By Evan Wyloge
May 8, 2023
Is this familiar? It’s the last day of your vacation, ocean water laps your feet, and the sound of the rhythmic waves holds you in a trance. Then, as sunset gives way to twilight, a thought swims into your mind and grabs hold: Maybe you don’t have to leave. Maybe, instead of visiting once a year, you could live at the beach.
I’ve been there.
Of course, the next day, we packed our things and headed home, like we always do. But perhaps that idea isn’t so crazy.
Maybe you’re thinking a beach home could be your second home or vacation getaway. Perhaps you’ve been wondering whether you could retire by the beach. Or maybe it’s time to make that lifestyle change you’ve dreamed about.
No matter the reason, we’ve sifted through the dunes of data, and we’re happy to report that a beach home might be more attainable than you think—you just need to know where to look.
The data team at Realtor.com® found the U.S. towns where buyers can find the most affordable homes near the water. Nope, the world-famous and wealthy enclaves of the Hamptons and Malibu didn’t make the cut.
So where are these affordable beach towns? Everywhere from Connecticut to California. Some are small communities, others are bigger cities. They range from sandy beaches to rocky shores, from splashy playgrounds buzzing with bar scenes and family activities to quiet seasides where cracking open a book while sipping a spiced mojito is de rigueur.
Wherever you pull it off, living near the beach is a lifestyle all its own. It can be both energizing and relaxing.
Sherry Korbel, a Realtor® with Bayside Realty in Crescent City, CA, moved to the area about five years ago.
“I love it here,” she says of the small city named for its crescent-shaped stretch of sandy beach. It was relatively unknown and less expensive than the Los Angeles area where she’s from.
“I kept looking at properties close to the water, but they were all so expensive,” she recalls of L.A. But after seeing the lower prices in the Northern California town, she made the move and hasn’t thought twice about giving up the traffic, smog, and congestion of a big city.
To find the most affordable beach towns for homebuyers in 2023, we started by using a federal listing of beaches and their locations. We aggregated Realtor.com listing data for every home put on the market in the past year located within a one-mile radius of each beach. We then selected the most affordable beach towns by price per square foot. Only locations with at least 50 properties within a mile of the water in the past year were included.
We limited our list to just one beach town per state to ensure geographical diversity. And although we did favor places on the ocean, we also included a few bayside locales.
Despite what you may have assumed, in some places, a home by the beach can cost about the same as an average U.S. home—or less. So let’s dive in.
1. Gulfport, MS
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $224,900
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $144
The white-sand beaches of Gulfport, situated about halfway between Mississippi’s border with Louisiana and the Alabama border, tops our list once again.
The city boasts 26 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
“But there are also a lot of back bays and riverways,” says Angelia Clark, a Realtor with Re/Max Results in Real Estate. The area also offers lots of shopping centers, casinos, sailing, and water-skiing.
Gulfport is a medium-sized city of about 72,000 residents, offering a blend of small-town feel and city life. It’s known for Southern cuisine. However, the town has also been hit by hurricanes, including Katrina in 2005, which destroyed local properties.
“For years, we’ve had tons of snowbirds who come down here from the North for the winters,” says Clark. “You can go deep-sea fishing, be on a barrier island, then have a nice dinner at one of our casinos.”
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $200,000
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $150
Newport News has one of the richest histories of any place on our list.
The city is perched on the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula, where the James River meets the Chesapeake Bay near its mouth to the Atlantic Ocean. Newport News is about 25 miles from Jamestown, VA, one of the first English settlements in North America.
Now, it’s home to the largest shipyard in the nation and some very nice beaches, on both the Atlantic and James River sides. Huntington Beach is north of downtown Newport News, while King-Lincoln Park Beach and the larger Anderson’s Beach are east of downtown.
If you’re willing to drive a bit, the oceanfront options open up exponentially, including nearby Buckroe Beach. And 40 miles away, you can hit spectacular Virginia Beach, the best in the state.
The town offers plenty of options for fishing and boating as well as fine dining. There are even Civil War reenactments. (It is Virginia, after all.)
Buyers looking for a deal can check out this three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo with a private beach on the market for $150,000.
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $257,000
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $175
For non-New Englanders, Connecticut might not be the first place that comes to mind when envisioning affordable beach towns. After all, the Constitution State‘s housing market is about 20% more expensive than the U.S. median, and the average Connecticut beachside real estate comes with a price tag north of $1 million.
“New London is like a little gem of affordability,” says Keith Turner, mortgage lender with Homestead Funding, in New London. “Just look at the prices in some of the cities near here.”
And he’s right: In Mystic, CT, just a few miles east, homes near the beach cost more than three times as much per square foot.
New London boasts one of the best public beaches in the state: Ocean Beach Park, on the Long Island Sound at the foot of the Atlantic. It features miles of sand, a long boardwalk, and lots of beachy entertainment, including a minigolf course, rides, and a spray park. On summer nights there are concerts, free movies, and fireworks.
A condo right on the water just south of Green Harbor Beach goes for about $170,000. And for about $100,000 more, beach lovers can get a four-bedroom home that’s literally just around the corner from Ocean Beach.
