Is it your dream to travel along the California coast, stopping to put your toes in the sand, driving with the wind in your hair? If you’ve been dying to see some famous sites, like the McWay Falls in Big Sur, or drink some California wine from Paso Robles or mingle with some celebrities in Los Angeles, then this is the perfect trip for you.
In fact, it’s super easy to do. Sure, you have to get creative and maybe rough it just a bit, but if you want to visit one of the most iconic places on a budget, I’ll let you in on a few little secrets my friend and I learned when we took our own trip.
This will be the biggest expense during your California coast road trip, hands down. Hotels in the Golden State are pretty pricey, especially in places like Santa Barbara (aka the American Riviera) and San Francisco. But there are plenty of ways to get around those expensive (yet tiny) rooms along the Pacific coast highway.
If you’re not afraid to live life on the edge, one of my favorite apps is HotelTonight. While you can technically book a week advance, you will find the best prices the day-of. For example, most 3-star hotels in San Diego were at least $125 per night. But, by waiting until the last minute, we were able to book a hotel for only $85 a night (plus $25 for handling, processing and hotel fees) with HotelTonight.
If you’d prefer to book something with a little bit more peace of mind, try checking out Airbnb. Most of you probably know about this one, but it is one of my go-to for all of my trips. Staying in someone’s home, whether you choose an entire home or a private room, is incredibly affordable. Just be mindful that in certain cities like San Francisco, due to recently increased regulation, Airbnb may not be a viable option.
If you’re looking to experience the real state of California, consider camping. Big Sur is a major camping destination, but you can camp just about anywhere, including on some of California’s beaches. Check out a map on the site ReserveAmerica to see where you can park your car overnight.
Gas might not be your biggest expense, but it certainly is the least avoidable one. If you don’t want to drive yourself or you don’t have a car, you can find affordable train and bus options via Wanderu. It all depends on whether you have a car. If you can make the drive with your own car or a friend’s, that will be the least expensive route. If you’re coming in from out of state, it might be a little pricier to rent a car (with a daily fee plus gas) or take trains and buses over the course of your trip.
During your California road trip, picnics are your best friend. Not only is this more intimate with your driving partner, but you get to explore the area like a local. Having food handy in the car will also keep you from making unnecessary pit stops, which will inevitably lead to you buying those expensive tchotchkes in Solvang you didn’t need.
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But, if you do like dining with a bit more luxury, my favorite ways to save include Yelp and Groupon. Yelp will often have deals around happy hour, or up to $15 off if you check in via the app. And, if you haven’t heard of Groupon by now, you’re missing out on some serious savings.
Cost: approx. $200
This part of your budget is entirely up to you. If you like taking tours or going shopping, expect this part to be a bit higher. But, if you enjoy free sights and wandering around in nature, not only is it practically free, but this is the perfect state to do it in. Just make sure you bring some money for parking fees.
Total Cost of the Road Trip
All in all, I was able to travel along the famous coastal route (including San Diego, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur and San Francisco) for only $778 for two people. That means about $389 for just me. That much traveling and fun for less than $400? I call that a steal.
Total Cost: $778
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