With travel restrictions easing, an increasingly vaccinated population is turning its eyes towards summer beach getaways. More than half, 55%, of Americans want to visit a beach for summer vacation, according to a recent survey by Travelzoo. And Florida appears to be their state of choice.
Of the five most searched beach destinations on travel app Hopper, four are in the Sunshine State. Searches for Key West on Hopper have increased 246% compared to the last "normal" U.S. summer, in 2019. Users are searching for Sarasota 207% more than they were in summer 2019, while searches for Panama City Beach and Fort Meyers both increased more than 150%.
If you're looking to get away without spending a fortune, consider one of these four beach destinations outside of Florida, where you can enjoy the sun and sand without the high demand and higher prices.
The Texas beach town of Galveston has 32 miles of soft-sand beaches, along with family-friendly attractions like the 2,000-acre Galveston Island State Park.
Yet Galveston has been getting far fewer searches than Florida destinations on Hopper, says Brianna Schneider, director of communications at the company. Interest in Galveston is up just 49% compared to summer 2019, much lower than the triple-digit increases for Florida cities.
Average round-trip airfare to Galveston for the weekend of July 10 is $296, according to data from Hopper.
If you're traveling with young children, Myrtle Beach is a good option, says Steve Bertogli, travel deals expert at Travelzoo. "Myrtle Beach is a very family-friendly destination and the area is home to 60 miles of beaches called the Grand Strand," a strip of uninterrupted beach dotted with hotels and restaurants.
Interest in Myrtle Beach is only up 27% compared to summer 2019, according to Hopper data. There are also many "very affordable flights" from the Midwest and East Coast, Bertogli says.
Unless you want to fly to Hawaii, it's hard to find the quality of beaches available in Florida, says Stephen Leatherman, a professor of coastal science at Florida International University, also known as Dr. Beach.
However, the Alabama towns of Orange Beach or Gulf Shores are close, with "the same powder-white sand and emerald water as Pensacola and Panama City Beach in the Florida panhandle," Leatherman says. "The water and sand are nearly identical to South Florida beaches and those at Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas."
Interest in Gulf Shores is only up 47% compared to summer 2019, according to Hopper data. Many Americans don't consider Alabama a beach destination, says Travelzoo's Bertogli, but they should. "It is affordable and very close to the Pensacola, Florida airport, where there are several flights from around the Southeast, Midwest, and East Coast."
Don't forget about California as a beach destination. "San Diego has perfect beach weather, and lots of choice between hotels or vacation rentals," Bertogli says. It's also less popular at the moment: Interest is down 8% compared to summer 2019, according to Hopper data.
"America's Finest City" not only boasts less crowded beaches, but family-friendly attractions as well, says Gabe Saglie, also of Travelzoo.
"Beaches in North San Diego County, near cities like Encinitas and Solana Beach, tend to have fewer crowds, great surfing and kayaking," he says. "They put families close to attractions, which are now finally back open, like LEGOLAND and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park."
Even if you're anxious to visit the beach after a year of lockdown, it's important to not overspend. Here are three ways to save money while traveling this summer:
- Book a flight as soon as possible, Hopper economist Adit Damodaran told Grow. Airfare prices are expected to rise with demand, so if you want to get a good deal on flights, it's best to book now.
- Compare the total cost of air travel. Basic economy is usually the cheapest fare class, but a less expensive fare might end up costing you more because of all the restrictions and add-on fees. "You may not be able to change or cancel your flight or choose your seat, and the overhead bins for luggage may be off-limits," Damodaran said. "These restrictions can lead to a lot of additional fees."
- Pick inexpensive activities at your destination. Taking bike rides, going on a self-guided mural tour, or having a picnic at the beach can be fun, safe, and affordable.
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