The 12 Best Places to Buy a Beach House in 2021

The Evolve Team
The Evolve Team
August 25, 2021

Beach vacations have long been an American pastime, and vacation rentals have been emerging as the ideal hosts. At these waterfront properties, travelers can cook their fresh catches in spacious kitchens, fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves, and sink their toes in the sand as soon as they step out of their rental properties.

But the coronavirus pandemic reshaped most aspects of American life, including travel, so demand for wide-open spaces and sprawling beaches is more popular than ever. Travelers are heading to beaches and national parks en masse, which can lead to increased bookings and higher profits for those who own nearby properties. 

Plus, as the vacation rental industry flourishes — it’s projected to see market growth of $62.7 billion between now and 2024 — there’s widespread appeal for short-term property investment in coastal communities. 

All of this is why now is the time to consider buying a beach house vacation rental. From the craggy coastlines in Oregon to the sun-soaked shores of Florida, here are the best beach towns for buying an investment property in the next year.

How We Chose the Best Places to Buy a Beach House Investment Property

The By the Numbers data below is based on a combination of proprietary and public data, but the three main metrics we took into account are:

  • Vacation rental performance metrics for beach towns across the U.S. to learn where bookings lead to higher median revenue
  • Zillow’s 2021 median home value to identify listing prices in beach towns
  • Estimated yearly expenses to run a vacation rental (approximately 30% of total revenue) to help calculate cap rate

We also evaluated a property’s potential to outperform market expectations with an Evolve partnership. Below, you’ll see The Evolve Difference, showcasing how we helped some of our top beach house homeowners maximize income in each area, resulting in them significantly surpassing the market’s projected revenue.

1. Surfside Beach, Texas

Graphic showing Surfside Beach, Texas median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a beach home

The secret’s already out about the popularity of Galveston vacation rentals, but nearby Surfside Beach is a smaller, quieter stretch of sand and surf in the Lone Star State that’s rightfully gaining attention as an alternative Gulf Coast vacation destination. 

The best part about investing in this slightly lesser-known area: the comparatively low home prices. The beach town also has a potential 10.5% cap rate, which is the ratio between a property’s net income and its market value — a key measure of success that can indicate your return on investment. 

Our Real Estate Services (RES) experts say Surfside Beach is also a big draw for nearby city dwellers looking for an easy-to-reach beach escape, which can help keep your rental booked year-round. Houstonians can get to the beach in an hour, while Surfside is a doable weekend trip for those in other major metros like Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. 

Surfside Beach,Texas Evolve Difference Graphic

2. Traverse City, Michigan

Graphic showing Traverse City, Michigan median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of chairs sitting by the lake

Surrounded by port towns, lighthouses, and rolling dunes, this scenic Michigan city nabbed the second spot on our list as it’s a Midwest vacation magnet. 

Along with its spectacular beaches (and there are a lot both big and small to explore), Traverse City has earned the reputation of being the “Cherry Capital of the World” and is gaining recognition as an up-and-coming wine destination. It also has prime  leaf-peeping opportunities in autumn, and vacationers often visit come winter to glide through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on snowshoes. 

Of course, it’s smart to stock your vacation rental with beach-friendly amenities that’ll help your home stand out to booking travelers. But our RES team also recommends finding a property that has amenities you can use year-round, like a fire pit. (If the home doesn’t have those amenities, you’ll want to look for opportunities to add value by bringing them in.)

3. Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Graphic showing Murrells Inlet, South Carolina median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a beach view from a condo

Once a hideout for the infamous pirate Blackbeard, Murrells Inlet remains full of treasures for outdoors lovers. It’s an immerse-yourself-in-nature destination where travelers can kayak, birdwatch, harvest oysters, or charter a deep sea fishing excursion, then cap off the day with live music at a waterfront restaurant along the MarshWalk

Murrells Inlet also neighbors Myrtle Beach, a close runner-up on our list of best places to buy a beach house. But with a potential 8% cap rate — double that of Myrtle Beach’s — it stands out as a top investment area that offers vacation-goers all the same beach fun.

