Fact: Americans love beaches. From Miami Beach to Venice Beach to Coney Island, we love to sit in the sand next to the sea and soak up the sun. We love listening to the waves roll in and we love to watch the sun rise (or set) over the ocean. We have songs about the beach, movies about the beach and clothing designed specifically for the beach.
In fact, Americans love the beach so much, more than a third of us live near one. Although coastal areas account for just 10% of U.S. landmass, they hold 39% of the population according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That's more than 123 million people.
If there's a downside to our affection for the beach, it's that those same coastal areas are in high demand and therefore expensive. The U.S. cities with the highest cost of living (Miami, New York and Los Angeles, to name a few) are all located near the ocean, while inland cities are generally more affordable. The same holds true for smaller towns. Median home values in popular beach towns like Santa Barbara, California and Naples, Florida are more than $700,000.
There are some exceptions, however. SmartAsset analyzed U.S. Census Data on home values, taxes, insurance and other costs to find beach towns that offer affordable real estate near the ocean. In each of the most affordable beach towns, the median home value is below the national average and the beach is just a short walk away. (Read more about our methodology below.)
The Gulf Coast. Seven of the top ten most affordable beach towns in America are located along the Gulf Coast, five of which are in Texas and Mississippi. These states have some prime coastal real estate for relatively low prices.
Florida. The other five beach towns are in Florida, which has more coastline than any state south of Alaska. While many of Florida's beach towns are fairly expensive, places like Pensacola are a bargain.
The state of Mississippi has just 44 miles of coastline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a mere fraction of the coasts in states like Florida, Louisiana and Texas. That may account for why Gulfport is so often overlooked as a beachside destination – and why it is so affordable.
What does that buy you? Well, the city has several miles of white sand beaches located just across Beach Blvd. from its popular casinos and hotels. For an even more scenic beach experience, there is a ferry that runs from Gulfport to Ship Island, a pristine barrier island located about 10 miles off the Gulfport coast.
Located at the far western edge of the Florida panhandle, Pensacola is the most affordable of Florida's many beach towns with some of the best beaches. The only public beach located within the city limits can be found at Bay Bluffs Park, on Escambia Bay. For a truly unbeatable beach experience, the award-winning Pensacola Beach is just a 20 minute drive from the city center.
As for the cost of living in Pensacola, the city's median home value is $144,100, well under the national median. The typical homeowner in Pensacola spends $10,356 annually on housing, including mortgage, insurance, property taxes and utilities.
Port Arthur, Texas
Port Arthur does have beaches, but it offers a lot more than that. It is surrounded by wildlife refuges, including the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Texas Point Wildlife Refuge and Sea Rim State Park, which is home to five miles of pristine beach. That means lots of opportunities for birdwatching in the Port Arthur area. The one downside to Port Arthur? The humidity. It is one of the most humid cities in the U.S.
For those who love the beach but hate property taxes, Biloxi may be the perfect choice. The average effective property tax rate in the city is just 0.65%, lowest among any of the top 10 most affordable cities and second lowest among the top 25. That means that for every $100,000 in property value, the typical homeowner in Biloxi pays just $650 in annual property taxes.
And what do those low taxes buy you? The city boasts several miles of sandy beaches on the Mississippi Sound, with water temperatures in the 70s or 80s for most of the year.
The state of Texas is known for its relatively affordable housing and low cost of living (although property taxes are fairly high). Located just 60 miles from Houston, Freeport is likewise affordable.
The average resident of Freeport spends just $6,744 annually on housing, including things like mortgage payments, insurance and utilities. Beach lovers in Freeport enjoy unfettered access to Bryan Beach, an undeveloped stretch of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico.
Daytona Beach, Florida
This central Florida city has one of the country's most famous beaches. It is also one of the most affordable beach towns in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median home value in Daytona Beach is just $113,000. That is well below the national average of $175,700.
While the median value of homes in Fort Walton Beach is highest among the top 10 most affordable beach towns, buyers in Fort Walton Beach get more value for their dollar. The average home size in the city is 6.3 rooms, larger than the typical beach town.
Fort Pierce, Florida
Known as the Sunrise City, Fort Pierce sits along the Fort Pierce Inlet, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with a series of lagoons along the Indian River. Beaches in Fort Pierce include Pepper Park Beach, which is north of the inlet, and Kim Bergalis Beach, south of the inlet. The city is the most affordable in the Port St. Lucie area, with median home values less than $100,000 per year and median property taxes less than $1,000.
