Best Beaches for a Budget Vacation
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18 Best Beaches for a Budget Vacation

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Best Beaches for a Budget Vacation
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Sun, Sea, and Sand

A few days at the beach can be a great way to escape the rigors of everyday life and enjoy some simple pleasures — collecting seashells, watching the sun set, and perhaps surfing or exploring tide pools. But not all beach vacations are created equal. For those seeking to stick to a strict budget and still have a memorable getaway, here are 18 options from travel industry experts and travel review and booking sites, with summer prices found in May 2019.

Gina Martinez contributed to this story.

Rock Harbor - Orleans, Mass
Rock Harbor - Orleans, Mass by clarke thomas (CC BY-NC)

Rock Harbor Beach, Massachusetts

Cape Cod is practically synonymous with "beach vacation," but locals call Rock Harbor Beach in Orleans one of the most enchanting and budget-friendly in the area. Also said to be a great family beach, during low tide there’s plenty of room for exploring and running around. Rock Harbor Pier is the home of the lifeboat that inspired the Disney rescue movie "The Finest Hours." Cape Cod is incredibly popular come summer, and prices show it — but Airbnb lists options in the Orleans area for less than $200 a night, and some as low as $83. The key is to book well in advance.

Indiana Dunes, Indiana
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Indiana Dunes, Indiana

True, there is no ocean in Indiana, but there is Lake Michigan. Indiana Dunes is home to 15 miles of shoreline and world-class sandy beaches. Beyond the beach, activities include biking, hiking along more than 70 miles of trails, and bird-watching for 350 migratory species. Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, which date back to the 1800s, are also within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Three-star stays in the area can cost as little as $99 a night.

Mission Bay, California
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Mission Bay, California

A sunny, year-round destination, Mission Bay is famous for its 27 miles of free public-access beaches and boardwalks, and water activities of practically every kind, including sailing (rentals start at about $34), kayaking (starting at $23), and paddle boarding ($28). Bordered by quirky, colorful beach communities, this San Diego highlight has countless budget dining choices and nightlife options. Belmont Park, a quintessential boardwalk amusement park with one of the oldest roller coasters in the country, is a short walk away, and entrance is free. Finding budget hotels has become more challenging in this popular beach area, making home-sharing platforms a better bet. Airbnb lists single rooms for as little as $83 per night, or entire guest houses for about $148 per night.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

This family-friendly coastal area is easy to reach by plane or car, and there's lots to do between trips to 60 miles of wide, soft sand. Brookgreen Gardens tickets include a zoo, botanical gardens, history, and sculpture. There's also a weekend flea market that's hosted more than 250 vendors. Two-star lodging at the Sea Dunes Oceanfront hotel starts at under $100 a night, while the three-star Captain’s Quarters Resort — voted most kid- friendly in Myrtle Beach — offers rooms midsummer for $109 per night. The resort includes indoor and outdoor pools, lazy rivers, bowling, and an arcade.

Chincoteague Island, VA
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Chincoteague Island, Virginia

A resort island famous for its oyster beds and clam shoals, Chincoteague is ideal for beachcombing, surf fishing, hiking, and biking and provides easy access to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a 14,000-acre wildlife preserve with stunning wilderness trails. There's also a lighthouse that's free to explore. Lodging on Chincoteague Island is especially cheap at privately owned campgrounds, with sites at Tom’s Cove Park starting at $36 daily without hookups and $48 per day with. The Chincoteague Island KOA offers everything from glamping in a deluxe safari tent to small cabin rentals. There’s also a pool, playground, and dog park.

Colonial Beach, Virginia
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Colonial Beach, Virginia

Less than two hours outside Washington D.C., this free public beach along the Potomac offers a variety of cheap activities, including free fishing from the town pier, kayaking, bike rentals, and Friday Night Art Walks downtown. Golf carts can be rented and driven around this low-key town. For history buffs, the free George Washington Birthplace National Monument is just a short drive away. Accommodations include motels, rental cottages, cabins, and campgrounds. Expanding the search for waterfront lodging to Airbnb can make it as cheap as $95 a night.

2017-09-05_15-11-55
2017-09-05_15-11-55 by Joanna Poe (CC BY-SA)

Pere Marquette Beach, Michigan

Michigan may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking "beach vacation," but Muskegon's Pere Marquette Beach on Lake Michigan is free — and the largest in western Michigan. It includes a playground, volleyball courts, a restaurant and access to lighthouses and the Muskegon Channel. It's also home to the USS Silversides, a World War II submarine and museum ($15 for adults, $10.50 for kids 5 to 18). Downtown Muskegon offers a variety of affordable restaurants, two breweries, and a regular farmers market. Hotels can be found for less than $150 a night.

Ventura County, California
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Ventura County, California

Skip Santa Barbara to the north and Malibu to the south and head for the much more affordable beaches of Ventura County. Accommodations are cheaper in the area's less glamorous beach towns, where vacationers enjoy free street parking, daytime lifeguards, piers, volleyball courts, and beaches that rival the beauty of the more upscale spots nearby. Top beach options include Port Hueneme Beach Park (where there’s picnic tables, barbecue pits, volleyball courts, and a 24-hour fishing pier,) as well as Surfer’s Point Beach, Emma Wood State Beach, and Silver Strand Beach, known for its surfing, fishing, and family-friendly atmosphere.

