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.
Few beach destinations are as quintessentially New England as this hook-shaped island whose scenic sand dunes and shingled cottages have made it an annual summer vacation favorite for generations of Americans. A succession of charming beach towns — including Hyannis to the west, Chatham at the easternmost point and artsy Provincetown at road's end — offer house rentals, B&Bs and hotels or motels with pools and spa facilities. And any Cape Cod beach experience must include lobster roll lunches and sunset clambakes. It's all wicked cool.
This small cliff-lined beach near one of the world’s cheapest beach towns is a secluded spot that, if you hit it on the right day, feels like your own private slice of paradise. The massive cliffs and small caves that sit just off the sand give it a deserted-island feel. On summer weekends you might find yourself sharing it with a good number of in-the-know locals.
A young Dutch couple, Martin Franken and Nicole Roomer, run this 10-room inn just south of this Dutch Antillean island’s main town, Kralendijk. It’s not much to look at from the road, but there’s an inviting pool in the courtyard, lounging space under the thatched-roof bar, and bright rooms accented in yellows, reds, and greens. In the evening, order the fish Creole or garlic shrimp, cooked on the spot by local ladies in a hut beside the pool.
It’s also perfectly possible to splash out in a trendy destination like Panama, and still come in within budget. Donald Trump’s curving skyscraper in Panama City should do the trick—with a deep-soak tub and high thread count included. Pair that urban beach experience with a stay along the Pacific coast beaches—fantastic for surfing—at the rustic-but-stylish El Sitio (from $99 per night).
Hobe Sound may not be an obvious choice for best beach vacations in America, but it’s truly an unspoiled paradise—just what you want when you need to escape the daily grind. Don’t miss Blowing Rocks Preserve, where at high tide you might get to see sea water spraying up through holes in the limestone that’s embedded in the sands here. Running right alongside Hobe Sound is the long, narrow stretch of Jupiter Island, where you can bike your way along the beach or join a tour and watch baby turtles hatching.
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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
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If you're looking for a beach vacation destination that offers active summer sports as well as easy access to a city famous for its history and quirky charm, check out Hilton Head Island. Located 45 minutes from Savannah, Georgia, it has carved a niche with its focus on golf, tennis, biking and nature walks, along with a plentiful supply of hotel rooms (major resorts include Marriott, Sonesta, Omni and Disney) and condo and house rentals in all price ranges. Day trips to Savannah add antiquing, historic home tours and lowcountry cuisine (shrimp and grits, anyone?) to the mix.
Sail (metaphorically or literally) into beautiful Newport, Rhode Island, for a summer girlfriend getaway at the timeless Hotel Viking, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a makeover that has brightened up the lobby and restaurant but keeps intact the history and charm that makes this a great Newport address. The hotel’s central location at the head of Bellevue Avenue is convenient to the shops and restaurants there and Thames Street, as well as the city’s fabled mansions and Cliff Walk (shown here). Packages include discounts at the hotel’s SpaFjor, and the rooftop Top of Newport Bar is the best place in town for sunset cocktails with friends. Book it here: Hotel Viking.
Roatan, a minnow-shaped island within Honduras’ Bay Islands, attracts divers who come to experience the world’s second-largest barrier reef and those looking for a cheap, off-the-beaten-path beach vacation in the Caribbean. The island is one of Central America’s once-hidden, now-on-the-rise beach destinations, but thankfully it still lacks big chain resorts and some of the other trappings of mass tourism.
With pet-friendly beaches, local brewery tours, and adventurous watersports, Virginia Beach is the ideal place for a family to find their own adventure. Visitors can navigate the city with a bike rental or take a stroll on the 3-mile boardwalk. Visitors looking for a tranquil place to unwind will find it at Chesapeake Bay Beach with its calm tide and lighthouses. For those looking to surf, kayak, or hike, Sandbridge Beach encompasses the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, two natural spots that are great for the nature-inclined. Visitors who want fresh seafood will enjoy going on an educational and fun oyster tour with a local. Next read: Things to Do in Virginia Beach, 15 Best Dog-Friendly Hotels in Virginia Beach
For many families, Ocean Isle Beach is the best of both worlds: it’s less crowded, with gentler waves and warmer water than other popular North Carolina beaches like the Outer Banks, but it’s only a 45-minute drive from bustling cities like Wilmington and Myrtle Beach. The Museum of Coastal Carolina hosts a wide range of daily events tailored to small children, including story time, planetarium shows and “Touch Tank Feeding,” a chance to help staff members feed the museum’s marine animals.
Mention Peru, and most people think of Machu Picchu. But the country’s northern Pacific coast beaches are becoming hot spots for surfers and sun-worshippers. Many congregate at this new hotel from architect Jordi Puig. In the main building's stacked wooden cubes, floor-to-ceiling glass walls bring light and views of the vibrant landscape in to stark white modernist rooms. Steps lead down to a 90-foot infinity pool stretching toward the ocean.
The “Spice Island” has something for everyone, including Afro-Caribbean culture, one of the Caribbean’s prettiest colonial cities, fragrant spice plantations, dozens of beaches and bays, and a mountainous national park great for hiking. In the capital of St. George, you can walk along narrow colonial streets lined with a rainbow of pastel-painted houses and shops and watch masted ships sail in and out of the harbor. While in town, browse the spice and food markets and visit the 18th-century French fortification Fort George.
Lara is a travel writer and editor with a closet full of musty thrift store finds from all over the world. Her ideal vacation is a big city one packed with live music and good food, but she admits there’s also a place for relaxing by the pool. Her all-time favorite getaway was a month hiding out in Brooklyn, getting the best museum, gallery and foodie fixes. The udon noodles at Samurai Mama still haunt her dreams...