Best Places to Buy a Waterfront Vacation Home in the U.S.

Whether you're looking for lake, ocean, river, or gulf-front properties, here's a break down of the best places to start your search.

<p>Markus Hanke/Getty Images</p>

Markus Hanke/Getty Images

Waking up to a beautiful waterscape outside your front door is, for many, the ideal vacation scenario. Whether it's a babbling brook, a lazy river, a private boat dock, or crashing ocean waves, many people's ideas of a dream home tend to be situated near waterways that are close enough to admire and enjoy. However, between unpredictable weather changes and rapidly increasing home prices, it can be hard to decide where it makes the most sense buy a waterfront property. After all, even if it’s only meant to be used during a few vacations each year, it has to be within your budget to maintain it all year round.

If you’re scouring the U.S. for a good waterfront deal, first, you’ll want to decide what kind of body of water you’re looking to be near: bay, gulf, lake, ocean, river, etc. Then, you should direct your search toward properties within your budget in these locations. Below, we've already picked out some of the best places to buy a waterfront vacation home, so you can get going on your search (or just enjoy some real estate window shopping).

Related:6 U.S. Islands Where You Can Buy a Home for Under $150k

Where to Buy a Home on a Bay

A bay is a broad inlet of the sea that is partially enclosed by land. Here's where you should look for a bay-front property.

Annapolis, Maryland

<p>Getty Images/DenisTangneyJr</p>

Getty Images/DenisTangneyJr

This state capital is not known for cheap real estate, so Annapolis isn’t the place to hunt for a bay-front bargain. However, it is the ideal place to look for strong and consistent property value that is always on the rise. Situated near the U.S. Naval Academy, a Chesapeake Bay vacation property will be easy to rent all year round and ideal for a homeowner’s enjoyment during the northeast summer months. For under $1 million dollars, expect a 3-bedroom home over 2,000 square feet with a boat slip and views of the bay and nearby islands. One-bedroom condos in the Eastport section of the city start around half a million dollars with a dedicated parking spot. Condo and homeowner’s association regulations differ on whether you can rent out your home, parking spot, or boat slip, so be sure to check before you buy.

Where to Buy a Home on a Gulf

Similar to a bay, gulfs are sea-bodies that are deeper and more enclosed. The differences can be subtle if you’re simply looking at them from your balcony, but for boaters and swimmers, the current and depth of the water may be noticeably different between a bay and a gulf. Here's where you should look for a gulf-front property.

Walton County, Florida

<p>Getty Images/D. Lentz</p>

Getty Images/D. Lentz

Mark Shattuck, a custom home architect specializing in waterfront homes, says one of his favorite waterfront locales is the stunning Gulf Coast stretch of beach along 30A from Rosemary Beach to Seaside to Gulf Shores. “This is a piece of heaven," he says. "White-sand beaches, perfect-temperature water, spectacular architecture, and fantastic food make this a vacation dream." While most of the homes along this stretch of the gulf are well into the multi-million dollar range, there are ten homes on the market (at the time of writing) in Walton Beaches, Florida priced under $220,000. With easy access to Rosemary Beach and a less than twenty-minute drive to the highly coveted Santa Rosa Beach, homeowners will get a lot of bang for their buck on a vacation home in this area of the Gulf of Mexico.

Where to Buy a Home on a Lake

A lake is a body of water enclosed by land and the surrounding land can vary from desert to mountain to seashores. There are many great lakefront properties in the United States, but these two areas below are worth a serious look this year.

Lake Keowee, South Carolina

<p>Getty Images/Jack Robert Photography</p>

Getty Images/Jack Robert Photography

Shattuck recommends home buyers take a closer look at Lake Keowee in South Carolina. The lake spans nearly 29 miles and is ideal for fisherfolk looking for a calm respite. It boasts spotted bass as well as sandy beaches. The lake is large enough to have waterfront property in over 10 different cities, including the college town of Clemson and the quieter community of Seneca. There are lots of move-in ready 2-bedroom lakefront cabins between $190,000 and $300,000. For an extra $50,000 plus, expect to add acreage, another bedroom, and more storage space.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

<p>Getty Images/Perry Spring</p>

Getty Images/Perry Spring

Missouri might not be top of mind when searching for a waterfront vacation property, but Michigan realtor Boyd Rudy says the reservoir made by the Osage River should come to mind. Lake of the Ozarks State Park has two public sandy beaches nearby for affordable family fun, as well as caverns and waterparks for the perfect vacation every year. “Known for its calm waters and picturesque scenery, Lake of the Ozarks is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and water sports. The area also offers a variety of vacation home options at a relatively affordable price point compared to other popular waterfront destinations,” Rudy advises. Most condos are priced under $250,000, and there's lots of inventory of free-standing homes over 2,000 square feet priced between $500,000-$700,000.

Where to Buy a Home on an Ocean

An ocean is an enormous body of saltwater, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans touch the United States. Here's where you should look for an ocean front property.

Oregon Coastline

The California views of the Pacific Ocean are well-known and highly coveted. More affordable alternatives to those high-priced buys are beachfront homes just one state north, in Oregon.  Not to be underestimated, the coastline between Suislaw National Forest and Fort Stevens State Park offers dozens of homes under $1 million just a stone’s throw from picturesque beaches that would be 4 to 5 times the cost in neighboring states. The most affordable starts in the low $400,000s for a sea-facing condo in Seaside, Oregon. The most bang for your buck, however, is likely just under $1 million for a relatively custom build in Otter Rock.

Where to Buy a Home on a River

A river is a stream of flowing water that connects to a lake, ocean, or another river. There are over 250,000 rivers in America. Here's where you should look for a river front property.

Hudson River, New York

<p>Getty Images/Phil Haber Photography</p>

Getty Images/Phil Haber Photography

Thanks to Manhattan prices, real estate along the Hudson River can be some of the most expensive on the east coast. However, measuring over 315 miles long, the Hudson offers lots of properties with frontage in both New York and New Jersey. “Along the Hudson River, you'll find historic cities, towns, and villages that hold the stories of Munsee, Mohican, and Mohawk histories,” Jonathan Ayala, founder of Hudson Condos, says. Upstate New York cities like Peekskill offer biking and hiking trails, as well as a vibrant arts scene around the Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art. Prices range from under $100,000 for fixer-uppers, co-ops, and modest condos, to 9-figures for luxury estates. Because the properties differ so vastly, it's worthwhile to spend a few months house-hopping the river’s length to find the neighborhoods and communities that feel right for you. Check out Coldwell Banker, Murphy Realty, and Colucci Shand Realty to browse the many options.

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