It happens every year: Right around the time we finally throw out the desiccated Christmas tree, put away the broken toys, and get back into the swing of work, we look up to find ourselves deep in the dark, dank, bone-chilling portion of winter that never seems to end. So it’s the perfect time to start the search for sandier and sunnier pastures!
It may seem counterintuitive as you’re snowblowing your front walk or drying out your socks, but now is a great time to begin thinking about buying a beachfront home that you can use throughout the summer—or rent out to pay the mortgage and then some.
“Buyers have more choice and more leverage in negotiations in the off-season,” says our chief economist, Jonathan Smoke. “So even though total inventory is lower, there are far fewer buyers for what is on the market, and that gives buyers an upper hand.”
And the off-season is a much better time to engage local contractors to take care of any repairs or upgrades—especially critical if you’re thinking of leasing the place out, Smoke points out. Taking action before the peak season will ensure it can capture as much of the peak rental revenue as possible.
To find the nation’s hottest (figuratively speaking) beach towns, our sand- and surf-deprived data team looked up cities and towns within 2 miles from a coast, using data from NOAA’s National Ocean Service, and filtered out the ones that are on inlets or without direct access to a beach. We excluded cities with over 100,000 population to focus on the ones that have a “small town” vibe, which left us with more than 1,000 beach towns. Then we cherry-picked from these to fit the criteria below.
Whew, we could use a beach vacation right now!
To figure out which of these towns were drawing would-be buyers, we aggregated page view data on realtor.com® in December 2015 to pinpoint where people are actually checking out houses online. With the homes in Hawaii and Southern California busting most people’s budgets, all eyeballs are now on the Sunshine State.
The housing market in Southwest Florida has been red-hot for the past few years, but Sarasota (No.1) is getting blistering. (Don’t want to put down your own cash? Enter the HGTV Dream House sweepstakes, and you could win an amazing waterfront retreat in Merritt Island, FL. Use our link to get a bonus entry!)
Here’s the full list and median list prices:
Hottest waterfront real estate markets
- Sarasota, FL: $339,000
- Naples, FL: $479,000
- Myrtle Beach, SC: $168,950
- Delray Beach, FL: $248,950
- Vero Beach, FL: $309,000
- Miami Beach, FL: $569,000
- Jupiter, FL: $489,000
- Lake Worth, FL: $210,000
- Venice, FL: $265,000
- Palm Harbor, FL: $235,000
Of course, coastal communities vary as widely as the people who vacation in them. That’s why we crunched the numbers further to come up with the top 10 beach towns for four types of vacationers. So slip on the Havaianas, slather on some SPF 50, and let’s get to the beach!
For the active vacationer: Water sports madness
So you say you’ll die of boredom lying out on the (beautiful, relaxing) sand every day? No problem! For those who believe an aquatic vacation means diving, water skiing, kayaking, or some other frantic but fun pursuit, we searched TripAdvisor.com for beach towns offering the most outdoor activities.
The Florida Keys island chain is truly the U.S. mecca of water sports: riding the waves in the Gulf of Mexico, parasailing while overlooking the deep blue water, swimming with dolphins. And that’s all before breakfast! The same goes to many other Florida cities, including Destin and Panama City Beach, with well-established water sports businesses and lots of local experts to help you get your action-packed groove on.
Honorable mention: Chula Vista, CA. If you see people spiking volleyballs like professionals in this San Diego–area beach town, they probably are professionals. At the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center, more than 100 nationally ranked athletes hone their skills in beach volleyball, canoe/kayak, and cycling. Don’t be shy if Olympic athletes ask you to join their game!
For the swimmer: Pristine waters
The U.S. counts a total of 6,020 miles of beaches, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but if you’ve ever been to a major city beach on a summer weekend, you know that some are little more than trash- and bacteria-filled parking lots. For those who enjoy a daily plunge in the water that isn’t followed by a round of antibiotics, the Natural Resources Defense Council collected water quality data from coastal counties and came up with a list of “super beaches.” We narrowed its list down a bit more to those that actually have a decent supply of homes for sale.
It may be a surprise to some, but the infamous Jersey Shore includes some of the country’s cleanest beaches. (Clearly, Snooki and pals are long gone.) If you enjoy small-town charm and a laid-back lifestyle, Avalon and Stone Harbor in New Jersey are among your best bets. But be sure to check out the price tags before calling an agent, because they are not cheap.
For the sun worshipper: Perfect weather
Yes, rain is part of the cycle of life, but no one goes to the beach to enjoy wet weather, amirite? Especially if your idea of a beach vacation is centered on lying corpselike in the sun (this is not a bad thing), the weather should be your No. 1 concern. To ensure you get the maximum days out of your beach stay, here’s the list of towns with the best weather, ranked by the number of sunny days and average water temperature.
Topping the list is Kahului, HI, with 273 sunny days and an average water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
It looks like Southern California should take over the title of “Sunshine State” from Florida, as it has five beach towns on the list with an annual average of 280 sunny days. But four Florida cities still make a good showing because of the high water temperature.
Port Aransas, TX, a town of fewer than 4,000 residents featuring mostly natural beaches, is also emerging as an off-the-radar seaside resort town.
For the partier: The best nightlife
What’s that you say? You want to have some fun? Like, stay out all night, dance, lose your cellphone and house keys fun? If you’ve come to Miami Beach to party, you’ve come to the right place. On any given night, nearly 300 nightspots open just in Miami Beach, a separate city from Miami, according to Yelp. From A-list celebrity clubs in South Beach, to dive bars on Ocean Drive, to music venues for some live Latin beats, there’s something for everyone.
And beyond Miami Beach, Florida’s other spring break cities also made the list. Hanging out with hordes of slobbering college kids might not be your idea of a great time, but know this: For a month each year, you’ll be sure to find a rental market.