If you have kids, you’re probably well aware that beach vacations are the ultimate gateway to frugal fun. Beyond transportation and lodging, you’ll pay very little to keep the kids busy all day. Head out to the beach from your hotel or rental, bring along a cooler of drinks and snacks, and your kids will use nature’s bounty – surf, sand, and sea life - to entertain themselves.
Still, it pays to do some research before you rent a beach condo or hotel. While beach vacations are inherently frugal, your beach of choice can make a big difference in how much you spend.
To save as much as you can, you’ll want to pick a beach locale with affordable lodging and plenty of frugal things to do. Fortunately, we did some digging to come up with this list of affordable and fun beaches in the U.S. just for you.
#1: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores, Alabama offers one of the most beautiful beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, with miles of powder white sand, few crowds, and waves big enough to play in. This beach is also just a day’s drive from most of the Midwest, making it a popular vacation destination for those who want to avoid flying.
Beyond its famous (and free) beaches, Gulf Shores also offers plenty of cheap fun. Activities for families include a small zoo complete with tigers and bears, Waterville USA waterpark, Gulf state park, and a national wildlife refuge.
Beyond avoiding airfare, you can save money on lodging, too. Two-bedroom vacation rentals in Gulf Shores start at just $700 per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $150 per night.
#2: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach is a fairly quick drive for most of the eastern and southeastern United States, making it a smart vacation destination for families who want to avoid airfare. Once you arrive, you’ll find beautiful beaches and a family-friendly environment with ample recreational opportunities for everyone to enjoy.
Popular attractions in Myrtle Beach include several waterparks and small theme parks. The Myrtle Beach boardwalk is also popular with visitors who want to sightsee or people watch.
Two-bedroom vacation rentals start at just $640 per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $190 per night.
#3: Panama City, Florida
Panama City’s sprawling beachfront is home to numerous hotels, resorts, and vacation condo units. The sheer number of available lodging options has really driven prices down, making this an affordable spot for your family trip.
Outside of its beautiful white sand beaches, you’ll find plenty to do there, too. Not only does the beach locale have a beautiful state park, but it’s home to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Wonderworks, and several marine parks and museums.
Two-bedroom vacation rentals in Panama City start at just $800 per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $105 per night.
#4: Galveston, Texas
While Texas isn’t necessarily known for its beaches, the state has miles of beautiful beachfront perfect for family fun. That’s especially true in Galveston, where the beaches are one of the area’s main attractions.
Once you’re done relaxing at the beach, you can head to one of Galveston’s famous museums. Or, you could check out the area’s tree sculptures, which Galveston is famous for. Lastly, pack up the kids for a day at Galveston’s Moody Gardens, which boasts dozens of animals, a 3-D movie theatre, and an aquarium.
Two-bedroom vacation rentals in Galveston start at just $850 per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $120 per night.
#5: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach offers miles of public beachfront and a giant boardwalk perfect for shopping, exercising, or sightseeing. Fortunately, they also offer an array of lodging options, from hotels and motels to rental condos.
Obviously, the beautiful beach will keep you busy, but that’s not all. When you need a break, you can check out the local Military Aviation Museum, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, or the Cape Henry Lighthouse.
Two-bedroom vacation rentals in Virginia Beach start at just $700per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $90 per night.
#6: South Padre Island, Texas
If you love the outdoors but also want access to nightlife, South Padre Island could be your place. This beachfront city is home to both natural beauty and recreation, starting with their South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, which is an ideal spot to watch endangered sea turtles and birds. South Padre Island is also home to Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark, which offers a cheap way for your family to spend the day.
Fortunately, South Padre Island is also cheap to visit with kids – especially if you can drive and avoid airfare. Two-bedroom vacation rentals in South Padre Island start at just $680 per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $90 per night.
#7: Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May, New Jersey is a “Jersey Shore” haunt that’s actually perfect for budget-minded families. The beautiful beaches can keep kids busy for days, but that’s not all. Cape May also offers plenty of recreation and cheap activities for kids.
For starters, families can explore the Cape May Lighthouse or the local aviation museum. The area is also home to several brewing companies and wineries, making it a “must” for adult fun.
Best of all, however, is just how affordable Cape May is to visit. Two-bedroom vacation rentals in Cape May start at just $850 per week in October, while three-star hotels start at just $130 per night.
#8: Cocoa Beach, Florida
Cocoa Beach, Florida is an inexpensive place to play on the beach for a week, as evidenced by their affordable condo and hotel rates. However, it’s also a place where people keep busy. Cocoa Beach is a popular spot for people who love watersports like kayaking, windsurfing, and kitesurfing.
Families with kids will also find a skate park and a Dinosaur Store Adventure Zone, along with the Cocoa Beach Surf Museum.
Families who choose Cocoa Beach will find no shortage of cheap places to stay. In Cocoa Beach, two-bedroom vacation rentals start at just $800 per week while three-star hotel start at just $90 per night.
#9: Newport, Oregon
While it’s not always easy to vacation affordably on the west coast, Newport, Oregon is a notable exception. This sleepy beach town is bursting with affordable things to do, including an aquarium, a marine science center, and several state and local parks.
Newport is also home to some fun and silly places to see, such as Ripley’s Believe It Or not and a wax museum filled with wax replicas of famous celebrities.
Families who opt for an Oregon getaway in Newport will find plenty of cheap lodging options. Two-bedroom condos or beach cottages start at just $850 per week in October. Meanwhile, three-star hotels start at around $115 per night.