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina Evolve Difference Graphic

4. Cape Coral, Florida

Graphic showing Cape Coral, Florida median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a waterfront view

Cape Coral lands in the fourth spot on our list of best places to buy a beach house and ninth on our overall list of where to buy a vacation rental property because of its appeal to a wide variety of travelers. 

Along with the scenic Gulf Coast beaches, Cape Coral has lush golf courses and kid-friendly attractions like the Sun Splash Family Waterpark. It’s also a top boating and fishing destination, and is teeming with canals boasting more than 400 miles of beautiful waterfront property. 

Of course, high HOA fees can often be a deterrent to Florida investors. But our RES experts say Cape Coral remains an area without heavy regulation, so you won’t have to cut through a bunch of red tape before seeing a solid ROI on your income property.

5. Ocean Shores, Washington

Graphic showing Ocean Shores, Washington median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a beach

With a long stretch of peaceful beaches and shorelines that disappear into the horizon, Ocean Shores is a gem in the Pacific Northwest that appeals to travelers looking to avoid crowds. An ideal basecamp for day trips to Olympic National Park, tourists can gawk at the glacier-capped mountains and recharge in the Hoh Rainforest, which is billed as the quietest spot in the United States. 

That level of peace and quiet can also appeal to remote workers, as scenic destinations like Ocean Shores are becoming more popular even in shoulder seasons. Look for properties that can be tailored to suit a variety of travelers, like families, business travelers, and those vacationing with pets. Once you have your home, adding low-cost amenities like beach blankets, hiking guides, and board games can help your space shine.

6. Newport, Oregon 

Graphic showing Newport, Oregon median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of the Yaquina Bay Bridge

With 363 miles of Oregon coastline, this scenic Pacific Northwest stretch is filled with public beaches, tucked-away coves, and coastal hiking trails that wind through old-growth forests. Over the decades, though, Newport has also solidified its reputation as a favorite beach along the coast thanks to its quirky tourist attractions, historic lighthouses, and photo-worthy landmarks like the Yaquina Bay Bridge.  

Our RES team says decks and patios are in high demand in Oregon coast rentals, as vacation-goers love witnessing the moody beaches from sunrise to sunset. Bonus: while Newport median revenue hovers around $29,000 annually, we’ve seen Evolve owners earn more than $50,000 in the same timeframe.

Newport, Oregon Evolve Difference Graphic

7. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Graphic showing Gulf Shores, Alabama median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a porch with waterfront view

With turquoise waters and sugary white sands, this picturesque Alabama beach destination has a long tradition of bringing families together for vacations year after year. Together, Gulf Shores and its next-door neighbor, Orange Beach, boast 32 miles of shoreline, translating to highly sought-after waterfront properties.

To make sure you nab a profitable one, our RES team says to work with a local realtor who can help you best understand what amenities your HOA dues will cover. Pools hold a lot of appeal for travelers, as they like to move towels from the sandy shores to shaded pool decks — so finding a home with that amenity will serve you well.  

Our RES experts also say investors fare well here because travelers tend to book long stays along Alabama’s southern coast, oftentimes vacationing for more than a week. Long stays mean less turnover (and associated costs to bring in cleaning and service crews), so you’re likely to keep more money in your pocket.

Gulf Shores, Alabama Evolve Difference Graphic

8. Lahaina, Hawaii

Graphic showing Lahaina, Hawaii median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a pool with ocean views

Once a historic whaling village in the mid-1800s, this Maui vacation destination remains a National Historic Landmark and is a spectacular basecamp for those exploring the Hawaiian island. Sun seekers who come here can swim in the freshwater pools at Haleakalā National Park, witness otherworldly lava formations in ʻIao Valley State Park, or time a trip from November to May to try and spot a breathtaking whale migration

While homes are expensive to buy in Lahaina — the median listing price hovers around $787,000 — and many parts of Hawaii have expensive HOAs with strict regulations, that shouldn’t deter investors who really want to buy a beach property in Hawaii. Median annual revenue dances in the $48,000 range, and some Evolve owners have brought in nearly $72,000 annually. (Not to mention, buying here means you have your own Hawaii beach house ready for personal use whenever you please.) 

