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11 Affordable Places To Travel In California On A Budget

There’s no doubt that California is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

In fact, for a lot of people, it’s a bucket list destination.

The only downside is that California can be expensive…especially if you want to visit the state’s most iconic spots like Los Angeles, Yosemite, Napa Valley etc.

To help you save some dollar, in this guide, we are revealing the 11 cheapest places to travel to in California.

Don’t worry, these aren’t rundown towns that you wouldn’t want to visit anyway.

The places on this list are truly stunning spots that are still not known by most tourists which is why prices haven’t been inflated yet.

So if you want to find some California hidden gems that WON’T break the bank, keep on reading.

1. Paso Robles

Paso Robles is a hidden gem in California known for its beautiful wineries and hot springs. 

It’s a budget-friendly place because you can explore many vineyards without spending a lot of money and there are plenty of free outdoor activities like hiking and sightseeing. 

It’s a much cheaper option compared to Napa Valley but provides a very similar experience.

This town is famous for its delicious wines and has over 200 wineries. Visitors can also enjoy tasting local olive oils and visiting art galleries which often have free entry. 

For those who love nature, there are lots of parks and lakes where you can bring your own picnic or simply just relax. 

Getting around Paso Robles is also easy and cheap. You can rent a bicycle or use public transportation. 

2. Julian

Julian is a cozy mountain town known for its delicious apple pies and charming gold rush history. 

It’s a budget-friendly alternative to some of the more expensive mountain destinations in California because it offers lots of free or low-cost activities. 

Julian is famous for its annual Apple Days Festival where visitors can enjoy apple picking and homemade apple treats without spending a lot of money. 

There are also many hiking trails and scenic spots around Julian that are free to explore. These are perfect if you love nature.

The town’s historic sites, like old mines and museums, either have small entrance fees or just ask for donations. 

It’s easy to learn about Julian’s interesting history without breaking the budget. 

Julian’s small, walkable downtown area is filled with local shops, cafes and restaurants that offer affordable options for every type of traveler. 

3. San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, or SLO, is a friendly city on California’s central coast that’s perfect for budget travelers. 

It’s a cheaper alternative to the more expensive coastal cities like Santa Barbara as it offers beautiful beaches and a laid-back vibe without the high price tag. 

SLO is famous for its stunning natural surroundings including beaches, hiking trails and a historic mission at the heart of the city. 

Visitors can enjoy these outdoor activities for free or a small fee. 

The city also hosts a weekly farmers market where you can taste local foods and enjoy street performances without spending a lot of money. 

For those interested in art and culture, SLO offers many galleries and the unique Bubblegum Alley, which features a 15 ft high and 70 ft long alley covered in chewing gum. 

4. Ojai

Ojai is a peaceful small town nestled in a valley in the mountains of Ventura County. It offers a budget-friendly escape from the hustle and bustle of nearby Los Angeles. 

Ojai is famous for its stunning sunsets and the “pink moment” where the setting sun casts a pink glow on the mountains. It’s absolutely beautiful!

Visitors can explore the outdoors with free activities like hiking, biking and visiting local parks. 

The town is also known for its vibrant arts scene with tons of art galleries and shops showcasing local artists, many of which are completely free to browse. 

Ojai’s farmers market is also a great place to enjoy local produce and artisanal products without spending much. 

With its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful scenery and budget-friendly options, Ojai is perfect for travelers looking for a peaceful getaway.

5. Capitola

Capitola is a quaint seaside village that’s a budget-friendly alternative to more expensive beach destinations like Santa Monica. 

It’s known for its colorful houses, sandy beaches and the historic Capitola Wharf, all of which can be enjoyed without spending a lot of money. 

Capitola is famous for its relaxed atmosphere and picturesque views which makes it a great spot for budget travelers who love the ocean. 

Visitors can spend their days sunbathing, swimming or walking along the beach for free. 

The town also hosts several free events throughout the year including outdoor concerts and art festivals. 

There are affordable dining and shopping options in the village itself where you can enjoy the local flavors without breaking the bank. 

6. Shasta Lake

Shasta Lake is a stunning outdoor paradise. It’s perfect for travelers looking for adventure without spending a lot of money. 

