35 Best Beach Towns for an Affordable Summer Vacation

Cape Cod


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Cape Cod


From the New England charm of Cape Cod to the celebrity cachet of Malibu, America's most exclusive beach destinations are famous for their beauty — and for their sky-high prices. But these enclaves don’t have a monopoly on quaint harbor villages, roadside seafood stands, or winding country roads revealing a beach or cove around every other turn. There are plenty of other beach towns across the country with a come-hither-and-stay-all-summer vibe. The difference is: You might actually be able to afford an extended stay. 

Related: 20 Beach Vacation Spots Where Time Stands Still

Pompano Beach, FL
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Pompano Beach, Florida

Locals here like to say summer is their best-kept secret. The weather in this coastal community is generally cooler, breezier, and drier than the humid summers of the Northeast, and accommodation prices drop come May. Visitors can fill the days in Pompano Beach, known as the “Heart of the Gold Coast,” with fishing, boating, and diving and snorkeling at a living reef offshore. There's also a 1,000-foot-long municipal fishing pier and 50 parks scattered throughout the community.

Stay: Online vacation rental sites offer tons of choices for staying in Pompano Beach. One that caught our eye? This four-bedroom, three-bath house with a private pool and outdoor tiki lounge that can accommodate up to eight guests. 

Topsail Beach, NC
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Topsail Beach, North Carolina

Located at the southern end of Topsail Island, off the coast of southeastern North Carolina, Topsail Beach is a town where you can catch your own seafood dinner from Jolly Roger Pier, if you're so inclined. One of three communities on the 26-mile island, Topsail oozes small-town charm. Above the Post Office, there's a roller-skating rink. The Missiles and More Museum (a local historic building that dates back to 1946) showcases the history of Topsail Island. And for those who prefer sunshine and the outdoors, the options include surfing, fishing, and exploring the Intracoastal Waterway.

Stay: A variety of oceanfront homes are available for rent through local real estate agents and online vacation rental services. For instance, this three-bedroom, two-bath, one-level townhome has direct beach access and a 10-foot-wide glass door system for panoramic ocean views. 

Related: 33 Amazing East Coast Beach Houses to Rent

Gold Beach, OR
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Gold Beach, Oregon

Named after the hundreds of miners who extracted gold from nearby shores, southern Oregon's Gold Beach specializes in blending serenity and adventure. In addition to wandering along secluded beaches, tide pooling, fishing, and enjoying jet boat tours on the Rogue River, Gold Beach visitors can explore the rainforest or spend afternoons watching for passing pods of gray whales. Come evening, entertainment includes an oceanfront outdoor theater at the Pacific Reef Hotel.

Stay: Ranked one of the most popular resorts in the area on TripAdvisor, the Pacific Reef Hotel is a short walk from the beach. For something more private, book one of the area's vacation rental homes. We love this eclectic ocean-view home, which is just steps from the ocean with three bedrooms, two baths, and room for eight. 

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Chincoteague Island
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Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Famous for herds of wild ponies and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague Island has been recognized by Travel & Leisure as one of America's best little beach towns. There are no high-rises or boardwalks on the 7-mile-long island. Instead, visitors will find endless beaches, stunning sunsets, and unspoiled natural landscapes. Biking, hiking, bird-watching, and boating are popular activities, as are crabbing and clamming. There are also farmers markets to explore, and hang gliding for the more adventurous.

Stay: The Assateague Inn offers reasonably priced rooms, and the Seashell Motel has a few types of accommodations. If you're interested in a vacation rental home, you can't go wrong with something like this three-bedroom, three-bath rental that offers sweeping views of the island, a private dock for launching kayaks, and a screened porch for enjoying morning coffee or evening cocktails. 

Lubec, ME
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Lubec, Maine

A small beach town on Travel & Leisure's Best in America list, Lubec has the unique distinction of being the most easterly town in the United States. Two lighthouses, quaint fishing wharves, nearly 100 miles of shoreline, and incredible natural beauty are notable draws. For a little more structured entertainment, check out the selection of summer arts workshops at Summer Keys, including piano lessons, photography classes, creative writing, dancing, and more.

