Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
So, you want to plan a getaway to the beach? It’s certainly a great, timeless vacation.
But if the idea of squeezing into a 300-square-foot room at a traditional beach resort and competing with other vacationers to snag a spot by the pool sounds far from relaxing, there’s another way.
I love a good resort vacation, but a beach house can be the perfect way to get together with a group and have a great time that lasts well beyond the hours you are on the shore.
We’ve rented a few different vacation properties on the beach over the years, and we learned a lot of lessons from those experiences. Here are our top tips for choosing the perfect beach house rental.
Know that beachfront and beach view aren’t the same thing
They say location is everything. If you’re looking to rent a beach house, location will strongly influence both the experience and the price. True beachfront houses are convenient but will cost far more than those rentals a few streets, or even a short drive, away.
Decide in advance how close you need to be to the waves to have a good time.
For travelers with mobility issues, babies or toddlers, being right on the sand may be more important. If you’re traveling with older kids, teens or adults who can easily walk farther and help haul the gear, you may prefer to save the cash by staying at a beach-view house instead. Speaking of mobility concerns, watch out for stairs, as many beach houses are elevated. Some do offer elevators, but obviously, that’s far from standard.
If your beach location permits golf carts or similar on or near the beach, that’s an easy way to stay a bit farther away while not trading too much of the convenience factor. Don’t discount how much you can stuff into a wagon or a bike basket, too.
Budgeting for a golf cart rental is likely much cheaper than paying to stay at a true beachfront home. That said, if you dream of sipping your morning coffee while watching the waves from your deck, prioritize that.
Check the cancellation policy
Check the rental’s cancellation policy before going anywhere near the “book now” button.
The perfect beach rental won’t be perfect if a hurricane hits and you must cancel your entire trip.
At a beach house my family rented a couple of years ago, even a hurricane directly hitting the property wouldn’t have been enough to trigger a refund or allow us to change our dates without penalty. For that, you’d need travel insurance, so read the fine print twice before charging a trip to your credit card.
The first time we ever bought separate travel insurance was for a Florida beach home rental, and we almost needed to use it as two hurricanes were swirling toward the house at once.
Ask for the exact address
Often, you’ll see beach house rentals described by how far they are from the water.
By itself, that fact doesn’t tell you very much. Being 900 feet from the beach may mean you can still see the water and access an easy path to get there. On the other hand, it might mean you can’t see the beach at all and there’s no easily accessible path to reach it. If that’s the case, the beach might as well be miles away.
Try to get the exact rental address from the owner or property management company. Then, use Google Maps’ Street View or a similar program to get a feel for what that truly means in terms of beach views and access.
Related: Best credit cards for home rentals
Remember that sand management matters
The perfect beach house rental has thoughtful little touches that make the overall experience more pleasant.
If you’re going to the beach, you will be dealing with sand and water. If you’re traveling with the whole family, you’ll be dealing with a lot of sand and water.
The best beach houses have outdoor showers where you can rinse before stepping foot inside. There will also be plenty of places to hang wet swimsuits and towels.
You’ll want to look for these small details in the photos, as they can make the whole trip less stressful and messy.
Look for a pool
This one comes down to your personal preference, budget and priorities. However, after booking beach rentals both with and without a pool, I’m firmly on #TeamPool.
Waves and sand are great fun, but sometimes it’s amazing to enjoy the warm air and cool water without hauling down to the beach.
Not only is having a private pool a great alternative activity during the day, but it also opens up new ways to enjoy the after-dark hours, too. A nighttime swim or evening hot tub dip is a five-star addition to your beach house rental.
Related: Our favorite hotel pools in the US
Also, keep in mind that even on a blue-sky day, the ocean may have a red-flag or even double red-flag warning, meaning you can’t even swim at the beach. This can, of course, be a major bummer on a beach trip if you don’t have a backup plan.
Consider where everyone will sleep
This is obviously true for all home rentals, not just beach houses. However, I’ve found that many beach home rentals may say they sleep 25 or another huge number of people; in reality, that number is only accurate if people are happy sleeping in bunk beds or doubling up in full- or queen-size beds.
