Cold weather has barely arrived, and we’re already dreaming of our next beach vacation. But the cost of a trip to the coast doesn’t sound so welcoming. What if you could score oceanfront lodging along stellar, lesser-known beaches at a fraction of the cost of those overpriced, overcrowded resorts? Now we’re talking.
Baja California Sur, Mexico
At Vidasoul, a sleek hotel 22 miles from Los Cabos International Airport, rooms with access to a private beach on the Gulf of California start at $129. You’ll want a rental car with sturdy tires to navigate the final stretch of dirt road, but once you’re there, Punta Perfecta, one of the top surf breaks on Baja’s East Cape, is a short walk from the hotel. At Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, just to the north, you can dive or snorkel a 20,000-year-old living reef that’s home to whale sharks, groupers, and sea turtles. The hotel rents surfboards and hosts live music on the beach every weekend.
Hale Kai Hawaii
On Hawaii’s Big Island, scoring hotel and condo-style lodging right on the water will usually cost you hundreds of dollars a night. Instead, opt for one of four private guest rooms overlooking the ocean at the Hale Kai Hawaii bed and breakfast (from $175 per night). Your room comes with a homemade breakfast of coconut-macadamia pancakes and pineapple scones, and you can watch the humpback whale migration from your poolside lounger. Surfing at Honoli’i Beach is minutes away, and the charming beachside town of Hilo is two miles down the road.
Koh Phayam, Thailand
Finding the right place to stay is the best way to offset the cost of a vacation to Southeast Asia. Koh Phayam, a lesser-known island a quick flight from Bangkok in Thailand’s Ranong Province, doesn’t see nearly the same tourist traffic as the country’s more popular southern islands. So if you want empty beaches, low-key surfing, and little in the way of development, this is your spot. Stay at Little Hut (from $26), a no-frills resort of 15 bamboo bungalows with rain-shower bathrooms a short walk from the mellow surf break and pristine beach at Aow Yai. The place has a bar and restaurant, outdoor barbecue to cook up your own feasts, and Wi-Fi so you can stay connected.
Phoenix All Suites
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Located along the white-sand beaches on the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama’s Gulf Shores is a classic destination beach town—but without the pricey rates. The condo-style hotel rooms at Phoenix All Suites are right on the beach and start at just $100 a night. From there, you can kayak or paddleboard the calm waters of several back bays and lakes, fish for flounder and redfish, or head to Gulf State Park for three miles of beaches and more than 28 miles of multiuse trails. Don’t miss the shaka shrimp and live music at the legendary Hangout.
Serafina Beach Hotel
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which nailed the island nation in September 2017, but most businesses are back up and running, and tourists are welcome. Plus, flights into San Juan are still cheap as a way to lure back visitors. The Serafina Beach Hotel (from $224) opened in March 2018 right on the Atlantic Ocean and offers pop-up yoga classes, an infinity pool, and an in-house seafood restaurant. The staff will help you book catamaran cruises, kayak trips through bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, and guided tours into El Yunque rainforest.
Otter Rock, Oregon
Nobody goes to coastal Oregon is search of warm water. But if you’re after beauty and solace, Otter Rock delivers. Alpine Chalets is a collection of oceanfront A-frames on a bluff above rugged Beverly Beach (from $49). A private trail leads from your porch straight to the sand. To the north, Devil’s Punchbowl State Park has tide pools to explore and good views of migrating whales. Don’t miss the Dungeness crab mac and cheese at Clearwater Restaurant in the town of Newport, eight miles south.
Sunset Beach Motel
Raiatea, French Polynesia
Flights to French Polynesia will always be expensive, but you don’t have to empty your savings account for a trip to Tahiti. Sunset Beach Motel, in a 22-acre coconut grove on the banks of a lagoon, has tent camping and 22 waterfront bungalows with full kitchens that start at $114 a night. The guesthouse loans out kayaks and snorkeling gear for free and can arrange for sailing charters and guided hikes up the sacred Mount Temehani. The property’s owner, Moana, has great local tips and will pick you up from the airport at no charge.