The mostly-inland city of Melbourne is separate from the entirely-seaside city of Melbourne Beach, but it is a beach town nonetheless – and an affordable one at that. The median home value in Melbourne is $113,400 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Located just 90 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis is a favorite destination for beach lovers from around southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi. In addition to the beach, the city is known for its historic architecture.
Data & Methodology
To find America's most affordable beach towns, SmartAsset looked at data on every U.S. city with a population between 10,000 and 150,000 residents. We removed from our analysis any town that was not located directly on an ocean (including bays and sounds) or did not have a beach. That left 224 towns, from as far north as Juneau, Alaska all the way down to the many beach towns of South Florida.
For each of those 224 towns, SmartAsset considered four factors. The median home value in each town was the first factor we considered. In order to control for variation in home sizes from one market to the next, we also considered the average number of rooms per home in each town.
Lastly, we wanted to account for the ongoing cost of owning a home, not just the purchase price. To that end, we looked at the median annual property tax paid in each town and the median overall housing costs, which includes things like insurance, mortgage payments and utilities. (All data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and is averaged over the five years ending in 2014.)
We ranked the 224 towns in our study on each of those factors. We then averaged those rankings, giving half-weight to the average home size in each and full weight to the other three metrics. The town with the best average ranking rated as America's most affordable beach town.
Discover a lost civilization on your vacation, and let your family act as the explorers! The $850 million Atlantis Paradise Island re-creates the infamous lost continent, filled with adventure and intrigue. This mecca of family fun features more than 3,400 guest rooms, 21 restaurants and countless activities, including exhibit lagoons that house 50,000 animals, such as sharks, lionfish and stingrays.
Water enthusiasts can visit miles of beaches, take a dip in one of 11 pools or play on 18 different waterslides. Leave your fears at home, though: The Mayan Temple's Leap of Faith slide features a 60-foot drop into an acrylic tunnel that's submerged in a shark-infested lagoon.
If the sight of snow gets your family excited, grab the skis and head to Snowbird for a wonderful, wintry vacation. The resort, which rests in Little Cottonwood Canyon, offers 3,240 vertical feet and 2,500 acres of mountain to explore. Thanks to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, it sees an average of more than 500 inches of snow annually.
More than forty years after being founded, the resort now features 10 lifts, 169 runs and an uphill capacity of 17,400 people. Beginners ages 3 and up can learn skiing and snowboarding at the Snowbird Mountain School. Love the outdoors but not a fan of the slopes? The resort also offers ice skating, snow tubing, snowshoe tours and luge sleds. Parents can unwind with a stone massage or herbal wrap at the luxurious Cliff Spa.
Photo credit: Gary Caviness / iStock / Getty Images Plus
3. Tanque Verde Ranch
The 640-acre Tanque Verde Ranch is a serene oasis nestled in the Sonoran Desert, near Saguaro National Park. With more than 120 horses, it's no surprise that this dude ranch offers ample riding opportunities. Specialty options available include breakfast rides (with a meal at the Old Homestead), 6-hour-long day rides, and picnic rides with lunch in Cottonwood Grove. Newcomers can take riding lessons at a variety of levels.
Naturalist guides offer hikes through the desert wilds, exploring canyons, cacti and even secret waterfalls. The popular kids' program offers little cowpokes (ages 4-12) the chance to "ride 'em cowboy!" Children are divided into 3 age groups — the Buckaroos, Wranglers and Outlaws — and treated to riding lessons, tennis, swimming and arts and crafts.
Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
4. Hilton Waikoloa Village
In Hawaii, the Hilton Waikoloa Village promises endless activity and unprecedented luxury. Parents hoping to find a child-friendly haven can sign their tykes up for Club Keiki. During its day and night camps, kids can feed koi and swans, hunt for treasure and explore tide pools.
The resort's tropical gardens, saltwater lagoons and 2 golf courses are tempting, but the most popular retreat is Dolphin Quest. It provides guests with a variety of interactive dolphin programs, including training adventures, a family experience and kids' quest. Meanwhile, at Waikoloa's 4-acre lagoon, water lovers can schedule kayak trips, snorkel sails and seasonal whale-watching tours. After dark, attend the Legends of Hawaii luau to experience traditional island dancing and music, as well as a buffet dinner.
