Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Southern California is rarely considered to be a budget-friendly destination because of the high costs of hotels, meals, and even fuel for your car’s gas tank. However, some places in this region of the state are far more affordable than others, so it’s still very possible to get your SoCal fix without going broke. From stunning natural areas to quaint towns and seaside excursions, here are some cheap weekend getaways to check out in Southern California.
Southern California’s national parks and preserves are among the best places in the region to travel without spending a fortune. Natural areas, like Mojave National Preserve, allow travelers to get to know the fascinating landscapes and habitats of Southern California and spend their days doing budget-friendly activities, like hiking and camping. Mojave National Preserve offers solitude, remote desert landscapes, and hiking and horseback riding recreation. With nearly 700,000 acres of designated wilderness, this is also a prime backpacking spot.
Ojai is a charming town that’s the place to be if you’re looking for arts, culture, and spirituality. A top destination in Southern California, you’ll find hippies, healers, artists, and curious travelers. There are also vineyards in the area for wine lovers and biking opportunities for active travelers. Check out the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market, the Rose Valley Falls Trail, the Ojai Meadows Preserve, and the Pratt Trail Loop for affordable things to do on this weekend trip.
Joshua Tree National Park is another great SoCal destination to visit because you can spend all day here enjoying budget-friendly outdoor adventures. Come here to hike, rock climb, and take photos of the iconic trees. There are multiple campgrounds here that offer very affordable rates. Some take reservations and others are on a first-come, first-served basis.
You’ll feel far away from Los Angeles without really being that far away when you take a cheap weekend trip to Idyllwild. This is an artsy, hippie town that’s cute, rustic, and makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. This is a great area to go hiking and mountain biking in, and there’s a local bike shop to rent gear if you didn’t bring your own. Rock climbers will also enjoy Suicide Rock and Tahquitz Peak. Also, take some time to explore the locally owned shops here.
For a mountain destination with a small-town atmosphere, head to Big Bear Lake for your cheap weekend getaways. It’s only a couple hours from L.A. and has endless things to do, including some beautiful trails to hike and bike. This is also a popular spot for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, jet skiing, fishing, and wakeboarding. When winter comes around, you can come here for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. In the downtown area, you’ll find shops and restaurants to explore. It feels like a true getaway here and one that you can experience on a budget, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors and camp at a National Forest Service campground.
Dana Point is a relaxing and affordable beach vacation destination that is popular among families. It is between San Diego and Los Angeles and has calm waters that are great for swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking. You can find surprisingly affordable hotel accommodations here and play areas for kids to work out their energy. Don’t miss Salt Creek Beach, Doheny State Beach, and Baby Beach while you’re here.
Every SoCal resident and visitor needs to go to Death Valley National Park to experience this epic land of extremes and adventure. The park has wildly diverse regions that feature everything from salt flats to sand dunes and colorful rock formations. Be mindful of the fact that Death Valley gets insanely hot in the summer. But in the cooler months, it’s fun to camp here in a tent or RV. After the summer, more campgrounds here open up, and it’s very rare for them all to fill up even on the busiest of weekends. Several campgrounds, such as Wildrose and Mahogany Creek, are free and open on a first-come, first-served basis.
Oxnard is a beach destination that often gets overshadowed by its famous neighbors, like Malibu. That’s a good thing though because Oxnard is a bit more affordable than the surrounding areas and also offers access to the Channel Islands. You can watch for whales here, spend time at Mandalay Beach, and visit the Channel Islands Maritime Museum.
It’s also fun to visit the Danish-themed town of Solvang for a cheap weekend getaway, especially if you set your mind to just window shopping and not splurging on all the fun décor and souvenirs for sale here. Solvang has an iconic windmill, cute shops, tempting bakeries, and very walkable streets to explore on foot. Some great restaurants to check out there are the Solvang Restaurant, Paula’s Pancake House, and the Danish Mill Bakery. There’s also the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art to check out here.
San Diego is always a top SoCal destination for families and groups of friends, but nearby Carlsbad is also fun and considerably more affordable. You can find hotels on a budget here and have easy beach access too. It’s home to LEGOLAND California, which is admittedly quite pricey, but alternatively, you can also spend time at the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, which offers free guided and self-guided walking tours.
You can also save some money while visiting SoCal if you stay and spend your time in Ventura, which is just north of Los Angeles. This is a beach town that’s beautiful and that offers reasonable rates, as far as accommodations in this area go. Check out the pier and promenade here and also the botanical gardens. You’ll enjoy Ventura’s Main Street, less crowded beaches, and interesting architecture throughout the town.