Whether you are traveling to California or you already live in the Golden State and are looking for the cheapest places to visit in California, you’ll have a surprising number of options. This is a huge state with a wide variety of places that don’t break the bank.
People who are looking for a cheap California vacation or the cheapest places to travel in California can visit some amazing cities, towns and entertainment areas that suit any type of budget.
Below, you will find the ultimate list of the best and cheap weekend getaways in California including everything you need to know to make your cheap California travel a success.
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#1 BIG BEAR LAKE
Big Bear is just 2 hours drive away from Los Angeles and is one of the cheapest vacation spots in California. Whether it is summer or winter, Big Bear and Big Bear Lake both are amazing places to escape into nature.
This is a popular ski destination in the USA and can get crowded in winter. Getting a cheap deal on accommodation in Big Bear can be difficult during the winter season.
But if you travel in summer, Big Bear Lake and nearby Lake Arrowhead has plenty of things to offer its visitors like hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, mountain biking and many more.
Although Big Bear has no offseason but traveling in the shoulder season can save your budget. During spring and fall time, one can find some great deals on accommodations.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Big Bear
- Visit Big Bear Alpine Zoo, located right next to Big Bear Mountain Resort. You can see some native animals in this area such as black bears, arctic foxes, bald eagles.
- Big Bear Lake itself has a lot of water activities. Rent a kayak or take a boat ride in the lake. If you are looking for something more interesting try your hand at fishing.
- You can hike the San Bernadino Mountains, one of the best hikes in southern California, or can explore the place by riding on a mountain bike. Castle Rock trail is another popular scenic hike(short) that offers a stunning panoramic view from the top.
- During winter, Big Bear is popular as a ski spot that offers ski run for all levels.
Suggested Budget for Big Bear
Hotel(2 people): $55-100
Daily Budget: $70/person
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#2 VENTURA – Cheapest Places to Visit in California
Just north of Los Angeles, Ventura is a beach town outside the hustle and bustle of the city life. It is a laid back beach town with lots of free activities, natural beauty, and reasonable accommodations.
Ventura is not all about the beach. Beyond this, it has a delightful Ventura Pier and promenade, gardens and natural beauties.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Ventura
- Take a short stroll on the Ventura Pier in the evening and watch the shimmering sunset. The promenade is perfect for morning or evening run. You can rent a bike and explore the Ventura Pier.
- Ventura Botanical Gardens are free to visit. Follow the walking trail that leads to uphill and offers mesmerizing ocean vistas.
- Take a boat ride to Channel Island National Park. It opens daily and the admission is free here. Learn about this island, see exhibits. You can spend nice family time here.
- Visit The San Buenaventura Mission which was built in 1749. This Spanish mission has experienced pirate attacks, fires, earthquake but still is in working order. The admission fee for adults is $4 and for kids just $1.
- If you love biking, don’t miss the chance to explore Paved Bike Path. The path goes to the neighboring city of Ojai which is also known as ‘Shangri La’ for its stunning landscapes.
Suggested Budget for Ventura
Hotel(2 people): $60-110
Daily Budget: $60/person
#3 DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
If you are into adventure and are looking for cheap vacation ideas in California, Death Valley National Park could be the perfect weekend destination for you.
Well, the name isn’t inviting though, but trust me, Death Valley is strikingly beautiful. It is located in central California. It takes around 2.5 hours to reach Death Valley from Los Angeles by car.
Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places in the US. The best time to visit Death Valley is March to early May when the wildflowers bloom and the weather is comparatively pleasant.
Camping in Death Valley is very cheap if you arrive there early. There are a total of nine campgrounds and four of which are free. All of them are first come first served. The rent of chargeable campsites starts from $14. Check out 10 Best Campsites in Southern California.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Death Valley
- Visit Badwater Basin, the lowest point of the USA. The surreal landscape features a vast salt plain that makes up a serene white concrete spanning for miles.
- Go for Natural Bridge hike in late fall, winter or early spring. This is a short hike that offers stunning rock formation.
- Ubehebe Crater is the largest of the maar volcano clusters, created by a volcanic belch about 300 years ago. To see it from a different point of view, hike the trail that leads along the giant Ubehebe Crater’s southwest rim to other older craters.
- There is a short bike path from Furnace Creek Visitor Center to Harmony Borax Works. Explore the park’s extensive network of dirt roads with a mountain bike.
Suggested Budget for Death Valley
Camp(2 people): $14-60
Daily Budget: $42/person
#4 JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
There are lots of amazing national parks in California and Joshua Tree is one of those which is located in the southeastern part of California. Whether you’re looking for a calm atmosphere, a strenuous adventure, an Old West-inspired getaway, Joshua Tree National Park and its surrounding area deliver plenty of delights.
