Every summer, you wonder why you drove so far and spent so much in order to claim a tiny spot of sand on your favorite beach. Have you ever considered switching your annual beach getaway to the offseason? Imagine no traffic, lower rates, and uncrowded beaches. We've picked seven of the best beach vacations in the United States for the off season.
Do we even have to say it? Off season, the cost of a beach vacation sinks like an anchor. According to one local realty company, an Outer Banks rental home that costs $7,500 per week in peak season can be rented for $2,000 in the off-season — and small cottages can be had for $600 or less.1
It's not just about the cost, however. If you think the best beach vacations are about quiet walks on the sand, intimate dinners and feeling like you have the sea all to yourself, then off-season travel is for you. Visiting a beach town when the tourists are gone lets you absorb and enjoy the local landscape and culture.
Off-season beaches are not for the easily bored. In some beach towns, restaurants and attractions close in the winter, and things can feel eerily quiet. And it's not a good idea to plan beach getaways for the off season if you're counting on perfect weather. While you might enjoy the lingering summer sun, you could also find yourself caught in a late-season hurricane.
If you really want to squeeze a little sunbathing and swimming into your trip, affordable beach vacations can still be had in the shoulder season: the time between the off season and peak. On Kiawah Island, South Carolina, for instance, the air and water stay balmy through October.2
1. Cannon Beach, Oregon. The rugged beauty of Cannon Beach makes this Oregon coastal town one of the most appealing off-season beach getaways in the northwest. The beach is marked by the dramatic outline of Haystack Rock as well as pockets of tidepools and seabirds' nests.3 In town, you'll find art galleries, a glassblowing studio, boutiques and fine restaurants. Don't miss the annual Stormy Weather Arts Festival, celebrated each November with wine, music and artists' demonstrations. For some nostalgic fun, drive a short distance north to the beach town of Astoria and visit the filming locations for '80s cult favorite "The Goonies."
2. Long Beach Peninsula, Washington. Some of the best surfing in the Pacific Northwest can be found off season. Wriggle into a heavy-duty wetsuit and hit the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. Fall is typically warm and windless, with consistent waves, while winter brings large, unpredictable swells. Make sure you understand the hazards, however, including sharp rocks, hypothermia, and sharks. If surfing's not your thing, you'll enjoy digging for razor clams, shopping, hiking and watching the waves crash at Cape Disappointment.
3. Laguna Beach, California. Want to get warm? Head south to Laguna Beach, California. Temperatures stay mild year-round, hovering in the low 70s and high 60s from October through April.4 This charming town south of Los Angeles is known for its natural beaches and tide pools, arts festivals, fine shopping, and dining. Off-season activities include whale watching, bike riding, surfing and golfing.
4. Folly Beach, South Carolina. It is everything you want off-season beach getaways to be: beautiful, low-key, and fun. This beach town has stubbornly resisted development, so you'll find streets of modest cottages and casual restaurants. Follow the locals' lead and head to Surf Bar for tuna tacos and a coconut-pineapple Painkiller. The delights of downtown Charleston — the historic city market, shops and renowned Southern restaurants — are just 20 minutes away.
5. The Outer Banks, North Carolina. With more than a hundred miles of beaches, The Outer Banks on the coast of North Carolina feels uncrowded even in the height of summer. In the off season, this destination becomes one of the best beach vacations for getting away from it all. Fishing and surfing are at their best in the fall, and you can visit attractions like local lighthouses and the Wright Brothers National Memorial year round. Bring your dog along, because pet restrictions on the beach are usually lifted after mid-September.
6. Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It can be chilly even in the summer, and by January, the average high drops to 38.5 But don't let that discourage you: if you're looking for luxury accommodations and natural beauty, Cape Cod's one of the best beach vacations for the off season. Explore Provincetown without the summer crowds. Enjoy a drink at the piano bar at the Black Cat Tavern. Cozy up in comfort — for reduced rates — at boutique bed-and-breakfasts like the modern Platinum Pebble or the romantic Carriage House Inn, which has rooms with fireplaces.
7. Delray Beach, Florida. You'll find lower rates and discounts from May through October, when the average high temperature is in the mid-80s and 90s. What makes Delray Beach one of the best beach vacations for the off season? It's just 45 minutes from Fort Lauderdale but boasts a fun atmosphere, a lively art scene and, of course, a pretty beach. Take the kids to Sandoway House Nature Center to watch the shark and alligator feedings, or snorkel the shallow wreck of the S.S. Inchulva just off shore. Splurge for less at the Seagate Hotel and Spa, where a room that costs $350 in January is $161 in July.6