Nothing’s worse than feeling like you have to post up indoors until your next paycheck hits. While California is known for being one of the most expensive states in America, there are so many ways to have fun without breaking the bank. You’ve just got to get creative. We’ve got the best boredom cure. This list covers the coolest places to explore California on a budget, starting from Norcal all the way to San Diego.
Price: Free to explore
Location: 1004 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, California
Why You Should Go: As one of the world’s largest outdoor saltwater swimming pool ruins, the Sutro Baths are hauntingly beautiful. They’re free to explore and you can take plenty of pics.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Location: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Why You Should Go: If you're already in San Francisco, why not walk the Golden Gate Bridge? This 3.4-mile roundtrip walk offers some of the most stunning views of San Francisco and the Bay. Walking the bridge’s footpath is completely free.
Location: Kirby Cove, San Francisco, Calfornia
Why You Should Go: This tucked away park is where the forest meets the sea. You’ll have jaw-dropping views of the Golden Gate Bridge right near the base. Did we mention there’s a tree swing?
Sausalito Garden Studio
Price: $125 per night for up to 4 guests - that's only $31.25 per person.
Location: Sausalito, California
Why You Should Go: You can get the entire garden studio to yourself! This charming Airbnb home is located right next to the most charming, waterfront neighborhood outside of San Francisco.
Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks
Price: $35 per private vehicle and is valid for 7 days
Location: Sequoia National Park, California and Kings Canyon National Park, California
Why You Should Go: You can walk among giant, old-growth Sequoia trees and experience one of the most beautiful natural environments in California. Some of the trees are 279 feet tall!
Wild Willy's Hot Springs
Location: Mammoth Lakes, California (See full directions here)
Why You Should Go: You can soak in soothing mineral hot springs while you're surrounded by snow-capped mountains. They're shaped like a heart! These hot springs are clothing-optional, so you can opt to wear a suit or leave it behind.
Location: Alabama Hills, California
Why You Should Go: The beautiful natural rock formations look otherworldly! You can spend the day climbing, exploring trails, and looking for fun photo ops. There have been numerous Hollywood movies filmed here! P.S. Movie Road is the best spot to take a jaw-dropping photo.
Gaviota Hot Springs
Price: $2 for parking
Location: Gaviota Park Boundary, Goleta, California
Hours: 8 am to sunset; 7 days a week
Why You Should Go: You can soak in relaxing turquoise blue hot springs that feels like a jungle oasis.
Location: Beal Rd, Calipatria, California
Hours: Sunday - Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Why You Should Go: You can walk along a giant colorful man-made mountain and explore artist’s caves!
Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel
Price: $10 for day-pass access to eight hot, natural mineral pools
Location: 10805 Palm Dr, Desert Hot Springs, California
Why You Should Go: You can relax in beautiful, natural hot springs in a lovely hotel. The day-pass also gets you access to the sauna and shower-room changing facilities. Poolside dining is available too.
Location: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, California
Why You Should Go: SoCal's gateway to the cosmos lets you look through telescopes at the starry sky, explore exhibits, and enjoy spectacular views of the Los Angeles Skyline and Hollywood sign - all for free!
Price: Free admission
Location: 221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, California
Why You Should Go: This contemporary LA art museum is home to some of the most incredible pieces in the world. Think Yayoi Kusama's infinity room and Sam Francis paintings.
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
Price: Ticket prices start at $35 per person
Location: Various southern California cities
Why You Should Go: You can take a coastal train to see some of the SoCal views. Plus, you beat traffic. It's a win-win.
Calico Ghost Town
Price: $8 entrance fee
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm daily
Location: Calico, California
Why You Need To Go: You can explore an authentic silver mining town from the 1880s. Guests can take tours, pan for gold, ride a train, and even go ghost hunting.
Gold Rush Cabin
Price per night: $119 per night for up to 4 people - that’s only $29.75/person
Location: Big Bear, California
Why You Should Go: This beautiful cabin is located 7,000 feet above the pines in the scenic woods of Big Bear. The cabin has been preserved from the Gold Rush era, so everything is from the late 1800s.
Editor's Note: Make sure to respect the hours of Salvation Mountain as noted in this article and the privacy of the locals. It is important to stay on the designated yellow pathway while walking on the art piece. Since Salvation Mountain, East Jesus, and Slab City are technically outside of local California law jurisdiction, use caution and your best judgment when exploring the area.
We strongly advise that before you go swimming or visit any location, you check the most recent updates on potential hazards, security, water quality, and closures. If you do plan to visit a location, respect the environment.