“People tend to overlook the area,” Turner says. “It’s a true seaport town. It’s got community. You know your neighbors here. It’s not like those other touristy New England towns. … New London still has the same feel it’s had for a long time.”
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $309,500
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $190
Grand Isle, a barrier island connected by a short bridge to mainland Louisiana, is by far the smallest town on our list—with only around 1,000 official residents.
The tranquil town offers quick access to not only the beach but also Grand Isle State Park, which has hiking trails, campsites, and a fishing pier. Folks can go deep-sea, saltwater fishing in the park. (There are plenty of speckled trout to catch.)
Those looking for remote living on this island can get a small, classic beach house perched atop stilts for less than $250,000.
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $289,948
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $206
Corpus Christi, on the Gulf of Mexico, is the largest city on our list with about 320,000 residents. It has 192 square miles of shoreline.
Beach lovers have many options in this area. Residents and visitors can enjoy the sand and sun on Corpus Christi Bay, at places like North Beach or McGee Beach. They can also make the short trip to Padre Island, the long barrier island that runs along much of Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coastline.
Those visiting North Beach can browse the souvenir shops, cycle or skate down a concrete beach walk, or go jetty fishing. There’s also a pet-friendly restaurant called Pier 99, which features a menu just for dogs. Sunbathers at McGee Beach can rent cabanas as well as personal watercrafts and pedal boats. As we said, options.
The city sustained serious damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which helps to explain why prices are still lower here than in other parts of the country. But when it’s not wreaking havoc, the steady wind is actually a source of recreation here: Corpus Christi is considered one of the best places in the East for windsurfing, kite boarding, and kite flying.
For around $270,000, beach lovers can get a decent-sized, three-bedroom home in the baylocated less than a mile from the water.
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $185,000
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $213
Atlantic City, famed for its casinos and boardwalk, almost always ends up on the list of affordable beach towns. No surprise: While it might be better known for those casinos, it also has one of the Northeast’s best selections of long and sandy Atlantic Ocean beaches—and lots of affordable housing.
Atlantic City’s homes are the smallest on the list, which translates into the least expensive.
The city has gone through well-documented downturns, but the local economy seems to be on the upswing, and people are moving back.
“Atlantic City has so much more to offer now than it did 40 or 50 years ago,” says David Fiorenza, an associate professor of practice at Villanova University.
“We’ve got one of the biggest boardwalks, and there’s more than just the casinos now—we get huge concerts and festivals in the summers. … People here don’t have to go into Philadelphia [about an hour northwest] for live music or the nightlife.”
A relatively small, three-bedroom home that sits about 500 feet from the beach can be picked up for under $170,000— offering a significant value for those looking for beach living on a budget.
7. Navarre, FL
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $442,500
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $240
Florida has long offered excellent value for those looking to live near the ocean. That’s especially true on the panhandle, where the beaches are known for their pristine white sand.
Navarre, located about 20 miles east of Pensacola, has the largest median home size and highest overall home prices of any location on this list
Residents of the town are just across the Santa Rosa Sound from Santa Rosa Island’s Navarre Beach. Those who don’t like to get wet can go fishing on the pier or pedal along a scenic bike path.
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $384,495
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $245
North Beach is located on the Chesapeake Bay, about 30 miles east-southeast from Washington, DC. The small town was established in 1900 as a getaway for DC and Baltimore residents looking for a place to keep a vacation cottage with easy access to beaches.
North Beach boasts a boardwalk with a dedicated bike path and plenty of shops. Those looking for nightlife, gambling, or a family-friendly trip to the water park can head to neighboring Chesapeake Beach, MD.
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $329,000
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $248
It’s a surprise to see a California locale on just about any most-affordable list—especially a list of affordable beach towns. And consider this geographic head-scratcher: Crescent City, about 20 miles south of the Oregon border, is the northernmost location of any beach town on this year’s list. That’s a testament to the enormous size of the Golden State.
Beachgoers should be aware, though, that California coasts can be cold, even in the summer. While this sandy beach might not be the best spot to take a dip, that hasn’t scared off new residents who are drawn by the lower prices.
“People are selling their tract homes around L.A. for $700,000 or $800,000 and coming up here and paying for a home with cash,” says Bayside Realty’s Korbel.
This 100-year-old, four-bedroom home just three blocks from Battery Point Beach is listed for a little under $300,000.
10. Shirley, NY
Median price within 1 mile of a beach: $414,990
Median price per square foot within 1 mile of a beach: $256
Make no mistake: Shirley is not the Hamptons. Yes, both areas are on Long Island and both have beaches—but that’s where the resemblance ends. Shirley is small, unpretentious, and cheap. It’s directly next door to another affordable beach town that made the list last year, Mastic.
From Shirley, it’s a short drive—or even a long walk—to Outer Beach at Smith Point. This is one of the barrier islands that make up Fire Island National Seashore. Another option is Smith Point Beach, which bills itself as “the county’s largest oceanfront park” and is known for its crashing surf. The white-sand beaches are popular with sunbathers and surfers as well as campers. Folks can also visit the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, home to deer, fox, turtles, and other animals.
For about $350,000, you can get a stylishly updated four-bedroom home that’s not far from Outer Beach. Just see how far that gets you in South Hampton.