Great American Beach Towns That Are Dirt Cheap in September
Don't say goodbye to summer just yet.
Nothing against the classic summer vacay, but September is far and away the best 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. For that, we sympathize. But the weather has not yet caught up with the calendar, even as coastal towns around the country transition into the off-season—which means you’ve got to strike while the iron, the temperature, and the deals are all hot.
For guidance on which beach towns will be cheapest in September—post-Labor Day weekend, that is—we asked the folks over at Orbitz to run us some numbers. They compared the average daily hotel rates this September to what they were in August and found which beaches are seeing the biggest price drops. Then we cross-referenced the best deals with the coolest beach towns in America, with attractions and amenities that are best enjoyed with far fewer people around. So spread out, take all the sand you need, and enjoy one last dip.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Average September rate: $190 (down 30%)
During fall in Atlantic City, the beach is more of a side dish to the main courses: the iconic four-mile-long boardwalk that dances above it, and the many, many casinos it butts up to. Still, you can’t argue with views of the ocean while you go round and round in a Ferris wheel or drink and gamble to your heart’s content—especially if you can avoid the summertime hysteria while you enjoy it all. For the full Sin City by the Shore experience, head to the enormous Ocean Casino and Resort, where you can recharge your batteries in a low-key poolside cabana before dancing the night away at the HQ2 Nightclub and Beachclub.
Atlantic City not quite your jam? Been a million times and want to mix things up? No problem: there are deals to be had all along the Jersey Shore like Cape May (down 30%) and the North Jersey Shore (down 40%).
South Padre Island, Texas
Average September rate: $160 (down 40%)
South Padre is a top-tier Texas beach destination. It's a party island. A spring break island. A summertime island. We’re not telling you not to hit up Clayton’s, the biggest beach bar in Texas—all we’re saying is that South Padre is good for more than a rager, and the fun does not expire after August. Now that the crowds are down and the discounts are up, September is an excellent time to while away an afternoon over a brick-oven pizza at Gabriella’s, then take leisurely strolls across the white sands that make this one of the most gorgeous destinations in southern Texas. Ever seen a crab race? My friends, now is your time.
Ocean City, Maryland
Average September rate: $200 (down 40%)
One of the biggest beach destinations in the Mid-Atlantic, Ocean City is worth a trip for the booze alone: Orange Crush cocktails, a hometown hero, which must be sampled at Harborside Bar & Grill, M.R. Ducks, or Macky's Bayside Bar & Grill. Seacrets Jamaica USA, one of the most profitable and best beach bars in the entire country. We digress. Those drinks will only taste better when you look around and realize that the summer crowds have pared down significantly.
Along with the iconic bevs, Ocean City is home to plenty of classics. There’s Trimper’s Rides, one of the oldest continually operated, family-run amusement parks in the country; Harbor Inn, one of Maryland’s oldest dive bars and one run by an all-women team, at that; and hearty, hearty helpings of Old Bay seasoning, yet another hometown hero, which you’ll find on top of just about everything edible in town (as God intended).
Average September rate: $160 (down 40%)
If you were a Horse Girl growing up, you're probably familiar with the Horse Girl Law, which dictates that in order to remain a Horse Girl in good standing, you have to read the Misty of Chincoteague series at least once per summer through your formative years. This is how a great many people first learned of Virginia’s Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.
Famous for Assateague’s “flocks” of swimming ponies that draw massive crowds in the summertime, nearby Chincoteague is a perfect September destination for a classic, no-fuss beach getaway where you can still catch a good wine and beer festival if you so choose. Stroll through the farmer’s and flea markets in town and along the docks, and make a day trip to Assateague’s northern beach—where you can happily partake in some legal beach drinking.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Average September rate: $240 (down 20%)
Anybody who’s ever tried to plan a last-minute vacation to Cape Cod knows that there is no such thing as a last-minute vacation to Cape Cod. Every year, the joint packs out with Northeasterners looking to live their best (albeit brief) summertime lives before heading inland for leaf-peeping season—making the latter part of the year the best time to make your move.
As it goes in this part of the US, where there’s beach, there’s lobster rolls. Head down to the beach in Provincetown for a sunset stroll before digging into the rolls and beachside shack Far Land on the Beach; the same goes for Cahoon Hollow Beach if you’re willing to trek up and down 75-yard-high sand dunes, after which you can reward yourself at the Beachcomber. Meanwhile, at Head of the Meadow Beach, you’ll find surprisingly uncrowded sand and—if you’re lucky—sea lions lounging on the shore.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Average September rate: $185 (down 30%)
Were you hoping Myrtle Beach would pop up on the cheaper-in-September list? Us too. One of America’s perennial favorite beach towns, Myrtle Beach not only enjoys flawless weather and steeply discounted hotel rates in September, but hosts cherished annual events like a week-long Mustang Show (the classic car, not more swimming ponies), and a hoe-down harvest festival. There are ropes courses, golf courses, crafts festivals, sculpture gardens to stroll through, clubs like Fat Harold’s where you can learn the shag (the official South Carolina state dance), that gorgeous mile-long boardwalk, and of course the beaches themselves—free of summer tourists, the water not one bit colder than it was in August. Nearby Hilton Head Island and North Myrtle Beach are looking at 20% drops in their September daily rates, too.
