With no cars allowed on the island (minus a few beach trucks with benches in the back), a vacation on Little St. Simons Island, a private island resort off the Georgia coast, is an escape that Mark Twain himself might have invented. Life here revolves around biking and beachcombing, hiking and fishing, boating and kayaking—guided by a khaki-clad team of naturalists. At day's end, the resort's 32 (maximum) guests gather at dinner served family-style in a rustic, circa-1917 lodge to compare adventures and indulge in the garden's fresh vegetables and fruit, then head off to sleep in blissfully tech-free cottages among the palms. Nightly rates include lodging; boat transfers to and from the island; three full meals daily; beverages including soft drinks, beer, and wine; and all island activities including use of recreation gear (and easy access to plenty of bug spray), naturalist-led expeditions and talks, plus a fantastic curation of books, historic photographs, and beachcombed collections in the cozy lodge.
A private, pristine shore located a few miles outside Saint Augustine, Crescent Beach is known for its soft, sugar-fine sand and tranquil atmosphere. Walk the beach early in the morning to spot natural treasures like whole seashells, sand dollars and starfish. Drive into Saint Augustine for a day of mini-golf and shopping before retreating to this quiet haven for another day of savoring the sun.
No matter how you picture it, there’s something memorable about setting up camp at a beach house. Whether you’re on the hunt for a family-friendly getaway or a coastal hot spot with incredible nightlife, we’ve combed the country for 20 seaside adventures that won’t break the bank. Better yet, booking an affordable vacation home through TripAdvisor Rentals means you’ll have a little extra cash in your pocket for all the other great attractions these areas have to offer.
Need a break from the real world? There’s no better place to relax than on a warm, sunny beach—but for most travelers, it’s not relaxing to spend a fortune on your getaway. Luckily, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path beach vacations that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Check out these lesser-known beach destinations that go easy on your wallet.
A half-hour drive from Myrtle Beach’s high rises brings you to a little beach town full of rambling rental houses. Sunset Beach proudly preserves its undeveloped beachfront with wide setbacks―that means a spacious beach. Lofty sand dunes stretch 3 miles south to the inlet connecting the Carolinas on Bird Island state nature preserve. sunsetbeachnc.gov
Known for its Broadway-quality entertainment, outlet stores, and a 23-acre zoo, West Palm Beach has got something for everyone. Visitors can spend the day checking out one of the four entertainment and shopping districts, all of which offer a variety of shops, shows, and dining choices. Theatergoers are bound to have a great time at one of the acclaimed performing arts centers. For art lovers, West Palm Beach is home to the renowned Norton Museum of Art. With great weather no matter the season, West Palm Beach is the perfect place to enjoy outdoor entertainment. It’s also the annual home of Florida’s largest waterfront music festival. Things to Do in West Palm Beach
While it's hard to argue with the universal appeal of simply basking in the sun on beautiful white sand beaches (with maybe a frosty drink in hand), there's just so much to do on an island vacation. Active explorers can survey coves and ruins, take jeep tours, parasailing lessons, or set out on day cruises. For water enthusiasts, there are scuba diving, snorkeling, diving, and sea kayaking opportunities galore in most any island vacation spot. And if you're in search of dynamic nightlife, island travel is just the ticket: a beach vacation just wouldn't be complete without nights of feasting on fresh seafood, dancing the night away in after-hours clubs, or just chilling poolside at the cocktail bar at sunset. Soak up the serenity of unspoiled landscapes and enjoy the variety of activities that come with a beach vacation.
An unpaved maze of roads leads the way to Le Rêve, an intimate, 25-suite boutique property with more romance and charm than its neighboring mega-resorts combined. Couples hang out in private hammocks by the garden suites, accented with colorful, locally sourced Mexican tiles. Bungalows come with private plunge pools overlooking a generous stretch of ocean. Snorkeling gear is on the house.
Further afield, you, too, can find your bliss among the beaches of Goa, India, which have welcomed bohemian types since the ’60s. Amarya Shamiyana, a collection of four Moghul-inspired tents in a palm-shaded oasis—just down the beach from Jade Jagger’s boutique—channels that carefree, chic spirit. The hotel bursts with color, from playful hand-painted damask murals to metallic beanbag chairs, and puts you within walking distance of the beautiful party people (from $110 per night).
Myrtle Beach has been a favorite beach destination on Atlantic Coast for decades. This is a wonderful place to visit for families, and there are lots of golf courses and nightlife options for adults too. Flight prices are often reasonable here to drive the tourism industry, and it’s also an easy drive from many cities in the South and Mid-Atlantic coast. There are lots of hotels here, but also look into condo-style vacation rental options if you’re traveling with a few other people.
From white sandy shorelines to first-class wineries, Pismo Beach has lots to offer vacationers. This classic beach town in California’s central coast sits right along the Pacific Highway, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Pismo Beach has no shortage of outdoor activities as visitors have their pick of golfing, horseback riding, surfing, body boarding, and fishing. Suntanned shoppers can grab great deals at Pismo Beach Premium Outlets. Meanwhile, the award-winning boardwalk gives guests a chance to soak in the sun while satisfying their stomachs at the many restaurants and food stands.