Stay: The Inn on the Wharf, located in a renovated, 108-year-old sardine factory, offers apartments with covered decks overlooking the ocean. Though Lubec does not have a huge number of vacation rentals, it does offer some. We love this vintage three-bedroom, two-bath house from 1889 that's near in-town conveniences and activities and which sleeps six. 

Essex, MA
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Essex, Massachusetts

Essential summertime activities here include exploring the pristine lengths of Crane Beach in nearby Ipswich and ending the day with a feast of fried clams at Woodman's. A place that typifies small-town New England beach life, Essex has yet to be overdeveloped or overrun by crowds. It's still dominated by winding country roads and vast picturesque marshes and estuaries that can be navigated in small rowboats or kayaks. It's also known as America's antiques capital, with more than two dozen shops clustered within a mile of each other. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is home to a fascinating collection of photos and artifacts.

Stay: On Airbnb, a charming, renovated barn across from the Great Salt Marsh starts at $285 per night. Vrbo lists more options.

Wellfleet, MA
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Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Named one of the top 25 beach towns in New England by Yankee magazine, Wellfleet is classic, unspoiled Cape Cod. Located on the outer end of the cape, it is dominated by Cape Cod National Seashore, which makes up more than half the land area. Beyond the pristine coastline, there are many spring-fed ponds; a charming downtown filled with art galleries, shops, and restaurants; and picturesque Wellfleet Harbor, with a nonstop parade of sailboats and yachts. Wellfleet is also home to the 1,000-acre Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Stay: Several quintessential New England vacation rentals are available online. For example, check out this two-bedroom, one-bath cottage just yards from the ocean and near Wellfleet's best restaurants. 

Gearhart, OR
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Gearhart, Oregon

A town without a single traffic light, and wide streets that are perfect for riding bikes, Gearhart is another one of America's best small beach towns, according to Travel & Leisure. What makes the community so alluring, in addition to its unhurried pace, is pristine beaches, antique shops, art galleries, and abundant hiking.

Stay: There are a number of condos, homes, and other types of online vacation rentals located in Gearhart. This three-bedroom townhome, for example, located just a few blocks from the beach, is dog-friendly with a big yard, a large deck, and a comfortable, open-concept layout that can accommodate up to six guests. 

South Padre Island, Texas
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South Padre Island, Texas

While South Padre may be a notorious spring break haunt, come summer the crowds are long gone and the community becomes an alluring, family-friendly destination. There are 34 miles of white sand beach, emerald water, fishing, water sports, sandcastle lessons, and the Schlitterbahn Waterpark.

Stay: South Padre Island is full of beachfront condo vacation rentals. Some, like this three-bedroom, three-bath unit that sleeps eight, offer easy beach access, incredible views, and access to amenities like tennis courts and a pool.

Tybee Island, GA
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Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island is a picturesque barrier island perfect for whiling away summer days. Less than 20 miles from historic Savannah, Tybee is known for wide, sandy beaches, tasty local cuisine, and salt marshes full of birds and wildlife unique to the Georgia coast. There are plenty of fishing opportunities and more than two dozen restaurants, should you not feel like catching your meals.

Stay: A variety of vacation rentals are available on Tybee Island, including condos, houses, apartments, bungalows, and more. We love this designer-decorated cottage located near Savannah Beach. It has six bedrooms, five baths, and space for up to 14 guests. 

Hilton Head Island, SC
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Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

A beach community recognized by a dizzying list of publications, including Travel & Leisure, USA Today, and Forbes, Hilton Head can easily entertain visitors for a long string of summer days. With 12 miles of beach, golf courses, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and hundreds of restaurants, Hilton Head Island may actually sound a bit overwhelming at first blush. But there's a concerted effort to keep it feeling like, well, an island retreat, with a deliberate absence of bright street lights and brash colors.

Stay: There's no shortage of online vacation rentals available on Hilton Head Island. Among them is this adorably appointed one-bedroom, one-bath condo with an ocean view. It offers a one-minute walk to Coligny Beach as well as a beach boardwalk, outdoor showers, pool, and more. 

