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When it comes to domestic travel, California tends to be more expensive to visit than many other states around the country. However, this is a huge state with a wide variety of places to see that suit any type of budget. If you’re looking for an affordable California vacation, there are some great cities, towns, and recreation areas that won’t break the bank. Here are 11 cheap weekend getaways in California to check out.
Joshua Tree National Park
There are lots of great national parks to visit in California, and these are affordable destinations that help you get in touch with your natural surroundings. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle at Joshua Tree National Park, and it’s $25 per motorcycle and $55 for an annual park pass. There are nine campgrounds at the park where you can save money on lodging and maximize your time outdoors. There are five reservations-only campgrounds that cost about $20 to $25 per night, as well as first-come-first-served campgrounds that are $15 per night. Backcountry camping is also allowed in the park if you pitch your tent at least a mile from roads and 500 feet from trails and water sources. Things to do in the park include hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
A great weekend getaway from Los Angeles is Ventura, which is just north of the city and has a laid-back beach town vibe. There are lots of cheap things to keep the whole family entertained here, including the Ventura Pier playground for kids, and the 30-mile Ventura to Ojai bike bath to get some exercise. Entrance to the Channel Islands National Park is free, and there is free beach parking and harbor village parking. Other fun and affordable activities are bird watching along the promenade and searching for sea glass.
June Lake is a small mountain town in the Eastern Sierras with lots of great camping opportunities. The private campgrounds have affordable rates, and disbursed camping is often free in the area. Embrace the big mountains and great outdoors with totally free hikes at Gull Lake, the Parker Lake Trail, and June Mountain. Other top things to see and do are Devil’s Postpile National Monument, June Lake Brewing, and Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve in nearby Lee Vining.
Eureka in Northern California also makes for a cheap weekend getaway because of its affordable lodging and food options. Take a drive down the Redwood Highway, check out the Humboldt Bay, walk through Old Town Eureka, and be among the giant trees at Sequoia Park Garden. There are also some interesting mansions and museums here if you’re interested in local history.
You can also head to the state capital of Sacramento for a cheap weekend getaway in California. Visit on free museums days for your art and culture fix, exercise on the American River Bike Trail, enjoy water sports at Folsom Lake, and visit the Jelly Belly Factory in nearby Fairfield. Other free attractions are the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, Capitol Park, Capitol building tours, and the 2nd Saturday Art Walk each month.
Idyllwild is a California town with lots of charm in the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s a couple of hours from Los Angeles and makes a wonderful cheap weekend getaway. Idyllwild has a rustic vibe and transforms you back in time with its locally owned restaurants and shops lining the streets. While you’re in this area, you might want to check out the local rock climbing scene at Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock.
Oxnard is a beach town that’s north of Malibu, which might make you think it’s far from affordable. But compared to other destinations along this stretch of Pacific coast, Oxnard has some surprisingly good prices. You can hop on a boat from here to reach the Channel Islands or just relax on the beach. Here you’ll find beachfront areas lined with palm trees and trails for biking and jogging. Other great budget-friendly options are the local farmers’ markets, Bedford Pinkard Skate Park, the vintage cars at the Murphy Auto Museum, and touring Heritage Square.
Pismo Beach is a beautiful central coast location that includes everything you love about California. Budget-friendly things to do on a weekend trip here include the Monarch Butterfly Grove, Dinosaur Caves Park, Pismo Pier, and Margo Dodd Park. Check out the local farmer’s market at the pier and take a ride on the nearby Bob Jones City to Sea Bike Trail too.
Big Bear Lake
Big Bear is only within a couple of hours from Los Angeles and is a popular place in both winter and summer. Come to this region to go skiing in the winter but know that this is when prices hit their peak. Alternatively, you can visit in the summer for often lower prices and plenty of opportunities to go fishing, swimming, mountain biking, and even play mini golf. Downtown Big Bear has lots of restaurants, shops, and theaters that you can walk around and spend as much or as little as you like.
Take a cheap weekend getaway to Solvang and feel like you’ve just taken a very affordable trip to Europe. This town is modeled after a Danish village and is within an hour of Santa Barbara. You’ll love the windmill and iconic architecture here, as well as all the quaint shops filled with treats and souvenirs. It’s totally free to walk through town and browse to your heart’s content, but you might want to open your wallet for a delicious apple strudel at the Danish Mill Bakery.
Morro Bay offers cheap weekend getaways for travelers and some excellent kayaking opportunities in a protected bay. This central coast destination has lots of free things to do, including the Art Center Morro Bay, the Auxilio Innovation shop, Main Street Market, and Coleman Park & Beach. Also, make sure to check out the Morro Bay Bike Park, the Mural Mile, and the Morro Bay National Estuary to see the sights without breaking your budget.
