Top Ten Budget Beach Vacations

The best beach vacation destinations that won't stretch your wallet.
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Ocracoke Beach
BARGAIN BEACHES: The Outer Banks has options that will make your next beach vacation more affordable.  (Bill Russ/courtesy, North Carolina Tourism)

Experienced world travelers will no doubt point out that I didn't pick the cheapest of the cheap beach locales for this compilation of top budget beach vacations. After all, why not include Goa, India; Mombasa, Kenya; Lombok, Indonesia; Koh Phi Phi, Thailand; or Nha Trang, Vietnam? I agree, you can usually find a hut on the beach at those destinations for less than ten bucks a day; however, take into account the cost of a long flight and the luxury of time that most travelers don't have and it turns into a much pricier endeavor. So, for practical purposes, I've limited my choices to the best budget beach vacations in North and Central America, with a special shout-out to Brazil. Now you have no excuse not to lather on the lotion and throw down your beach towel.

10. Destin, Florida
The Florida Panhandle is a coveted place that Southerners would prefer to keep to themselves. With a 100-mile stretch of sugary sand that fronts the Gulf of Mexico, and a fair share of golf and tennis, who can blame them? In Destin, the heart of the Panhandle, wake up early in the morning and take a stroll with the pelicans and sandpipers on the beach just as the fishing boats head out to sea. Feel free to join them and drop your own line to catch snapper and grouper. Later, discuss your day's adventure at one of Destin's dockside cafés. The blues and country music is always live and the fish and oysters always fresh. Stay at the Wingate, where room prices, with continental breakfast, start in the double digits in the off-season.
Destin Vacation Guide

9. Outer Banks, North Carolina
Lining the North Carolina coast, the Outer Banks consists of barriers of sand 150 miles long and never more than a few miles wide. These islands serve as welcome mats to the Atlantic and all her treasures. Forage the sea for a bounty of bluefish, flounder, and drum, or walk the wild dunes, a naturalist's playground. Close to 400 species of birds, from native Carolina wrens to wintering bald eagles, can be found here, along with otters and sea turtle colonies. Add five lighthouses and you have yourself a seaworthy destination that even a pirate like Blackbeard (a former resident) could call home. Landlubbers will want to visit Kitty Hawk, the site where Orville and Wilbur Wright learned how to fly, and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. For clean, affordable lodging close to the beach, you can do no better than the Driftwood Motel on Cedar Island, where rooms start at $65 a night.
Outer Banks Vacation Guide

8. Huntington Beach, California
Most folks equate Orange County, California, with chi-chi Laguna Beach and all the celebs and young retirees who reside here. Yet just a wee bit north of Laguna is the far more affordable Huntington Beach, popular with the surfer crowd. Make the International Surfing Museum your first stop and then see if any hot-doggers are doing their stuff over by the pier. It won't be hard to find your own slice of paradise since Huntington Beach boasts eight miles of uninterrupted waterfront. Stay across from the beach, on the Pacific Coast Highway, at the Sun n' Sands Motel, where rooms start at $129 a night and the restaurants in town are just a short walk away.
Huntington Beach Vacation Guide

7. Cape Ann, Massachusetts
Wise-faced fishermen sew their nets in the early hours of the morning on the docks of America's oldest fishing port, Gloucester. In nearby Manchester-by-the-Sea, couples and families stake their claim to exquisite Singing Beach, tucked away in a cove and backed by cliffs and precariously perched mansions. Welcome to Massachusetts's lesser known cape, the one locals don't want you to know about, Cape Ann. Forty miles north of Boston (reachable by commuter rail), Cape Ann beckons sun worshippers to its long stretches of sand. When you tire of the sun, head to the village of Rockport, known for its shops, galleries, and restaurants. Or try a famous lobster-in-the-rough joint, Woodman's in Essex, the seafood shack that created the fried clam on July 3, 1916. Stay at the Wingaersheek Motel, which has discount beach passes to nearby Wingaersheek Beach, a family favorite. Rooms start at $100 a night in summer.
Massachusetts Vacation Guide

6. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Let the affluent spend gobs of money on the Pacific coast at familiar resorts like the Marriott and Four Seasons while travelers in the know follow the surfers to the Caribbean coast of this Central American country. At Puerto Viejo, you can walk on deserted beaches all the way south to Panama. The town has a laid-back, international appeal, with top-notch South American, Costa Rican, and Italian food. South of town, there are a number of bungalow-laden lodgings within easy walking distance of the beach, where rooms rarely exceed $85 a night. Check out La Costa de Papito or Playa Chiquita Lodge.
Puerto Viejo Vacation Guide

Published: 2 Nov 2012 | Last Updated: 21 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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