Carolina Beach, NC
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Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Located between Myrtle Beach and Nags Head, Carolina Beach offers a quieter, slower-paced, and more affordable take on a summer getaway, says Clem Bason, CEO of the hotel deal site GoSeek. Described as one of the most down-to-earth beaches on the Atlantic coast, Carolina Beach has a vintage boardwalk lined by rides and restaurants, regular live music, surfing, and hiking and bird-watching in Carolina Beach State Park — all of which just scratches the surface of this classic American beach community.

Stay: There are a number of Carolina Beach apartments, condominiums, and townhouses on Vrbo. For example, this one-bedroom, one-bath cottage is just a few blocks from the beach and has tons of warmth and comfortable furnishings. 

Related: 40 Best Boardwalks in the Country

York, ME
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York, Maine

A classic Maine community, York is a quaint village with a postcard-perfect shoreline, ice cream stands that date back generations, and plenty of picturesque country roads passing iconic regional architecture, pastoral fields, and the occasional cove or estuary. Kayaking, golf, biking, and wandering along the many nature trails are top activities here. There are also a variety of summer theaters in the area, including the Ogunquit Playhouse and the Hackmatack Playhouse.

Stay: While there are plenty of cheaper vacation rentals in York, we love this five-bedroom ocean-view home that is a short walk to a number of area beaches. Perched on a bluff, it has incredible ocean views and can sleep 12. 

Sunset Beach, Hawaii
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Sunset Beach, Hawaii

A place synonymous with beach life, Hawaii cannot be overlooked when it comes to oceanfront communities worthy of a summer escape. One of the most pleasant places to pass a few weeks is the North Shore of Oahu. Sunset Beach is a vibrant surfer community during winter but practically abandoned come summer, when the waves all but disappear. There's unforgettable snorkeling to be done here, as well as hiking and zip lining. Sunset Beach State Park is a prime place for beachcombing, not to mention sunsets.

Stay: Sunset Beach is a blink-and-you-miss-it community; accommodations can be found in the general North Shore Oahu and Haleiwa region

Avila Beach, CA
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Avila Beach, California

An unincorporated community in San Luis Obispo County, about two hours north of Los Angeles, Avila Beach provides an escape from big-city life. Located just off picturesque Highway 1, this small beach town is known for local wines, oceanfront dining, and spas featuring natural mineral hot springs. Visitors can spend time visiting the Central Coast Aquarium, wandering along the Bob Jones biking and walking trail, or exploring the area via the free Avila Beach Trolley, which shuttles passengers to the equally charming Pismo Beach.

Stay: Vrbo lists summer rentals throughout the Avila and Pismo Beach area, some for less than $150 a night. Other rentals are more of a splurge.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
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Rehoboth, Delaware

There are enough forms of entertainment in Rehoboth to fill a few summer months and then some. The beachfront boardwalk provides endless fun for kids. Adults are attracted to the vibrant restaurant scene, art galleries, and shops. There are free concerts at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, and the Rehoboth Beach Museum presents town history through displays of vintage postcards and yearbooks.

Stay: Vrbo lists summer rental options ranging from cottages to beachfront condos for as little as $100 a night. Expect to spend a bit more, however, for something like this massive five-bedroom, four-bath, single-family home that sleeps 14 and is located within walking distance of the beach and boardwalk.

Long Beach, WA
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Long Beach, Washington

Long Beach is popular throughout the year but especially so in summer, once the region's famous rains are gone. There are 28 miles of sand beaches for sunbathing, swimming, or surfing. Other notable options for summertime entertainment include eco tours of the Columbia River, the nearly half-mile Long Beach Boardwalk, and the Willapa Wildlife Refuge, which is home to an ancient grove of red cedars that are about 1,000 years old.

Stay: There are a number of vacation rentals offering close beach proximity. For great views and direct beach access, check out this condo with a patio facing the ocean. It sleeps four. 

