Vacation rentals at popular US beaches are already nearing capacity for summer, but these less-crowded destinations offer the same feel and better price tags

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  • As vaccination rates rise, there’s been an accompanying surge in summer vacation planning.
  • Summer beach rentals are nearing all-time highs, with popular destinations already over 80% booked.
  • These great alternative destinations still have affordable rentals available for summer.

With more than 40% of US adults at least half-vaccinated, and a whopping 82% of adults over 65 with at least one dose of the vaccine, millions of Americans are ready to resume summer travel in 2021 after what was likely a summer spent mostly at home in 2020. 

If you’ve tried to book a summer vacation rental for 2021, what we’re about to say will not surprise you: With so many people wanting to get away, options for the summer are filling up quickly. According to new Vrbo data, some of the most popular summer destinations in the US are already showing less than 20% available properties in July, with rental numbers as high as 90% at well-known destinations such as the Jersey Shore and Cape Cod. Plus, with so much demand, prices for the most popular beach locales are soaring.

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Although you might not be able to find a rental in the most popular spots at the height of the season, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other cheap beach trips to consider for a summer getaway, you just need to know where to look. Vrbo compiled a list of alternative, underrated destinations that offer similar settings and attractions to the big name getaways, but often at a fraction of the cost, and without the accompanying crowds. 

Additionally, we found top vacation rentals for each alternative destination that still have plenty of availability for summer getaways. 

We chose top Vrbo properties based on the following criteria:

  1. Rentals are well-located in less crowded and less booked up destinations highlighted by Vrbo.
  2. All are beachfront or just blocks from the ocean to make the most of your beach vacation.
  3. All have availability during the most popular summer weeks, as of press time.
  4. We kept affordability in mind, but chose a range of rentals to suit various needs and budgets. Starting prices over the summer range from $192 to $629 per night. 
  5. All properties are highly rated for cleanliness.
  6. All are highly-reviewed properties with a minimum rating of 4.8 out of 5.

Here are some of the best US beach vacations to beat the crowds this summer, according to Vrbo.

Switch from the densely packed east coast beaches of Florida, to the quiet western side. The bustling beaches of Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale are hard to even find parking near, let alone rent a vacation house at. Instead, try the blissful beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. 

Sanibel is known as the seashell capital of the western hemisphere, and you could spend hours looking at the treasure that wash ashore here, or check in with the experts at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the nation’s only dedicated shell museum. More than half of Sanibel is reserved for wildlife, and you can also immerse in nature at a 6,400 acre wildlife refuge or take advantage of peddling through 25 miles of bike trails.

Where to stay: The cozy dockside cottage is situated right on the Gulf of Mexico and, as you might have guessed, by a dock on the water. It is part of the Sanibel Mooring Resort, so you get a private home feeling, but with the luxury amenities of a resort, including beach chairs and umbrellas to use on the wide stretch of private shell-covered beach. The spacious and modern kitchen features a marble island that can seat up to six and multiple bedrooms make it a good choice for families.

Price: $192 avg/night

Sleeps: 6 guests/2 bedrooms

Rating: 4.9

Location: Sanibel Moorings  

Standout features: Private resort beach, communal pool, watersport rentals, optional housekeeper services, attached sun room

Instead of Hilton Head try Tybee Island, Georgia

South Carolina’s bustling Hilton Head Island is known for its historic light house, spacious golden sand beaches, and gentle surf, drawing crowds of visitors in the warm weather months. 

For just as much sun, and sand, but without the crowds or high prices, head an hour south to Tybee Island, an under-the-radar, barrier island on Georgia’s gorgeous coastline. Just 20 minutes from Savannah, quaint Tybee Island boasts 5 miles of beautiful beaches as well as the state’s tallest and oldest lighthouse (ca. 1736). Climb to the top for spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean. Take a guided kayak tour of the salt marshes, lounge on the beach, watch for dolphins as they frolic in the waves, go bird watching at North Beach as seabirds and shorebirds migrate from the Arctic, and then enjoy a seafood dinner at a cozy waterside restaurant. 

