The Sunshine State has more than 600 miles of beaches, some of them regarded among the best in the world. Whether you’re catching Atlantic Ocean waves on Florida’s East Coast or slipping your toes into the powdery white sand of one of the Gulf Coast barrier islands along the west, here’s our pick of the best affordable places to stay. All rates exclude a 12.5% hotel tax.
Posh South Beach, Miami
Florida’s most glamorous beach caters surprisingly well for the budget traveller but a recent addition has taken it to a whole new level. The appropriately named Posh South Beach is a multimillion-dollar home converted into a five-star hostel, just one block behind the beach and Miami’s famous Ocean Drive. Luxury touches include a rooftop pool, a large living room and kitchen with granite countertops, and elegant bathrooms, reached via a "pampering" corridor lined with mirrors and hairdryers. There are three dorms (shared, men only and women only) with a varying number of bunk beds, all with memory foam mattresses. Hostel guests also get to use all the facilities (and join the happy hours) at the neighbouring Whitelaw Bar and Lounge and at eight other stylish boutique art deco hotels (including the Catalina below), all within a few miles radius and run by the same parent company. Children are not permitted but, unlike other Miami hostels, there’s no upper age limit.
• poshsouthbeach.com, +1 305 398 7000, beds from $27 (£17), including breakfast
North Beach Camp Resort, St Augustine
This 30-acre family owned campsite is on a barrier island between a wild Atlantic beach (where the sun rises) and a calmer beach on the saltwater Tolomoto river (where it sets). Just 4.5 miles north of historic St Augustine, the site is owned by the Usinas, one of the many Menorcan families who were brought to Florida as servants in 1768, when it was under British rule, but who escaped and settled in North Beach. The family now also run two fabulous neighbouring restaurants – Reef (oceanside) and Aunt Kate’s (riverside), plus local sightseeing cruises (campsite guests get a discount). It’s a picturesque campground, with spacious tent and RV sites dotted among palms and moss-laded oaks, battered into strange shapes by the ocean winds and providing vital shade. One- and two-bed cabins have large decks, swing chairs, and king-sized barbecues. There’s a pool, basketball area, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and a fishing dock. Take your catch to the chefs at Aunt Kate’s and they’ll cook it for you.
• northbeachcamp.com, +1 904 824 1806, camping/RV sites from $45 per night, cabins from $110 per night for two people, minimum stays at weekends and holidays, extra guests $10 per night
Perry’s Ocean Edge Resort, Daytona Beach
Family owned since 1941, new management and a recent renovation have given this Daytona favourite a new lease of life. Families love the three pools, volleyball, shuffleboard, and other organised fun and games, and the homemade breakfast doughnuts have become legendary. Most suites have kitchens and family suites have separate bunk-bed rooms for the kids. It’s not the prettiest of hotels but it’s right on the beach and most of its 200-plus rooms have sea views. Thanks to the tightly packed flat sand, Daytona Beach is one of the few beaches in the world that you can legally drive on. Not all of it, mind, just designated sections – and with strict regulations. If you don’t have your own wheels, you can hire beach cruisers, convertible sports cars or trikes. Daytona gets crowded during the spring break and for the Daytona 500, a renowned motor race but the rest of the year it’s a laidback family friendly place, where Perry’s has become a much-treasured institution.
• +1 386 255 0581, perrysoceanedge.com, from $79 a night
Pier House 60 Marina Hotel, Clearwater Beach
Stay bang in the middle of the action at Clearwater Beach, one of the liveliest beach resorts on Florida’s West Coast. Pier House 60, named after Clearwater’s famous pier, is one of the new hotels to have opened here in the last few years and is right across the road from the beach. Its 10th-floor rooftop bar has already earned a reputation as the best place to watch the sun set. Don’t miss the nightly street entertainers on the pier or the generous portions of seafood favourites at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, right on the beach. The menu is enormous. Just a mile away is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter the dolphin, the star of the hit movie Dolphin Tale. Winter lost her tail when she was caught in a crab trap line but was rescued by the aquarium and now swims with a prosthetic one. Aahh.
• pierhouse60.com, +1 727 683 0002/855 859 2952, rooms from $129 a night, including breakfast
Pines and Palms Resort, Islamorada
This idyllic oceanfront resort has 25 low-rise bungalows painted in pretty pastel blues and purples. It’s in Islamorada, a cluster of six islands in the Upper Florida Keys, known as the sport fishing capital of the world. The resort has its own little private manmade beach with just a dozen or so sunbeds and a double hammock among the palms. Fishing docks reach out into the calm turquoise water and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Caribbean. There’s a heated freshwater pool and an intimate tiki bar serving cocktails, wine, beer, smoothies and key lime pie. Turn right out of the resort for the Morada Bay Beach Café, famous for its sunset parties, and for Islamorada’s quaint little aquarium, Theater of the Seas. Turn left for Robbie’s, an old Keys-style marina and Islamorada institution where you can hire a fishing boat, or a kayak to explore the mangroves, handfeed the giant tarpon, go snorkelling or tuck into shrimp or blackened grouper at the Hungry Tarpon, a charming beach shack with stunning dockside views.
