Some people are mountain people. Some people are beach people. My mother-in-law is definitely a beach person. She must see the ocean from the balcony — that’s nonnegotiable. If she can’t see the sand and the water, she’s not going. And if you’re anything like my mother-in-law (don’t read into that too much), you will  have to watch pricing carefully and book further out to get those coveted beachfront views. 

But just because you’re going on a beach vacation doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg to do it. You might just have to make some trade-offs. For now, here’s a list of beaches across the United States that still offer a budget-friendly beach vacation.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

First up is none other than Gulf Shores, Alabama. This city  is known for its pristine beaches, hiking trails (if you’re into that sort of thing), and more activities to do than you have time for. I’ve personally been there a handful of times, and it might be the best bang for your buck if you want those beautiful Gulf of Mexico vibes. 

Galveston, Texas

Whether you’re a local Texan wanting to trade in your cowboy boots for flip-flops, or you’re just looking for an excuse to travel south . . . look no further than Galveston. Not only does it have 32 miles of Gulf beaches to explore, but it’s also the perfect vacation spot that won’t hurt your wallet. You want waterfront? You got it — and it won’t cost you your firstborn. Sure, the water may not be crystal clear, but it’s still a great beach nonetheless. 

Virginia Beach, Virginia

They say Virginia is for lovers, and I’m willing to bet it’s because of Virginia Beach. This beach holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest pleasure beach. Virginia Beach gives you endless amounts of entertainment, including the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Cape Henry Lighthouse, the ViBe Creative District, and more history than you’ll know what to do with. 

Nags Head, North Carolina

I can’t talk about East Coast beaches without mentioning the Outer Banks, specifically Nags Head. This beach town is just one along the beautiful coast of the OBX (what the locals call it), but it’s a great one to consider for your next trip east. Nags Head is filled with many places to stay: motels, hotels, and bed and breakfasts. And you’ll definitely want to budget for seafood. If you’re a fisherman (or fisherwoman), take a trip to the Outer Banks Fishing Pier. 

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach is known as one of the best beaches in Oregon. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also full of wildlife. If you visit, you’ll get to see Haystack Rock, along with all the cute puffins that call it home. While Cannon Beach isn’t your typical swimming beach (unless you’re into ice baths), you can still enjoy everything else the beach has to offer. Just make sure to pack a sweatshirt — or three.  

San Clemente, California

If you love the idea of sleeping on the ground, perfuming yourself in bug spray, and cooking your food over an open fire, you’ll love San Clemente State Beach. They say this is a great place to camp out under the stars and let the crash of the waves lull you to sleep.

South Haven, Michigan

A trip to the lake isn’t quite the same as a trip to the beach. But with Lake Michigan, it’s very close. The lake is massive. You can get the beach experience you’re dreaming of at a fraction of the cost. Plus, if you live in the Midwest, your travel time is cut shorter than a drive to the coast.

Cape May, New Jersey

Ask anyone what beach to visit up North, and Cape May will be near the top of the list. And if you like your beaches with boardwalks, this is another must for your next cheap beach vacation. But that’s not all Cape May has to offer. This little town is speckled with Victorian-era homes and amazing architecture.

Ways to Save on Beach Vacations

Now that you have an endless number of beaches to visit, let’s talk about ways to save money. I like to call them travel hacks (for the snappy factor). Remember, cheap beach vacations aren’t easy to come by without a few trade-offs. 

Here are seven ways to save money on your next vacation:

Stay five minutes from the beach, not on the oceanfront.

Staying on the oceanfront is sure to blow up your budget. Instead of spending all your money on a view, why not stay a few miles away from the ocean? Even a couple of blocks away will save you a ton. 

Start budgeting (and saving) now.

If you know you’ll be heading to the beach this year, it’s a good idea to start saving right now. And the best way to be on your financial A game is by doing a budget. When you do a zero-based budget, you tell every single dollar where to go. Create a sinking fund and throw your money toward it every month leading up to your vacation. 

Book in advance.

When it comes to booking your airfare, research is key. Book your ticket somewhere between 3 1/2 months to three weeks before your trip. If you’re flying, avoid leaving or returning Friday and Sunday at all costs! Those are the most expensive days to fly. 

Go in the off-season.

It goes without saying, but traveling during peak seasons is expensive. So if you’re truly up for a cheap beach vacation, plan to visit in the off-season. Sure, everyone and their grandma might be heading south for spring break, but they’re paying double to do it. 

Choose the less popular destinations.

Your  budget will get a big boost by choosing the less popular destinations. That means you have more money to spend on the things you actually care about, like making memories with the fam or eating fresh-caught seafood. (Both are appropriate things to care about.)

Make your own meals.

It’s not always as much fun to make your own meals, but believe me — it’s worth it. If you eat 80–90% of your meals at your place for the week, you’ll have more in the budget for excursions. And who doesn’t love a good dolphin cruise?

Ask for a deal.

There’s no shame in that game. Instead of taking your room rate at face value, why not call and ask for a deal? If you found an incredible Airbnb, do some research to see if they’re connected to a rental company. Chances are, that company would rather give you a deal off their own websites than pay those extra fees through Airbnb or Vrbo. 

No matter where you decide to take your budget-friendly vacation, you absolutely need a budget. It’s the thing that gives you permission to spend, helps you save, and keeps you in line (as long as you’re tracking your spending, of course). I hope your next beach trip is the most fun you can have on a budget. And for goodness’ sake, wear your sunscreen.

George Kamel is a personal finance expert with a counter-cultural approach to money. He is the host of The Fine Print, The Ramsey Show, and EntreLeadership podcasts on the Ramsey Network. Follow George on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or find out more about him online at

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