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12 best budget beach destinations in the US

Aug. 20, 2022
10 min read
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An expensive beach jaunt to Mykonos, Greece, or a luxurious getaway to the Hamptons may not be possible for everyone. With inflation and rising gas prices putting a real damper on travel, budget travelers anxious for a sun and sand getaway may be wondering if they can afford a seaside escape.

Beach vacations this year don't need to cause financial stress. (Photo by dowell/Getty)

But certain beach destinations are more affordable than others, and it's totally feasible to have a great cheap beach vacation if you select the right spot.

Here are some of the best budget beach vacations in the U.S. for those who want a relaxing ocean or lakefront getaway without breaking the bank.

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

The beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama. (Photo by Juliana Sears/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer more than 32 miles of white sand along Alabama's Gulf Coast. Lodging is as affordable as it gets, with six campgrounds located in close proximity to the expansive stretch of shoreline.

Gulf Shores caters to budget travelers — its tourism website even offers wallet-friendly themed blog posts, like where to get lunch for less than $15. Not to mention, a day at Gulf State Park is all about low-cost fun. Visitors can enjoy sprawling beaches, a nature center and dedicated fishing areas. They can even cycle thanks to the park's free bike sharing program (complimentary for up to three hours) throughout the park's 6,000 acres. Another draw: Parking only costs $10 per day.

The Outer Banks, North Carolina

Nags Head in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (Photo by Chansak Joe/Getty Images)

Home to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Outer Banks is apt for all types of travelers. With close to 20 different campgrounds and recreational vehicle parks (some costing as low as $30 per night), plus many home rentals for less than $200 per night, visitors don't have to overspend to enjoy around 175 miles of barrier island fun.

Traveling with the family? The Outer Banks has several skate parks where your teens and tweens can hang out for free. For travelers that want to brave the swells, a handful of surf shops offer weekly board rentals for as low as $69 — they'll even deliver to your accommodation for free.

South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island in Texas. (Photo by Yesim Sahin/Getty Images)

South Padre Island has a reputation for being a busy spring break spot, but this Texas barrier island is ideal for nature enthusiasts on a budget. It's home to the 43-acre South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, which features a butterfly garden, a five-story bird-watching observation tower, a boardwalk and an alligator sanctuary all accessible for $10 for adults and $5 for kids.

South Padre Island also hosts a number of complimentary festivities, such as frequent firework displays, music-themed events on the beach (think: bongo drumming nights) and sandcastle days. For budget-friendly lodging, consider booking a room at one of the smaller inns or bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the area, which are often less than $100 per night.

Grand Isle, Louisiana

A man fishes in Louisiana. (Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

Visitors to the barrier island of Grand Isle can enjoy warm waters (almost) year-round. At Grand Isle State Park, free activities include hiking and fishing. There are several fishing shops to choose from, so rates for baits, poles, hooks and even chartered fishing tours remain low thanks to plenty of competition.

With around 50 premium campsites and 14 beach tent campsites, there's a camping experience to fit every style of traveler, regardless of budget. As a result, even those who want to sleep on the beach will find an option ideal for them.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. (Photo by Scott Dunn/Getty Images)

Rehoboth Beach is a picturesque stretch of sand fronting the Atlantic Ocean. Budget travelers can soak up some rays and swim in the sea during the day before enjoying music and entertainment at night. The Rehoboth Beach Bandstand has hosted a number of free concerts, including The Beatles, the Eagles and The Rolling Stones tribute shows, since 1963.

For travelers on a budget, there are many motels like Comfort Inns and Econo Lodges in the area. There are also a Fairfield Inn and a Residence Inn (both by Marriott), where cash-poor, points-rich visitors can stay for as low as 33,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Luquillo, Puerto Rico

Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images)

Once you've explored Old San Juan, skip the nearby beach in Condado, a pricier spot with luxe hotels and trendy Miami vibes. Instead, head east for about 45 minutes to the golden sands of Luquillo. Here, you can trade high-rise hotels for palm trees and bask in the authentic sights and sounds of the real Puerto Rico, such as reggaeton played from the back of a truck. For lunch, stroll over to the famous Luquillo kiosks that front the beach. You can choose from more than 60 family-run eateries that specialize in cheap, local delicacies.

