Travel

Great American Beach Towns That Are Dirt Cheap in September

Don't say goodbye to summer just yet.

Jon Bilous/Shutterstock
Jon Bilous/Shutterstock
Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

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.

Mia2you/Shutterstock
Mia2you/Shutterstock
Mia2you/Shutterstock

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%).

Robert Hinojosa/EyeEm/Getty Images
Robert Hinojosa/EyeEm/Getty Images
Robert Hinojosa/EyeEm/Getty Images

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.

OceanCity.com
OceanCity.com
OceanCity.com

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).

Stephen Bonk/Shutterstock
Stephen Bonk/Shutterstock
Stephen Bonk/Shutterstock

Chincoteague, Virginia

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.

NJWALTER2004/SHUTTERSTOCK
NJWALTER2004/SHUTTERSTOCK
NJWALTER2004/SHUTTERSTOCK

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.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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 favourite 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 Tourism
Traverse City Tourism
Traverse City Tourism

Traverse City, Michigan

Average September rate: $235 (down 30%)
Traverse City is one of our favourite 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).

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

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.

Visit Portland Maine
Visit Portland Maine
Visit Portland Maine

Portland, Maine

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.

Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock
Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock
Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock

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.

Visit The Outer Banks
Visit The Outer Banks
Visit The Outer Banks

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.

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

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.

MCT/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
MCT/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
MCT/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

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 neighbourhood, 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.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat!

Kastalia Medrano is a writer and editor. You can find her on Twitter at @kastaliamedrano, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.

Tiana Attride is Thrillist’s Associate Travel Editor. You can follow her to the beach and beyond on Instagram at @tian.a.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.