Photo credit: Edmunds Dana / Perspectives / Getty Images
5. Kingsmill Resort
Stretching over 3,000 acres of Virginia wilderness, Kingsmill Resort boasts its own long list of recreational activities, as well as close proximity to the fun found in nearby Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. Active families can enjoy the resort's 2 18-hole golf courses, 15 tennis courts and Sports Club, which features indoor and outdoor pools, exercise classes, personal trainers and a billiards and game room.
Stop by the concierge desk for special Junior Guest registration, and children will receive a Kids' Fun Pack introducing them to the resort. The kids' camp is the perfect opportunity for 5- to 12-year-olds to play tennis and golf, swim, fish, have theme days and make arts and crafts. Don't forget to sign little ones up for Kids' Night Out, a pizza and game party that allows parents to have a romantic date night at one of the 4 signature restaurants on-site.
Photo credit: Kingsmill Resort
6. Circus Circus
The biggest permanent big top in the world can be found rising in all its colorful glory in Las Vegas. More than 3.5 million people a year stop by to experience the live entertainment and whimsy that Circus Circus has to offer. The resort lies on 70 acres of land, and with nearly 3,800 rooms, it's the fifth-largest resort-casino in Vegas.
Photo credit: Mitchell Funk / The Image Bank / Getty Images
"Oohs" and "ahhs" fill the air every half-hour as performers engage in airborne stunts on the resort's center stage. Surrounding the stage is the Midway, an enormous carnival filled with 200 games and wandering clowns. Possibly the world's biggest funhouse, the indoor Adventuredome theme park continues the excitement with more than 20 rides, plus miniature golf and laser tag.
7. Out 'n' About Treesort
Nestled into treetops and branches is one of the world's most unusual bed-and-breakfasts. This high-in-the-sky treehouse resort proves that trees aren't just for the birds. Fifteen treehouses, which sleep anywhere from 2 to 8 people, make up the "treesort" (but because of legal issues, not all 15 are available for overnight lodging).
Guests climb stairs, ladders, even a 90-foot-long suspension bridge. At the Swiss Family Complex, a swinging bridge separates child and adult units, and a fire pole and rope swings provide kids with ground access. Luxury lovers will enjoy the Tree Room Schoolhouse Suite, which fits 4 and has a bathroom, kitchenette, master bedroom, sitting area and loft. Fun perks include lessons in treehouse building, horseback riding, rafting, ropes courses, pools and arts and crafts classes.
Photo credit: Out'n'about Treesort
8. Club Med Ixtapa Pacific
Take your family south of the border for some Club Med-style family fun. The charming Club Med Ixtapa Pacific quickly woos kids and parents with its seemingly endless roster of activities for all ages. Situated on 37 acres along Mexico's western coast, the resort hosts more than 20,000 visitors a year, 60% of whom are under age 11!
A variety of clubs are designed to entertain children throughout the day. Divided by age groups, Baby Club Med, Petit Club Med, Mini Club Med and Juniors Club Med keep kids ages 4 months to 17 years busy with outdoor activities, shows and crafts. Ixtapa Pacific offers adult activities including tennis, scuba diving, archery, kayaking, water polo, volleyball and picnics. Families venturing off the resort property can visit Ixtapa Island or take sunset cruises, fishing trips and even excursions into the Mexican fishing village of Zihuatanejo.
Photo credit: Club Med Ixtapa Pacific
9. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa
Most commonly associated with its 2 championship golf courses and its world-class spa, the Omni La Costa now earns itself a new reputation: family resort. Tucked among the property's rolling greens, renowned golf school and 17 tennis courts is a world of activities designed for little ones on retreat.
At the Kidtopia children's club, young guests experience the resort's magnificent facilities in a kid-friendly environment, filling their time with tennis, croquet, hiking, swimming, nature walks, crafts and pingpong. While they're making friends and having fun, parents can indulge in the body- and soul-soothing luxury that defines the Omni La Costa.
Photo credit: La Costa Resort and Spa
10. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
At Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, families experience the thrills of an African safari without ever leaving their hotel. If a trip to the Serengeti is out of your price range, a visit to this wild lodge will more than suffice. Strolling throughout the property's 33 acres of savannas, guests will see more than 200 animals representing 100 different species, including antelopes and gazelles.
Rooms are decorated with a traditional African ambience: earth-tone walls, handcrafted furniture, tapestries and mosquito nets. But true historical value can be found in the 4,000 native handicrafts placed throughout the lodge. When it's time to dine, experience the tastes of Africa at one of the resort's inspired restaurants, including Jiko, which features wood-burning ovens, and Boma, a buffet under a thatched roof.