Though the Northeast is typically associated with harsh winters and record-breaking snowstorms, the warmer months and sprawling coasts can provide the perfect atmosphere for a cheap beach vacation that won’t overheat you (or your wallet). So put aside those plans to head on down to Florida and look closer to home — we’ve got a list of beach towns that might surprise you.
It may be winter now, but now is the time to start planning! Before you know it, your fantasies of relaxing on the beach will be a reality.
When to book your cheap beach vacation
But first, location does not a cheap vacation make! Or, at least, location isn’t the only factor that influences the cost of your vacation. When you book, as well as when you plan for the vacation to take place, can help you save on airline, hotel and rental costs.
You may want to stay in a hotel or resort with easy access to the beach and nearby restaurants, shops and other fun things to do. If you book within three months of your summer trip, you could save up to 9 percent on U.S. hotel rates, according to a 2017 TripAdvisor report. Similarly, airfare will typically be at its lowest point between three and four months before a departure.
Booking months in advance also applies to vacation rentals. If you would rather rent a cozy beach house for your trip, “start looking and be prepared to book [in January] for the best prices,” says Erin Gifford, in “Five Ways to Get a Deal on a Vacation Rental.”
Not surprisingly, midsummer is the most popular time for Northeast beach vacations, beginning with the Fourth of July and ending with Labor Day. To save money on lodging and restaurants, your best bet is to book your stay for June or late August into September.
But if your heart is set on the warmer midsummer months, try one of the following locations, each perfect for a cheap beach vacation.
Though Maine is as north as the Northeast gets, it isn’t all chilly temperatures. It’s coastline is home to a number of beaches, of which Wells boasts 7 miles.
When you’re not swimming, zipping on a personal watercraft or just enjoying the sun at one of four beaches, you could be kayaking or canoeing up the Webhannet River, or shopping at the antique stores along Route 1.
Highlight: Just a short drive away is Ogunquit Beach, a popular tourist destination in Maine. I visited this beach in the summer of 2016 and was stunned by its crystal-clear blue waters. But since Ogunquit is so popular, the restaurants, hotels and shops nearby can get pricey — staying in Wells ensures that you enjoy all of the views of this “beautiful place by the sea” without breaking the bank.
The waters in Maine and New Hampshire are quite cold for some, but this beach town has enough for you to do even if you don’t care to swim.
Enjoy fresh seafood at any of the eateries along Hampton State Beach. Take the kids to the Casino Cascade Water Slide, where parents can relax with food and beverages while kids play, or the Blue Ocean Discovery Center, where the little ones can get up-close and personal with marine life.
Highlight: Treat yourself to a nice breakfast or lunch at the Hampton Airfield, which features an open deck cafe decorated with an aviation theme, and a chance for you to fly over the Hampton beaches in a historic 1930 New Standard open-air biplane.
As far as New England beach vacations go, it doesn’t get any better than the good ol’ Cape. One of the more inexpensive areas of Cape Cod lies right in the middle of the peninsula: Dennis.
In Dennis, you decide which kind of beach you’d like to swim at — beaches with the mild waters of the Cape Cod Bay, like Mayflower Beach, or the even calmer waters of the Nantucket Sound, like at West Dennis Beach.
Highlight: The best part about Dennis is its proximity to everything else on the Cape. Whether you prefer the wilder waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the lower Cape, or a more historic getaway like Falmouth on the upper Cape, Dennis provides a great vantage point to reach both.
A cheaper alternative to Newport, R.I., Narragansett also has beautiful beaches, plenty of opportunities to sample local seafood and a number of historic landmarks.
When you’re not swimming and soaking up the sun at Scarborough State Beach or Narragansett Town Beach, check out the Point Judith Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the coast. Then, head to Galilee for a bite to eat as you watch boats leave the harbor.
Highlight: The Block Island Ferry leaves from Point Judith, giving you the perfect opportunity to day trip on the island and enjoy a relaxing ride on the way there.
A quiet Connecticut getaway, Madison is not well-known by most tourists, so restaurant, lodging and entertainment prices aren’t driven by a high tourist demand.
Hammonasset Beach State Park is your one-stop shop for outdoor summer activities; swim and lounge in the sand on the beach, fish, hike the walking trails and visit the Meigs Point Nature Center to have hands-on experiences with native animals.
Highlight: Main Street, aka Boston Post Road, is lined with independent shops and boutiques, family-owned restaurants and historic buildings, such as the crown jewel of the town, R.J. Julia Booksellers. The charm of this town is a welcome respite from everyday life.
Cape May, N.J.
Visit the part of Jersey Shore that is so unlike the craziness of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” you’ll wonder where all the hair gel and spray tan is. Cape May, with its sprawling beaches and quaint Victorian architecture, is perfect for family vacations.
Not far from the coast are attractions like the Cape May Lighthouse, Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, Willow Creek Winery and more. Also nearby are campgrounds, which provide cheaper lodging options for vacationers.
Highlight: Just north of Cape May is Jersey Shore Alpacas, where visitors can meet and feed alpacas on a tour of the farm. It’s an inexpensive way to be sure that your vacation is memorable.
What cheap beach vacations have you had in the Northeast? Share your tips and tricks to having a great time without breaking the bank in the comments below!