Check out these top spots for great cheap beach vacations

While a beach vacation may seem like a luxury, it doesn’t have to make a huge dent in your annual travel budget. Finding an awesome deal on a condo or beachside villa will help defray expenses in many ways: You can split the cost with others if you’re in a group, prep meals in your fully equipped kitchen, park in the on-site garage, and enjoy all the benefits of living like a local. So check out these excellent, road-trip-ready beach destinations in the country, as well as top suggestions for cheap beach vacations in nearby Mexico and the Caribbean, too.

Florida cheap beach vacations

Bathed by both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Florida is the ultimate beach destination. On the Atlantic Coast, you can find an unbroken line of beaches starting from Amelia Island in the north, heading south past St. Augustine (America’s oldest city), the Space Coast (Cocoa Beach is great for surfers), vibrant Miami and all the way down to the Florida Keys. You’ll find some of your best bets for cheap beach vacations over on the west coast, however, where the Gulf makes for shallow water and gentle waves. Clearwater Beach offers a multitude of options for travellers on a budget. As well as numerous condo and house rentals in the 3-city spread of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, you’ll find plenty of entertainment options for those times when you need a break from the beach. Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 has magicians, musicians, and even a playground right on the beach.

Cheap beach stays in Gulf Shores

Alabama may not be the first state that pops to mind when you think of your dream beach destination, but the town of Gulf Shores offers all the components you might need for a perfect vacation. Finding a cheap rental either right on the beachfront or a short walk away is a real probability here, and your condo’s full kitchen, bunk beds, pull-out couches, and laundry facilities will help even larger groups get comfy without great expense. While the sugar-white sands of this area’s beaches might be the real draw, there’s plenty for everyone in your group to do here, from nature trails and golf courses to a pier and historic sites to visit.

Affordable beach trips to Puerto Rico

To feel like you’re experiencing another culture without officially leaving the country, consider Puerto Rico as an affordable option for a beach vacation. Americans don’t even need a passport to go here, and despite the ravages of Hurricane Maria, the island’s tourism sector is open for business. The beaches are a main attraction here, with El Rincon being particularly popular with surfers. You can get a cheap condo or small house rental within steps of the beach, with a kitchen and multiple beds included. But there’s so much more to explore here—Castillo del Morro is a 16th-century Spanish fortification in the vibrant, historic city of San Juan. Nature lovers will enjoy hiking through El Yunque Forest and kayaking through mangrove waterways, where if you're lucky, you'll see the water come to glowing life from the bioluminescence.

Affordable fun on Mexico's beaches

Head south to Mexico for some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see, combined with great food, a welcoming culture, and a plethora of housing choices. You can stay in a villa on a hillside overlooking the ocean or enjoy the conveniences of resort living from a condo attached to amenities like pools, bars, and beach access. With coastline along the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Carribbean Sea, and the Gulf of California, Mexico has a string of beach towns, each with its own disintinct personality. You can mingle with the party crowd in Cancun and find enough nightlife and water sports opportunities there to last your whole trip. Or you can opt to tour waterfront Mayan ruins in Tulum or whale watch in quiet, scenic Loreto.

Caribbean Dream Vacations

Traveling to a Caribbean island may entail a sometimes-expensive plane ticket, but don’t worry-once you get there, you’ll be able to make up the cost with cheap housing and plenty of free or low-cost activities. One excellent option is the Dominican Republic, which offers many rental properties in the resort areas of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, where you can swim or snorkel to your heart’s content. Many rental condos come with full kitchens, cleverly-configured sleeping areas, pools, beach access, and on-site restaurants. Bring your own snorkel gear, catch your own dinner, or shop in local grocery stores to pick up some examples of local flavour, and then kick back on your front porch to watch the sunset.