When it comes to taking a vacation, California is a great state to consider. Although there are expensive places to visit like Disneyland or San Francisco, you can still enjoy the Golden State on a budget if you know where to look. Plus, you’ll get beautiful beach views, high mountain tops, and palm trees all day.
Here are 15 amazing cheap vacation spots in California you should add to your list to see!
Amazing Cheap Vacation Spots in Southern California
Southern California is a great place to take cheap vacations. The beaches are beautiful, and there are plenty of options to keep you busy. You can visit one of the many beaches, check out an island, or explore the many different coastal towns.
Here are some top cheap vacation spots in Southern California:
1. Ventura Beach
Ventura Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the sun and surf. There are also plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, so you can easily find something to do.
For a cheap way to enjoy Ventura Beach, check out the Ventura Pier. It’s a great place to take a walk, and there are also plenty of restaurants and shops nearby. Ventura Botanical Gardens is also free admission and a great place to spend an afternoon.
You can also visit the Channel Islands National Park, which is just a short drive away and free! The park consists of five different islands, and each one has its own unique features. The Channel Islands National Park is a great place to visit if you’re looking for some natural beauty.
If you’re looking for a place to stay near Ventura Beach, check out the Ventura Beach Marriott. It’s right on the beach and has great views of the ocean. And if you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, check out the Clocktower Inn. It’s just a few blocks from the beach but doesn’t break the bank.
2. Catalina Island
Catalina Island is a great place to take a cheap and affordable vacation. You can enjoy water activities like snorkeling or kayaking, visit the Catalina Island Museum, go hiking or take a scenic tour of the island.
For more nature and outdoor experiences, there are also camping and hiking adventures to explore. The Two Harbors Trail is a great option if you’re looking for an easy hike. The trail is only three miles long, but it’s a beautiful hike with great views of the ocean.
For a cheap way to get to Catalina Island, take the Catalina Express, which is a ferry that connects the island with the mainland. This is it’s a great option to get there without spending a lot of money.
Avalon is where most of the touristy things are located, which means that everything will be a little more expensive. As an alternative, you can stay in Two Harbors instead even though there is significantly less shopping and restaurants.
You can also camp overnight at one of the many camping sites on Catalina Island. For more nature and beach days, check out Two Harbors Campground. If you are a first-timer to the Catalina Islands, then you might want to camp out in the Hermit Gulch Campground.
3. Big Bear Lake
For a cheap vacation spot to enjoy the outdoors, consider visiting Big Bear Lake. Big Bear Lake is a great place to go camping, fishing, or hiking. There are also plenty of cabins and campsites available for rent, so you can easily find an affordable place to stay.
If you’re looking for some fun activities, head out to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo or take a scenic tour on the Big Bear Lake Scenic Railway. For hikers, check out the San Bernadino Mountains or the Castle Rock Trail for beautiful scenic views!
Keep in mind that Big Bear and Big Bear Lake are popular destinations in the winter for skiing, so plan your trip in other seasons like Spring or Summer to get the most bang out for your buck.
4. San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is a great place to take a cheap vacation. It’s beautiful, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can visit the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, go wine tasting or explore the sand dunes!
One of the coolest things to do in San Luis Obispo is walking down the main street for some window shopping. There are cute shops and fun restaurants to hang out in! You can also stop by the Rock Fizz candy shop to buy a piece of gum and visit the Bubble Gum Wall.
If you’re in San Luis Obispo in the fall, you can check out the butterfly grove near Pismo beach as they migrate south in the winter! While you’re in Pismo, you can check out the Oceano Dunes which is an expansive area full of sand! This area is beautiful in the golden hours of sunset, so get your camera ready!
There are plenty of affordable places to stay in San Luis Obispo. If you’re looking for a hotel, the Madonna Inn is a unique and fun option. It’s known for its pink and outrageous decor, and it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.
If you’re looking for something a little cheaper, check out the Apple Farm Inn for a cute country boutique stay. This motel is within a mile of the Amtrak station for easy transportation.
