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U.S. Hot Spots: Florida’s Best Budget Beach Vacations

080918_florida_getaways.jpgEach of us defines the “perfect” beach differently. But whether you want to swim, surf, lounge, or leer, Florida has one to suit your preference. Best of all, in this skinny state—bounded by the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico—the coast is never more than 60 miles away.

Miami Beach

Over the past 20 years, no American beach has generated as much buzz as the one that hugs Ocean Drive, and it’s easy to see why. Fringed with palms, backed by Art Deco architecture, and pulsating with urban energy, South Beach is the place to stretch out or strut.

Where to Stay: If money isn’t an object, stay in one of the glamorous hotels lining Collins Avenue between 15th and 21st streets. Otherwise, stay on the quiet beaches farther north, or in one of the small hotels on Collins or Washington Avenues between 10th and 15th streets. If you’re willing to have a room without an ocean view, you can sometimes get a price much lower than the standard rate.

Save: Cadet Hotel

Splurge: Sagamore

Cheap Eats: Big Pink, Arnie & Richie’s, New Café

Fodor’s Choice Miami Sights: Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Venetian Pool, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Daytona Beach and the Space Coast

The Daytona 500, Bike Week, and Spring Break put it on the map, but Daytona Beach has become a popular family vacation destination; so, too, is the Space Coast, home to Canaveral National Seashore, Cocoa Beach, and John F. Kennedy Space Center.

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Where to Stay: Fall is the slowest season: rates are low and availability is high, but it is also the prime time for hurricanes. Be sure to carefully look at your chosen hotel’s cancellation policy and consider purchasing travel insurance.

Save: Hampton Inn Titusville

Splurge: The Shores Resort & Spa

Cheap Eats: Dixie Crossroads, Lone Cabbage Fish Camp, McK’s Tavern

Fodor’s Choice Space Coast Sights: Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Brevard Zoo, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Panhandle’s Gulf Coast

Although northwest Florida has a surplus of Grade-A Gulf beaches, Grayton Beach is arguably the pick of the bunch. Halfway between Panama City and Pensacola, it has shockingly white sand and aqua-green water clear as any you’d find in the Keys or the Bahamas.

Where to Stay: Many of the lodging options here revolve around extended-stay options: resorts, condos, and time shares that allow for a week or more in simple efficiencies as well as fully-furnished homes. There are also cabins, such as the ones that rest between the dunes at Grayton Beach. Local visitors bureaus often act as clearinghouses for these types of properties, and you can also search online for vacation rentals on sites like VRBO. On the coast, but especially inland, the hotel choices seem geared more toward mom-and-pop motels in addition to the usual line of chain hotels.

Save: Ramada Plaza Beach Resort

Splurge: Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort

Cheap Eats: Angler’s, Picolo Restaurant & Red Bar, Corams

Fodor’s Choice Panhandle Sights: Grayton Beach State Park, St. Andrews State Park

Tampa Bay

Sand comes with a side order of history at Fort De Soto Park. Spread over five interconnecting islands southwest of St. Petersburg, the park’s bountiful beaches have been added to the list of “America’s Best” by Stephen Leatherman—otherwise known as Dr. Beach.

Where to Stay: In our Forums, Fodor’s members often advise travelers heading to the Tampa Bay Area for the beaches to choose accommodations closer to St. Petersburg than Tampa due to heavy traffic in and out of Tampa.

Save: Island’s End Resort

Splurge: Don CeSar Beach Resort

Cheap Eats: Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish, Casa Tina

Fodor’s Choice Tampa Bay Sights: Busch Gardens, Clearwater Beach

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

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