For a mixture of mountain views and hippie vibes, head to Mount Shasta, California for a cheap weekend getaway. This town offers affordable accommodations and plenty of outdoor recreation nearby to keep you busy without straining your budget. For example, there’s Lake Siskiyou and Shasta-Trinity National Forest for hiking and watersports. Mount Shasta has a city park that is just north of downtown and a great public space for letting the kids run around or have a picnic. One of the top waterfalls to see in the area is Hedge Creek Falls, which is south of Mount Shasta and near Dunsmuir and Interstate 5. In the winter, you can go skiing in this area, while the town itself has some art galleries and restaurants that are worth visiting.
San Luis Obispo
The Central Coast is a unique getaway destination that can help you cut travel costs compared to many areas around San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Central Coast small city of San Luis Obispo has a lovely main street with cute shops and quaint restaurants. There is a wall intentionally filled with bubble gum, a large farmers’ market, and sand dunes nearby for some outdoor recreation. You can also spend your days checking out the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, Railroad Museum, Children’s Museum, and Botanical Garden.
Yosemite National Park
National parks, such as Yosemite National Park, are excellent places to visit if you want a big adventure with little cost. To save money on your trip, plan to camp in the park and plan to do lots of hiking. Lodging is also available at the Wawona Hotel and The Ahwahnee. The park spans nearly 1,200 square miles and is filled with waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, vast meadows, and deep valleys. There are over 750 miles of hiking trails to explore and guided tours available year-round.
With cool year-round temperatures, dramatic cliffside views, and a steady supply of coastal fog, Mendocino is a beautiful small town in Northern California. There are some great hiking opportunities in Russian Gulch State Park Nearby. Spend days walking along the beach and checking out the shops and galleries in this artsy town. There’s also the Mendocino Headlands State Park, Ford House Museum, and Jug Handle State Natural Reserve. In the evening, plan to attend a live performance at the Mendocino Theatre Company.
Redding is located in Northern California and is home to affordable, family-friendly activities. Redding has a walkable downtown and offers city attractions, including the Cascade Theatre, Redding Civic Auditorium, McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and Schreder Planetarium. To get outdoors, you can check out Lassen Volcanic National Park and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area nearby. There’s also the Swasey Recreation Area, Sundial Bridge, Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta Dam, and Sacramento River National Recreation Trail. You’ll typically find affordable overnight accommodations in Redding at chain motels and even vacation rentals.
Death Valley National Park
To experience a land of extremes and rugged natural beauty, plan a cheap weekend getaway to Death Valley National Park. You can camp in this park, although you’ll need to be mindful of the temperature because it gets dangerously hot here in the summer. It’s fun to set out on the Natural Bridge hike to see the rock formations, the Beebe Crater hike to see volcano clusters and Badwater Basin for a surreal landscape that’s the lowest point in the U.S. For some solitude, bring a mountain bike to explore the dirt roads.
You can make a trip to Lake Tahoe as posh or as cheap as you like, depending on what you choose to do and where you stay. To enjoy the beautiful views, drive to Emerald Bay Lookout on a scenic excursion, kayak in the lake, or hike the Cascade Falls Trail. Sierra-at-Tahoe is an affordable place to ski and snowboard in the area. Budget-friendly ways to spend a day around Lake Tahoe include visiting Emerald Bay State Park, Vikingsholm, Tallas Historic Site, and the Eagle Falls Trail. If you’re looking to save money and don’t want to splurge on a fancy lodge or private cabin, you can camp in the area at the D.L Bliss State Park Campground, Fallen Leaf Campground, or Campground by the Lake.
Dana Point is a Southern California getaway spot that makes an affordable vacation too. It is along the coast and between San Diego and Los Angeles. Baby Beach is a fun place to spend time with your family because of the calm waters and opportunities for surfing, fishing, and boating. The charming city is known for whale-watching and parasailing excursions, but pick just one or two larger activities to focus on if you are trying to stay within a tight budget. Hotels in Dana Point often offer more affordable rates during the fall season compared to the summer rates.
Mojave National Preserve
The Mojave National Preserve offers plenty of desert adventures and opportunities to learn about human history and resilient animals. There is no fee to enter the preserve, unlike many other sites that are part of the National Park Service system. You’ll find two campgrounds in the park: Hole-in-the-Wall Campground and Mid Hills Campground – both are $12 per site, per night. Campsites are available only on a first-come, first-served basis. Meanwhile, undeveloped and disbursed campsites are available for free. If you want to see the wildflowers in bloom, plan your trip in March or April.