The 10 Best Budget-friendly Things to do in California, United States

December 3, 2021 Venice Greaves

California is a fertile, peaceful place where you’ll find a near-equal balance of vineyards and deserts, beaches and mountains, hippies and traditionalists. Catch an epic wave in Big Sur or swirl a glass in Napa Valley. Be dazzled by the Joshua Tree night sky or just star-gaze in Hollywood. Swish down the slopes of a Tahoe ski resort, or cruise across the Golden Gate Bridge with the top down and the music blasting. Above all, don’t forget to soak up some Golden State sunshine.

1. Point Lobos

62 Ca-1, Carmel, CA 93923
Excellent
89%
Good
9%
Satisfactory
1%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 4,751 reviews

Point Lobos

Watch whales in winter and sea lions all year round at this Bay Area nature reserve, which offers hiking, walking, bird watching, scuba diving and magnificent views.

Reviewed By travelerfromsj - San Jose, United States

This park is called the crown jewel of California’s State Park System, and rightly so. It’s one of the most beautiful places in California, equivalent IMHO to the National Parks, Lake Tahoe and Big Sur. Moreover, it’s small enough to see in a half day visit, and very visitor friendly to boot, with easy and well-groomed trails (many accessible) and restrooms scattered throughout the park. We went on a sunny weekday in December, parked at Whalers Cove, and hiked the coast trail counterclockwise around the peninsula to the southern tip of the park at Bird Island, taking every offshoot trail and climbing Whalers Knoll. We then walked straight back to our car. This was about a 5.7 mile loop, with 700 feet of elevation change. In general the trail is easy, packed dirt and sand, plus occasional stairs and some rocks to climb at the overlooks. The only real climb is at Whalers Knoll, which goes up about 180 ft., but you can bypass this via North Shore Trail. Highlights on the walk were the beautiful twisty trees on Cypress Grove Trail and the bird-covered Bird Island. The walk out to Sea Lion Point was closed, possibly because of high surf. No whale sightings, but we did see harbor seals lying out on one of the beaches near Bird Island. Some quick tips if you decide to visit: 1. If you’re a local, check the weather and wait for a sunny weekday to visit, preferably in the off season. If you do, the park will be fairly empty and parking is easy, except possibly near Sea Lion Point. A docent told us that on a sunny day in the summer, parking is full by 9 am, and the park is then closed to cars. 2. Entry is $10, $9 for seniors, plus $2 for the trail map (well worth it). You can get in for free by parking along Highway 1 and walking in. 3. Bring a picnic lunch. There are 3 picnic areas, 5 flush restrooms, and many drinking fountains, but no food for sale. 4. Bring binoculars for a close up look at the birds and marine mammals. 5. Bring a face mask or buff that you can pop on quickly when passing hikers on the trail. Mask usage here was very good. If you’re sick and tired of being stuck at home, visit Point Lobos; it’s the perfect antidote.

2. California State Railroad Museum

125 I St, Sacramento, CA 95814-2204 +1 916-323-9280 [email protected] http://www.californiarailroad.museum
Excellent
80%
Good
18%
Satisfactory
2%
Poor
0%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 2,760 reviews

California State Railroad Museum

Come along for the ride. Stand in the shadow of a 150-year-old, 40-ton monument to innovation, engineering and history. Take a ride along the rails that played a key role in the development of the Golden State. See the history of the California railways come to life in engaging exhibits. A visit to the California State Railroad Museum is a not-to-be-missed experience for persons of all ages.

Reviewed By KLE2013 - Centreville, United States

The Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento offers an outstanding experience with a film, guided tours and fascinating restored train cars and locomotive engines. There are docents in most of the exhibited cars that happily share the history of the car- the dining car and the mail car were particularly interesting. The history of the Transcontinental Railroad and its construction is vividly recalled in a series of displays. Exhibits provide information to engage both children and adults. We visited with friends and their children aged 5 and 12 and both children found areas of interest from the model trains to the hands on electronics experiments. Admission for adults is $12 and your ticket allows multiple reentry for that same day. The museum is open from 10-5 daily and you could easily spend several hours exploring the three story museum.

3. Glacier Point

Yosemite Lodge Resort origin, Yosemite National Park, CA +1 888-413-8869 http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/glacierpoint.htm
Excellent
90%
Good
8%
Satisfactory
1%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 4,561 reviews

Glacier Point

This rustic geological formation is most famous for the magnificent sunsets that can be viewed from its top.

Reviewed By W6633PYpauls - Costa Mesa, United States

It's been probably 20 years since I was last at Glacier Point and it's as amazing as I remember it. I was last here "pre-kids" with my wife when we were first married and finally got around to bringing the boys to see Yosemite National and, of course, Glacier Point. This is a well reviewed attraction so, instead, here's some logistical items that might make the visit more enjoyable: 1. Depending upon where you're coming from, this will be a long drive - check your GPS and plan accordingly. 2. Services are minimal. Get gas for your car before you start. Bring snacks and drinks. I would turn this into a picnic location. 3. Take your time and make the journey part of the adventure. Yosemite has much to see and don't race around from point to point. Stop along the way and enjoy this trip. FWIW, I would use this as your first stop and then work your way through other stops on your way back to your base camp. 4. Camera/Phone is a MUST. Definitely take panoramic photos. The view here is awesome.

4. Pacific Coast Highway

147161, CA +1 650-879-2120 http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/byways/2301
Excellent
85%
Good
12%
Satisfactory
2%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 1,643 reviews

Pacific Coast Highway

Running along the northern California coast, this highway has some of the best views of any in the United States.