Think carefully about not only how many people are coming, but also where they’ll be comfortable sleeping and relaxing. If you have a crew of children, prioritize a property with fun bunk rooms.
Conversely, if you have multiple couples coming along, be wary of how many the house can truly, comfortably sleep. A room with quadruple bunk beds, or even two queen beds, may simply not accommodate your group.
Related: 13 of the best beaches in Florida
Be wary of the sunset photo
All the same principles of finding a great vacation rental apply when browsing for a beach house. Read the reviews, examine the photos, cross-check other sites, run Google searches and more. That said, a gorgeous sunset photograph can be a dangerous distraction.
If most of the images are of the location and not the house, be wary.
There’s no guarantee those images are taken from the rental or even on the beach nearest to the house. Research the beach separately from the home rental listing and just zero in on the actual property images in the listing.
As always, you’ll also want to examine reviews carefully and critically. If you notice a pattern of problems or defensive responses from the owner or management company, it may be time to swipe left to the next property.
Bring your own towels and toys
At the beach, you’re obviously going to need towels, but you may also want beach blankets, chairs, toys, umbrellas or even a tent.
If you don’t want to be responsible for bringing all those amenities, look for listings that come with the beach towels and accessories you’re after.
This will be especially important if you’re flying in or traveling with an already packed vehicle. It also never hurts to triple-check with the owner or property management company that the house comes with the beach accessories you need.
You may also be able to rent these items on the beach (in some cases, you have to rent these on the beach). So, it pays to talk to the local management company or owner to learn those details.
Form a rainy-day plan
The perfect beach house rental is great not only on idyllic beach days but also on days when summer storms wash out your plans.
Do you need a big living room where everyone can congregate to watch television or play video games? Do you want a big table for puzzles? A pool table? A covered pool? Or, perhaps, all you need is enough space so everyone can comfortably retreat to their own corner and weather the storm.
If you want the perfect home rental, think about not only how you’ll use the property on postcard-perfect days but also when the weather turns.
Go beyond the internet search
While Airbnb and Vrbo are great places to start your rental search, they are just two of the many tools available.
It’s not uncommon for popular beach areas to have a few major rental companies that manage many properties.
It can pay to give them a call to talk through your budget and what you want from a beach house. They may be the experts on the inventory in the area and, even if you don’t book through them, the call may help narrow your search.
Sometimes, especially in some higher-end beach communities, the homes may only be available through local sites and not listed on the nationwide platforms at all.
Even if you have the choice between booking through a national platform and booking directly, you may get a better deal with the latter; rental platforms often add additional fees to the process.
Related: How to find the best Airbnb
Double-check that your home rental includes beach access
In certain locations, including some higher-end beach communities in the Florida Panhandle, the only way to access the beach is to stay in a beach home or cottage rental from that community.
This can be true in destinations like Alys Beach, Seaside, Rosemary Beach and more in Florida’s 30A area. Double-check that where you want to stay will include access to the beach or nearby amenities you hope to enjoy. Also, clarify whether that access includes the use of beach chairs, or if using those amenities will cost extra.
This won’t likely be an issue on a public beach, but it can be an issue with some private beaches.
See if food and activities are available nearby
While it makes logistical and economic sense to cook some meals at the house when staying at the beach, it’s also nice to have some restaurant and activity options nearby. Some beach communities are clustered around easily accessible “hubs” with restaurants, bars and shops. For example, Prominence in the Florida Panhandle is clustered around an area called the Big Chill (formerly known as The Hub).
However, I’ve also stayed at beach houses with virtually nothing around them except maybe a pizza delivery spot. So, do some research ahead of time to know what options you’ll have when you don’t want to cook.
While there’s never a guarantee, my family has followed most of these steps, and our recent beach home rentals have been just about perfect.
If you’re traveling around the Texas Gulf Coast region, I recommend the six-bedroom beach house with a pool that we booked. In the Florida Panhandle, we also mostly enjoyed this five-bedroom home in Santa Rosa with a private pool just a few minutes’ walk or bike ride from the beach in 30A. Or, use these tips to find your own amazing rental property.