South Padre Island, Texas
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South Padre Island, Texas

A mega-popular spring break destination due to its affordability, this resort town at the very tip of Texas offers accommodations for around $100 a night at 2-star hotels. South Padre Island also boasts plenty of free and cheap activities, including the 1,500-foot elevated boardwalk of the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, which crosses four acres of marshland and provides a great place for spotting coastal and migratory birds. Animal lovers should also head for Sea Turtle Inc., a rehabilitation facility where admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children. (Kids 4 and under are free.)

Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Virginia Beach, Virginia

With three miles of boardwalk and 14 miles of free beaches and inexpensive restaurants and bars, Virginia Beach is popular and affordable. Just walking around the resort area is entertaining, with street performers, live music, and festivals, but there are also 4,000 acres of state parks and national wildlife refuge in the area. The Virginia Beach Amusement Park is free to enter. Visitors use tickets amounting to about $1.10 per ride, or can buy unlimited-use armbands for $25 to $40. Rooms near the beach can be less than $100 a night even during summer months.

Ocean City Beach, Ocean City, Maryland
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Ocean City, Maryland

This classic beach town and its miles of wooden boardwalk are within driving distance of Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia and offer free family activities six nights a week during the summer. Options include movies on the beach, concerts, dance parties, and fireworks. Sundaes in the Park combine live music, ice cream sundaes, and stunning sunsets. Rooms at budget beachfront motels start at about $160 per night during the summer.

Keansburg Beach, New Jersey
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Keansburg Beach, New Jersey

This secluded beach along the Jersey Shore boasts a boardwalk, an amusement park, and a water park. Another kid-friendly destination, the Keansburg Amusement Park offers a combination entrance to a Runaway Rapids water park and amusement park with arcades, go-karts, and rides, starting at $52. Individual ride tickets cost less than $1, and the waterpark on its own is $27.  The beach is free to enter and features a skyline view of New York City. There's also a fishing pier and plenty of cheap dining. Budget motels in the area can be found for under $100 per night.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
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Cannon Beach, Oregon

A popular weekend getaway outside Portland, Cannon Beach has miles of scenic sandy beach with dramatic rock formations (National Geographic named it one of "The World's Most Beautiful Places" in 2013). Nearby is Ecola State Park, which offers scenic and hiking opportunities as well as tidepooling, surfing, and wildlife observation for a $5 day pass. The town of Cannon Beach is a postcard-worthy Oregon Coast community known for art galleries, specialty shops, public art, and restaurants, and entire Airbnb apartments and cottages can be had for under $200 per night.

Destin Beach, FL
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Destin Beach, Florida

The "World's Luckiest Fishing Village" lies in the Florida panhandle, in a stretch known as the Emerald Coast, and is often referred to by travel media as one of the best budget beaches in the country. The waters appear to be a brilliant emerald green and the stunning bright white sand, composed entirely of ground Appalachian quartz, resembles sugar. Three regional airports (Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola, and Panama City Beach) make Destin easily accessible. While there are a handful of hotels offering summer rates just under $200 per night, Airbnb might be a better bet, as the budget friendly options are more plentiful. The local seafood is top-notch — catch your own and cook it to save cash — and inexpensive chain restaurants abound.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
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Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

For anyone seeking an all-inclusive resort vacation, the Dominican Republic, specifically Punta Cana, remains an excellent low-cost option. Dazzling beaches with clear blue waters, coconut palm trees, and pristine white sands face the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The shallow waters of the area, enclosed by a reef, are well-suited for beginner snorkelers and divers. All-inclusive accommodation packages that include airfare can be found for about $1,200 for a six-night vacation.

Mazatlán, Mexico
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Mazatlán, Mexico

Mexican beach getaways attract everyone from raucous college students to newlyweds, retirees, and families with kids — but they often don't run cheap. Still, inexpensive beach vacations are possible south of the border, and Mazatlán is a good choice. Located on the central Pacific coast and boasting an international airport, Mazatlán features 50 miles of beaches and plenty of cheap, casual dining. Free things to do in the area include exploring the Malecón boardwalk, which is one of the longest in the world and runs north from Olas Altas Beach. Additional noteworthy attractions include Old Mazatlán and El Faro Lighthouse, which is one of the highest lighthouses in the world and includes a new glass-bottom lookout. Budget hotels here abound, with even three-star hotels well under $100 per night.

Miami Beach, Florida
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Miami Beach North, Florida

The glitz and glam associated with Miami don't necessarily bring to mind frugal travel. But shunning South Beach and planning ahead can make possible an affordable trip to Miami. North Beach offers the cheapest restaurants and accommodations in the area, as well as Art Deco architecture that's free for gawking. Cheap fast food dots the area, along with plenty of opportunity for people-watching (both locals and tourists). Check out the free and often family-friendly entertainment in the area, as well.  Private-entry Airbnbs list for well under $100 per night in the area.

Clearwater Beach, Florida
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Clearwater Beach, Florida

Along the central Gulf coast of Florida sits Clearwater, which lives up to its name. This affordable beach destination consistently ranks among Florida's top beaches, and it's easy to see why: well-maintained facilities, lifeguards during the days, excellent weather year-round, powdery sands, and clear, blue waters. There are numerous free and cheap things to do, many of which will please kids and adults alike, from nature walks to musical performances. Beach access is free, but parking is not. Hotel stays at two-star properties can be as low as $74 to $98 per night. Airbnb lists apartments, bungalows, and cottages for under $100 per night, some as low as $73 per night.