Let’s dismiss a few tried-and-true clichés right now. Affordable, backpacker-friendly beach resorts in the continental United States, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast (oil spills aside of course), need not be family-centric tourist traps or college spring break party hubs. If you want to avoid boardwalks lined choc-a-bloc with cheesy bars and t-shirt shops, check out these ten terrific beach destinations in America for budget-conscious travellers.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Yes, Oregon has a Pacific coastline too. The Beaver State is a red hot tourist magnet now, with everyone from naturalists to food and wine connoisseurs. Portland is the cool capital of the Pacific Northwest and Salem and Eugene are urbane, picturesque towns. Cannon Beach however, is the state’s beauty queen of a seaside escape and sits within spectacular Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Forget the hype about this beach community’s apparent affluence. Cannon Beach can be remarkably affordable for plucky, resourceful backpackers.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
South Carolina’s coastline drums up a lot of tourism every summer but the Outer Banks of North Carolina own the patent on oceanfront charm. The gorgeous network of barrier islands runs 320 km-long and unfurls lovely little towns, national seashores, state parks and a wildlife refuge. Affordable campgrounds abound here and if you want to party, Virginia Beach is two hours away.
Cape Ann, Massachusetts
Cape Cod is one of the most famous beach areas on the Atlantic but nearby Cape Ann is prettier, quieter and happily, affordable. Indeed, the north Massachusetts Bay peninsula is a slice of pure New England coastal charm. A short drive from Boston, look for inexpensive Cape Ann accommodations in towns like Manchester-by-the-Sea, Essex, Rockport and Gloucester.
Pacific Beach State Park, Washington
Back to the Pacific Northwest, the state of Washington offers budget-conscious travellers a slew of phenomenal coastal destinations. One whose name is patently self-explanatory is Pacific Beach State Park. The campground park and immediate area of Grays Harbor and North Bay offers ample beachfront, plein air recreation and great little towns like Ocean Shores, Aberdeen and Hoquiam.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
A venerable oceanside icon, Old Orchard Beach is famous as one of the grand old beach resorts in New England. Maine is no stranger to coastal tourism of course, with Kennebunkport and Ogunquit still popular as ever. Old Orchard Beach is up there too, with 11 km of beach to explore and vast accommodation options to consider. The community is not simply for those in a family way either. Wily backpackers love the resort town’s remarkable proximity to the superlative city of Portland. Either way, try a lobster roll when you roll through.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
The relative seclusion of Cumberland Island helps make this Georgia destination a real peach. Accessible by ferry from the mainland town of St. Marys, the barrier island is a refuge for armadillos, wild horses and alligators (which you can admire from a distance). With Jacksonville, Florida some 60 km away and historic Savannah, Georgia a mere 180 km away, this National Seashore is well worth a visit. Cumberland offers over 28 km of seamless beach to frolic on and affordable, no-frills campsites.
San Mateo County is home to some of the best budget beach resorts on the California coast. About halfway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz (and seven hours from Los Angeles hotels by car), Pescadero is a brilliant San Mateo enclave for the intrepid backpacker to explore. The small ranch community of 2,000 people is less than 3 km away from extraordinary Pescadero State Beach, with two others, Pomponio and San Gregorio, just up the coast.
Assateague Island, Maryland
If you want to live it up in the state Maryland with over 300,000 summer beach-goers, make a beeline for Ocean City. If however, you want a truly singular experience off the coast, without theme restaurants and tacky souvenirs, the place to be is Assateague Island. The National Seashore and Wildlife Refuge offers excellent do-it-yourself camp sites for the bold, budget backpacker. The rewards for your efforts here are manifold: immaculate beaches, wild horses and majestic vistas.
Bethany Beach, Delaware
Delaware’s perpetual “bland” label falls by the wayside when you visit Bethany Beach. The diminutive resort community is a solid summer draw and a rather affordable one at that. Best of all, the seaside charmer’s beachfront is in the throes of a significant upgrade.
Jones Beach State Park
At the other end of the serenity spectrum is Jones Beach State Park. Approximately two hours from Manhattan (much more with rush hour traffic), the popular Long Island beach off South Oyster Bay lures millions of visitors every summer. This is a fun hive of activity however and seductively close to budget hotels in New York City. The park has a sumptuous 13.5 km span of Atlantic Ocean beachfront.
Ian Harrison’s most memorable travel experiences have been in destinations as far-flung as Galicia, New Orleans, Alsace, the central highlands of Mexico and the Philippines province of Batangas. While he covets the food culture of his native Montreal, he’s perfectly content to comb the markets of the world in search of the perfect sandwich (or noodle).
Photo credits should go to the respective owners.