To experience nature at its finest, it's hard to top Cannon Beach, a wide, wild swath of sand on the Oregon Coast about 90 minutes from Portland. Known for its dramatic rock formations (235-foot-tall Haystack being the most famous), lush rainforests (complete with waterfalls), large artist population (galleries abound) and wildlife (you can easily spot nesting puffins and grazing elk), Cannon Beach is ideal as a romantic getaway spot for eco-loving couples. Aside from beachcombing and surfing, hiking is the thing to do (the views from Ecola State Park are sublime) and accommodations include dozens of inns to suit all budgets.
One-size-fits-all isn’t usually a winning strategy for planning an multigenerational getaway, so the Lodge at Kukui’ula on Kauai has transformed the typical resort tour desk into a personal island concierge to customize activities that meet the needs of every family. Start by booking one of the resort’s cottages, bungalows or villas, all standalone accommodations where you can have your whole group under one roof. Resort highlights include a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, a spa, and farm-to-table dining; when you’re ready to explore the Garden Island of Hawaii your built-to-order tour options range from hiking to hidden waterfalls and on the Kalalau Trail, to sailing a traditional Hawaiian canoe.
History buffs will have plenty to see and do in Cape May. America’s first seaside resort town has over 600 well-preserved Victorian-era buildings, some of which now welcome guests as bed and breakfasts. Themed trolley tours led by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities are a popular activity for those who want to learn more about the fascinating history of this charming town. The “Painted Ladies” overlook the promenade and Cape May’s Convention Hall, which offers a year-round schedule of activities and entertainment. Past the promenade are miles of sandy beaches where visitors can soak up the sun. Things to Do in Cape May
Uluwatu might be the world’s cheapest hard-core surf destination, home to five world-famous breaks and subject of the 1971 Australian documentary Morning of the Earth. The surfing is high-level stuff, so nobody’s going to blame you for relaxing in a beach shack and enjoying a cheap beer next to the breaks. While you’re here, definitely check out the Pura Luhur Uluwatu temple, an 11th-century Hindu temple atop a hill with the best views of the beaches.
The National Park Service typically posts lifeguards here from Memorial Day to Labor Day, along with chair and umbrella rentals (you’ll find a restroom and cold-water showers too). The ferry has a snack bar, but most folks bring a small cooler (you must pack out what you bring in). On the island’s west end, explore Fort Massachusetts, which dates to 1866.
When planning your dream beach vacation, be sure you know what you want and what you are getting. This may seem obvious, but during our travels we’ve talked to enough disappointed vacationers to say that this is the most important point when choosing the best beach vacation for you. While a resort on the beach in Thailand may sound fun and exotic compared to Southern California, be sure to consider everything that the trip entails: the cost, long airplane flight, recommended vaccinations, etc.
• Napili Beach, Kapalua, Hawaii: The compact size and crescent shape of this northwest Maui beach keep kids always in view, and the swimming, boogie boarding, bodysurfing, and snorkeling keep them happy. “Low-key” sums up the Napili Kai Beach Resort (808/669-6271 or napilikai.com) and other quiet condo resorts that perch above the sand. Bonuses: great sunsets and a cove full of turtles.
Australia: Kewarra near Cairns offers a beautiful sandy bay, a garden filled with exotic birds and pristine rainforest surroundings. Thala Beach Lodge, also near Cairns, is a unique getaway with two pools, waterfalls, spas and grottos. Lizard Island has 24 secluded beaches, a freshwater swimming pool, snorkeling and scuba diving on its own coral reefs. Ask for a room right next to the ocean.
Virginia Beach is another famous U.S. beach area that has a good reputation of being budget friendly. To save some money and enjoy the nature that surrounds you, plan to set up camp in a tent or RV at First Landing State Park. You can walk to the beach from your campsite and avoid many of the crowds that visit the actual Virginia Beach nearby. Of course, Virginia Beach itself is fun too and has a great boardwalk that’s peaceful to stroll along. There are many hotels right along this beach, but if you’re willing to bike or drive a bit further, you can find more affordable accommodations farther away from the prime tourist area. Surfing is popular here, and you might even be able to check out a surfing competition in the summer!
For diversity of nature on a budget, few beaches in the western hemisphere can rival this little island in the Lighthouse Reef atoll on the Belize barrier reef. Half Moon Caye is a national park, with crystal clear waters and world-class wall diving. Because the area is completely undeveloped, it’s absolutely teeming with marine creatures and birds. It happens to be the breeding ground for the hemisphere’s only red-footed booby colony.
Set on Oregon’s southern coast, Bandon is one of the best beach vacations out West you probably haven’t considered. It offers a gentle pace of life, with views so incredible you might not even get through your round of golf. It’s a year-round hub for hikers, cyclists, and wildlife fans, who come to watch migratory birds and the occasional seal or sea lion appear on the beautifully preserved beaches.