For the landlocked, a trip to the ocean often requires lengthy travel, accommodation, car rental, and even beach costs. It can add up rather quickly, but we’ve taken all those factors into account and found some lesser known and incredibly affordable waterfront getaways. Now you can hit the beach in style — for a fraction of the normal cost.
With ten beaches to choose from including Jensen, Santa Lucea, and the imaginatively named Bathtub Reef Beach, Hobe Sound is one of Florida’s best vacation towns. Its average temperature is a practically perfect 75 degrees, and flights from NYC are under $300 when booked in advance. Since it’s barely half an hour from Palm Beach International, the only transport cost might be splitting a cab to and from the airport (but cars start at $21 per day if you’d rather rent). Book a hotel with your flight, and accommodation barely breaks $100 per night for two people; Pirate’s Cove Resort and Marina is a visitor favorite that provides a complimentary airport shuttle. Attractions include a nature center and wildlife refuge, and Little Moir’s Leftovers Café has a sweet potato-encrusted fish that’s essential to your stay.
It’s easy to forget part of Alabama exists on the Gulf of Mexico, but Mobile offers beachfront access without exorbitant price tags. The town was once known as the “Paris of the South,” but the prices are far from European. Numerous 3-star hotels begin at around $115 per night, and there are plenty of Southern-style seafood restaurants, like Mudbugs Cajun Café, that offer generous entrées for under ten dollars each. Mobile is located just a couple hours’ drive from New Orleans (the city’s Mardi Gras celebration is actually much older than the Big Easy’s), but you can also fly directly into Mobile and rent a car for under $30 per day.
Just two hours’ drive from Chicago and three from Detroit and Indianapolis, South Haven is a smart pick for Midwesterners who want the experience of visiting a coast on a budget. With its striking red lighthouse, North Beach Public Park is our pick for the best “sea” shore, and South Haven has visitor-friendly activities that range from racetracks to horse-drawn carriages. There’s also a great selection of budget accommodations to choose from, and eateries like Jonah’s Seafood Kitchen and The Thirsty Perch serve fresh seafood for under $15 an entrée.
Morro Bay is located about three and half hours’ drive from either Los Angeles or San Francisco. The town is well-known for its picturesque bay lined by the restaurant-packed Embarcadero, and while hotels here start around $150 per night, there are plenty of nearby campgrounds for an outdoor getaway. The town of 10,000 also has ample opportunities for fishing, sailing, golfing, and hiking at the Morro Bay State Park, and a nearby estuary can make a birdwatcher out of anyone. Seafood is a must: Lil Hut has a variety of inexpensive options, or if you feel like cooking, you can buy bargain oysters fresh from the source at Morro Bay Oyster Company.
With a variety of large, wide beaches and a fun nightlife scene, St. Petersburg is less subdued than Hobe Sound, but still a frugal choice: hotels frequently dip below $90 per night, and cheap seafood-shack meals are plentiful, especially by St. Pete beach. (Car rentals are a little pricy at over $50 per day, but a solid public transportation system can get you where you need to go.) St. Petersburg actually holds a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sunshine (768), and the town is also home to a thriving gay community centered around the north side of Sunset Beach.
Aguadilla is on the less-trafficked northwest tip of Puerto Rico, and it provides an unforgettable beach vacations for budget-conscious travellers. Plan in advance and aim for a weekday visit to find hotels with airport shuttles for well under $100 per night ( you’ll pay less if you travel with more people and book a larger room). Fresh local fare is available for under ten dollars a plate; you can find all manner of cheap food at Crashboat Beach, but Shacks Beach is a better pick for a quiet night out.