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2018's 11 most budget-friendly beach destinations in the US

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Pensacola, Fla., is a top budget beach getaway anytime from April to October. (Dreamstime)

Now that summer is in full swing, soaring temps have us craving a refreshing beach with cooling breezes to beat the heat. Unfortunately, with so many Americans thinking the same thing, finding an affordable beach getaway can be difficult. So, we did a ton of research to create this list of the 11 most budget-friendly beach destinations in the U.S. Staying stateside saves you money on travel, and these locales go a step further with several value-packed hotels, inexpensive activities, and cheap dining options. Some are primed and ready for your summer vacation, while others are best suited for a winter escape. Regardless, all are great picks for a sandy getaway that won't wipe out your bank account — so you can lie out on the beach worry-free.

1. PENSACOLA, FLA.

Although the temps here are a little chilly for a March spring break, Pensacola is a top budget beach getaway anytime from April (when the average highs are in the mid- to upper 70s) to October (with July highs hovering at a toasty 90 degrees). Numerous airlines service the Pensacola International Airport, and the white-sand beaches are lined with affordable hotels and restaurants. While several hotels sit along Pensacola Beach, travelers can save some money by staying in Pensacola proper and driving 15 to 20 minutes to the sand. Unique features for this locale include numerous sunken ships for divers, and air shows by the Blue Angels, an elite crew of jet-fighter pilots.

Value hotel pick: Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach

2. MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.

Myrtle Beach is one of the best options for a budget beach getaway in the U.S, particularly once May's warmer weather hits. The destination offers visitors one-of-a-kind nightlife, more than 100 golf courses, and 60 miles of sandy shoreline — all at inexpensive prices. Flying here doesn't put a huge burden on the wallet, and it's an easy enough drive from cities such as Charleston, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C. This locale may be known to get a bit jam-packed during the summer, but hotels account for this with massive pools and water park complexes. Plus, many properties feature condo-style accommodations with kitchens and living rooms, so guests can save some cash and cook themselves.

Value hotel pick: Dunes Village Resort

3. PUERTO RICO

Although it has a tropical, Caribbean vibe, Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, so flights to the island from the mainland are often inexpensive, especially when compared to those to nearby islands like Turks and Caicos. Despite suffering destruction from Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico is up and running, eagerly welcoming tourists. Here, huge malls, golf courses and casinos meet tropical rainforests and beautiful white-sand beaches. Well-preserved 15th-century Spanish forts also loom over charming towns with colorful colonial buildings. Although luxury resorts are widespread, many budget-friendly options can be found both on the beach and within charming towns.

Value hotel pick: Coconut Palms Inn

4. GULF SHORES, ALA.

Particularly popular during spring break, Gulf Shores occupies some of Alabama's 32 miles of Gulf Coast. The wide, white-sand beaches are gorgeous, the water is warm in the summer months. When tourists aren't splashing in the surf or playing in the sand, they can take advantage of the city's family-friendly attractions such as the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, fishing pier, water park and golf courses. Affordable mid-range hotels and vacation rentals — many of which have kitchens, outdoor pools and laundry facilities — fill the area.

Value hotel pick: Best Western on the Beach

5. WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C.

Bordering South Carolina, Wrightsville Beach is one of North Carolina's overlooked beach destinations, which is perhaps why it's often one of the cheapest summer getaways in the area. Only 20 minutes from Wilmington, Wrightsville is a relaxed beach community where most of the action takes place either on the sand or on Crystal Pier, where visitors can fish, walk and even practice yoga. Water sports such as standup paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing are popular pastimes, and numerous inexpensive bars and restaurants are available to refuel.

Value hotel pick: Sandpeddler Inn & Suites

6. CAPE MAY, N.J.

Cape May sits on the southernmost tip of the Jersey Shore, but don't get it confused with the infamous show. Sure, it has plenty of the inexpensive restaurants and bars that are often associated with the area, but this Victorian resort beach town is a family-friendly locale for those on a budget. New Yorkers in particular will save a bundle by choosing it over the Hamptons. This summer destination is less than a three-hour bus ride or drive from the city, or a couple hours longer if taking the train. Almost all hotels have inexpensive rates, and activities range from parasailing and paddleboarding to brewery and lighthouse tours.

Value hotel pick: Sea Crest Inn

7. VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.

Thanks to its miles of beaches, Navy presence and affordable restaurants and bars (although you can still find places to splurge), Virginia Beach finds itself as one of the most-visited summer beach destinations in the U.S., especially during holiday weekends. The beach here is known for being a prime spot for surfing, and the city hosts tons of surfing competitions throughout the warmer months. Families should add the Virginia Aquarium and Ocean Breeze Waterpark to their itinerary, while couples may prefer hitting the links at one of the many golf courses or simply strolling the boardwalk.

Value hotel pick: Belvedere Beach Resort

8. SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TEXAS

This island, reachable from the Texas mainland via Route 100, is wildly popular during spring break, mostly because it's cheap and high temps are typically in the mid-70s by mid-March. Co-eds from various Southern colleges flock to its beaches, and South Padre hosts a massive annual spring break shindig — complete with DJs and crowds of nearly 20,000. Families can also find plenty to do here, though. Dolphin watching, water parks, kiteboarding, sailing, and ample inexpensive dining options are all available. Hotel rates are higher in the peak months, but they're still largely affordable.

Value hotel pick: Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island

9. DELRAY BEACH, FLA.

An inexpensive alternative to Boca Raton (which is a 12-minute drive south), Delray Beach welcomes beach lovers year-round, as average highs hover around the mid-70s. It's well-known for "The Avenue," where visitors can find value-friendly hotels, restaurants, and lively bars. At its end sits the long public beach. Aside from swimming and surfing, folks can dive or snorkel at a shipwreck just off the coast. Other activities include observing wildlife at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, fishing, and visiting the Japanese Gardens.

Value hotel pick: Wright by the Sea

10. HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIF.

With 10 miles of coastline, Huntington Beach is an affordable alternative to more expensive California beach towns like Santa Monica and San Diego. Huntington Beach lives up to its nickname, Surf City USA, with waters ideal for surfing, a laid-back vibe, and ample water- and land-based activities. Travelers with pets have access to a dog-friendly beach, and the annual Surf City Surf Dog competition is a must-see. Whale watching, trails and horseback riding at the 365-acre Huntington Central Park, and plenty of cheap dining options — including tasty taco shops — keep travelers of all ages busy.

Value hotel pick: Ocean Surf Inn & Suites

11. FOLLY BEACH, S.C.

Basically part of Charleston — which is known for its delicious food, mild winters and historic sights — Folly Beach is where locals and visitors hit the South Carolinian sand when the weather really warms up. Located on an island, Folly Beach is called "the edge of America" by locals, but it's only 15 minutes from downtown Charleston. In addition to swimming and surfing, travelers can spend their days fishing, jet-skiing, dolphin watching and filling up on delicious seafood. Fun bars and restaurants are found near the pier, and most entertainment comes relatively cheap.

Value hotel pick: Tides Folly Beach

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With additional reporting by Lara Grant.

At Oyster.com our special investigators visit, photograph, review and rate each hotel. We uncover the truth, before it's "uh-oh" time.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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