It’s a budget-friendly alternative to some of the more expensive lake destinations like Lake Tahoe. It offers breathtaking views and plenty of activities in nature. 

Shasta Lake is famous for being the largest reservoir in California, where visitors can enjoy boating, fishing and swimming in the crystal clear waters. 

The area around the lake has numerous hiking trails that are free to explore and they often lead to beautiful vistas and hidden spots. 

Camping is also very popular and affordable with many sites offering basic amenities for a low fee. 

For those interested in history, the Shasta Dam Visitors Center provides free tours that give an insight into the engineering marvel of the dam. 

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is an affordable outdoor destination that’s a great alternative to more expensive national parks like Yosemite. 

Famous for its active geothermal sites, including bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles, it offers a unique experience for visitors. 

The park’s entrance fee is lower than many other national parks, making it a budget-friendly choice for those who love exploring nature.

The park offers several hiking trails for all levels that lead to stunning views of volcanic landscapes, crystal-clear lakes and wildflower meadows.

Camping is also available at a reasonable cost which means that visitors can stay overnight and enjoy the star-filled sky. 

In the winter, the park offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing with free ranger-led programs. 

8. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a vibrant coastal town that sits just 40-minutes south of San Jose. It offers a more affordable beach experience compared to places like Malibu. 

It’s famous for its laid-back atmosphere, historic boardwalk and beautiful beaches where you can surf, swim or just soak up the sun for free. 

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which is California’s oldest surviving amusement park, has free admission so you can enjoy the lively atmosphere and ocean views without spending a dime. 

For nature lovers, there are numerous hiking and biking trails in the surrounding redwood forests that offer stunning scenery at no cost. 

Santa Cruz also has a thriving arts scene with many galleries and events that are open to the public for free or a small donation. 

The town is known for its affordable cafes, restaurants and shops so you can easily enjoy the local cuisine without overspending. 

9. Lompoc

Lompoc is a small town near Santa Barbara known for its breathtaking flower fields and as a budget-friendly alternative to the more expensive wine regions in the state. 

It’s famous for its Wine Ghetto, a collection of boutique wineries that offer tastings at a fraction of the cost compared to more well-known wine destinations like Napa Valley.

Lompoc’s murals, which cover the town’s walls and tell the history of the area, can be enjoyed for free on a leisurely walk. 

The town is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes, including La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, where for a small fee, visitors can explore California’s history and hike its trails. 

Lompoc’s location near the coast also means that beaches and coastal activities are just a short drive away, without the crowds of more popular beach towns. 

The town hosts several festivals throughout the year including the Lompoc Flower Festival which is low-cost and family-friendly. 

10. Mendocino

Mendocino is a charming coastal village that offers a peaceful and budget-friendly alternative to more bustling and expensive seaside towns. 

It’s famous for its picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean, historic Victorian buildings and beautiful surrounding forests. 

Visitors can explore the Mendocino Headlands State Park for free. You’ll be able to enjoy hiking trails with breathtaking cliffside views of the ocean and hidden coves. 

The village itself is filled with art galleries and shops that feature local artists, many of which are free to browse. 

Mendocino is also known for its commitment to protecting the environment. There’s plenty of opportunities to learn about the local flora and fauna without spending a lot. 

The area’s numerous beaches provide a perfect setting for picnics, tide pooling or just a relaxing day spent by the water, all without any cost. 

11. Cambria

Cambria is a small seaside village that’s perfect for travelers looking for a peaceful retreat without the high costs of more famous coastal destinations like Monterey. 

It’s famous for its scenic beauty with rugged coastline views, pine forests and Moonstone Beach, where visitors can search for smooth, semi-precious stones for free. 

Cambria is also known for its unique shops and art galleries which showcase local artists.

The area around Cambria is great for hiking, with trails that wind through the nearby hills and forests, offering stunning views and wildlife watching opportunities. 

A visit to the historic Hearst Castle, just a short drive away, offers a glimpse into California’s glamorous past for a small entrance fee. 

The town’s restaurants and cafes often feature locally sourced ingredients meaning you can enjoy delicious meals that are more affordable than dining options in larger cities. 

And that’s it!

Those are 11 amazing places to visit in California that won’t break the budget.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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