To tell the truth, we've never signed off on the notion that summer ends on Labor Day. Not only does the season officially extend into late September, but balmy beach breezes, warm sun, and lobster rolls remain available well into October. And one of the benefits of hitting the shore in autumn is affordable hotel rates, putting dream destinations like Hilton Head, Montauk, Laguna Beach, and even Nantucket within your reach. Here are our favorite American beach towns with fall rates that say, "Welcome!"
Warm beaches, warm welcome -- plus pirates!
With fall temperatures in the 70s and 80s, miles of pristine lowcountry beaches, and the utterly unique Gullah culture, Hilton Head is truly like no other beach town in America. Learn more about what makes the island special at the Coastal Discovery Museum, or discover it for yourself on a quiet beach. If you're traveling with kids, don't miss Pirates of Hilton Head Island, with its ride aboard the Black Dagger ship. Or take a deep breath and explore the island on ZipLine Hilton Head's two-hour sky-high tour!
Where to eat: Dye's Gullah Fixin's (840 William Hilton Parkway, 843/681-8106, dyesgullahfixins.com, stuffed flounder $9.99, reservations required, cash only).
Where to stay: Holiday Inn Resort The Beach House (1 South Forest Beach Dr., ihg.com, from $119)
Get there: Hilton Head Island is 20 miles north of Savannah, Ga., and 95 miles south of Charleston, S.C.
Step back in time in this sleepy Lake Michigan town
Picket fences, a 19th-century vibe, and not a chain restaurant in sight. Saugatuck is one of the places savvy Chicagoans go to get away from the big city. Before you can plant yourself on Oval Beach, you've got to hop a hand-cranked ferry across the Kalamazoo River.
Where to eat: Phil's Bar and Grille (215 Butler St., philsbarandgrille.com, scallop pad thai $21).
Where to stay: Best Western Plaza Hotel Saugatuck (3457 Blue Star Highway, bestwestern.com, from $99).
Get there: Saugatuck is about 140 miles northeast of Chicago.
Live the SoCal beach dream
No, you don't have to surf just because you're on an iconic seven-mile stretch of Southern California sea and sand, but you can take a group surfing lesson for $75 with a guarantee that you'll "get up" on your board. Nearby Laguna Village offers excellent art galleries and shops, a nod to this gorgeous beach town's roots as an artists' colony.
Where to eat: Rock'n Fish (422 South Coast Highway, rocknfishlb.com, crab and avocado roll $16.95)
Where to stay: Pacific Edge Hotel (647 South Coast Highway, pacificedgehotel.com, from $125).
Get there: Laguna Beach is about 50 miles south of Los Angeles and 72 miles north of San Diego.
BAY ST. LOUIS
Gulf beaches, fresh seafood, and art galleries
One of Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in America 2013, Bay St. Louis was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but has done more than recover since then. Explore Historic Old Town, go fishing, and take a walking tour of 19th-century homes, Creole cottages, and galleries, or just take Main Street straight down to the beach.
Where to eat: Mockingbird Café (110 South 2nd St., mockingbirdcafe.com, World-Famous Mockingburger featuring 100 percent Black Angus beef, cheddar cheese, fresh tomato, sweet red onion and green leaf lettuce on a jalapeno cheddar sourdough bun $9).
Where to stay: Carroll House Bed & Breakfast (304 Carroll Ave., carrollhousebnb.com, from $105).
Get there: Bay St. Louis is about 60 miles northeast of New Orleans.
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