Nothing against the classic American summer vacay or anything, but September is a wildly underrated month to take a beach trip. If you’re a kid, or the parent of a kid, your fun-in-the-sun window effectively ends on Labor Day, and for that we sympathize. But in the vast majority of the country, the weather has not yet caught up with the calendar, so if you’ve got the means to make one last-ditch getaway why not soak up the last of those precious rays. As coastal towns transition into the off-season, you’ll be paying winter prices for summer temperatures.
For some inspiration on the best beaches to hit, we asked our friends at TripAdvisor Rentals to run some numbers and find us the areas with the most dramatic price drops if you were to book for September rather than August, comparing average weekly rates for a two-bedroom rental. Not only that, we looked for spots with attractions and amenities that are best enjoyed with far fewer people around. Everyone’s in school -- even Billy’s in school, man. So spread out, take all the sand you need.
Average weekly September rental: $1,157 Off-season savings: 32% It’s exceedingly tough to pick just one barrier island to visit in Carolina’s laid-back Lowcountry, but if a nap in a rope hammock, sunsets over the creek, and some damned delicious seafood are among your top priorities, check out Pawleys Island. The tiny town of PI remains “arrogantly shabby” year-round, and September will treat you right with warm water, a wide, sparsely populated beach, and far less scandalous prices. Historic houses here date back to the late 1700s, and the area offers some impressive dining and golf courses. Up the road, Huntington Beach State Park is one of the best bird-watching spots in the state, and the must-visit Brookgreen Gardens features grand sculptures and a surprisingly diverse zoo. Nights are best spent tapping along to some local blues band at the PIT (Pawleys Island Tavern), which you’ll find hiding in the trees down a pothole-ridden drive off Highway 17.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
September weekly average: $2,305 Off-season savings: 22% Summering on the Vineyard is typically reserved for people whose car payment is more than your mortgage. Early-falling on the Vineyard? An achievable dream! Rentals are a solid $600 cheaper per week, so you can take in the gorgeous cliffs, beaches, cycling trails, and historic cottages with a little less financial guilt. You’ll also be basking in near-perfect temperatures that never go much over 80 degrees or below 60. Actually getting there takes a bit of effort as it’s only accessible by boat or plane, but with far fewer people clogging up the joint, that only enhances those remote getaway vibes.
Orange Beach, Alabama
September weekly average: $1,359 Off-season savings: 28% The tiny towns along Alabama’s Gulf Coast are arguably the most beautiful in the state, and Orange Beach, home to Gulf State Park, is one of the highlights. The idyllic white sand beaches and turquoise water are every bit the Gulf Coast postcard you’d expect in Florida, with a far lower price tag and a fraction of the crowds. The high-rises along the shore empty out after Labor Day, meaning shorter wait times at hugely popular restaurants like Big Fish and Fisher’s Upstairs. And don’t worry, the party at Pirate’s Cove -- one of the best beach bars in America -- will still be going strong on the weekends, even in the off-season, but you won’t have to reserve your pontoon boat months in advance to get there and enjoy it.
Imperial Beach, California
September weekly average: $1,311 Off-season savings: 21% There’s never really a bad time to visit Southern California, though if you’re hunting for the apex of stupid-good weather, September is still the warmest time of year down there. With the reduced marine layer in the mornings you’ll have more time to enjoy the sand in this sleepy little beach town right on the Tijuana border, the “Most Southwesterly City in the US.” A house here is the perfect jumping-off point for some rowdy nights in TJ -- which you should absolutely visit -- or a well-deserved trip up to San Diego (catch a late-season Padres game -- PLENTY of good seats available!). Or you can stay in town, fatten up on fish tacos, stroll the pier, and head over to the Tijuana River estuary for some of the best bird watching on the coast.
September weekly average: $1,304 Off-season savings: 35% Temperatures in the mid-60s might not see you busting out the cooler and tanning oil, but the Pacific Northwest isn’t the place you go for that kind of riffraff anyway. This little coastal town, about 100 miles southwest of Portland, is more about getting out and active, whether it’s crabbing at Siletz Bay or taking a kayak or jet ski around Devil’s Lake. The stunning Cascade Head Trail rewards you with blufftop wildflower meadows and those panoramic views of the craggy coastline that Oregon does so well. If you’ve ever wanted to try a skate park but were intimidated by all the cool teens, fall is the time to do it at Kirtsis Park, where the ramps and half-pipes are empty save for any hooligans cutting school.
