Here’s How Much It’ll Cost You to Visit the Top-Ranked Beaches in America

Siesta Beach
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Every year before summer begins, the man known as Dr. Beach releases his ranking of the best beaches in the U.S.

Beachgoers often use the rundown from Dr. Beach — whose real name is Stephen P. Leatherman — to plan which coast to visit on their next sandy sojourn.

Last week, Dr. Beach released his rankings, and for the second time Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida, tops the list. Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui and Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach off the coast of North Carolina came in second and third, respectively.

In his list, Leatherman considers 50 criteria including sand softness, water and sand color, algae, the presence of jellyfish and other pests, the slope of the shoreline and the average number of waves within a break zone.

But seriously, when was the last time you packed up your umbrella and ditched a beach because the sand was too gray?

And the rankings don’t consider one factor that’s important to most families when they plan their summer vacation: cost.

The Penny Hoarder looked at the average hotel room costs in the 10 counties that have a beach in Dr. Beach’s holy list.

Then, blaspheming the sandman himself, we ranked these beaches from most to least affordable based on those numbers and gas prices (which are obviously subject to change by the time you hit the road). Shout out to data and analytics specialists STR and GasBuddy for the statistics.

And for you true Penny Hoarders, we’ve included Airbnb links for each location — because we know you’re looking for the best deal.

Obviously, the cost of a beach vacation will vary depending on where you are in the country and a variety of other factors, and for many, a beach vacation isn’t exactly the most cost-conscious holiday choice. While Dr. Beach’s picks aren’t exactly cheap, our reworked list will show you which top beaches are the most budget-friendly and which are the biggest splurges.

Beach Balling on a Budget

It seems like the South offers the most beautiful, and mostly affordable, beaches in the country. Even better, the Florida ones offer beach weather year-round.

1. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

Average room night: $138.53

Gas prices: $2.19

What Dr. Beach had to say: “The white beach is composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters. There are boardwalk trails, but my favorite is the kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to see the large blue herons and other birds that frequent this wonderful natural area.”  

2. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Average room night: $145.08

Gas prices: $1.98

What Dr. Beach had to say: “This is a nature-lovers coast so visitors should bring their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets. It is also fun to walk or bicycle down to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds. The water is not clear here, but it is clean and provides fantastic seafood for low-country cooking.”

3. Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota, Florida

Average room night: $147.33

Gas prices: $2.25

What Dr. Beach had to say: “With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over. Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”

4. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Average room night: $136.20

Gas prices: $2.43

What Dr. Beach had to say: “Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place — it is my favorite getaway beach. Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country. Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t expect to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.”

Beautiful — But Not Exactly Cheap

The beaches in this tier span the continental U.S. from New York to California. Beware of high gas prices.

5. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

Average room night: $149.42

Gas prices: $2.35

What Dr. Beach had to say: “The beach is backed by large sand dunes covered by American beach grass interspersed with large and extravagant mansions. Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach, and a snack bar serving lunch and drinks can be found here as well.”

6. Grayton Beach State Park, Walton County, Florida

Average room night: $177.17

Gas prices: $2.31

What Dr. Beach had to say: “This beach boasts of its sugar-white sand and emerald green water where development has been restrained so big sand dunes still dominate the landscape. At the same time, all the amenities of great restaurants and accommodations are close by in the old town of Grayton Beach or Seaside.”

7. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Average room night: $154.92

Gas prices: $2.77

What Dr. Beach had to say: “With its lush subtropical vegetation, unique Mediterranean climate, and fine sparkling sand, beach-goers flock to this beach for great ship-watching and the summer’s warm and mild surf. The local landmark, Hotel del Coronado, was built over a hundred years ago, offering spectacular architecture and Old World elegance.”

8. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Average room night: $179.69

Gas prices: $2.37

What Dr. Beach had to say: “The sand is fairly coarse so the beach slopes steeply into the water. The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay. During the summer, beach-goers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water temperatures only reach 60-70 degrees.”

Biggest Splurge

Duh. The most expensive of Dr. Beach’s picks are in Hawaii.

9. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii

Average room night: $227.46

Gas prices: $3.43

What Dr. Beach had to say: “This white coral sand beach resides in a landscape dominated by black lava flows. During the summer months, Hapuna is a perfect place to swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the crystal clean waters, but big waves during the winter can generate powerful rip currents. Fortunately, there are well-trained lifeguards at this state park.”

10. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Average room night: $332.50

Gas prices: $3.44

What Dr. Beach had to say: “This beautiful crescent-shaped, white sand beach is bounded by these rocky anchors where good restaurants can be found. The fine coral sand beach slopes gradually into the deeper water where the rocky bottom is punctuated with corals that attract vividly-colored tropical fish.”

Note: The affordability ranking was generated assuming a 12-gallon gas tank.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. Clearly, he’s already missing home on Siesta Key.