Huntington Beach, CA
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Huntington Beach, California

Huntington Beach is far more affordable than its famous neighbors to the north, such as Santa Monica, Venice, and Laguna, says GoSeek's Bason. The walkable downtown features trendy shops and great restaurants. But what Huntington Beach does best, of course, is beach life, whether it's surfing, playing volleyball, strolling the pier, or ending the day by a bonfire. The community is home to 10 miles of beach and prime surf (its nickname is Surf City USA). Its five beaches are connected by a paved path designed for walking, jogging, and bike riding.

Stay: Vrbo lists beach homes, guest rooms, and apartments in midsummer, some for less than $70 per night. This three-bedroom house, which can be shared by two families of four, is just three blocks off the beach and features a rooftop patio and gourmet kitchen.

Gulf Shores, AL
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Gulf Shores, Alabama

Travel publications have named Gulf Shores one of the most charming beach communities in America, one of the most underrated vacation spots in the country, and one of the best Southern beaches, among other accolades. In addition to 32 miles of beach, one of the top attractions is Gulf State Park, where there are hiking trails, kayak rentals, a zip line over the dunes, and a golf course. Just across the street is the second-largest pier in the Gulf of Mexico. The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is home to sea turtles and migratory birds.

Stay: Vacation rentals — many of them condos — are plentiful in Gulf Shores. But there are homes available, too, including this ocean-front four-bedroom rental with an open layout and beachy vibe. 

Related: 23 Amazing Gulf Coast Beach Houses to Rent

Kiawah Island, SC
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Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Kiawah Island, a barrier island not far from Charleston, offers 10 miles of coastline, more than 100 acres of parks, and 30 miles of hiking and biking trails. Visitors can explore maritime forests; observe wildlife living in the island marshes, including turtles, whitetail deer, and seabirds; or venture out via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. For a change of scenery, head over to Charleston to meander along its cobblestone streets and see stunning historic homes.

Stay: Vrbo offers a diverse selection of summer options, from villas to condos for less than $200 a night. Some rentals — including this one-bedroom, one-bath condo near the Heron Park Nature Center and Kiawah Conservancy — still have summer dates available. 

Related: 19 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Charleston

Pensacola, Florida
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Pensacola Bay, Florida

What's your daydream? Days spent lazing on sugar-white sand or days spent roaming the halls of a pre-Civil War fort? Or perhaps it’s getting in touch with your outdoorsy side? The Pensacola Bay area offers all of this and more. One of the top budget-friendly activities is the free National Naval Aviation Museum, located aboard NAS Pensacola. Another popular attraction, the Gulf Islands National Seashore spans both Pensacola and Perdido Key and features white-sand beaches, war forts, and more. Passes are $25 per vehicle.

Stay: The Pensacola Bay area has beautiful campgrounds that start around $20 a night. For something a little less rustic, check out the area's selection of vacation rentals, which include gems like this uber-beachy condo right on the water. 

Related: 20 Beautiful Beachside Campgrounds Across America

Fort Bragg, California
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Fort Bragg, California

Whether you ride the historic Skunk Train, wander the miles of beautiful coastline, tour the harbor or pedal a two-person rail bike through the redwoods, there are plenty of fun, affordable activities in the charming beach community of Fort Bragg. A city of 6,000 people on California’s Mendocino Coast, Fort Bragg is small and easy to get around, offering a great place to simply unplug and enjoy the area’s wild, natural beauty. It’s most famous attraction is perhaps Glass Beach, known for its colorful glass stones.

Stay: The coastal Beachcomber Motel offers breathtaking ocean views. If you're more in the market for a vacation rental, there are many near Fort Bragg. Check out the cool, eclectic vibe of this pet-friendly, two-bedroom, two-bath cottage, which is close to MacKerricher State Park. 

Bowman's Beach, Sanibel, Florida
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Sanibel Island, Florida

A placed famed for offering some of the best sea-shelling around, Sanibel Island is consistently recognized for its stunning beaches, which have received awards from National Geographic, U.S. News & World Report, and numerous other publications. The island has also been recognized for being a family-friendly destination. Top attractions include the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, which has many interactive exhibits, and Sanibel’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which covers more than 5,000-acres and is home to exotic birds, raccoons, otter, and alligators.