Cheap Vacation Spots in Central California
Central California is a great place to take a vacation. You can visit the state capital, go wine tasting or explore the many different coastal towns. There are also plenty of things to do for nature lovers, including hiking and camping in state parks.
5. Cayucos, Cambria, and Paso Robles
If you’re looking for small beach towns, consider checking out Cayucos, Cambria, and Paso Robles. These charming towns are located on the Central Coast of California and are known for their beautiful beaches, views of the Pacific Ocean, and friendly locals.
There are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore in Cayucos, and you can also check out the Morro Bay Aquarium, go whale watching, or explore the tidepools at Estero Bluffs.
Cambria is another great option for a small-town beach vacation just 20 minutes north of Cayucos. This town is located on Highway 1 and is known for its beautiful coastline and scenic views. From here you can visit Hearst Castle, Nit Wit Ridge (the poor man’s Hearst Castle), and even see some adorable, blubbery elephant seals!
Paso Robles is another great option for a Central California vacation. It’s located 20-30 minutes east of Cambria and is well-known for its vineyards and wine tasting tours. You can also explore the many different hiking trails, go horseback riding, or visit one of the several museums and art galleries in town.
When coming to this coastal area, I would recommend hitting up all 3 seaside towns in one cheap California vacation as they are so close together and you can easily visit each one over the weekend.
6. Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Big Sur
Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Big Sur are 3 of the most beautiful places in central California and are easy to plan for a road trip itinerary. They’re known for their stunning coastal views, beaches, and amazing hiking trails.
Monterey is a great place to visit if you’re looking for some history and culture in a small town. Located near Santa Cruz, Monterey offers small-town vibes without the outrageous costs. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see, and there are also plenty of restaurants and shops in the area called Cannery Row. You will also want to check out Fisherman’s Wharf while you’re here!
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a beautiful coastal town located between Monterey and Big Sur. It’s known for its picturesque views, quaint shops, and delicious restaurants. Spend a day relaxing at Carmel Beach or take a drive along the scenic 17-mile road to see beautiful panoramic views.
Big Sur is a great place to go for some amazing hikes with incredible views and scenic drives. Some of the best places to hike in Big Sur are Point Lobos and Julia Pfeifer Burns State Park. There are also amazing beaches to see in Big Sur such as Pfeiffer Beach and Sand Dollar Beach, too!
As with Cayucos and the other small towns, I would bunch visits to Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Big Sur into weekend getaways if possible. I would highly recommend staying at an inn in Monterey. However, if you are camping, check out the Pfieffer Big Sur Campground.
Sacramento, the capital of California is a great place to visit for a cheap vacation. The city has plenty of affordable hotels and restaurants, and there are also lots of things to do in the area. One of the best ways to enjoy Sacramento is by taking a walk or bike ride through the city.
There are also plenty of parks and gardens to explore, and you can visit the Sacramento Zoo or the California State Railroad Museum. If you are big into biking, check out the American River Parkway, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail.
When visiting Sacramento, there are plenty of affordable places to stay. One great option is the Sheraton Grand Sacramento, which is located right in the heart of downtown Sacramento and offers comfortable accommodations and a variety of amenities including an outdoor pool and city views.
8. Yosemite National Park
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, consider visiting Yosemite National Park. This park is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and there are plenty of things to do. You can go hiking, camping, fishing, and more.
One of the best ways to experience Yosemite is hiking all the trails the national park offers. There are many different trails to choose from, so you can find one that’s perfect for your fitness level.
Some of my favorite hikes are the Mist Trail, John Mui Trail, and the Mirror Lake trails in the Yosemite Valley. You could also enter through Mariposa Grove and check out the redwoods as well!
There are also plenty of campsites available if you want to stay overnight. If you’d rather not camp inside Yosemite, consider staying in one of the nearby towns like Mariposa or Oakhurst. These towns offer cheap accommodation and restaurant options if you’d rather not rough it in the outdoors.
