California on a Budget
While it's true that California is an expensive place to live, that doesn't mean you can't have a wonderful time visiting on a tight budget. It’s a big, beautiful state, with lots of natural resources, fun entertainment, and interesting cities – most of which is free or low-cost to see and do.
Here are five of the best places to see in California, even for the cost-conscious.
1. San Diego
With year-round mild temperatures, San Diego is always an attractive option. Just a short drive from Mexico, rich history abounds in Old Town and the Gaslamp Quarter, and fish tacos are all the rage. Balboa Park is a must-do, easily a full day of activities taking in stunning architecture, museums, flowering gardens, bike paths, shops, food kiosks, and free live outdoor performances at the Organ Pavilion on Sundays.
San Diego beaches offer diversity, from the youthful boardwalk on Mission Beach, watching the seals sunning themselves on the rocky shore in La Jolla, or catching the sun going down through the arch at the Sunset Cliffs. Hotel Del Coronado is one of San Diego’s iconic sights and expensive to stay, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beach or even the gorgeous views as you have a bite or cocktail in the oceanfront grill.
Take a scenic drive up to the Cabrillo Monument at the tip of Point Loma for panoramic views and whale spotting opportunities. Hike on one of the many trails in Torrey Pines State Park, or for a bit more of a challenge and adventure, try the hike to Potato Chip Rock beginning at the Lake Poway Recreational Center. A sliver of stone hovers 2,800 feet over the ridge near the summit of Mt. Woodson. If you’re brave enough to walk, crawl, or slide over to the end, you can congratulate yourself on capturing the best Instagram spot in the state!
2. Death Valley
Covering nearly 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the United States. There are so many incredibly diverse and outstanding photo spots in the park and one could easily spend a weekend driving, hiking, and exploring.
At more than 5,000 ft. above the valley floor, the vista at Dante’s View is considered to be the most stunning of the Death Valley attractions; Artist’s Palette is a 9-mile, one-way drive, dipping, curving and looping through ravines and pastel volcanic hills; it’s a short uphill walk and a bit windy to get to Zabriskie Point, but the sunset view is otherworldly as you look down on the vibrant labyrinth of badlands.
At 282 feet below sea level, the shimmering basin is the lowest point, not just in Death Valley, but in all of North America; and looking down from the rim of Ubehebe Crater, it’s hard to believe it was created just 2000 years ago by a loud volcanic steam explosion.
3. Big Sur
Located on the winding, narrow, Pacific Coast Highway, a drive along Big Sur is arguably the prettiest spot on the California coast. It’s difficult to avoid the temptation to peer down where the rugged coast is dashed by vibrant aquamarine Pacific Ocean waves. Luckily there are places to pull over. It’s pure bliss for your Instagram feed.
At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, take a short walk over to the spectacular viewpoint of McWay Falls cascading onto the beach. The park also has seven marked trails through redwood forests.
Secluded Pfeiffer Beach is known for its unique purple sand and striking rock formations, including the Pheiffer Keyhole Rock – a highly-photographed arch with waves crashing through, especially attractive at sunset.
Bixby Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, is one of the most photographed spots in central California due not only to the architecture but also the dramatic cliffside perch.
Craggy, misty, and mysterious, this small town coast emits a romantic New England vibe with its charming Victorian and Colonial B&B’s. Around three hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino is a great central location for exploring the lesser-known northern California coast. At nearby Russian Gulch State Park, a moderate walk reveals the 36-foot waterfall.
Notwithstanding the craggy coast in town, there are some unique beaches close by, such as Glass Beach, made up of thousands of pieces of colored sea glass that were once trashed pottery and broken glass.
You won’t want to miss a drive on the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California's 3rd largest state park, spanning over 53,000 acres. The magnificent, towering trees, up to 2,000 years old, are the largest old-growth contiguous redwood forest in the world. There’s a pull-off near the park where you can drive your car through one of the massive redwoods.
5. Los Angeles
The City of Angeles has a lot to offer and should not be missed. Wander along the iconic 15-block Hollywood Boulevard and see if you can find your favorite stars on the Walk of Fame. Grauman’s Chinese Theater displays more than 200 celebrity handprints, footprints, and autographs in the concrete. You can also take a drive up the hillside for a look at the Hollywood sign.
High above the city, the Getty Center museum admission is free. You’ll find impressive artifacts and antique furnishings, manicured gardens, and the view over the city from the terrace is spectacular.
No visit to L.A would be complete without seeking out some Vitamin Sea. Venice Beach, a.k.a. Muscle Beach, is eclectic, colorful and the place for people-watching if that’s your thing. Stretching for a mile and a half, the oceanfront boardwalk is bursting with street vendors, bodybuilders, snake-touting evangelists, roller-blades, and funky shops and cafes.
Santa Monica not only has a beach, but a festive pier with restaurants, rides, souvenir shops, street vendors, and the iconic Ferris wheel.
Looking for more things to do in L.A.? How about being part of the audience of a live taping of your favorite TV show? Who knows….it may lead to your own star on the Walk of Fame!
All content provided in this blog is supplied by Patti Morrow and is for informational purposes only. Barclays takes no position as to the views, and makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of Luggage and Lipstick – an award-winning travel blog for baby boomer adventurers. She was recently named by TripAdvisor as one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 35 publications, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, International Living Magazine, Travel Girl, JustLuxe, GoNomad, Epicure & Culture, Ladies Home Journal and more.
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