Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

8 Affordable Beach Towns

Enjoy sun, sand and surf in these cities without breaking the bank 

spinner image beach houses on the ocean in fort lauderdale florida
Travelers have eight beaches and plenty of budget-friendly options in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Alamy

The idea of a beach vacation is to lose your cares in the waves, on the water or settled blissfully atop sun-warmed sand. But you don’t want to lose your savings in the process. Though beachgoing itself is usually free, enjoying access means finding accommodations and activities within your means. Whether you like your waves salty or fresh, the following beach towns offer free and affordable variations on the perks of vacationing by the water.

Lodging in each town varies, depending on when you go and how long you stay, but prices range from $100 to $400 a night. 

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine. Find out how much you could save in a year with a membership. Learn more.

Join Now

spinner image a beach on ocean boulevard in fort lauderdale florida
It’s easy to enjoy the sun, sand and surf along Ocean Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Alamy

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Don’t rule out one of Florida’s top beach towns as too expensive. Fort Lauderdale is a popular destination for several low-cost airlines, including Spirit, which helps lower the price to get there. 

What to do: Travelers have eight beaches in the greater Fort Lauderdale area to explore. From busy Deerfield Beach with a popular fishing pier to the main city strand with the 2-mile beachfront promenade and Lauderdale-By-The-Sea where you can snorkel from shore. Watch for wood storks and osprey at Snake Warrior’s Island Natural Area, part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Use the free LauderGo! Micro Mover to get to many restaurants and shops downtown.

Where to stay: Plenty of bargain chain hotels are close to the beach in Fort Lauderdale. For something more personal in a similar price range, book a room at the Oasis Hotel a few blocks from the beach. 

spinner image people at oval beach on lake michigan in saugatuck michigan
The lakeside dunes in Saugatuck, Michigan, are free to enjoy.
Alamy

Saugatuck, Michigan 

On freshwater Lake Michigan, a little more than two hours from Chicago, arty Saugatuck’s lakeside dunes and undeveloped beaches attract explorers, as well as boaters and lovers of slow-lane travel.

What to do: Wade into the water from more than 12 miles of beaches surrounding Saugatuck, including popular Oval Beach backed by rolling dunes. Just north, wander the undulating trails and shady forests amid 200-foot-tall dunes at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. For exercise, tackle the 350 steps up and down the path to crowd-free Laketown Beach. Rent a kayak ($25 an hour at Third Coast Paddling) to explore the Kalamazoo Lake — just a few dunes east of the Great Lake — and tie up to stroll around downtown and browse through art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and even an old-fashioned drugstore soda fountain.

Where to stay: A handful of midcentury motels have been revived to contemporary standards, including 1958-vintage The Pines Motor Lodge with cheerful rooms and Adirondack chairs placed around the property.

spinner image the swamp of davis bayou in gulf islands national seashore near ocean springs mississippi
The Gulf Islands National Seashore offers many affordable adventures.
Alamy

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Biloxi neighbor Ocean Springs blends art and history on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, a 62-mile under-the-radar stretch of shore. Founded by the French in 1699, Ocean Springs’ oak-shaded downtown hosts more than 200 shops, galleries and restaurants in a walkable historic core.

What to do: Spend your days on the white sands of Front Beach with views over the Biloxi Bay Bridge, which is particularly dramatic at sunset. Learn about local ecology along the Davis Bayou Trail winding through a coastal forest at the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s visitor center. Nature is the source of inspiration for many of the more than 300 artists in the area, which was popularized by late artist Walter Inglis Anderson. His takes on regional plants, animals and people hang in the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (admission $10; $8 for seniors). Walter’s brother Peter founded Shearwater Pottery where visitors can browse the showroom.

Where to stay: Try one of the quaint, pastel-colored cottages in a private garden courtyard at Front Beach Cottages within walking distance of Front Beach.

Travel

Holland America Line

Up to $200 onboard credit on select cruises

See more Travel offers >
spinner image a man walking to the eastern point lighthouse in gloucester massachusetts
Visitors enjoy priceless views of lighthouses in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Alamy

Gloucester, Massachusetts

Cape Cod tends to overshadow the North Shore, but the broad beaches, tide pools and boulder-bookended coves of Cape Ann in Gloucester offer quintessential New England — including seascapes that inspired painter Winslow Homer — with less price pressure.

What to do: Start with a dip in the calm waters of the cape at Pavilion Beach, followed by a walk on soft Wingaersheek Beach to peer into its tide pools. The cottage-lined shore of Long Beach has priceless views to offshore lighthouses. Take the self-guided Gloucester HarborWalk connecting 42 granite posts describing the people and events that have shaped the working waterfront and America’s oldest seaport. Stroll the photogenic fishing village of Rockport and indulge in a lobster roll at The Lobster Pool.

