Travel

American Beach Towns You Can Actually Afford to Move to

A house by the ocean isn't just a pipe dream.

Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Moment/Getty
Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Moment/Getty
Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Moment/Getty

Looking for a house in 2021 is kinda like trying to find a parking space on a Saturday at Trader Joe’s: Everyone with a smidgeon of disposable income is in cutthroat competition for the same highly limited amount of real estate. And just when you think you’ve got a spot, someone swoops in without using their turn signal and crushes your dreams. 

But all is not lost, and if your newfound remote work life has you dreaming about taking Zoom calls from the beach, it’s actually not impossible. While you might leave behind some big city amenities, plenty of smaller cities-mostly in the southeast-will let you live your beachiest life for far less than what a one-bedroom condo costs in a lot of major metropolitan areas. 

We took a look at Smart Asset and Realtor.com‘s lists of the most affordable beach towns in America, then thought about places people might actually want to live. We found a dozen beach towns around the US where you just might be able to afford a house. (At least for now.)

Shutterstock/Dominick Corrado
Shutterstock/Dominick Corrado
Shutterstock/Dominick Corrado

Ft. Pierce, Florida

Median home price: $238,500
The competition is tough in Florida when it comes to beachfront property. So we can forgive our collective minds for overlooking this Treasure Coast gem about an hour north of West Palm Beach. The beaches in Ft. Pierce are rarely crowded and just as scenic and vacation-envy-inducing as the packed ones further south. This laid-back city is also home to the National Navy SEAL Museum and an art museum devoted entirely to Ft. Pierce native A. E. Backus. And if small town beach life gets old, you’re about halfway between Miami and the theme parks of Orlando on the Florida Turnpike, each under two hours’ drive. 

May we also remind you that Florida residents jubilantly enjoy pretty sweet tax breaks. If you can’t make a full-time move happen, why not consider the part-time snowbird life? Early-bird specials aren’t the only perks around here.

Robert L. Potts/Design Pics/Getty Images
Robert L. Potts/Design Pics/Getty Images
Robert L. Potts/Design Pics/Getty Images

Long Beach, Washington

Median home price: $399,250
Real estate on this gorgeous Pacific peninsula ain’t exactly cheap, but hear us out. Like Florida, Washington state has no income taxes, while Oregon-just 30 minutes away-doesn’t charge sales tax. Imagine doing your weekly grocery shopping in the same town where The Goonies was filmed? Sign us up for this life. 

Though the Washington weather isn’t exactly ideal for tanning, you can still stroll the town boardwalk, go birding at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, or hike through old-growth forests at the beautiful (and inaccurately named) Cape Disappointment State Park, home to two lighthouses. Across the border in Oregon, there’s no shortage of misty coastal towns to explore, and when you’re craving really good vegan food served up in a vampire-themed strip club, Portland is just two and a half hours away.

Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images
Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images
Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images

Coos Bay, Oregon

Median home price: $277,500
Speaking of the Beaver State, while North Coast towns like Cannon Beach tend to dominate the spotlight, some of the most scenic shoreline in Oregon sits in Coos Bay. The highlight is Sunset Bay State Park, surrounded by majestic cliffs where miles of hiking trails take you to breathtaking vistas that overlook this secluded cove and the Pacific beyond. Coos Bay also sits on the southern border of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where you’ll find impressive natural wonders including some dunes that stand over 500 feet tall. As for that other thing Oregon is best known for (beer, we mean beer) head into town and hit 7 Devils Brewing, whose nutty Lighthouse Session pale ale is as well-paired with a sunny summer day as it is a sideways windstorm in winter.

Visit Swansboro NC
Visit Swansboro NC
Visit Swansboro NC

Swansboro, North Carolina

Median home price: $310,050
North Carolina is chock full of powdery white sand beaches, but only in Swansboro can you watch Osprey landings while you tan. The one-time ship building and fishing hub, located about an hour and a half up the coast from Wilmington, shares a border with Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune. Hammocks Beach State Park might be the area’s greatest hidden gem, a stretch of oceanfront where many of the gorgeous beaches are only reachable by boat. Weekend getaways might include quick jaunts to the Outer Banks or sleepy islands like Ocracoke. Meanwhile the town itself boasts a charming main street of boutiques and cafes. A good spot for mulling over your permanent move is with a craft beer and water view at Bake, Bottle and Brew.

Fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock
Fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock
Fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Median home price: $200,000
The artsy, quintessentially Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast leads the nation in affordable coastal cities, with four places landing in Smart Asset‘s top ten most affordable beach towns. Of those, Ocean Springs is the beachiest. Step out of your sub-$250K cottage and into the colorful historic downtown lined with atmospheric live oaks, artists’ studios, and inventive restaurants. There’s no shortage of funky bars of Government Street, where live music fills the air every weekend. Closer to the coast, you’re a short boat ride from the turquoise waters of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a big part of why this isn’t just one of the cheapest beach towns in America-it’s also one of the best.

Daniel Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images
Daniel Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images
Daniel Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images

Rockland, Maine

Median home price: $250,050
The winters here can be crushing, but you don’t move to Maine for beachside mai tais. If lobsters and lighthouses are more your speed, consider this beautiful mid-coast town on Penobscot Bay, where blissful weekend hikes in Acadia National Park wait just two hours away. The charming downtown, chock full of art galleries and museums, has dubbed itself the “art capital of Maine.” Rockland is also synonymous with tall ships (or “windjammers”) which not only ramp up the harbor’s Instagram game, but make for calming cruises out into the scenic bay. And in August, you’ll have a front row seat for the annual Maine Lobster Festival, where you can earn your quirky Mainer cred by complaining about all the tourists invading your town.

Rachelle Yingling/EyeEm/Getty Images
Rachelle Yingling/EyeEm/Getty Images
Rachelle Yingling/EyeEm/Getty Images

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Median home price: $221,060
Myrtle Beach has a lingering reputation as a kitschy, hectic spring break spot-and sure, in March you’ll find a college kid or two loitering on the boardwalk and taking one too many turns on the SkyWheel. But this city on the Grand Strand has a far more slow-paced, family-friendly vibe than people give it credit for. Along the 60-mile shoreline, you can eat and drink yourself silly at near-endless seafood joints, learn how to shag dance at Fat Harold’s Beach Club, and ditch the tourists in idyllic neighborhoods like Cherry Grove in North Myrtle. One of the States’ most impressive sculpture gardens is a few miles down the road at Brookgreen, and you can always immerse yourself in the mangroves and cypress swamps along the Waccamaw River.

Matias Wilson/shutterstock
Matias Wilson/shutterstock
Matias Wilson/shutterstock

Port Arthur, Texas

Median home price: $189,900
Investing in a Port Arthur beach home is a far savvier investment than anything ending in the word “coin,” as the median home price here has nearly tripled in the past few years. In other words, the secret is out about this friendly community on Sabine Lake just across from Louisiana. The small oil town has its drawbacks-namely, pollution from the refinery-but it does border five protected areas including the Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge and Sea Rim State Park. And while there’s not much in the way of nightlife and entertainment, weekend drives into Houston won’t top two hours. 

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

Daytona Beach, Florida

Median home price: $239,050
Though your home by the Great American Race costs nearly twice what it might have a few years ago, compared to a lot of Florida, it’s still chew-filled-jaw-droppingly cheap. That means you’ll have plenty of money left to buy a giant F-350 and cruise along one of the only drive-on beaches in the country. The city is slowly moving away from its spring-break image, so there’s a solid chance your lawn won’t be littered with discarded beer cans every March. Plus, with Orlando just a short drive away, Daytona offers the perfect place for a beach escape with easy access to big-city amenities.

Ken Cedeno/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
Ken Cedeno/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
Ken Cedeno/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Freeport, Texas

Median home price: $169, 500
It might be easy to overlook this little town of about 12,000, which sits an hour from Houston and 45 minutes from Galveston. But if you’re down to spend your days swimming, fishing, and diving the northernmost coral reefs in the United States, Freeport might be for you. The town is best known as the gateway to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which boasts the best reef diving along the Gulf Coast. You’ll also have the enormous Bryan Beach to yourself, plus plenty of opportunities for deep sea fishing. It’s a bit like the Florida Keys, right at the tip of Texas-so if you don’t mind a little humidity, it could just be your own undiscovered paradise.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.

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.

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