It’s about the time of year where a week at the beach sounds pretty good. Of course, it’s also the time of the year when abundant holiday shopping has left your bank account in a not-so-vacation-friendly condition. But trips to the shore don’t have to be financially crippling. If you can get a good group together and rent a house somewhere warm, it can actually be surprisingly economical.
The folks at Homes.com took a look at the beach towns across America with the cheapest vacation rentals. Surprisingly, there are a lot of little slices of paradise you can have for fewer than $200 a night. Though we culled the list for warm-weather destinations, excluding places you probably wouldn’t travel in the winter, we still found some incredible deals. So as you plan your first post-holiday vacation, remember that a trip to one of these 15 cities might not cost you much.
1. Cherry Grove Beach, South Carolina
Cost per night: $126
North Myrtle Beach, where Cherry Grove sits, is a cleaner, easier, more-livable alternative to the beach-town madness you’ll find just south. It’s close enough to still enjoy the new boardwalk and restaurants that Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has added in recent years, but the 35-minute drive feels like a world away. The relaxing surf and numerous golf courses make it an affordable place for a relaxing winter weekend getaway. And because it’s a lesser-known beach destination, prices and crowds will both be minimal.
2. Siesta Key Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $148
The beaches along Siesta Key are regulars atop Dr. Beach’s vaunted “Best Beaches in the World” rankings, and for good reason. The soft, powdery sand and turquoise water make the rest of beach-heavy Florida jealous, with soft waves perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, or just going for a swim in the ocean. The beaches are right off Sarasota, too, with all the restaurants of St. Armands Circle and the Ringling Circus Museum only a short drive away. As the second cheapest beach town in America, it’s also hands down the best value.
3. Gulf Shores, Alabama
Cost per night: $151
This little island on the southern coast of Alabama is the scenic highlight of the state, where colorfully painted houses dot the streets and towering condos boast impeccable views of the Gulf of Mexico. The town best known for hosting the annual Hangout Music Festival is a blast the rest of the year too, with a new-ish brewery open at Big Beach Brewing, plus a new lodge at Gulf State Park adding a couple top-tier restaurants to the city with Perch and Food Craft.
4. Orange Beach, Alabama
Cost per night: $156
Sharing that little island with Gulf Shores is Orange Beach, the final stop before Florida with beaches just as beautiful as those you’d find in the Sunshine State. O.B. is one of the state’s top food destinations, with restaurants like Anchor Bar and Grill offering inventive food right on the water and the brand new Fly Away Farm sourcing nearly everything on the menu from surrounding farms. It’s also a short drive to the iconic Flora-Bama bar on the state line where you can drink in two states at once or compete in the annual Mullet Toss.
5. Carolina Beach, North Carolina
Cost per night: $156
Hurricane Florence ran roughshod over North Carolina’s beach communities this past September, and though Carolina Beach didn’t escape its wrath, it’s for the most part back up and running this winter. You’ll find affordable beach homes here right along a boardwalk that’s one of the best in America. The best place to eat here is still the legendary Britt’s Donut Shop. In addition to the beach, this area just south of Wilmington is home to Carolina Beach Lake Park, an 11-acre freshwater recreation area that’s the world’s largest freshwater lake near saltwater.
6. Panama City Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $157
The aftermath of Hurricane Michael was a difficult scene to watch for many as the nearby communities of Mexico Beach and Panama City proper took heavy damage. Panama City Beach, however, was spared much of the destruction and as of now is about 90 percent back with insanely cheap deals on lodging and other attractions. The beaches are cleaned up, meaning you can spend a winter weekend along the fine white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, taking fishing charters and dive expeditions out into the Gulf. And insofar as helping a hard-hit American community after a natural disaster, taking a trip to PCB is one of the best things you can do.
7. Miramar Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $163
South Walton Beach might be the most underrated beach destination in Florida, a place that a handful of vacationing southerners know yet remains anonymous to most of America. It has the same pristine sand and turquoise water of your Florida fantasies, but remains far less overdeveloped and tourist-clogged than the rest of the state. It’s also a fantastic place to go shopping, with one of the largest outlet malls in the nation at Silver Sands. Miramar Beach also offers surprisingly diverse culinary offerings with everything from Southern barbecue at Lillie’s Q to Asian fusion at Thai Elephant.
