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7 Best Affordable U.S. Beach Towns Where You Can Enjoy Sand and Surf

Forget the Hamptons. Here's where you should go to relax by the water.

Spending a few days lapping up views in a coastal paradise is the ultimate vacation. This is true whether you're tucking your toes into the warm sand in an oceanside destination, hitting the sparkling lake in a quaint lakeshore town, or exploring what adventures a river city has to offer visitors.

The one drawback is that many beach towns can cost a pretty penny—like the Hamptons in New York, Florida's Palm Beach Island, or Carmel-by-the-Sea in northern California. The good news is that you don't always have to splurge to enjoy hidden gems nestled along the shores.

Ahead, we're showcasing some of the most affordable beach vacations in the United States, where sunshine, coastline, and happy wallets meet.

Hood River, Oregon

Hood River, Oregon

Hood River is a small town located smack dab in the middle of the Columbia River Gorge's epic scenery.

"Many Portlanders flock to Hood River in the summer to spend sunny days windsurfing, mountain biking, paddle boarding, or hiking amid the summer wildflowers," says Bryn Culbert, a travel expert for Wanderu. "Outdoor activity is the primary draw for Hood River on hot summer days, and there's no better place to work up a sweat and finish the day with a local craft brew or wine."

After enjoying the water, she recommends visiting the lavender farms that blossom in June and July. It's like Provence, France, but with Mount Hood views and a much smaller price tag!

Cambria, California

Cambria, California beach

If you love both camping and the beach, you can combine both loves by visiting Cambria, California, a seaside village in San Luis Obispo county. It's about four hours south of San Francisco and four hours north of Los Angeles, making it a great outdoors getaway from either big city.

Woody Sears, travel expert and co-founder of Autio, specifically recommends making a camping reservation at San Simeon Creek Campground. "While it can be a bit of a challenge to reserve a camping site here, the location is well worth it," he says. "Not only are you able to camp right by the beach, but you're near the spectacular Moonstone Beach, which has tide pools that are excellent for younger travelers, and those of us still young at heart." As a bonus, it's a stone's throw away from Hearst Castle.

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Cocoa Beach, Florida beach

Florida is the ultimate destination for a beach-y vacation, but many of its coastal towns can run on the expensive side. For an affordable beach town getaway in this southern state, look no further than Cocoa Beach, Florida, which is located on the Space Coast.

It's beloved for its pristine sandy shores—perfect for building castles or lounging around with a book—but is also a haven for water sport enthusiasts. In fact, it's been dubbed the "Surfing Capital of the East Coast," thanks to its consistent waves and vibrant surf culture. It's the perfect place to learn how to surf, practice your chops, or show off your skills. After splashing around in the water, consider checking out nearby Kennedy Space Center, the eclectic downtown scene, or one of the local hikes.

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia beach

For some southern hospitality, rich culture and history, and delectable dining, look no further than Savannah, Georgia. It may not be the first place that comes to mind as an affordable beach option, but the city has a surprising number of budget-conscious offerings. Not only can visitors enjoy the town's historic architecture—the city has one of the largest National Historic Landmark districts in the entire United States—but it offers immense natural beauty. Savannah's nestled on the banks of the Savannah river, where you can leisurely stroll along the shoreline under Spanish moss-draped oak trees.

Sears says, "For those who want to just take it slow, Savannah is a great option with some of the finest food, architecture, and parks in the country. I recommend a short drive to Tybee Island for a beach day, or taking a long walk through Forsyth Park after a delicious southern dinner at The Grey."

Avalon, Catalina Island

Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California

For high-dollar European vibes at a fraction of the cost, look no further than Avalon on Catalina Island. It's accessible via ferry or catamaran from different points along the southern California coast, including San Diego, San Pedro, Newport, and Long Beach. Once arrived, you can opt to camp or stay in accommodations at a variety of price points.

"Avalon, Catalina Island feels like a little slice of the Amalfi Coast, Italy, right here in Southern California," says Pamela Holt, travel expert and host of Me, Myself and The World: The Art of Solo Travel. "Locals and tourists descend on Avalon during the summer for its picturesque beaches and coves. It's the perfect destination for water activities, like snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, kayaking, and more."

Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona

Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona lake

While Arizona might make you think of arid landscapes speckled with cacti, the geography of this Southwestern state is actually quite diverse. Case in point: Just a few hours northeast of the Phoenix metro, you'll find picturesque Pinetop-Lakeside.

This densely forested area is nestled in the White Mountains and is dotted with stunning lakes, including Rainbow Lake, Woodland Lake, and Show Low Lake. The area's a perfect go-to for anyone who loves cabin retreats, wooded camping, and–of course—lake activities such as fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, and swimming.

North Haven Island, Maine

North Haven Island, Maine Acadia

Calling all Easterners looking for an affordable beach vacation (or those who want to spend some time on the East Coast for a change from their usual scenery!). Located in Penobscot Bay, North Haven Island in Maine is an idyllic coastal gem known for its sweeping landscapes, rugged coastlines, and dense forests.

"It's a bit remote, so it's great for disconnecting if only for the weekend," says Sears. "When you're done with a bit of sailing, fishing, and hanging out with the local goats, you have to stop for a locally-sourced dinner at Turner Farm." Along with yummy, fresh seafood, visitors can also explore the island's many art galleries and shops.

To get there, you'll need to take a short ferry ride from Rockland, Maine.

Wendy Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a veteran freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers travel, wellness, pets, and beauty. Read more
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