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travel California on a budget

California is an incredible destination. You’ve got jaw-dropping National Parks, incredible coastlines, fantastic cities, and amazing wine regions. But California is one of the most expensive destinations in the United States and the world, so I created this guide for you to travel California on a budget.

How To Travel The U.S. On A Budget

So I’ve rounded up my best budget tips and tricks to help you take your dream California vacation.

Here’s how to travel California on a budget!

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Travel California On A Budget

Rent an RV. RV parks are everywhere in the state, even in large cities. An RV will let you save money on accommodation and food.

Visit during the shoulder and off-seasons. If you avoid Spring Break weeks, the summer months, and holidays, then your money will go much further. Northern California is one of the Best Destinations To Visit In October, and all of California is one of my Fantastic Places To Visit In April.

Take day trips to more expensive cities. Visiting San Francisco, Monterey and Carmel, Los Angeles, Napa Valley, Palm Springs, and San Diego as day trips will save you a lot of money on accommodation.

Travel California On A Budget

Do free activities. Scenic drives, self-guided walking tours, hikes, and lounging on a beach are all iconic California vacation activities that (with some careful selection) are free.

Book ahead of time. Booking accommodation, transportation, tours, theme park tickets, and other activities ahead of time can save you money.

Use your points. Reward points from the best travel reward credit cards can go a long way to offset the cost of a California trip.

Eat off the beaten path. Don’t eat at restaurants near famous landmarks. You’ll pay a premium to eat in Hollywood or near Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Travel California On A Budget

Drive a high-MPG car. If you’re driving your vehicle, bring the most fuel-efficient one in your family. And if you’re renting a car, get a high-MPG vehicle because gas can break the bank in California.

Bike, walk, and use public transportation. If you’re in one of the larger cities, opt to leave your car behind and walk, bike, or use public transit. This will save you money on gas and parking.

Thoroughly research accommodation options. Compare hotel prices across multiple sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal. And consider a hostel or vacation home.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How much should I budget for a trip to California?

    Suggested daily budgets for California:

    Budget/Backpacking: Less than $100 a day.

    Lower End: $150 a day.

    Midrange: $250 a day.

    Higher End: $350 a day and up.

  • What is the cheapest part of California to visit?

    California’s national parks and inland cities are some of the most budget-friendly destinations in the state. Here are some budget tips for California:

    1. Visit during the shoulder and off-seasons.

    2. Take day trips to more expensive cities. Visiting San Francisco, Monterey and Carmel, Los Angeles, Napa Valley, Palm Springs, and San Diego as day trips will save you a lot of money on accommodation.

    3. Eat off the beaten path.

    4. Bike, walk, and use public transportation.

    5. Book ahead of time.

  • How can I go to California on a budget?

    Budget tips for visiting California:

    1. Rent an RV.

    2. Do free activities. Scenic drives, self-guided walking tours, hikes, and lounging on a beach are all iconic California vacation activities that (with some careful selection) are free.

    3. Use your points. Reward points from the best travel reward credit cards can go a long way to offset the cost of a California trip.

    4. Thoroughly research accommodation options. Compare hotel prices across multiple sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal. And consider a hostel or vacation home.

    5. Drive a high-MPG car. If you’re driving your vehicle, bring the most fuel-efficient one in your family. And if you’re renting a car, get a high-MPG vehicle because gas can break the bank in California.

  • What is the cheapest month to visit California?

    September usually has the cheapest travel costs in California. Fall is a fantastic season to visit Northern California because the temperatures will be cooling off, but the days are still long and sunny. The foliage will be changing into vibrant colors, and prices and tourist numbers will be decreasing from the peak summer season.

    This is Napa and Sonoma’s grape harvest season, all of the National Parks and roads will still be open, and you can experience the Monterey Jazz Festival.

    The north will start to see snow and rain in late October and November, but Southern California will still be sunny and dry.

  • What is the cheapest city to fly into California?

    Cheapest airports to fly to in California:

    1. Los Angeles (LAX)

    2. San Diego (SAN)

    3. Santa Ana (SNA)

    4. Oakland (OAK)

    5. San Francisco (SFO)

  • What month is the best to visit California?

    Spring is a beautiful time to visit California. The warm, pleasant days and refreshingly cool nights make these months an excellent time to visit, and the wildflowers will be in full bloom.

    Most roads and trails will re-open, and as long as you avoid the peak Spring Break weeks from mid-March to early April, the crowds and prices will still be relatively low.

    Summer days are sunny and hot. Daytime temperatures can be in the 90s (24-28°C), and temperatures will be even higher in the deserts. The nights will be pleasant, especially for camping.

    The higher elevations can still be chilly in the mornings and evenings, so bring layers with you. Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, and San Francisco have microclimates, making them surprisingly cool in the summer. Spring and Fall give you drier and warmer weather in San Francisco, and Monterey is known as the “perpetually chilly city.”

    This is prime beach season. But be aware that, like most places in the U.S., summer is the peak travel season because of school breaks, so crowds and prices will be at their highest.

    Fall is a fantastic season to visit Northern California because the temperatures will be cooling off, but the days are still long and sunny. The foliage will be changing into vibrant colors, and prices and tourist numbers will be decreasing from the peak summer season.

    This is Napa and Sonoma’s grape harvest season, all of the National Parks and roads will still be open, and you can experience the Monterey Jazz Festival.

    The north will start to see snow and rain in late October and November, but Southern California will still be sunny and dry.

    In Winter, you can head inland to the mountains for snow. Or you can head to the deserts for mild weather. The coasts will be cold, but snow is rare.

    Winter is the low travel season for California, so prices and tourist numbers will be at some of their lowest. The exceptions to this are during Christmas and New Year’s.

    Some National and State Parks will have trail or road closures, so make sure you check in advance whether a hike or scenic drive is open.

  • What is the most affordable beach town in California?

    Oxnard usually ranks as the most affordable beach town in California. This beautiful city is about an hour north of Los Angeles, making it a perfect getaway from the city.

  • Is it safe to visit California?

    I felt very safe during all of my trips to California. But, as with any destination, you need to take precautions to keep yourself safe. Don’t walk by yourself at night, stay in a secure and well-located hotel or vacation home, use slash-proof, lockable, and RFID-protected bags and purses, and always have a charged cell phone with you.

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This post is not a sponsored post, and, as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article about how to travel California on a budget are entirely my own. Some of these links are affiliate links, and, at no cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

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