A quick search on Airbnb shows around 250 properties in the Luquillo area, many of which cost less than $200 (or even $100) per night. It's also a quick drive to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest on U.S. soil. Admission is free, but you will still need a reservation to enter.

Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City, Maryland. (Photo by Chris Parypa/Getty Images)

Less than an hour south of Delaware's Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City has plenty of action to please active travelers and families that want more than just relaxing on 30-plus miles of sandy beach. Although you'll need to pay to enter the Jolly Roger water parks, amusement parks, go-kart tracks and mini-golf courses, prices are fairly affordable. For example, a half-day amusement park ticket starts at $28.99 for adults.

There are also plenty of free family-friendly activities, such as kite-flying lessons, crafts, library days and beach games for kids. Additionally, visitors can enjoy fireworks and concerts every Sunday during the summer months.

South Haven, Michigan

Visiting the lighthouse is a budget-friendly beach activity. (Photo by Simone De Martin/EyeEm/Getty Images)

South Haven is home to a number of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan. Those looking for affordable lodging without having to camp in a traditional tent should consider the wooden cabins, converted school buses and glamping tents of Kal-Haven outpost, where rates start at $44 per night.

For free activities beyond the lake's sandy shores, hike the 34-mile Kal-Haven Trail or view the South Haven Light, a lighthouse that is especially beautiful in the glow of dusk or dawn. The area is dotted with wineries, too, and while tastings are not free, many offer budget-friendly options for sampling wine, such as Gravity Winery, where you can try six different products for $15 (which is refunded with every four-bottle purchase).

Cape May, New Jersey

Victorian homes along the Cape May shore. (Photo by Richard T. Nowitz/Getty Images)

East Coasters should consider a visit to Cape May, one of America's oldest seaside resorts. Visitors keen to splurge can opt for one of the town's Victorian-style inns or guesthouses. For budget-conscious travelers, camping resorts offer RV sites, safari tents, tiny houses and cabin rentals (complete with shared amenities like pools or recreation areas) at a much lower price.

Attractions like the Cape May Boardwalk, the Cape May County Park and both the Cape May History and Fire Department museums are free (donations are optional). Not to mention, you can enjoy many lazy beach days. Travelers can also visit Cape May Meadows, known for bird-watching and butterfly spotting, free of charge.

Panama City Beach, Florida

Panama City Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rachelle Yingling/EyeEm/Getty Images)

A search on Hotels.com for Panama City Beach hotels reveals more than 2,500 lodging options, including motels starting at $85 per night, as well as a number of Wyndham, Radisson and Marriott properties costing less than $150 per night. That's a steal compared to other popular Florida beach destinations like Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Although this Florida seaside destination is known as a spring break party spot, it also caters to families and nature buffs with attractions such as the 1,200-acre St. Andrews State Park, which is home to hiking trails, idyllic beaches and affordable camping facilities. Another attractive natural space is nearby Camp Helen State Park, an ideal place for beachgoers, hikers and cyclists.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (Photo by Hollie Davenport/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Besides Myrtle Beach's 60-mile-long stretch of glittering sands, this Atlantic hub is also known for having close to 90 golf courses. Thanks to the high number of golf options, prices are competitive, making tee time affordable for avid golfers. You can play a round of golf for as low as $36 in Myrtle Beach, compared to the national average of $61 per round, according to the National Golf Foundation.

A quick search on Airbnb shows that there are nearly 1,000 home rentals available in Myrtle Beach, with the median price hovering below $150 a night for a private rental. Myrtle Beach also has nine different campgrounds, including Lakewood Camping Resort, which features an on-site water park, and the gated, waterfront North Myrtle Beach RV Resort and Dry Dock Marina.

Ventura (San Buenaventura) Beach, California

Ventura Pier at Ventura Beach, California. (Photo by Wendell Ward/Getty Images)

A California beach vacation is usually on the pricier side, but if you head to Ventura Beach, you may be able to do it on the cheap. Walking along Ventura Pier is a great free activity if you get tired of lounging on the sands, or you can meander along Ventura Promenade to Surfer's Point at Seaside Park to admire the town's wave riders (or even take a turn yourself).

Although hotels in the area can be expensive, this is the spot to visit if you want to camp on the beach. There are a number of options for both tent and RV camping, such as Emma Wood State Beach and Ventura Beach RV Resort, the latter of which offers unconventional options like yurt rentals complete with fire pits.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases