Our list of cheap weekend getaways in California includes national parks, diverse cities, beach towns, wine regions, and more.
The Golden State is not known for being the most affordable vacation destination, but there are plenty of fun and cheap vacation spots in California and this guide lists all the best choices!
Even better, the cheapest places to visit in California are spread out across the state. Whether you are taking a spontaneous road trip or flying in for a short break, here are 15 of the best budget-friendly places to visit in California that won’t hurt your wallet.
Affordable Weekend Getaways in California
Located just 60 miles west of Los Angeles along the coastline, Oxnard is one of the more affordable getaways in California near LAX. It’s a cheaper alternative to Santa Barbara if you’re looking for the perfect blend of a cultural city break and a relaxing beach vacation.
Cut down on dining out by stocking up on fresh local produce at the abundance of farmer’s markets in Oxnard and cooking at your short-term rental. Downtown Oxnard Farmers Market and the Channel Islands Harbor Farmers Market are just two great options.
I stayed a couple of nights in Oxnard on my way to the Channel Islands and loved exploring this lesser-known destination.
Cheap Things to Do in Oxnard
- Channel Islands Harbor: Free
- Port Hueneme Beach and Oxnard Beach: Free
- Heritage Square: Free
- Mullin Automotive Museum: $10 – $16
- Wine tastings at Herzog Wine Cellars: From $25
- Sail to Channel Islands National Park: $33 – $35
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Oxnard
Cheap Eats in Oxnard
- Cajun Country Cafe
- Bahn-Mi Grill
- Carnitas El Rey
- The Lebanese Oven
Read more: Oxnard, California Travel Guide
California’s state capital is often overlooked. Compared to other bustling cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s one of the cheapest places to visit in California!
Book accommodation in the Old Sacramento neighborhood to ensure you stick to your budget. You’ll be able to spend your weekend admiring architecture from the Gold Rush era (or faithful imitations of buildings from that era), posing for Old Time photos, as well as visiting affordable museums.
I grew up near Sacramento and loved visiting here on the weekends. It has such a great foodie scene now, in addition to all of the other attractions.
Cheap Things to Do in Sacramento
- California State Capitol Museum: Free
- Old Sacramento Waterfront and Bridges: Free
- William Land Regional Park: Free
- Tour of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament: Free
- California State Railroad Museum: $6 – $12
- Crocker Art Museum: $8 – $15
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Sacramento
- HI Sacramento Hostel
- Courtyard by Marriott Sacramento Cal Expo
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Natomas
Cheap Eats in Sacramento
- Ocean Fish & Chips
- Tasty Hawaiian BBQ
- ABC Bakery
- Pizza Supreme Being
- Taco Fresco Burger & Fries
Read more: Cheap Winter Vacations in the USA
San Luis Obispo
If you’re keen to escape the crowds and crippling costs of visiting San Francisco or Los Angeles, the Central Coast region offers plenty of cheap weekend getaways in California. San Luis Obispo is a compact yet absolutely beautiful city with a diverse artistic heritage and tons of museums surrounded by mountains and vineyards.
In fact, San Luis Obispo (SLO) is one of the best budget-friendly places to visit in California for wine lovers compared to Napa Valley and Sonoma. I visited a few of the wineries here during a recent weekend trip and, as a California native, I think it’s better than the more popular wine regions in California.
Basic wine tastings in SLO cost around $20 but they average $40 in other regions. With dozens of tasting rooms that are just a short drive from downtown, you don’t want to miss this stop on your next wine weekend adventure!
Cheap Things to Do in San Luis Obispo
- Climb Bishop Peak: Free
- Walk along Bubblegum Alley: Free
- San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA): Free
- Tour the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 1772: Free
- Wine tasting at Wolff Vineyards: $20
- Ghost and True Crime Walking Tour: From $29.99
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in San Luis Obispo
Cheap Eats in San Luis Obispo
- Urbane Cafe
- Tiki Hut
- Taqueria Santa Cruz Express
- Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop – SLO
Read more: San Luis Obispo Travel Guide
Big Bear Lake
The mountain resort area of Big Bear Lake offers an abundance of outdoor activities in the summer and winter months and it’s one of the best places for a cheap weekend getaway. Fishing, bird-watching, sailing, skiing, and hiking in the San Bernardino National Forest are popular during these times of year.
