. We love the Margaretville Beach Hotel, a sprawling beach resort done up in coastal hues of whites and blues, and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. There are plenty of freebies—including WiFi and beer coupons—and the rooms are bright and breezy, with expansive balconies and sweeping ocean views. After you’ve hit the beach, stroll through the city’s historic downtown, where you’ll find restored Colonial-and Victorian-era buildings and an array of cool restaurants—like Al Fresco, a unique outdoor dining experience comprised of five food trucks serving everything from ice cold oysters to mahi mahi tacos.
What to Pack
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