A beach vacation on a budget? Yes, it is possible. Check out these affordable East Coast destinations where some time on the sand won’t break the bank.Spots like Palm Beach and Miami on the east coast of Florida are known for glitz and glamour. For a less-expensive family getaway, look between those two cities at Pompano Beach. This small city offers lodging options that range from mom-and-pops to bigger-name hotels and is home to more than 50 parks. There’s lots of low-cost fun to be had on its more than 3 miles of beach, where you can find picnic shelters, an outdoor gym, a children’s fountain, and a playground.
And just offshore is a three-tiered natural reef system—as well as shipwrecks—that makes for good snorkeling and fishing. Monthly events include free concerts on the Great Lawn and a food truck rally in Old Town.
Myrtle Beach has been called the Golf Capital of the World, but it’s also home to a slew of mini-golf courses where little ones can tee off amid waterfalls, caves, animal statues, and even a Mayan pyramid. The 1.2-mile Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is home to restaurants, an open-air arcade with classic games, and SkyWheel Myrtle Beach, which rises 200 feet in the air and offers unmatched views of the area. Find other low-cost fun at spots like the Franklin G. Burroughs – Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum (where admission is always free), Myrtle Beach State Park (home to a fishing pier, playgrounds, and walking and biking tails) and, of course, the area’s 60 miles of beaches. The area also offers affordable hotels, many of them offering onsite water parks.
Cape Cod is a popular Massachusetts beach vacation spot. But if you’re on a budget, choose a beach town before you cross the Bourne Bridge onto the official Cape, like Wareham. There you can build sandcastles on the shores of Buzzards Bay at Onset Beach or cast a line from the Onset Town Pier. The historic Victorian community of Onset Village is home to shops and family-friendly restaurants like Marc Anthony’s La Pizzeria. Ride bikes on the trails flanking the Cape Cod Canal or head to Water Wizz—Southern New England’s largest water park—for some wet and wild fun. Visit in the fall and the family can take a Cranberry Harvest Bog Tour at A.D. Makepeace Company.
Located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Chincoteague Island (as well as nearby Assateague Island) is famous for its wild ponies, which you can view by taking a boat tour or a Refuge Trek bus tour through Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is also home to a recreational beach for swimming, a wild beach that makes for great hiking, and miles of trails where you can spot a variety of birds during their journey on the Atlantic Flyway. There are no high rises or boardwalks here, but you might be able to catch a rocket launch during your stay from NASA’s nearby Wallops Flight Facility, which also has a free, kid-friendly visitor center. Stay in a hotel or choose the budget-friendly Chincoteague Island KOA, where rates for a camping cabin start at $79 a night and glamping-style safari tents start at $69 a night. (KOA guests also get discounted rates at the island’s Maui Jack’s Waterpark.)
Head to this popular, family destination for beaches with no entrance fees, a 2-mile boardwalk for strolling and people-watching, and tax-free shopping at local boutiques and outlet stores. Located on the boardwalk, Funland offers carnival-style thrills for kids of all ages at a throwback price of just 40 cents per ticket (rides range from one to six tickets). Catch a free concert or movie during the summer months at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand or head to Delaware Seashore State Park ($10 entry fee) at any time of year to stroll an uncrowded beach, hike or bike six family-friendly trails, and check out the exhibits at the Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum. Cheap, but tasty eats are available at every turn, from pies at Grotto Pizza and the legendary fries at Thrasher’s to the frozen concoctions at the Ice Cream Store.
New Hampshire has less than 20 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline. But along that stretch you can find Hampton Beach, which offers old-fashioned family fun. There are fireworks every Wednesday night during the summer, and the historic Hampton Beach Casino complex is home to kid magnets like an arcade, an indoor mini-golf course, and the largest waterslide in Hampton Beach. The Blue Ocean Discovery Center (where admission is a suggested donation of $1 per person) features a touch tank, whale artifacts, and other displays where kids can learn about local ocean life. Beach options include the town’s main beach, as well as the sands at Hampton Beach State Park, where visitors can also fish and RV camp.
Ogunquit’s beaches are often rated among New England’s best, and families can relax on the sand or get out on the water with the help of kayak and surfboard rentals or sightseeing tours. You can hike the trails found within the Great Works Regional Land Trust or climb to the top of Mount Agamenticus for a different perspective of the area. Check out the works on view at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, where admission for children is free, or stroll the 1-mile-long Marginal Way paved footpath that runs from Perkins Cove to Ogunquit Beach for views of the Atlantic Ocean and Marginal Way Lighthouse. Finish off the day with a treat from Sweet Pea’s Ice Cream or Harbor Candy Shop.
This barrier island just 20 minutes from Savannah offers more than 3 miles of beaches, from the island hub of South Beach to the uncrowded Back River Beach. Without paying a penny, families can also visit one of the island’s parks and playground;, search for dolphins, ospreys, and other wildlife while hiking one of Tybee’s nature trails; and watch the sunset from the Tybee Pier & Pavilion. Other budget-friendly fun includes the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, where admission is just $5 and kids can learn about everything from spider crabs to pufferfish. Admission is also reasonably priced at the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, home to Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse.
About an hour east of Orlando, laidback Cocoa Beach is considered the East Coast Surf Capital of the United States. It’s appropriately home to a flagship store for Ron Jon Surf Shop that ranks as the world’s largest surf store and is open 24 hours a day. Head to the Cocoa Beach Pier to fish or grab dinner or rent a Zagster bike for just $3 an hour from several bike share locations around the area. Cocoa Beach is on Florida’s Space Coast, and you can swim and watch rocket launches at the city’s Alan Shepard Park. It’s also close to attractions like Kennedy Space Center, plus free out-of-this-world sites like Space View Park. The average daily rate for hotels in Cocoa Beach in 2018 was about $130 a night.
Budget Travel named the Carolina Beach Boardwalk one of the most awesome boardwalks in America, and it’s easy to see why thanks to spots like the Carolina Beach Arcade and eats from places like Britts Donut Shop and Pop’s Diner. Rent bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals and then take a self-guided tour past local Civil War sites like Fort Fisher. After you’ve had enough swimming and sandcastle building at the beach, head two blocks inland to the 11-acre freshwater lake at Carolina Beach Lake Park, which offers paddleboat rentals and a bike loop. Or visit Carolina Beach State Park (which doesn’t have an entrance fee) and take a free guided weekend hike to search for the Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants that grow well there.