Ugh, winter has finally set in. So now we're desperately planning a beach getaway for 2016 -- preferably as soon as possible. And while we were (pretty) good this year, so were our friends and family, which means we may have blown a significant portion of our vacation budget on gifts. But vacationing is one of our top priorities (and should be one of yours too). So we did a ton of research to create this epic list of the 11 most budget-friendly beach destinations in the U.S. Staying stateside saves you money on travel regardless, and these locales go a step further with value-packed hotels, inexpensive activities, and cheap dining options. Some are primed and ready for your spring break; others are best suited for a summer getaway. All are great picks for a sandy getaway that won't wipe out your bank account -- so you can wipe out on the beach worry-free.
Although the temps here are a little chilly for a March spring break, Pensacola is a top budget beach getaway anytime from April (when 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. Unique features 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
By May, Myrtle Beach will be one of the best options for a budget beach getaway in the U.S. The destination offers visitors one-of-a-kind nightlife, more than 100 golf courses, and 60 miles of sandy shoreline -- all at affordable prices. Flying there doesn't put a huge burden on the wallet, and it's an easy enough drive from cities such as Charleston, Charlotte, and Augusta. This locale may be known to get a bit jam-packed during summer high season, but hotels account for this with massive pools and water park complexes, as well as plenty of meeting spaces and large rooms. In fact, many properties feature condo-style accommodations with kitchens and living rooms.
Value Hotel Pick: Value Hotel Pick: Patricia Grand Resort Hotel
Though it has a tropical, Caribbean vibe, Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth and therefore flights to the island from the mainland are often inexpensive, especially when compared to those to nearby islands such as Turks and Caicos and the BVI. In Puerto Rico, huge malls, golf courses, and casinos meet tropical rainforests and beautiful white-sand beaches, while well-preserved 15th-century Spanish forts loom over charming towns with colorful colonial buildings. Prices are similar to those in the U.S., and the hotel offerings are varied, from luxury resorts, to government-sponsored inns, to chain hotels. So no matter your style (party-centric or laid-back) or budget (sky-high or tight), you'll find a great beach retreat. Plus, it has beach weather year-round!
Value Hotel Pick: San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel
A 90-minute drive from Portland, Cannon Beach is easily reached via several highways; getting there is part of the fun, as each route offers stunning coastal views. It's also a popular weekend getaway destination, particularly come summer, thanks to its budget-friendly hotels and beautiful beaches; the most recognized feature here is the 235-foot Haystack Rock that juts out of the ocean. Additional sights and activities include Ecola State Park (for hiking and wildlife sightings), art galleries, kite flying, biking, and surfing.
Value Hotel Pick: The Waves
April through October, this Texas island stays nice and warm. It's a budget-friendly destination, particularly for Houstonians who only have to drive 45 minutes to reach it. Still, visitors can find plenty of deals on hotels, restaurants, and activities here, and cruisers often pass through if their ships have ports of call in Texas. You can get just about anywhere in Galveston on foot; highlights include Moody Gardens, Seawolf Park, Haak Vineyards and Winery, and, of course, the beach.
Value Hotel Pick: The Galvestonian
Cape May sits on the southernmost tip of the Jersey Shore, but don't get it confused with the infamous show; sure, Cape May 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 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, and almost all hotels have inexpensive rates. Activities range from parasailing and paddleboarding to brewery or lighthouse tours.
Value Hotel Pick: Sea Crest Inn
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, especially during holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day. The beach here is known for being a prime spot for surfing, and the city hosts tons of surfing competitions throughout the warmer months.
Value Hotel Pick: Residence Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront
This island, reachable from the Texas mainland via Route 100, is wildly popular during spring break, mostly because it's so cheap and highs are at 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; there's dolphin watching, water parks, kiteboarding, sailing, and plenty of inexpensive dining options.
Value Hotel Pick: Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island
An inexpensive alternative to Boca Raton, Delray Beach is ready for sand-dwellers 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 large public beach. Aside from swimming and surfing, water-bound folks can dive or snorkel at a shipwreck just off the coast. Other activities include fishing, shopping, tennis, and visiting the Japanese gardens.
Value Hotel Pick: Wright By The Sea
Bordering South Carolina, Wrightsville Beach is one of North Carolina's overlooked beach destinations -- which is perhaps why this spot is often one of the cheapest summer getaways in the area. Only 20 minutes from Wilmington, Wrightsville is a laid-back 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. Numerous inexpensive bars and restaurants are also nearby.
Value Hotel Pick: Sandpeddler Inn & Suites
Basically part of Charleston -- which is known for its delicious food, amazing weather, fun nightlife, and beautiful people -- Folly Beach is where locals and visitors hit the South Carolinian sand when the weather really warms up. A six-mile-long island, Folly Beach is called "the edge of America" by locals, but it's only 15 minutes from historic downtown Charleston. Activities include swimming, fishing, jet-skiing, dolphin-watching, kayaking, and surfing. There are also some fun bars and restaurants, and most entertainment comes relatively cheap.
Value Hotel Pick: Tides Folly Beach