8. St. Pete Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $185
The best beach town along Florida’s Gulf Coast is also surprisingly one of its most affordable. The waterfront suburb of St. Pete offers vacation homes for under $200 a night. Watch the sunset with a beer in your hand and your feet in the sand from the legendary Undertow Beach Bar before wandering along the shoreline to other beachfront boozers like Salty’s and Jimmy B’s. If you want a little bit of class after a day of drinking in ripped t-shirts, head to the bright pink Don Cesar Hotel, one of the state’s most iconic properties and a great place to have a drink in the lobby and remember the Florida of yesteryear.
9. Cocoa Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $188
Visitors to Orlando — and more specifically, visitors to its glut of theme parks — are often disappointed to learn that they’re in the odd part of Florida that’s nowhere near a beach. Still, Cocoa Beach is just over an hour away. Drive past the Kennedy Space Center and onto Atlantic Avenue, then cruise the state’s funkiest beach town. Here you’ll see surf shacks and pizza joints lining the streets as surfers clamber to catch Florida’s best waves. On Sundays, it’s also home to Florida’s best beach party when the sand behind Coconut’s turns into a giant waterfront tailgate with no actual event to slow down the action.
10. Indian Harbour Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $195
Though Indian Harbour might not be the center of beachside excitement in Florida, it does offer a peaceful, affordable jumping off point to some of the cooler stuff along the state’s central Atlantic Coast. It’s about 40 minutes from the Canaveral National Seashore, which has 24 miles of undeveloped beach. Near there, you’ll find the Kennedy Space Center, as well as the surfing and beach parties of Cocoa Beach. Just inland from Indian Harbour you can also visit Melbourne, which has Brevard Zoo, one of the surprisingly best small-town zoos in America.
11. Ft. Myers Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $203
Perhaps you hadn’t given Ft. Myers Beach a second thought since that spring break you vaguely remember spending at the venerable Lani Kai. Refresh your memory relatively affordably this winter and head back to this Gulf Coast gem. You can still get a fruity drink at a considerably quieter Lani Kai, as well as a number of other beach bars like Bongo’s, The Salty Crab, and the creatively named Florida Beach Bar. If you’re down for a short drive, you can also head into downtown Ft. Myers for some mid-sized city nightlife and, for our money, the best slice of New York-style pizza in America at the Downtown House of Pizza.
12. St. Simons Island, Georgia
Cost per night: $206
The largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles is surprisingly affordable given its massive popularity among honeymooners and weekending couples. The stunningly romantic island is covered in oak trees draped with Spanish moss, giving it a deeply southern feel unlike any beach town in America. The place is steeped in history too, whether you want to visit a lighthouse dating to 1872 or the Christ Church, Frederica, which has held services continuously since 1736. It’s even got an archeological site at Cannon’s Point Preserve, which has artifacts dating back to 2500 BC.
13. Fernandina Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $212
Among the more underappreciated aspects of the much-maligned Jacksonville are its beach communities. The most notable of these is Amelia Island. This old Southern isle is home to 13 miles of minimally developed beach that’s filled with bed and breakfasts set in Victorian houses. It’s also home to Ft. Clinch State Park, where you can visit a Civil War fort before relaxing on a completely undisturbed beach. The island’s annual highlight is the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, a 55-year-old seafood fest that, as the name might imply, serves up some of the best shellfish creations in the state.
14. Jensen Beach, Florida
Cost per night: $220
The city once known as the Pineapple Capital of the World is about a lot more now than prickly fruit. Yes, it still has its annual Pineapple Festival, but it’s become more of a destination for lovers of great seafood than anything else. While Jensen Beach offers plenty of fine dining options, no trip here is complete without a stop at Mrs. Peters Smokehouse, where you’ll find the best smoked fish in Florida — though you’ll also find great options at 11 Maple Street, a historic home converted into an elegant eatery.
15. Oak Island, North Carolina
Cost per night: $224
Take a trip to this little beach town on the southern end of North Carolina and you’ll immediately feel like you’ve lived there for years. Though the town is popular for people with second homes and vacation rentals, nothing about it feels touristy as you drive past kids playing in city parks and longtime residents wave hello to you from the porch. The beaches are for the most part undeveloped, but the town still has more than 40 restaurants, most of which specialize in fresh seafood. Though it’s not the most glamorous locale in the state, it could be the most relaxing and the one that’ll have you sitting outside on a warm spring evening thinking, “Yeah, I could live here.”