• pinesandpalms.com, +1 305 664 4343/800 624 0964, rooms from $110
Catalina Hotel and Beach Club, Miami
If you want to party in South Beach, but not pay South Beach prices, the Catalina might be the answer – as long as you don’t mind a bit of a squeeze. This boutique hotel, one block from the beach, has all the frills of a boutique hotel but has an allocation of more "compact" rooms for those who would rather save their cash for cocktails. Its "petite" rooms are "perfect for one, tight squeeze for two" while its "budget" rooms sleep two but are just 125 square feet. But no matter what grade of room you book, you still get Tempur-Pedic mattresses, 300-thread count Belgian sheets, goose down comforters and pillows, and the use of the hotel’s two restaurants, two pools (one a rooftop pool with luxurious sunbeds), and four bars with nightly happy hours, plus free bike rental and airport shuttle. It even has its own private section of South Beach, with free sunloungers and a bar. The Catalina hotel was recently featured in a reality TV series in the US, revealing how its staff partied as hard as the guests. If you want an early night, this is not the place, but if you want to join the crazy South Beach crowd, consider the Catalina.
• catalinahotel.com, +1 305 674 1160, rooms from $85
Ringling Beach House, Siesta Key
Voted the best beach in the US in 2011 by beach aficionado Doctor Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr Beach), Sarasota’s Siesta Key is an eight-mile stretch of white sandy paradise, lined with beautiful beachfront homes. There is only one hotel right on the beach – the five-star Hyatt – but there are several pretty pastel-painted places to stay on the other side of the beach road. One of the cutest is the Ringling Beach House: it’s low-rise, low-key, laidback, and named after the Ringling brothers, whose circus empire started right here in Sarasota. Each of its 10 bungalows are named after circus acts – Ring Master, Lion, Seal, Clown – and have kitchens, homely living spaces and little wooden decks with candy-coloured scallop-shaped sun chairs. There are two pools (one heated, one not), while the beach is just across the road and down a sandy path through grassy dunes. A few blocks away is Siesta Key Village, with quirky bars, seafood restaurants, ice-cream parlours and beach shops.
• ringlingbeachhouse.com, +1 941 349 1236, bungalows from $160 for four sharing
Red Coconut RV Resort, Fort Myers Beach
This vintage RV resort is the only one in Florida where you can park your recreational vehicle right on the beach. Unfortunately, there are only 41 prime beachfront spots and you have to book in advance to secure one, especially in the winter months when they are snapped up by so-called snow birds (Americans from the northern states who migrate to Florida for the winter sunshine). To get a beachfront space, you might be better off going in August and September, when it’s quieter. Alternatively, stay just across the road where there are plenty more RV sites and mobile homes to rent. The park has a loyal following of repeat guests and has a friendly, community feel. Many regulars join the owners and staff for their annual get-togethers: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Super Bowl party. There’s a Chinese takeaway and a very good German restaurant on site, while the seven-mile Fort Myers Beach is dotted with thatched-roofed tiki bars. Join the sunset celebrations at the Outrigger Beach Resort or dine at Nervous Nellies or Smokin’ Oyster Brewery (SOB) at nearby Times Square.
• redcoconut.com, +1 239 463 7200, RV sites from $67, beachfront sites from $89-$108, mobile homes from $110 a night
Ibis Bay Beach Resort, Key West
It’s quirky and fun and one of the more affordable places to stay in Key West, the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. The resort has rather unusual touches, including a welcome parrot, two giant tortoises, a kangaroo (not real) and weekly "dive-in" movies shown on a 20ft screen beside the swimming pool. The rooms are small and basic but bright and cheerful thanks to tropical murals by local artists and the owner’s personal collection of bits and bobs – surfboards, fishing rods, and anything else that catches his eye. All but a few of the rooms have adjoining hammocks and some back on to a little manmade beach. To expand the sunbathing space, the resort has recently added a large wooden sundeck stretching over the water. Hire one of its jetskis to explore the nearby island, a sanctuary for the Ibis bird, or for nighttime viewing take one of its new glass-bottomed kayaks, fitted with LED lights. Oh, and if you have time, don’t forget to check out Key West too!
• ibisbayresort.com, + 1 305 296 1043, rooms from $109
Surf Studio Beach Resort, Cocoa Beach
East of Orlando, Florida’s Space Coast stretches for 72 miles along the Atlantic, from Titusville to Cocoa Beach and then further south to Melbourne. As the name suggests, it’s home to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral but it also boasts some of Florida’s best surfing beaches. The closest to Orlando (an hour’s drive) is Cocoa Beach, which was also rated highly by US beach expert Dr Beach this year. With direct beach access, Surf Studio Beach Resort is a popular family owned motel with 11 rooms, seven suites with kitchens (two with ocean views), a large oceanfront pool and a 125ft sun deck from which you can hear the crash of the Atlantic waves. The motel was built in 1948 by Norman Greenwald, a young New Yorker who spent his summers in Miami working as a lifeguard. He served in the second world war and vowed that if he survived he would fulfil his dream of building a little motel on the East Coast. He was true to his word and a few years later Norman had a holiday romance with one of the guests, Helen, who became his wife. Their son, Gregg, now runs the place. The motel is in a quiet spot but if you want more action head along the beach to join the party on the seafront deck at restaurant/bar Coconuts on the Beach, take a stroll along the historic pier, or stock up on cool kit at Ron Jon’s famous surf shop. Ron’s flagship store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
• surf-studio.com, +1 321 783 7100, rooms from $110