But Big Bear Lake in California is a four-season destination with plenty of things to do year-round. I have visited during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, and it’s much quieter and more affordable than during the summer or winter.
Cheap Things to Do in Big Bear Lake
- Hike the Castle Rock Trail 1W03: Free
- Bear Bear Discovery Center: Free
- Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve: Free
- Big Bear Alpine Zoo: $11 – $16
- Kayak from Captain John’s Marina: From $20
- Guided Family-Friendly Hikes in Big Bear Valley: From $35
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Big Bear Lake
Cheap Eats in Big Bear Lake
- BJ’s Restaurant and Sandwich Shop
- Cocina De Mexico
- Cafe Crepe
- Dank Donuts
- Moonridge Coffee Company
Read more: Top Weekend Getaways in California
Cambria is a stunning small town on the Pacific Coast Highway with rugged cliffs, views of the Pacific Ocean, and a charming downtown surrounded by pine forests. It has lots of hiking trails, beautiful beaches, wineries, art galleries, and other fun seaside activities to keep you busy for a weekend.
Cambria is usually a quick road trip stop for travelers driving to Big Sur on the iconic State Route 1 and many don’t stay overnight. If you can snag a great accommodation deal, you’ll find it’s one of the best cheap vacation spots in California on the coast!
Cheap Things to Do in Cambria
- Spot elephant seals off Moonstone Beach: Free
- Fiscalini Ranch Preserve: Free
- Coastal boardwalks at Leffingwell Landing: Free
- Cambria Farmers Market: Cheap
- Wine tastings at Stolo Vineyards & Winery: From $15
- Tour Hearst Castle: From $30
- Visit the tide pools at Moonstone Beach: Free
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Cambria
Cheap Eats in Cambria
- Medusa’s Mexican
- Boni’s Tacos
- Cambria Coffee Roasting Company
- Old Cambria Marketplace
Eureka offers perfect, cheap weekend getaways in California for those who want to see the best that Northern California has to offer in one short trip. This port city has the Victorian townhouses of San Francisco and the ancient, massive trees of the Redwood National Park as well as boat trips to offshore islands but not the high costs.
Despite its size, Eureka is a very walkable city and most attractions and landmarks can be accessed on foot. Save money by shunning the rental car and packing comfortable shoes!
Cheap Things to Do in Eureka
- Carson Mansion: Free
- Samoa Beach: Free
- Morris Graves Museum of Art: $2 – $5
- Clarke Historical Museum: $5
- Sequoia Park Zoo and the Redwood Sky Walk: $12.95 – $24.95
- Sail in Humboldt Bay on a Madaket Ferry: $15 – $35
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Eureka
Cheap Eats in Eureka
- Z & J Asian Subs
- Eureka Stars Hamburgers
- The Grind Cafe
- Smug’s Pizza
- Raliberto’s Taco Shop
- Philly Cheese Steak Shoppe
While many of these California getaways are coastal towns, Pismo Beach has the quintessential California beach town vibe. Its beaches are unsurprisingly the highlight and are popular surfing spots with the most incredible sand dunes.
Although Pismo Beach also has wineries and golf resorts, stick to the beaches to spare your bank account. You can easily fill a weekend break with all of the free and affordable awesome outdoor activities here.
Cheap Things to Do in Pismo Beach
- Monarch Butterfly Grove Nature Reserve: Free
- Dinosaur Caves Park: Free
- Pismo Beach Pier: Free
- Hike in Pismo Preserve: Free
- Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area: From $5
- Rent a surfboard or kayak on Pismo Beach: From $25
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Pismo Beach
Cheap Eats in Pismo Beach
- Splash Cafe
- La Tapatia Market & Deli
- Papi’s Grill
- House of the Rising Buns
Surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and home to one of the most popular craft breweries in the country, Paso Robles is a must-visit for foodies on a budget. It also has lots of unique museums and attractions with low entrance fees.
Avoid pricey winery and brewery tours costing hundreds of dollars by renting an electric bike for $67 per day and DIY! Wine tastings in the Paso Robles region average around $20-$25 and some are even free if you buy wine bottles to take home.