Though the park is open year-round, the best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is early spring(March to May) and October to November.
There is an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle and $25 per motorcycle. The cheap campgrounds and lots of free activities(hiking, rock climbing) made Joshua Tree National Park an affordable vacation in California.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park
- With 8000 climbing routes, 2000 boulder problems and hundreds of natural gaps, Joshua Tree national park is climber’s paradise. It has challenges for all ability levels. However, the routes in Echo Cove are great for the first-timers.
- Visit Cholla Cactus Garden, located 12 miles south of the park’s north entrance. Walk through the garden of the world’s densest concentrations of the dangerous cholla cactus.
- Enjoy the shimmering sunset from the Key View, the highest point of Joshua Tree national park. From an elevation of 5185 feet, this viewpoint offers a breathtaking view of Coachella Valley and Palm Springs.
- Hikers can explore the Indian Cove Natural Trail. Enjoy the park’s namesake flora. It is an easy straight forward hike. If you are lucky you can see the wildlife animals such as bighorn sheep and desert tortoises
Suggested Budget for Joshua Tree National Park
Hotel(2 people): $50-100
Daily Budget: $60/person
#5 OXNARD – Cheapest Places to Travel in California
Oxnard is one of the cheapest cities in California located in the north of Malibu. It is a coastal town of southern California, just a few miles away from Channel Island also known as America’s Galapagos.
From local cheap farmer’s market to the palm tree-lined beachfront, biking trails, museum- Oxnard is packed with a lot of tourist attractions. Early spring is the ideal time to visit Oxnard when the crowd is less and the room rates are less expensive.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Oxnard
- Stroll around Channel Islands Harbor. It boasts several activities such as picnic spots, biking and hiking trails, Channel Islands Maritime Museum and many more. Take some magnificent photos at sunset of the homes that line the waterway.
- If you are into culture, tour the local farmers market. It’s free to wander through the shops. Explore the market, buy some local treats or grab a bite to eat and enjoy the mild breezes.
- You must visit The Murphy Auto Museum if you are fond of vintage cars. It features cars that date back to 1903 with great classics like the 1910 Duro, the 1963 Studebaker. See the model railroad display. There is no admission fee.
- Fly kites on Mandalay beach. It is a natural pristine beach with fragile dunes and palm tree-lined beachfront. Rent a kite for $5 from Wheel Fun Rentals and enjoy flying kites.
Suggested Budget for Oxnard
Hotel(2 people): $70-120
Daily Budget: $60/person
Want to get European flavor while traveling in California? Visit Solvang, the Danish Capital of America, located in the scenic Santa Ynez Valley. The city is mostly known for its wineries and Danish-style unique architecture.
The city is filled with picturesque buildings in the central point where there are also plenty of options to enjoy museums, local food, and culture at a reasonable price.
You can save decent money on hotels if you stay in Buellton which is just a 5-6 minute drive from Solvang. The numerous hostels, hotels, and other types of accommodations give visitors plenty of options to find a room that fits their budgets.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Solvang
- Solvang is a small town. Walk around the town and stop at Visitors Center of Copenhagen Drive. It has a free travel guide. Visit the wooden windmills throughout downtown. Take some fantastic photos of this large windmill. You can also rent a bicycle to get around the city.
- Visit the Rusack Vineyards that produce world-class wines. Go for wine tasting and relax on the oak-shaded deck while sipping the award-winning handcrafted wines. Enjoy a homemade picnic that can be ordered on-site.
- Don’t miss Hans Christian Anderson Park, especially if you are here with kids. There is no entrance fee. The park features lots of fun activities for kids of all ages. There are a skate park, climbing wall, playground, and a music-making machine.
- Take a hike in the beautiful countryside of Solvang. The lush green hills, Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges that hug the valley provide impressive scenery. Climb to Gaviota Peak which offers bird’s-eye view of Pacific coastline.
Suggested Budget for Solvang
Hotel(2 people): $50-90
Daily Budget: $70/person
#7 SACRAMENTO– Cheap California Vacations
When you are planning for a cheap weekend getaways in California, how can you miss the state capital Sacramento? It is filled with a rich history, culture, interesting museums, dining, and sleeping options to accommodate even the tightest of budgets.
Sacramento can be traveled at any time of the year. During spring and fall season, temps are mild and the sun is plentiful. Sacramento is also considered as one of the best fall destinations in the USA. Visitors can use the city’s SacRT public transit system to get around the city at a low cost.