More great news: our RES experts say two-bedroom vacation homes perform well in Lahaina, so you don’t necessarily have to purchase a sprawling property if you’re on the lookout for something more affordable. You can also partner with local, Evolve-vetted real estate agents to navigate HOA regulations and find a property that can excel in the vacation rental market.

Lahaina, Hawaii Evolve Difference Graphic

9. Ocean City, Maryland

Graphic showing Ocean City, Maryland median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of an outdoor space with waterfront views

Clean beaches and a bustling boardwalk with twinkling carnival lights bring travelers to this iconic beach city along the Atlantic Coast every summer. But it’s important to note that, while those blue crab-slinging waterfront restaurants and adrenaline-pumping amusement park rides offer tons of family-friendly excitement, Ocean City also has an equally-as-appealing quieter side. 

The beach destination boasts serene golf courses and is just 20 miles from the Assateague Island National Seashore, offering opportunity for travelers to watch wild ponies roam and comb the white sand beaches for seashells. 

To maximize on an investment in this quintessential summer destination, our RES team recommends using the slower off-season to do maintenance upgrades on your property that entice travelers to book. It’s also helpful to prioritize projects around outdoor space — like creating an al fresco dining area with grills, or adding yard games for guest use — as those coming to beach towns often want to spend as much time as they can breathing in that fresh, salty air.

Ocean City, Maryland Evolve Difference Graphic

10. Destin, Florida

Graphic showing Destin, Florida median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of ocean views from a condo

Destin is postcard-perfect with its teal waters and powdery white sand beaches. Located along the Emerald Coast where Florida’s Panhandle greets the Gulf of Mexico, this sun-soaked playground has a knack for drawing multi-generation families for vacations. 

For this reason, our RES team says spacious vacation rentals (usually around four to six bedrooms) tend to net the highest ROI in this beach town. That’ll serve as the home base for travelers craving an array of adventure — Destin has everything from snorkeling and deep sea fishing excursions to a bustling boardwalk and excellent shopping.

11. Bethany Beach, Delaware

Graphic showing Bethany Beach, Delaware median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a beach and waterfront views

A well-kept boardwalk and pristine shorelines help Bethany Beach earn a coveted spot on our best places to buy a beach house list, despite it being a lesser-known escape (for now). This quaint and quiet mid-Atlantic enclave has everything you’d want in a beach town — from bike and surf shops to farmers markets and movies on the sand — without the overwhelmingly large crowds.  

A strong inventory of luxury properties drive up the median home price to nearly $700,000 in this small beach town, so buying here does require a large upfront investment. But our RES team says finding property with close access to the beach or a private pool or hot tub can help you hit your occupancy goals and see a return on investment faster.

12. Cape Cod, Massachusetts 

Graphic showing Cape Cod, Massachusetts median rental revenue, listing price, and example cap rate with a picture of a home and ocean views

You may know this charming Northeastern summer vacation town for its clam shacks, lighthouses, and rolling sand dunes. But there’s so much more to discover here, which is why travelers book lengthy summer vacations in Cape Cod, staying an average of five days in the high season and booking nearly three months in advance.

Average home prices hover in the $570,000 range, and unsurprisingly, our RES experts say those with private beaches, porches, and ocean views are the ones to seek out in your house-hunting journey. You could also look into adding beach-friendly amenities, like beach chairs, towels, and coolers to up the convenience factor for guests and the likelihood of them leaving a five-star review.

Take the Next Step with Evolve

Investing in a vacation rental property is a personal decision, but you don’t have to navigate your options alone. Whether you’re drawn to one of our tried-and-true beach towns or enticed by the untapped potential of a lesser-known up-and-comer, our Real Estate Services team can help you take the next step.

We have the data to contextualize your investment opportunities and define your objectives, preferred local real estate agents who specialize in vacation rental purchases, and an arsenal of management tools to help you reach your personal and financial goals once you’ve closed on your short-term rental property and are ready to jumpstart your business.

For additional research, here are some resources to help you better understand the potential of vacation rental investment:

Now that you’re ready to talk about buying the beach house of your dreams, let’s get the conversation started today.

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