Where to stay: For a beach vacation with a side of history, the Enlisted Men’s Mess Hall is a unique and charming rental. Once the Mess Hall for Ft. Screven, it’s undergone a complete renovation into a vacation bungalow and even won the Tybee Island Historic Society Preservation Award. The home features tall ceilings, hardwood floors, and plenty of unique charm via details like tables made from old luggage. Sit in rockers on the screened-in porch or enjoy the yard with large palms and live oaks. It’s mere blocks from North Beach and five minutes from Tybee Light House.

Price: $207

Sleeps: 4 guests/2 bedrooms

Rating: 4.8

Location: North Beach  

Standout features: Fenced-in yard, historic home, screened porch, two blocks from the beach, pet-friendly 

Instead of Myrtle Beach try Cocoa Beach, Florida

North Carolina’s southernmost county, Brunswick is home to frolicking Myrtle Beach, one of the most popular beach towns in the region for its soft sand beaches, not to mention its lively bar and restaurant scene. The area draws both a young crowd downtown and families to the quieter areas to the north and south of the town, filling most of the rental inventory. 

To get away from the party, but still get to enjoy fabulous coastal southern beaches, head straight south to Florida and under-the-radar Cocoa Beach, tucked away on a secluded barrier island. Here you’ll have soft white sand, plenty of room to stretch out, and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to spot a spaceship launch from Cape Canaveral, located due north. For nightlife, Daytona is an hour north, but it will feel like a world away from your quiet beach retreat.

Where to stay: This waterfront condo is nestled right on the beach, and has unimpeded ocean views from not only the living room but also the master bedroom so you can watch the waves without having to get out of bed. It also has access to a community pool and offers keyless entry with a unique smartphone code for contactless check-in and check-out. Beyond the beach, enjoy cocktails next door, or head to the numerous restaurants, shops, and live entertainment right nearby.

Price: $269

Sleeps: 6 guests/2 bedrooms

Rating: 4.9

Location: Downtown Cocoa Beach  

Standout features: Waterfront, ocean views, washer/dryer, close to downtown 

Instead of the Gulf Coast of Florida try Jackson County, Mississippi

The Gulf Coast of Florida draws crowds for its emerald waters and white sand beaches, but it also draws carloads of families for its friendly atmosphere and easy biking — which unfortunately means houses rent up quickly, especially in popular areas like Panama City Beach or Clearwater. 

However, follow the coast to the west, past Alabama shores until you hit Mississippi. Here you’ll find the same warm Gulf of Mexico surf in Jackson County, without the densely packed beaches, or the high prices. 

Where to stay: This beachfront getaway house in Mississippi is proof that going off the beaten path pays off. You’ll have a beautiful waterfront view from every room in this three-bedroom house. Even better, you’ll only have to walk 50 steps to have your toes in the sand on a private stretch of beach. Enjoy your morning coffee while sitting on the front porch watching dolphins play in the Gulf of Mexico before hitting the water in one of the four kayaks provided. Or, take an adventurous bike ride on one of the two provided beach cruisers.

Price: $325

Sleeps: 6 guests/3 bedrooms

Rating: 5

Location: Ocean Springs 

Standout features: Beachfront, water views, kayaks and bikes provided, washer/dryer, pet-friendly

Instead of the Outer Banks try Duval County, Florida

There may be hundreds of miles of beaches on the rugged coastline of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but the area draws such high numbers of visitors every summer that houses are snatched up long before the summer season kicks into gear, meaning it’s hard to find a beach rental.

Head south to Jacksonville, called Florida’s “First Coast” since you can easily roll into the destination when you first arrive in the state, instead to find wide-open stretches of sand, amazing bird and wildlife, and affordable house rentals. Extra bonus for surfers: Some of the best waves in the country are here, too. 