Locating at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, Sacramento offers lots of free or cheap things for its visitors that include California State Capitol Building, historic sites, candy tour and many more.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Sacramento
- Visit The California State Capitol Museum, the iconic Neoclassical-style building which was constructed in 1874. It is totally free to visit. Explore the splendid architecture of the building. Don’t miss free documentary films which are shown daily at the basement theatre.
- Do you love cycling? Go for the American River Bike Trail. Starting from Discovery Park in Old Sacramento to Beal’s Point, the entire 32 miles trail is full of natural beauties. If you are not into cycling, consider hiking or horseback riding.
- If you are with kids, you must take Jelly Belly Factory Tours which offers an inside view of California’s Jelly Belly factory. Every day it offers a free walking tour that lasts about 40 minutes from 9 am to 4 pm. More than 50 types of delicious jelly beans are produced here.
- Folsom Lake is one of the most visited places in California. This man-made reservoir sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills. You will have several outdoor activities here that include hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating, and waterskiing.
Suggested Budget for Sacramento
Hotel(2 people): $45-100
Daily Budget: $55/person
#8 PISMO BEACH – Cheapest Places to Visit in California
Probably the best destination on this list for travelers looking for a beach vacation and great deals that fit into their budget. It is a small town along the California coastline.
From a charming ocean-view to Monarch Butterfly Grove, Dinosaur Caves Park, and Pismo Pier, there are plenty of budget-friendly things to do in Pismo Beach. Visit this beach town in the spring or fall season to get a clear sky, smaller crowds, and amazing hotel deals.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Pismo Beach
- Riding on the Oceano Dunes is the most popular activity in Pismo beach. This is the only public beach in California where you can drive your vehicle. You can rent ATVs or ride dune buggies with your friends or families.
- Take a short stroll on Pismo Beach Pier and Promenade. Take some stunning snaps at the end of the pier with the limitless and unobstructed ocean in the background.
- If you are bored with beaches, take a short drive to Central Coast Wine County. See the vineyards and go for wine tasting from Edna Valley Vineyard Tolosa winery.
- Dinosaur Caves Park is a kid’s friendly park where kids can play in the ground. You can enjoy a laid back stroll in this 11-acre park.
Suggested Budget for Pismo Beach
Hotel(2 people): $80-100
Daily Budget: $60/person
#9 EUREKA-Cheap Weekend Getaways in California
This charming seaport town is another cheap place to travel to California. The city has a magnetic collection of cultural charms and boasts of outdoor activities.
With a Victorian-styled Old Town, historical parks and plenty of museums, Eureka is such a beautiful place that you cannot afford to miss. For its affordable lodging and food options, many people come here for a cheap weekend getaway.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Eureka
- Explore the Old Town of Eureka on foot. It is packed with ample Victorian styled architecture and historic buildings. The Old Town features an array of art galleries, antique stores, museums, restaurants and coffee shops.
- Visit Fort Humboldt State Historic Park which was built in 1853. It was abandoned in 1870 and now it stands as a historical museum that showcases the history of logging in Eureka, with displays of logging equipment, an authentic Native American canoe, and trains.
- Visit the Sequoia Park Zoo, the oldest zoo in California. This zoo is the home to over 200 vertebrates and approx. 1700 invertebrates. It has a good collection of llamas, various bird species, mammals and reptiles.
- Go for a scenic drive on the Redwood Highway. You will find the redwood trees on both sides of Highway 101 that creates a magical ambiance throughout the route.
Suggested Budget for Eureka
Hotel(2 people): $60-100
Daily Budget: $70/person
#10 DANA POINT
Dana Point is a charming city in Southern California and also known as one of the best surfing areas in the USA. The city has been wooing whale and dolphin watchers and water sports lovers for generations.
From the lively Dana Point Harbor, beautiful Nature Interpretive Center to adrenaline-pumping parasailing excursion or whale watching, there is no shortage of activities for all types of travelers.
The best time to visit Dana Point is late August to early September. Traveling in the fall season is highly recommended to get plenty of cheap hotel deals.
Cheap or Free Things to do in Dana Point
- Visit Dana Point Harbor. It is also known as ‘Whale Capital of the World’. Dana Point Harbor offers specialty shopping, fishing and whale watching excursions and a variety of restaurants.
- You shouldn’t miss the Ocean Institute, a natural attraction in Dana Point Harbor. The institute conducts different nature-focused educational programs throughout the year.
- Adventure enthusiasts must experience parasailing in Dana Point. Dana Point Parasail is a very popular and renowned company for its high-quality operations to have safe, fun and memorable parasailing adventures along the beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline.
Suggested Budget for Dana Point
Activities: $20(parasailing is not included here)
Daily Budget: $70/person
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