Are you longing for a summer vacation on the beach but can’t afford to fly yourself — much less the whole family — to some exotic, tropical location? Or maybe even the biggest and most popular beaches stateside stretch your budget for a family. Here are some great ideas for beach getaways known for being a little lighter on your wallet than those super pricey tourist destinations, so you can afford to take the whole family for some fun in the sun and surf.
In any family, there’s usually at least one child that goes through their “horse crazy” phase, which makes the small island of Chincoteague, off the coast of Virginia, a great destination. In fact, it’s pretty awesome even if you don’t have horse lovers in the family. (Although after visiting Chincoteague, you just might.) This island is the gateway to the Assateague Island National Seashore, a 37-mile long nature refuge known for its wild ponies, but it also has plenty of other wildlife, such as foxes and excellent birdwatching opportunities, according to Home Away.
To go a little farther off the beaten path on the west coast, try the San Juan Islands in Washington, which is a favorite among locals. Along with quieter beaches, you’ll enjoy evergreen foresst full of trails, whale watching, sailing, and kayaking. This destination is also known for smaller mom-and-pop type shopping and is one of the Pacific Northwest’s great secrets. Even at the height of the summer tourist season, you shouldn’t feel too crowded here.
Another great family vacation spot in the Pacific Northwest is in Gearhart, Oregon, where you’ll find Cannon Beach. This is another one of those great spots where locals like to hang out, and you can take the whole family to hang out without major crowds, except some Portland hipsters who come out at night for wine and stargazing parties. Also check out the antique shops during the day for a few unique souvenirs of your family vacation.
Would you love a Hamptons–type vacation but without the Hamptons’s price tag? If you’re willing to travel about 12 miles away from that legendary vacation spot of the East coast rich and famous, check out the town of Montauk, NY. The town’s nickname of “The End” comes from being on the very far tip of Long Island, which means it’s surrounded by water on three sides. Montauk is a haven for surfers, fishermen, and much more laid-back than the snooty Hamptons shopping and restaurants. With absolutely no chain restaurants, you’ll get to indulge like the locals with the locals.
Another great beach for budget-minded families is Outer Banks, North Carolina. Or at least it is as long as you try to stay away from the heaviest tourist times, traveling in what many call the “shoulder season” just as vacation season starts and at the tail end.
Outer Banks is a big draw, but at least the crowds are spread out along the barrier islands, so you can still find secluded beaches along with the usual water sports and surfside shopping. Outer Banks also offers some great historical context, as this is where Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight, and legend says that Blackbeard the pirate fought his last battle in these islands. Speaking of which, with over 3,000 shipwrecks this is a great place for scuba diving. You could also take the kids to the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island, and enjoy an abundance of old light houses, according to U.S. News Travel.
Like many popular vacation destinations, you can look at renting a beach house instead of pricey hotels if you have a family or large group. But, if you’re willing to rough it a little bit, you can really save money here, with campsites from the National Park Service going for as little as $20 a night.
Another great, kid-friendly budget beach vacation is Ocean City, Maryland. If you long to stroll along the boardwalk and ride carnival rides, this is a great place for the whole family. Not only can you enjoy all the boardwalk’s shopping, food, and attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, but you’re only a 20-mile drive down the coast to Assateague Island National Seashore with those wild ponies of Chincoteague.
It’s a small world, isn’t it?
No matter which beach you settle on, make sure to try to book in or close to the shoulder season and avoid holidays such as Fourth of July. Also research alternative lodging arrangements, such as home or cottage rentals and camping options to save money. If you’ve got the space in your car, take your own lawn chairs and beach umbrellas so you can avoid rental fees for those items, as you can be sure local shops charge a premium for the convenience of leaving all of that stuff at home.
And remember that the most valuable things you take home from your beach family beach vacation are often the least expensive. The memories can last a lifetime.
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