Bethany Beach, Delaware
September weekly average: $1,269 Off-season savings: 37% Rehoboth Beach gets most of the beach town hype in Delaware (yes, beaches in Delaware! Spread the word!). But little Bethany Beach is just as scenic with its colorful clapboard seaside houses, and plopping down in one for the week is strikingly more affordable in the fall. Beach erosion is a problem here, and on a big summer weekend it can be tricky to stake out your own spot in the sand. Not so in September, when families clear out and you can enjoy one of the most underrated slices of shoreline on the eastern seaboard in peace and quiet. When things get a little too quiet, head up the road for fun times at Dewey Beach, or hit Rehoboth for some of the best seafood on the Eastern Shore.
Topsail Beach, North Carolina
September weekly average: $943 Off-season savings: 31% Topsail Beach is the best bargain on our list; you can rent a house here for an entire week for less than a grand, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s the southernmost of three equally chill beach towns on Topsail Island, an area with a lot of fun pirate lore dating back to the 1700s. Only a handful of residents live here year-round (the population stands at a mere 419) and as school gets underway the snowbirds depart, leaving the shores almost empty. Topsail has great surfing and fishing spots, but other than that there’s not much to distract from the pristine soft-sand beaches and temps in the low 80s. Pop over to the excellently named Surf City for a few more lively bars, shops, and eateries.
Ocean City, Maryland
September weekly average: $1,400 Off-season savings: 29% For a great many people from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, summers in Ocean City are a fond high-school memory. Which is exactly why, for people no longer in high school, it’s best visited in September. The gloriously tacky boardwalk and go-karts are just as fun, the ocean is just as refreshing, and you won’t have to wade your way through throngs of youths who thought pre-gaming a roller coaster with Everclear was a stupendous idea. Daily highs are still in the upper-70s, so use the $500 you saved on the house to rent a sailboat and enjoy the sunshine.
September weekly average: $1,544 Off-season savings: 27% Coastal beaches in Washington State aren’t exactly the stuff of summer fantasies. But head a little inland and trade the Pacific Ocean for Lake Chelan, and you have one of the most underrated “beach towns” in America. This small city nestled in the Washington wine country has temperatures in the mid-70s and 80s well into the month. The lake is prime for boating and jet skiing, with deep blue waters striking a beautiful contrast with the surrounding mountains, all best taken in by paragliding or zip-lining over the entire valley.
Nags Head, North Carolina
September weekly average: $1,203 Off-season savings: 21% Snorkeling and diving the shipwrecks off Nags Head is one of the coolest things you can do in North Carolina, and the less people around to ruin the underwater experience the better. The water is still warm after Labor Day, so the reduced crowds make September the optimal time to explore the wrecks. Even if you’re not into underwater fun, you can chow down on the town’s trademark crab cakes without much of a wait, go fishing on the piers, or hang glide over Jockey’s Ridge, the largest sand dune on the East Coast.
Port Isabel, Texas
September weekly average: $1,254 Off-season savings: 28% Port Isabel is probably, for regulars to the Texas coastline, best known as “that town you get to right before South Padre.” But don’t sleep on this little historic city that’s considerably more relaxed than its neighbor across the bridge. Port Isabel has a rich pirate history and still regularly fires cannons off the pier. Shrimping boats sail in and out, so you’ll find some fantastic seafood at spots like Los Tortugo’s and Joe’s Oyster Bar. With the college kids who crowd South Padre now (mostly) back in school, the beaches are empty and the lines at Schlitterbahn are a heck of a lot shorter.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
September weekly average: $1,598 Off-season savings: 20% If sitting still isn’t your thing VB has plenty to keep you occupied, most of it free or nearly. A big draw is the 6-acre Adventure Park forest, where you can kill an afternoon hiking through the treetops on elevated walking trails, climbing up rope ladders, and zipping on zip lines. All of which aren’t nearly as enjoyable when you’ve got a massive group of people stumbling through the course ahead of you. Ah, the bliss of off-season. If elevated obstacles aren’t your thing, there’s a national wildlife refuge to explore, state parks to bike, and 3 miles of boardwalk to amble down. You’ll find far fewer kids scampering through the aquarium in September as well. It’s just you and the stingrays, baby.
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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who likes vacationing in September like he enjoys going to Costco on Tuesdays. Follow his crowd-free adventures on Instagram @meltrez1.