By Lance Lambert -

On the great master list of American dreams, owning a home on an ocean beach tends to be near the top, wedged somewhere between "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and finishing "Moby Dick." But to most folks, the beachy lifestyle can seem like a distant goal. After all, words such as "oceanfront real estate" and "affordable" aren't often paired together.

That's where the sunburned® data team comes in. As we do each summer, we crunched the numbers and donned our water wings to calculate the nation's most affordable beach towns—places that offer sweet, sandy waterfronts, plenty of fun things to do, bargain-priced housing, and those coveted ocean breezes.

These aren't the country's best known and rarified ocean towns (sorry, Hamptons and Malibu!), but each one has a great beach and a cool and distinct vibe, from ruminative to rowdy, serene to (sorta) swanky.

So what floats your boat?

"You want a beach that's a fit for you," says James H. Boykin, author of "Investing in a Vacation Home for Pleasure and Profit." Would-be home buyers should find out how long the high seasons last, which will affect real estate values and the rental potential of the homes.

"If you have a reserved or laid-back lifestyle, you may not be too keen on being somewhere rambunctious—or with beaches that are so crowded you can barely move," he explains.

Buyers on tight budgets also shouldn't forget to consider flood insurance rates, which can be high on the coasts, and if the beach has a history of erosion and storms, Boykin says. Who wants to lose a few feet of beach overnight—or worse?

To find the country's top beach bargains for home buyers, we scoured the home listings on that mentioned the word "ocean" in the nation's more than 900 largest housing markets. (This weeded out the beachfront communities along lakes and rivers.) Then we found the towns with the lowest median list prices from April 2017 through May 2018. Finally, we talked to locals to ensure these were places that folks would want to spend a summer vacation—or a lifetime—in.

So grab your Havaianas, your econo-size bottles of SPF 120, and your checkbook! It's time to scope out the most affordable U.S. beach towns.

1. Gulfport, MS
Median home list price: $184,100

This town on the Gulf Coast, about an hour and a half northeast of New Orleans, was smacked hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm destroyed local properties and increased flood insurance premiums. Then the housing bubble and economic downturn walloped the region yet again. But here's the thing: Those series of unfortunate events gave local home buyers a big discount.

And now the quiet community is on the upswing. In many parts of the Gulf Coast, buying a beachfront home is still out of reach for most ordinary mortals. Not here, though.

Homes right on the water start around $300,000 in the region, says Kelly Moses, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty, and prices drop the farther inland buyers go. For example, this three-bedroom, three-bath home with wood beam ceilings and a five-minute walk to the ocean is just $285,000.

“Gulfport is one of the best kept secrets of all the coastal towns,” says Moses. “Gulfport has beautiful, man-made beaches, more than 20 miles of clean, white, soft sand." Some pretty fine Louisiana cuisine, too.


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