Where to stay: The colonial-style Good Harbor Beach Inn has cozy rooms with knotty-wood-paneled walls that perfectly frame the views of surrounding islands. 

spinner image a ferris wheel spins over myrtle beach in south carolina
The Oceanfront Boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has entertainment for every budget.
Alamy

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

With 60 miles of beach to choose from, there’s a strand for every mood in super-social Myrtle Beach. The Myrtle Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau says nearly half of the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of the coast city, encouraging spontaneous road trips.

What to do: The best place to start for toes-in-the-sand fun is the 1.2-mile-long Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, home to attractions including the 200-foot-tall SkyWheel (adults $18.99; $16.99 for people 55 and older). In North Myrtle Beach, take a free class in “shag” dancing, a style of swing dancing, at Fat Harold’s Beach Club and stick around town for the free fireworks displays at the entertainment complex, Broadway at the Beach, twice a week in the summer. South of town, don’t miss Brookgreen Gardens (admission $22; $20 for people 65 and older) covering more than 9,100 acres, including 250-year-old live oaks and an impressive sculpture garden with more than 2,000 works of art.

Where to stay: The Palace Resort oceanfront suites feature kitchens and access to two swimming pools and a white sand beach. 

spinner image f street in downtown eureka california
The city of Eureka, California, is an affordable base for day trips along the coast.
Alamy

Eureka, California

On Humboldt Bay in Northern California, the Victorian city of Eureka makes a diverting base for trips along the “redwood coast,” 175 miles of Pacific shore shared by some of the tallest trees on Earth, a destination for beachcombers, driftwood collectors, birdwatchers and food fans.

What to do: The peninsula that protects the bay from the open ocean is lined in miles of protected dunes easily accessed by walking trails from the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center. In town, the Audubon Society holds free monthly bird walks along the 6.5-mile Eureka Waterfront Trail. Take the scenic coastal Highway 101 north about 50 miles to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to hike Gold Bluffs Beach and look for seals and snowy plovers. Back in town, splurge on oysters and shrimp at The Sea Grill.

Where to stay: The family-run Seadrift Inn includes microwaves, refrigerators and coffee makers in the rooms and is located in a sweet spot between the beaches and Old Town Eureka.

spinner image people on stewart beach in galveston texas
It costs zero dollars to access miles of sandy shore in Galveston, Texas.
Alamy

Galveston, Texas

The city of Galveston offers access to 32 miles of shore along barrier Galveston Island, home to a series of Gulf Coast beaches and attractions, including a historic pier and tranquil nature preserves.

What to do: Ten miles of beach border Galveston’s historic Seawall sidewalk. Head to the lively East Beach during the annual sandcastle competition to see elaborate, ephemeral art. Nature lovers appreciate waterfront Galveston Island State Park for hiking, seabird viewing and fishing. In town, tour some of the impressive mansions that testify to the port’s early shipping wealth — Galveston was once nicknamed the “Wall Street of the South” — including the ornate 1892 Bishop’s Palace ($15) and stroll colorful Postoffice Street to window-shop art and antiques galleries. 

Where to stay: Gaido’s Seaside Inn offers simple but clean rooms across the street from the beach and about a 10-minute walk to the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier (note: you need to buy a Pier Pass if you want to walk around the pier; $11 for adults, $9 for seniors).

spinner image
Visitors can enjoy miles of coastline for free in Melbourne, Florida.
Alamy

Melbourne, Florida

A beach community on Florida’s 72-mile-long Space Coast — named for the rocket launches that have been taking place here since the 1950s — Melbourne offers a balance of nature and culture about an hour’s drive southeast of Orlando.

What to do: The Indian River Lagoon separates mainland Melbourne from its barrier island beaches, popular with surfers and beachcombers. Among several reserves along the coast, nature lovers can look for birds, sea turtles and manatees at Canaveral National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic coastline in the state ($25 admission per vehicle, good for seven days). In Melbourne, the pedestrian-friendly downtown, filled with local restaurants and shops, offers a DIY art tour of public murals.

Where to stay: Close to the ocean and its sunset views, SeaGlass Inn Bed & Breakfast offers cozy rooms in a 1915 former boardinghouse with a courtyard featuring a swimming pool and shady mango trees.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 26, 2023. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

AARP Travel Center

Or Call: 1-800-675-4318

Enter a valid departing date

Enter a valid returning date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid departing date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid departing date

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Flight 2

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 3

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 4

Enter a valid departing date

Flight 5

Enter a valid departing date

+ Add Another Flight

Enter a valid checking in date

Enter a valid checking out date


Occupants of Room 1:



Occupants of Room 2:



Occupants of Room 3:



Occupants of Room 4:



Occupants of Room 5:



Occupants of Room 6:



Occupants of Room 7:



Occupants of Room 8:


Enter a valid departing date

Enter a valid returning date

Age of children:

Occupants of Room 1:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 2:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 3:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 4:

Age of children:


Occupants of Room 5:

Age of children:

Age of children:

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid start date

Enter a valid drop off date

Select a valid to location

Select a month

Enter a valid from date

Enter a valid to date