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Affordable beach destinations you may not know about

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Walking on the beach (Photo: IndexOpen)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 20, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Atlantic City, Ocracoke, Old Orchard Beach, Pismo Beach, Sarah Pascarella, St. Petersburg, vacation package.

As many beach lovers know, the later in the summer you visit, the nicer your vacation will be. Families have headed home to prepare for the new school year, nice weather still lingers, vacancies open up, and prices start to drop to reflect the end of peak season.

Whether it's a stretch of shore to have all to yourself, a boardwalk that seems from a former era, or feasts of lobsters and clams, the beach in late summer (particularly after Labor Day) can provide a memorable vacation that's also budget friendly. If you haven't gotten to the beach yet this year, here are some picks to squeeze in before fall arrives.

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Old Orchard Beach, Maine

"I love Old Orchard," says Barbara Rogers, author of Eating New England: A Food Lovers Guide. "The beach goes on for miles, unlike most northern New England beaches, so it's easy to find a spot that's not towel-to-towel. It has an old fashioned amusement park, Palace Playland, right on the beach—the view from the top of the Ferris wheel is a knockout. Everything is within sight—the beach, amusement park, pier, main street shops, restaurants, good lodgings—so you arrive, park free, and walk to everything. It's just honky-tonk enough so you really feel like you've been to the beach. And local volunteers scour the beach once every 24 hours to clean up any trash left by careless visitors, so it is spotless."

Easily accessed by the Maine Turnpike and U.S. Route 1, Old Orchard Beach offers a quintessential New England beach getaway without the high cost. Hotel rooms can be found for $200 per night or less, and dining options range from boardwalk clam shacks to fine restaurants. Or, be creative to save a little money. "Choose a place with a kitchenette so you can eat breakfast and lunch in. You'll avoid the lines and can enjoy a long dinner at a restaurant in the evening," recommends Rogers. "Or, you can eat all your meals 'at home' on the balcony overlooking the ocean. You can buy entire lobster dinners to take away for much less than a restaurant, and have a picnic on the beach. Then go out for ice cream."

Days at Old Orchard Beach are often made up of budget-friendly activities such as beach and boardwalk lounging, lighthouse touring, whale watching, and miniature golf. The area is also popular for outdoor recreation including fishing, golf, and hiking. And visitors in late summer can take advantage of seasonal events such as Illumination Night, the annual festival of lights, live music, and strawberry shortcake scheduled for August 5 at nearby Ocean Park. There's also the Tri-State Fishing Tournament, focusing on striped bass and blue fish, slotted for September 8 and 9; and Bikefest on the Pier, featuring motorcycle showcases, a pig roast, and vendors, to be held September 9.

For ideas on planning an Old Orchard Beach getaway, see the resources on the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce website.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

The state shutdown of Atlantic City's famous casinos is over, and the city eagerly calls back visitors for the end of summer. "People generally associate the city with gambling, but we're very proud of our number-one natural resource: the beach," says Jeffrey Vasser, executive director, Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. The beach is always free to visitors, and can be as bustling or as quiet as you like. Along the commercial district, visitors can hit the surf, then stroll up to the boardwalk for a drink, snack, shopping, or some gambling. And getting away from the crowds is possible, too, notes Vasser. "Further down the beach, out of the commercial district, the crowds are much thinner, more residential. You'll still have restroom facilities, the boardwalk, [and it's] much quieter."

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