Cheap Things to Do in Paso Robles
- Paso Robles Pioneer Museum: Free
- Tour the Firestone Walker Brewery: From $10
- Estrella Warbird Museum: $8 – $18
- Wine tastings at Eberle Winery: From $20
- Wine tastings at Tobin James Cellars: From $20 or free with purchase
- Wine tastings at Sculpterra Winery and Garden: From $20
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Paso Robles
Cheap Eats in Paso Robles
- Hana Korean BBQ
- The Full Belly Deli
- Orale Taqueria
- Cali Grill
- Bronco Burgers
- Red Scooter Deli
Morro Bay is a city on the central Californian coast famous for the ancient volcanic hill called Morro Rock and its many lagoons and salt marshes. It’s incredibly picturesque with sailboats lining the shoreline and lots of budget-friendly cute cafes.
You could quite easily spend an entire weekend in Morro Bay without spending any money on attractions. Many of the best things to do here are free including sea otter spotting from the harbor or hiking in the nearby state parks.
Cheap Things to Do in Morro Bay
- Morro Bay State Park: $8 for parking
- Montaña de Oro State Park: Free
- Morro Bay Maritime Museum: Free
- Museum of Natural History: From $3
- Rent an electric bike: From $25
- Rent kayaks or SUPs: From $30
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Morro Bay
Cheap Eats in Morro Bay
- Giovanni’s Fish Market
- House of JuJu – Morro Bay
- Tacos De Mexico
- Goddess Goods
- Three Stacks and a Rock Brewing
Along with Pine Cove and Fern Valley, Idyllwild is part of a small eclectic community in the San Jacinto Mountains close to Palm Springs. There are lots of campsites so it’s perfect for cheap weekend getaways in California if you want to hike or rock climb.
Just a scenic drive away from downtown San Diego, many of the stores in Idyllwild are artsy vintage and thrift stores. Apart from one or two museums, the main activity in this community is hiking. If you struggle to quash your spending habits when you travel, heading somewhere with no temptations like Idyllwild is ideal.
Cheap Things to Do in Idyllwild
- Hike San Jacinto Peak: Free
- Hike Devil’s Slide Trail: Free
- Birdwatch at San Jacinto State Park: Free
- Idyllwild Nature Center: $3 – $4
- Rock climb Tahquitz Peak: $5
- Idyllwild Brewery: $9 – $11
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Idyllwild
Cheap Eats in Idyllwild
- Red Kettle
- The Lumber Mill Bar and Grill
- Idyllwild Brewpub
- La Casita Mexican Restaurant
Located just outside of Yosemite National Park, June Lake is a small mountain community where you can enjoy kayaking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. You could spend hours kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on the lakes here which is why it’s a perfect place for a budget-friendly weekend destination.
Stay at campgrounds or budget guesthouses to save money, but the accommodations in June Lake are mostly affordable lodges and 3-star inns anyway. Use it as a cheaper base to explore the spectacularly beautiful Mono Lake with its stunning and surreal rock formations.
Cheap Things to Do in June Lake
- June Lake, Silver Lake, Grant Lake, and Gull Lake: Free
- Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve: Free
- Parker Lake Trail and Gull Lake Trail: Free
- Inyo Craters on Mammoth Scenic Loop: Free
- Mono Basin Historical Society & Museum: $2
- Rent paddleboards and kayaks: From $30
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in June Lake
Cheap Eats in June Lake
- The Lift
- Epic Cafe
Joshua Tree National Park
It can be expensive to visit any of the national parks in California, but there are absolutely ways you can head to Joshua Tree National Park for the weekend on a budget. Its location in the Southern California desert between Los Angeles and Phoenix in Arizona means it’s close to two major travel hubs where you can often find airfare deals.
Joshua Tree National Park also has a warm climate for most of the year. You’ll be able to take advantage of the nine reservation and first-come-first-serve campgrounds which only cost $10 – $25 per night.
I absolutely adore Joshua Tree and I take quick weekend trips here at least three times a year — in all seasons. I never grow tired of the magic of this desert landscape and the solitude it brings.