9. Death Valley National Park
If you’re looking for an adventure, consider visiting Death Valley National Park. This park is home to some of the most extreme weather and landscapes in the country. It’s also home to a wide variety of wildlife, so you’re sure to see something interesting while you’re there.
One of the best ways to experience Death Valley is to go camping. There are many different campsites to choose from, and you can find one that’s perfect for your needs. Just be aware that some campgrounds, like Furnace Creek, will be closed over the summer due to extreme heat weather.
Some hikes in Death Valley to check out are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the Badwater Basin Salt Flats Trail, and the Golden Canyon Trail. You can also drive through the park to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Be sure to take caution and drive on the paved paths.
Cheap Vacation Spots in Northern California
Northern California is a great place to take a cheap vacation. From beautiful mountain top views to city vibes, you’ll be able to find something affordable to meet your budget needs!
10. Santa Rosa
For a cheap vacation spot in Northern California, Santa Rosa is a great choice. There are plenty of affordable places to stay and activities to enjoy. From wine country tours to visits to the nearby beaches, there’s something for everyone in Santa Rosa!
You can head down to the historic square, walk around, and shop in the fun antique stores! If you’re a Peanuts fan then you’ll find characters from Charlie Brown to Snoopy around the historic square. You can also check out the Charles M. Schulz Museum for even more of Peanuts.
If you’re looking for an animal adventure, consider booking a safari in Santa Rosa so you don’t have to go all the way to Africa! Some of the animals you’ll see on safari include flamingos, giraffes, deer, and more!
Remember that you’re in Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, so you can go wine tasting as well! With so many to choose from, you’ll be able to experience all that Sonoma County has to offer. One of the best places to go wine tasting is in Napa Valley, which is just a short drive away from Santa Rosa!
There are plenty of places to stay in Santa Rosa, California. One great option is the Hotel La Rose which is in the downtown historic Square of Santa Rosa. For a more traditional hotel stay, check out the Art House.
The great thing about Santa Rosa is that you can find a variety of different types of homes to suit your needs and budget.
If you’re looking for a quiet and charming town to visit in California, Petaluma is a great choice. This historic town is located in the heart of Sonoma County, and it’s known for its Victorian architecture, art galleries, and farmer’s markets.
You can visit the historic downtown area, walk around the farmer’s markets, or go for a hike in one of the nearby parks. You’ll also want to check out the creameries in Petaluma, as the city is known for its dairy.
From Petaluma, you can take a short trip to Point Reyes Natural Reserve, which is a great place for hiking, bird watching, and relaxing on the beach. One of the best beaches in this area is Drakes beach where you can walk on the sand and pick up sand dollars!
You can also drive a bit further north to visit Muir Woods National Monument, where you can see some of the tallest trees in the world! Or head on over to the coast and visit the famous city of the Birds, Bodega Bay.
When it comes to accommodation, there are plenty of hotels to choose from. I would recommend the Courtyard by Marriott Petaluma Sonoma County for a budget stay. If you have a little more room and want some pretty boat views, check out the Sheraton Sonoma Wine Country Petaluma hotel and ask for a room with a view.
Mendocino is a beautiful coastal town located in Northern California. This town is known for its stunning views, quaint shops, and delicious restaurants.
You can go for a walk on the beach, explore the town, or go for a hike in one of the nearby parks.
One of the best parks to hike in Mendocino is the Russian Gulch State Park where you can see waterfalls, redwoods, and the coast. Hike the Fern Canyon and Falls Loop Trail to see the best of this state park.
After exploring nature, you can come back and stroll the streets of downtown Mendocino. This town is full of cute shops and delicious restaurants. Make sure to check out the Mendocino Jams and Preserves to take a sweet treat home!
If you’re looking for a place to eat, I would recommend checking out Cafe Beaujolais, which is known for its French-inspired Mendocino cuisine. Another great option is the Ledford House Restaurant, which has stunning ocean views.
For places to stay, check out the Emerald Dolphin Inn, which is located very close to the beach with some amazing views!
