Clearwater Beach, Florida
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18 Best Beaches for a Budget Vacation

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Clearwater Beach, Florida
Jon Bilous/shutterstock

Sun, Sea, and Sand

A few days at the beach can be a great way to escape 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 and beach hotels are created equal. To find budget family beach getaways that still feel like you're away at a resort, we talked with travel industry experts and scoured travel review and booking sites, with summer prices researched in May.


Related: The Most Beautiful Beaches in America

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 — not to mention being less than 20 minutes' drive to the Cape Cod National Seashore, a national park also said to be a great family beach. During low tide there’s plenty of room for exploring and running around. Rock Harbor Pier, the home of the lifeboat that inspired the Disney rescue movie "The Finest Hours." Cape Cod is popular come summer, and prices show it, so skip the beach hotel — Vrbo lists options in the area for less than $200 a night. The key is to book well in advance for a best family beach vacation.


Related: Beautiful Beach Homes for Sale That'll Make You Contemplate a Lifestyle Change

Mission Bay, California
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Mission Bay, California

The cheapest beach is a free beach. And the sunny, year-round destination of 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 $40), kayaking (starting at $23), and paddle boarding ($25). 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 — though the rides inside are not. Finding budget hotels has become more challenging in this popular beach area and tourist hot spot, making home-sharing platforms a better bet. Vrbo lists some rentals for as little as $70 per night.


Related: Amazing West Coast Beach Houses to Rent

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. Stays in the area can cost as little as $110 a night even for three-star hotels, a very affordable price for a relaxing beach vacation.


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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 visits to Myrtle Beach's 60 miles of wide, soft sand. Brookgreen Gardens tickets include a zoo, botanical gardens, history, and sculpture. There's also a weekend flea market near Myrtle Beach with hundreds of vendors. Two-star lodging at the Sea Dunes Oceanfront hotel starts at under $172 a night during the August dates we looked at, while the three-star Captain’s Quarters Resort — voted most kid- friendly in Myrtle Beach — offered rooms for $194 per night. The resort includes indoor and outdoor pools, lazy rivers, bowling, and an arcade.


Not everyone loves the idea of a summertime break in Myrtle Beach. Some consider it one of Summer Tourist Spots to Avoid.

Chincoteague Island, VA
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Chincoteague Island, Virginia

A resort island famous for its oyster beds and clam shoals, Chincoteague is an affordable family beach vacation 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 $47 daily without hookups and $61 per day with. The Chincoteague Island KOA offers everything from glamping in a deluxe safari tent to small cabin rentals that can improve on hotel prices during a summer vacation. 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 budget beach town (no golf courses, though; you'll need to cross a river to get to one). For history buffs, the free George Washington Birthplace National Monument is just a short drive away. Accommodations include motels, rental cottages, cabins, and campgrounds. It's not a beach resort, but expanding the search for waterfront lodging to Vrbo can make it as cheap as around $150 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 ($17.55 for adults, $13 for kids 5 to 17). Downtown Muskegon offers a variety of affordable restaurants, three breweries, and a regular farmers market. Hotel prices? For this beach trip, you can book hotel rooms for less than $100 a night in early August.

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 budget beach resort town at the very tip of Texas offers accommodations starting at around $135 a night at 2-star hotels — making for an affordable family beach vacation. 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 4 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 $10 for adults and $4 for children. (Kids 4 and under are free.)

Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Virginia Beach, Virginia

With 3 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 (maybe chewing one of the 25 flavors from the Forbes salt water taffy shop) 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 per ride, or can buy unlimited-use armbands for $25 to $50. Hotel rooms near the beach can be $150 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 for this relaxing beach vacation in one of the nation's charming small towns 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 $200 per night during the summer.

Keansburg Beach, New Jersey
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Keansburg Beach, New Jersey

This secluded East Coast vacation spot 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. Individual ride tickets cost $1.25, and the waterpark on its own is $37. The beach is free to enter and features a skyline view of New York City — no beach resort can boast that. There's also a fishing pier and plenty of cheap dining. Budget motels in the area can be found for under $100 per night, which sounds perfect for a summer road trip.

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 starting at $209 per night. That beats hotel prices and makes for an affordable family beach vacation.

Destin Beach, FL
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Destin Beach, Florida

The "World's Luckiest Fishing Village" lies in a Florida panhandle 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 are 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 accessible for cheap beach vacations. Early August summer rates at area hotels start at just under $200 per night for access to these white sand beaches. 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, getting outside the United States to  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 this area in the Dominican Republic, enclosed by a reef, are well-suited for beginner snorkelers and divers. All-inclusive accommodation packages that include airfare and sometimes even amenities such as a resort spa can be found for about $1,200 per person for a seven-night vacation.


Aside from the white sand beaches of Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic is also a bucket list destination for people who love food.

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 with the United States, and Mazatlán is a good choice. 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 for a cheap beach vacation 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 a trip to Miami that is both affordable and among the best family beach vacations — especially it it's a road trip. 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 (locals and tourists). Check out the free and often family-friendly entertainment in the area, as well. Private Vrbos list for well under $150 per night in the area, and the whole trip can be surprisingly affordable.

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 ranks consistently 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 like a high-end beach resort. 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 around this vacation spot can be less than $100 per night. Vrbo also lists apartments, bungalows, and cottages for under $100 per night.


A final benefit for Clearwater: If you're looking for affordable beaches near Orlando and its theme park offerings, that entertainment mecca is a little over two hours' drive away — which might make worth it for a day-trip option.


Find more budget-friendly destinations and travel coverage right here.