Where to stay: At this top-floor beach condo you’ll not only enjoy amazing ocean views from the living areas of this penthouse unit, but you’ll get to watch the sunrise and feel the ocean breezes from the 40-foot wrap-around corner balcony. The simple but charming condo features colorful beachy decor via fish print comforters and beachscape paintings. As an added bonus, you’ll have access to an oceanfront pool area and it’s located right on the beach and just a few blocks north of the Jacksonville Pier.

Price: $352 

Sleeps: 5 guests/2 bedrooms

Rating: 5

Location: Jacksonville Beach  

Standout features: Oceanfront, balcony with views, communal pool, washer/dryer, close to the pier

Instead of Cape Cod try York County, Maine

For many Northeast vacationers, Cape Cod is synonymous with summer in New England, sporting laid back beaches, quiet streets for biking, clamming in the sand, and Kennedy-family sightings. It’s so popular though, especially with New Yorkers, that it’s hard to find someplace to stay. 

If you want a similar vibe, but with less people and more opportunities for home rentals, head about 3 hours north to York County, Maine. Although it may not sound familiar at first, York County is where Kennebunkport is located, another quintessentially quaint New England getaway, and where the Bush family famously had a vacation compound. You’ll be able to lay on serene beaches at whimsical named spots such as Goose Rocks, Kennebunk, and Gooch’s; ride your bike around the quaint town of Kennebunk; and eat lobster rolls to your heart’s content at shacks right on the water. 

Where to stay: You can’t get any closer to the water than at this newly-renovated waterfront cottage perched right over the Kennebunk River on a wooden pier. It beckons travelers with its white picket fence, bright blue trim, Adirondack chairs overlooking the water, and tastefully nautical interiors. The home is located in the heart of Dock Square close to great shopping and dining, as well as whale watching and sailing excursions. Colony Beach is just a mile down the road and other beaches are just a short drive away. 

Price: $585 per night

Sleeps: 5 guests/3 bedrooms

Rating: 4.9

Location: Kennebunkport Village  

Standout features: Waterfront, easy walking distance to shopping and dining, Colony Beach within one mile, outdoor space

Instead of Cape May try Norfolk, Virginia

Cape May is known for offering up history along with beach views. But its colorful Victorian homes, wide range of attractions, including a small zoo, and easy access to the surf and sand make it perennially popular with families, making it hard to find a summer rental. 

For another history-infused beach option this summer, head five hours south to Virginia Beach and nearby Norfolk. 

Norfolk is an alternative for vacationers looking for a coastal vacation with one foot in the past, and another on the beach, but without the crowds. Visit Nauticus, a maritime science museum, to explore the USS Wisconsin, the world’s largest battleship. For a non-beach outdoor experience, bring the kids to the Virginia Zoo. And get a view of the waterfront location by sailing on the Spirit of Norfolk before heading to the nearby beach.

Where to stay: This Atlantic Ocean home is bright, crisp, clean, and offers plenty of space to spread out and relax thanks to an open floor plan and lots of sunlight that gives it an airy feel. Though it’s a pricier option, the fact that it can sleep up to eight makes it a great value. The home has a spacious outdoor patio for enjoying time outside, and, best of all, is just a few blocks from the beach and the Virginia Beach boardwalk. You can leave your car in the driveway and easily walk to the golden sands and Atlantic Ocean waves.

Price: $629

Sleeps: 8 guests/3 bedrooms

Rating: 5

Location: Virginia Beach  

Standout features: Patio, fireplace, modern kitchen appliances, washer/dryer, walking distance to the beach

More great US beach vacations

  • The best Airbnb beach houses in the US
  • The best Airbnbs on the Jersey Shore
  • The best Airbnbs in Cape Cod
  • The best Airbnbs in Hilton Head
  • The best Airbnbs in Florida
  • The best Airbnbs in Myrtle Beach

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