Another cheap vacation spot to visit in Northern California is Eureka. This is the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.
Eureka is a great place to explore on foot, and there are plenty of things to see and do. Be sure to check out the Blue Ox Millworks Historic Park which is a woodworking museum. You can also walk through the Old Town area to see the Victorian-style buildings such as the Carson Mansion or check out the Humboldt Botanical Gardens.
If you’re interested in art, be sure to visit the Morris Graves Museum of Art. This museum is home to a large collection of paintings by the famous artist Morris Graves. On the other hand, if you’d like to drive your way around Eureka, you can also explore the Redwood Highway and take in some scenic views.
For an affordable stay, check out the Best Western Plus Humboldt Bay Inn. This hotel is located near the water and within walking distance of Old Town.
Redding is a city in Northern California that is home to many great attractions. From the Turtle Bay Exploration Park to the Sundial Bridge, there is something for everyone in this charming city.
There are many great things to do in Redding, California. Some of the most popular attractions include the Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Shasta Dam, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
For the outdoor enthusiast, check out all that Mount Shasta has to offer. From hiking and climbing to fishing and camping, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy.
If you’re looking for a great outdoor adventure, Mount Shasta is the place to go. This mountain is located in Northern California and it is known for its stunning views, glaciers, and lava beds. From Redding to Mount Shasta, the drive is only about an hour. Check out the Spring Hill Trail for a moderate Hike.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, I would recommend the Comfort Suites Redding Shasta Lake. This hotel is located near downtown Redding and it’s close to many of the city’s best attractions. You can also book a stay at Americana Modern Hotel with similar amenities.
15. Lake Tahoe
When looking for a breathtaking and affordable vacation spot in California, look no further than Lake Tahoe. This stunning mountain lake has something for everyone, from skiing and snowboarding in the winter to swimming and hiking in the summer.
If you’re wanting some beautiful pictures, you can drive around Lake Tahoe to the Emerald Bay Lookout. You can also hike Cascade Falls Trail or kayak in the clear blue waters!
There are several places to stay in or near Lake Tahoe, so you’ll want to do your research to find the best accommodation for you, with everything from campgrounds and cabins to hotels and lodges.
FAQs about Travel to California
1. How do I get around California?
There are many ways to get around California. You can drive, take the bus, or fly to one of the many airports in the state.
I would recommend renting a car if you plan to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway or want to drive from one of the airports to a National Park. This would ease your worries about ridesharing or timing everything just right to get on public transport.
2. What is the best time of year to visit California?
The best time of year to visit California really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation. If you’re looking to spend time outdoors, then I would recommend visiting in the summer or fall when the weather is warm and there are fewer crowds.
If you’re interested in skiing or snowboarding, then winter would be the best time for you to visit. And finally, if you want to avoid the crowds but still enjoy good weather, springtime would be your best bet.
3. Which airport should I fly into?
There are many airports located throughout California. The best airport to fly into really depends on your final destination within the state.
For example, if you’re looking to visit Los Angeles, then I would recommend flying into the LAX airport. However, if you’re wanting to visit the bay area, then I would suggest flying into the SFO. There are also other airports like San Jose, Sacramento, and Fresno for some of the cheap vacation spots in Central California.
Final Thoughts on Cheap Vacation Spots in California
California is a great place to take a vacation with some of the cheapest places to stay and activities to enjoy. From the sunny beaches of Southern California to the majestic mountains in the north, you’ll never be at a loss for things to do and have a great time!
Whether you’re looking to relax or explore, you’ll find everything you need for an unforgettable vacation in California!
What’s on your list to see next? Comment below!
Other posts you might be interested in:
- Monterey and Big Sur Itinerary: Plan the Perfect Road Trip
- 17 Fun Things to do in Santa Rosa, California
- 18 Spectacular Things to do in Cayucos, California
- 17 Charming Things to do in Cambria, California
- 20 Incredible Things to do in Petaluma, California
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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources
Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.
- Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
- Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
- Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
- Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
- Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
- Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
- What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.