Traverse City, Michigan
Average September rate: $235 (down 30%)
Traverse City is one of our favorite beach towns in Michigan, and one of the most affordable to visit this September. West Bay Beach is your first stop for swimming in Lake Michigan, and maybe for some pickup beach volleyball. Downtown TC, right by the water, has more than a dozen excellent breweries (7 Monks Taproom is a slam dunk if you’re not sure where to go). Throughout September, TC gets a makeover as art installations, live music, food, and more fill the streets for a litany of fun fall events including Harvest Days, a month-long event where you can you sample goods from more than 20 participating wineries (your wine comes with snacks, don’t worry).
St. Petersburg, Florida
Average September rate: $225 (down 20%)
Somehow, summertime crowds seem to forget that Florida is all beach, all the time. And considering the weather down here rarely dips below “warm,” there really is no bad time to go—so long as you’re willing to keep an eye out for tropical storms, which tend to peak in September. (A minor detail, of course.)
For example, there’s St. Petersburg, the kind of place where you can get the best of both worlds: a city break and a beach vacation. Downtown, you’ll find art galleries like the Salvador Dali Museum & the Chihuly Collection, farmer’s markets and indie boutiques, and spots for both cocktail lovers (try The Canopy at sunset) and beer bros (you’ll want to check out the St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail). When you want to simmer down, make a beeline for the other, more laid-back side of town for lounging, surfing, and paddle boarding at St. Pete Beach.
Average September rate: $215 (down 20%)
When all the summer crowds from Boston and New York head home for the season, you’ll find that what remains in Maine are all the lighthouse-strewn beaches you’ve come to fall in love with, and none of the crowds you’ve come to loathe. Around this time of year, there’s a palpable shift in Portland, and fall is the ideal time to enjoy the small-town New England vibes before the cold sets in.
Downtown, you’ll find hits like James Beard award-winning Central Provisions, cocktails at The North Point or Blyth & Burrows, and more lobster joints and breweries than you can shake a stick at. And, given the state’s relatively small size, we see no reason not to turn this into a beach town-hopping extravaganza: Portland is just a few hours’ drive from Ogunquit, Bar Harbor, and dozens of other tiny seaside getaways that emit that Gilmore Girls kind of charm when the leaves begin to fall.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Average September rate: $215 (down 30%)
If sitting still isn’t your thing, VB has plenty to keep you occupied, and most of it’s either free or very close to free. A big draw is the six-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 do not sound to you like a particularly good time, there’s a national wildlife refuge to explore, state parks to bike, and three 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.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Average September rate: $229 (down 20%)
Thanks to the rampant popularity of the eponymous Netflix show, you’d expect North Carolina’s Outer Banks to stay packed with beach bums, wannabe treasure hunters, and other characters. But this 100-mile-long ribbon of sand dunes still remains relatively underrated—especially if you head down after the summertime crowds clear.
While New England gets all the seafood street cred, the OBX is not one to be counted out: Along the shores of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Wanchese, seafood joints serve up fresh tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi, and more, as well as Southern comfort classics like shrimp and crabs. And although the treasure from the show Outer Banks doesn’t actually exist, a rich history of treasure hunters does: There are shipwrecks aplenty to explore, and the famous pirate Blackbeard allegedly met his maker on Ocracoke Island.
The Oregon Coast
Average September rate: $240 (down 20%)
If you’re looking to keep your trip low-key—say, by replacing super-suntanned tourists blasting music with chill, sweater-wearing Pacific Northwesterners taking lazy seaside strolls—the west coast truly is the best coast. Plus, Oregon has just as many great beaches up for grabs as Florida or California—so many that we’d even recommend making a road trip of it. Head to Bandon Beach for shallow waves and four miles of elbow room, Rockaway Beach for retro vibes (and Pronto Pup, which allegedly invented the corn dog), or Cannon Beach, where you can grab a highly-coveted solo pic of yourself in front of Haystack Rock as a reward for dodging the crowds.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Average September rate: $220 (down 30%)
A legendary queer destination, Rehoboth in September means Bear Weekend. It’s also time to enjoy craft beer, strolls along the classic beach boardwalk, bike rides through the Silver Lake neighborhood, and drag shows at Blue Moon. Get there the first week of the month and beloved amusement park Funland will still be open for the season, too. And at any time of year, Rehoboth stands out from its neighbors because of its food scene—notably Chesapeake & Maine, the restaurant from famous local brewpub Dogfish Brewery.