Stay: Located on the western portion of Sanibel Island adjacent to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the colorful, vintage Periwinkle Cottages start at $130 per night. There are also plenty of vacation rentals available, many of them condos. This gulf-front rental, for example, has two bedrooms, two baths, and incredible views. 

Surfside, Florida
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Surfside, Florida

Just north of Miami Beach, Surfside offers a quieter, family-friendly and relaxed beach-town vibe, without the South Beach crowds and prices. Visitors will find 1 mile of pristine beach to explore, plenty of shopping, and culturally diverse restaurants. Surfside is also the only Miami-Dade seaside community with a significant citywide exhibit that pays tribute to marine life. “Tales of the Surfside Turtles” is a display of resin and fiberglass turtle sculptures that stand 5 feet high. The colorful sculptures were designed to raise awareness for the area's seasonal visitors, loggerhead turtles.

Stay: Vrbo offers a variety of accommodation options for Surfside.

Pawleys Island, South Carolina
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Pawleys Island, South Carolina

A destination that’s been known for generations as a relaxing coastal Carolina getaway, Pawleys Island is one of the oldest summer resorts on the East Coast: It dates back to the 1700s. The island has worked hard to maintain its laid-back beach community atmosphere. There are no flashing neon lights here, and you will not find any long lines or crowds. The quiet beauty of the beach and the marshlands are the main attractions on Pawleys. With the island’s natural, peaceful atmosphere as the backdrop, Pawleys Island is said to provide the perfect spot for unforgettable family time.

Stay: Vrbo rentals on the island go for as low as $190 per night, but make your reservations early — properties fill up during the summer months. This waterfront condo sleeps six and includes access to a shared outdoor pool, hot tub, and tennis courts. 

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

A popular beach destination that offers everything from an arcade-lined boardwalk to celebrity-created golf courses, the good news is that many memorable attractions in Myrtle Beach are budget-friendly. In addition to the boardwalk and the 60 miles of beach, there are also live bands at The Pier at Garden City Beach every night, all summer long. The Franklin G. Burroughs — Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, which showcases contemporary art, is also free. Don’t miss shelling and exploring the nature trails at Myrtle Beach State Park, where admission is $5 or less per person. The park hosts free children’s programs all year long.

Stay: A variety of accommodations can be found on Vrbo for under $200 in mid-summer. Check out this oceanfront corner condominium that’s available for around $100 per night.

St. Mary’s, Georgia
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St. Mary’s, Georgia

A coastal Georgia town, St. Mary’s is often referred to as the gateway to nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island. The island is known for its pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. Cumberland Island is also home to more than 9,800 acres of congressionally designated wilderness. Eco-tourism opportunities abound here including the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. Many of the sites along the trail offer the opportunity to watch birds as well as visit 18th- and 19th-century historic places.

Stay: St. Mary's is full of charming, historic beach cottage vacation rentals. This 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bath home includes a gourmet kitchen. 

Fair Haven, New York
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Fair Haven, New York

Located on Lake Ontario, the tiny town of Fair Haven (population about 745 people at last count) offers a freshwater beach experience. The small community is popular for its camping, boating, fishing, and quaint shops. It’s also home to the 1,141-acre Fair Haven Beach State Park, where the entrance fee is just $8 per vehicle, and activities include fishing, kayaking, and hiking. The park also features 1,500 feet of sand beach including 600 feet of guarded swim area.

Stay: The park is home to three separate campgrounds and a 30-unit cabin community. If you're looking for an online vacation rental, there are plenty in Fair Haven — including this rustic waterfront cottage on Blind Sodus Bay that sleeps seven. 

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
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Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Named one North Carolina’s best beaches by USA Today, Wrightsville Beach offers crystal blue waters, a spacious beach, and even popular kids programs ranging from pirate-led treasure hunts to surf camps. Additional attractions include the living classrooms and coastal wildlife attractions at the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center and the history displays at the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History.