Cheap Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
- Skull Rock and Cholla Cactus Garden Trail: Free
- Hidden Valley Nature Trail: Free
- Barker Dam: Free
- Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum: Free
- Keys View and Desert View: Free
- Joshua Tree National Park Pass: $15 – $30
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Joshua Tree
Cheap Eats in Joshua Tree
- JT Country Kitchen
- Crossroads Cafe
- $5 Pizza Place
- Boo’s Organic Oven
- Sam’s Indian Food and Pizza
Quick! Visit Solvang while it’s still an affordable weekend destination because it will soon blow up. This Scandi-inspired city in Southern California looks like it was ripped right out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale book. Thankfully, you can enjoy the town’s kitschy Danish architecture, windmills, and other attractions without the Nordic price tag.
Solvang is also a great place to visit year-round, so you can explore Solvang in the off-season (January – March) and benefit from cheaper accommodation. You’ll have an authentic Scandinavian experience visiting in the colder months anyway!
Cheap Things to Do in Solvang
- Elverhøj Museum of History & Art: Free
- Hans Christian Andersen Museum: Free
- Hans Christian Andersen Park: Free
- Old Mission Santa Ines 1804: $6
- Copenhagen Sausage Garden: From $7.95
- Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum: $10
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Solvang
Cheap Eats in Solvang
- Craft House at Corque
- Copenhagen Sausage Garden
- Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe
- California Tacos Cantina and Distillery
Death Valley National Park
Being one of the hottest places on earth, I only recommend visiting Death Valley National Park in the spring, fall and winter. But, it is conveniently located on the Nevada border near Las Vegas Airport for an easy weekend trip and is full of free viewpoints, sand dunes, and cool craters to explore.
Hire a mountain bike to ride the rugged roads through Death Valley National Park instead of a rental car. It’ll be a much more epic, unforgettable adventure for a fraction of the cost!
Cheap Things to Do in Death Valley National Park
- Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View: Free
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Free
- Ubehebe Crater: Free
- Badwater Basin: Free
- Mosaic Canyon and Natural Bridge Trail: Free
- Death Valley National Park Pass: $15 -$30
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Death Valley
Cheap Eats in Death Valley
- El Valle Restaurant
- Gema’s Cafe
- Smokin J’s Barbeque
Read more: Death Valley National Park Travel Guide
Sitting on the Nevada border near the cities of Reno and Sacramento in Northern California, South Lake Tahoe is a super popular vacation destination. This gorgeous Alpine lake is incredibly scenic and perfect for water sports enthusiasts, plus there are ways you can visit on a budget.
Ditch the flights and rental cars and utilize the public transport options at Lake Tahoe to save your pennies. You can take an Amtrak train to Truckee and get around using the free TART shuttle buses. April is considered the off-season in Tahoe, so this is the best time to visit for affordable rates.
I have lived in South Lake Tahoe and the beauty of this place never gets old. I keep coming back for visits and finding new hidden gems.
Cheap Things to Do in Lake Tahoe
- Eagle Falls and Glen Alpine Falls: Free
- Tallac Historic Site: $3 – $8
- Gatekeeper’s Museum: $9 – $10
- Vikingsholm Castle: $12 – $15
- Emerald Bay State Park Pass: $2 – $10
- Paddleboard and kayak rentals: From $50
Budget-Friendly Accommodations in Lake Tahoe
Cheap Eats in Lake Tahoe
- Chicken in a Barrel BBQ
- The Woods
- Red Hut Waffle Shop
- Izzy’s Burger Spa
- Big Daddy’s Burgers
- Sprouts Natural Foods Cafe
Read more: South Lake Tahoe Travel Guide
Budget Travel Tips & Hacks for California
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to avoid peak travel times. Consider traveling during the off-season when visiting California on a budget, which is typically from September to May. During this time, you can often find cheaper flights, hotels, and activities. Additionally, you can avoid crowds and enjoy a more relaxing vacation.
Using public transportation is another great way to save money on transportation costs. In cities like Sacramento (SacRT), I recommend checking out the schedules before your departure so you can map out which places you can visit without a car. This will also determine the location to book your hotel.
In smaller towns, check the local bus schedule and see if they offer Bird or Lime scooters for rent.
Many attractions and activities in California offer discount cards or passes that can save you money on admission fees. You can also check Groupon for attractions and services in the destination you’re visiting!
By following these travel tips and hacks, you can save money while still being able to enjoy the best of these weekend destinations in California!
The post 15 Cheap Weekend Getaways in California To Visit Now (2023) appeared first on Ordinary Traveler.