NEW YORK – Packing away your white clothes isn't the only post-Labor Day (search) tradition that's been tossed: Vacationers are traveling in waves to beach destinations during the early fall and discovering all the off-season has to offer.
June, July and August may still be the hottest months for beach travel, but September and October are fast becoming favorites for their warmer water, low humidity, fewer crowds and kids, and lower rates.
"To me, September is peak season!” said John Deem of Charlotte, N.C., in an e-mail interview after returning from a recent trip to Daufuskie Island, off Hilton Head Island (search) in South Carolina.
During his trip, Deem said he discovered the simple pleasures of the beach in September.
“We have never found so much to study in the sand,” he wrote. “From sand dollars and shells to horseshoe crabs and loggerhead turtles -- because no one was there to disturb it."
Travel Industry Association of America (search) spokesman Mike Pina said hitting the beach later in the year is a no-brainer these days.
“Travelers in general right now are looking for bargains. It makes sense this would permeate into the beach season," he said.
Fall is the second most popular season for travel, according to the TIA, with 24 percent of people vacationing that time of year. Thirty-two percent of travelers take trips in the summer.
Lower prices and fewer crowds are exactly what motivates Susan Fussell, of Washington, D.C., who takes a beach holiday to North Carolina's Outer Banks every September with a group of girlfriends.
“A house that costs almost $3,000 in peak season only costs $1,000, or less,” said Fussell, 29. “Also, since we are mostly unmarried and all without children, it's nice to vacation when kids are back in school.”
According to Angie Brady-Daniels, vice president for the area's Chamber of Commerce, the Outer Banks thrive in September, hosting 135,000 visitors per day compared to a high of 250,000 in July.
“We still have very nice weather, not the same as the July, but it’s a great time for families who have small children and for older folks who don’t want to be in the middle of crowds," she said.
And while spring is traditionally the most popular season for weddings, couples are embracing the beauty of the autumn beach and tying the knot in the sand, said Brady-Daniels.
“There are more weddings during this time of year now,” she said. “On some weekends in September, we have as many as 15 to 20 weddings going on, which helps business for caterers, florists and chapels.”
Vacationers' changing needs have also contributed to the elongated vacation season. Daniel Decker, of Jacksonville, Fla., and his wife used to hit the beach in the middle of summer when they were first married, but becoming parents changed all that.
“When we had the kids, we basically had to rent a small vehicle to take all the stuff to the beach -- the umbrella, the bags -- it got to be so cumbersome we decided it’s not worth it," said Decker, who is the father of a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old. "We wait until September now, when it's still warm enough to enjoy the beach and we don’t have to lug all these items with us."
But even though the crowds thin out in many popular beach destinations, reservations for hotels and restaurants are still a must in most places.
Accommodations in Montauk, Long Island, are bustling even as the air turns crisp. At Gurney’s Inn, a hotel and spa on the beach, every weekend in September is booked.
“September and October are very busy months for us now,” said Amy Apt, assistant reservation manager at Gurney’s. “We’re just about 100 percent occupancy on every September weekend and about 60 to 70 percent during the week."
The only downfall of a post-Labor Day beach trip is that some restaurants, shops and bars have either closed or have shortened their hours, Fussell pointed out. But she said the small inconvenience doesn't bother her.
“It’s not enough to deter me,” she said. “The benefits of going at this time definitely outweigh the negatives.”