Stay: A popular vacation spot, there are condos and cottages to be found on Vrbo for less than $200 per night. Or you can spend a bit more on this main-floor suite in a 1940s beach cottage that's within walking distance to restaurants, a fishing pier, and more.

Cape May, New Jersey
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Cape May, New Jersey

A community that bills itself as “America’s oldest seaside resort,” Cape May is Instagram gold with its colorful Victorian homes and its historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The area features one of the country’s largest collections of 19th-century framed buildings. Not to be overlooked, this community on the tip of southern New Jersey is also home to pristine beaches including Higbee Beach to Poverty Beach. The Cape May Lighthouse provides breathtaking views of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Stay: You'll find no shortage of vacation rentals in and around Cape May.

Related: 39 Vintage Beach Photos From Summers Past

Delray Beach, Florida
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Delray Beach, Florida

Located between glitzy Boca Raton and the well-heeled community of West Palm Beach, the small city of Delray Beach was once named the Most Fun Small Town in the USA. The city is known for family friendly festivals, and for its vibrant arts scene. (There are more than 20 galleries and public art pieces located downtown.) There are also 2 miles of pristine beaches in Delray and Wakodahatchee Wetlands park, which features a three-quarter-mile raised boardwalk offering views of birds, turtles, and alligators.

Stay: Plenty of guest houses close to the beach can be rented on Vrbo. A sun-filled, three-bedroom cottage that sleeps six lists for $374 per night on the home-sharing platform.

San Juan, Puerto Rico
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San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan offers one of the most affordable beach getaways in the Caribbean. And as an added bonus, its miles of beaches are relaxed and uncrowded. When not basking in the sun, there are plenty of attractions to explore including Spanish forts and the cobblestoned streets in Old San Juan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stay: In Condado Beach, the most popular beachfront community, grab a standard room at the Canario Boutique Hotel. Or check Vrbo for vacation rentals. This beach house near Isla Verde Beach has room for a group of 13, with six bedrooms, five baths, around 3,000 square feet, and a pool.


Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida
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Clearwater Beach, Florida

Famed for its namesake wide, white-sand beach, which stretches for miles, Clearwater Beach has been named the best beach in the country on multiple occasions. The beach is a hub of activity thanks to its Beach Walk Promenade and the bustling activity of its Pier 60. Beyond the beach, the Clearwater Jolley Trolley (which costs just $5 for an unlimited pass) offers a fun way to take in the community. The vintage trolleys with oak interiors take riders to downtown Clearwater, Sand Key, and the surrounding coastal towns of North Pinellas, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, and Tarpon Springs.

Stay: Just across the street from Clearwater Beach, visitors will find a variety of hotel options, such as the Clearwater Beach Hotel. For non-hotel options, check out the availability on Vrbo.

Beaufort, South Carolina
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Beaufort, South Carolina

A community that dates back to the 1500s, Beaufort is located on Port Royal Island. Known for its plantation homes, particularly in its downtown historic district, popular activities here include guided island coach tours, fishing charters, and boat and kayak tours that showcase the community’s rich history, including its Gullah heritage and the natural beauty of the coastal Lowcountry. For those focused on quality beach time, visit Hunting Island State Park where there are 5 miles of sand, thousands of acres of marsh, tidal creeks, a maritime forest, and a saltwater lagoon.

Stay: Vrbo lists many charming small cottages in Beaufort for well under $200 per night. This colorful option is cozy, beachy, can sleep six, and features a sun porch and washer/dryer. 

Rockport, Texas
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Rockport, Texas

One last coastal community to keep in mind for a sun- and sand-filled getaway, Rockport’s highlights include Rockport Beach with its fishing piers and rich birdlife, and the community’s variety of art galleries. The Rockport Center for the Arts offers classes, exhibitions, and a sculpture garden. Yet another notable stop, the Texas Maritime Museum covers everything from pirates to fishing to oil drilling in its exhibits.

Stay: Rockport is full of rentable vacation properties, many of which are close to the water. This home along Estes Cove offers space for three families of four and features amenities that include multiple outdoor living spaces, fishing opportunities, and modern furnishings.

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