Reviewed By WaitForIttttt - Hazlet, United States

My husband and I drove the Pacific Coast Highway while making our way down the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego. This was the most beautiful drive we have ever taken. The views of the coast and the Pacific are absolutely stunning. There are tons of vistas and beaches to stop at, and sometimes even the road itself is a sight to see. There was also so much to see along the way! We stopped at: * Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park * Shelter Cove * Glass Beach * Bowling Ball Beach * San Francisco * Point Arena Lighthouse * Davenport Pier * Monterey * 17- Mile Drive * Bixby Bridge * Big Sur * Santa Barbara I'd recommend trying to take in all of them because we enjoyed every single place we visited. Also, make sure to check for closures. We were fortunate in that the entire stretch was open when we visited. There were some minor areas of construction where we had to wait a bit before passing, but it wasn't a long wait. I think everyone should experience this beautiful highway and every breathtaking mile it has to offer!

5. The Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Dr N Sepulveda Blvd & Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1657 +1 310-440-7300 [email protected] http://www.getty.edu/visit/center
Excellent
82%
Good
15%
Satisfactory
2%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 14,503 reviews

The Getty Center

Spectacular museum boasts a most impressive collection by such luminaries as Van Gogh, Monet and Cezanne, along with the architectural triumph of its six buildings and gardens.

Reviewed By msmyka - Boca Raton, United States

This is an excellent museum that is easily conquered you can see a great variety self touring in 2 hrs or spend the whole day if you like - great art, views, sculptures and Louis XIV collection you feel transported to Versailles! Must do!!!!!!

6. Emerald Bay State Park

Hwy 89 at Emerald Bay The park is located 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, CA 96145 +1 530-541-3030 http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=506
Excellent
83%
Good
14%
Satisfactory
2%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 883 reviews

Emerald Bay State Park

This spectacular bay in Lake Tahoe is best approached by hiking trails.

Reviewed By Alacrout - Los Angeles, United States

You really can’t go wrong with any part of Lake Tahoe, as the whole thing is surrounded by stunning mountain views. The views can get a little hazy during bad fire seasons, but still a beautiful area. Hard to pick a definitive “best” part of the Lake, but Emerald Bay is certainly up there as one of the best parts. The color of the water lives up to the name of “Emerald.” In the middle of the Bay, there’s a cute little island that is the ONLY island in Lake Tahoe. You can kayak, canoe, or boat to the island (NOT swim) and see the ruins of “Tea House,” where a quirky captain lived in the 1800s. Inspiration Point is a necessary stop on your way through the park—it gives you one of the best views of the entire Bay. Be sure to check out Vikingsholm too! :)

7. USS Midway Museum

910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101-5811 +1 619-544-9600 [email protected] http://www.midway.org
Excellent
78%
Good
19%
Satisfactory
2%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 24,873 reviews

USS Midway Museum

Located in downtown San Diego, the USS Midway (Museum) was America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. Today, the interactive museum is an unforgettable adventure for the entire family as guests walk in the footsteps of the 225,000 young men who served on Midway. Visitors explore a floating city at sea, the amazing flight deck and its 29 restored aircraft, flight simulators, and are inspired in the Battle of Midway Theater, included with admission. Admission also includes a self-guided audio tour narrated by Midway sailors in English, Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese, French and German. Visiting Midway is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in San Diego, known around the world as "Navy Town, USA."

Reviewed By NewfiePupLover - Des Moines, United States

We visited the USS Midway on our way to the airport when heading out of San Diego from our Spring Break trip, and I'm glad that we did. Our young kids (8, 8 & 6) enjoyed the airplanes on display and walking through the various decks of the ships, including the internal warfare room, map rooms, etc. The individual audio tour packs (like an iPod) were excellent and allowed each person to listen and learn about all aspects of the ship, the aircraft, personal stories from soldiers who worked on the ship, war stories, etc. There is a great gift shop on the ship, and there is also food available as well as water & soda machines placed throughout the ship. I would highly recommend this site for anyone interested in history, but really for just about anyone of any age. It was a great experience. We were on the ship for about 2 hours, although if you had the time you could spend an entire day looking around and interacting with all of the staff/volunteers and exhibits.

8. Norton Simon Museum

411 W Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105-1825 +1 626-449-6840 [email protected] http://www.nortonsimon.org
Excellent
83%
Good
15%
Satisfactory
1%
Poor
0%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 1,239 reviews

Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Over a 30-year period, industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century and a stellar collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Modern and Contemporary Art from Europe and the United States, acquired by the former Pasadena Art Museum, also occupies an important place in the Museum’s collections.

Reviewed By JEDeboni - Santo Andre, Brazil

I a pleasant location this museum offers a great collection, with a special attention to the Rembrandts and the garden of sculptures. A must see.

9. Heisler Park

375 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651-1623 +1 949-497-3311 http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/pw/parks.asp
Excellent
84%
Good
15%
Satisfactory
1%
Poor
0%
Terrible
0%
Overall Ratings

5.0 based on 1,297 reviews

Heisler Park

Reviewed By RalphR193 - Farmington, United States

Long walking path well above sea level with great ocean views, great landscaping, e. g. flowers, palm trees, etc. Public rest room building and plenty of close by parking. Charcoal grill and picnic area for public use. Not much seating along the way. Very enjoyable.

10. Alcatraz Island

Pier 33, San Francisco, CA 94123 +1 415-981-7625 http://www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm
Excellent
75%
Good
20%
Satisfactory
3%
Poor
1%
Terrible
1%
Overall Ratings

4.5 based on 55,332 reviews

Alcatraz Island

Park rangers conduct tours by recounting the prison's thrilling history along with intriguing anecdotes about Al Capone and other legendary figures that made a "home" here.

Reviewed By Piggin01

I did the night tour it was amazing and very interesting love that former inmates and staff did the audio recording for the tour which is easy to follow and very informative would highly recommend and would do again

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