How to Plan a Budget-Friendly West Coast Road Trip

by  Tyra Sutak | May 30, 2017
Super bloom in California
Super bloom in California / Andrei Stanescu/iStock

With an epic super bloom currently painting the hillsides and roadsides of the coast of California, and the official first day of summer just around the corner, it’s time to channel your inner Jack Kerouac and start planning that road trip up the West Coast. But tackling the nearly 900 miles of road between SoCal and Northern California can be daunting, and expensive. Don’t be deterred. Check out our budget-friendly tips for road tripping up the West Coast and hit the road this summer.

Bring Friends!

Having company on any road trip is important for so many reasons. For starters, it allows you to split the driving duties so that you can take turns gazing at the gorgeous scenery. But it’s not just the hours behind the wheel you’ll split, it’s the overall cost of the trip, too. Gas, lodging, food—dividing the standard travel costs between two (or more) people will leave more money in your wallet for impromptu stops at roadside fruit stands and to splurge on coastal-inspired jewelry or locally-made art you find along the way.


Lodging, especially along the coast, can be expensive. But you can still wake up oceanside and stick to your budget by booking a night or two at one of the many campsites along the way. When in Southern California, check out Point Mugu State Park ($45 per night) or San Elijo State Beach ($50 per night). Cruising through Northern California? Spend a night at Sonoma Coast State Beach for $35 per night and still have money left to explore the nearby vineyards. Northern California is also home to the majestic Redwoods, and there's plenty of camping underneath the massive trunks of these beautiful trees. Find stunning views and beach camping at Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park for $35 per night. Whether they’re paid or free (check out, campsites in California book up quickly, and can only be reserved online two days in advance. So break out the map and start planning.

Plan Ahead

Sure, the open road is all about spontaneity, but adding some pre-planning to trip your trip will save you money on so many levels. For starters, checking the local weather before you head out will eliminate trips to the store to buy warm clothing along the way. Although California’s coast is renown for it’s sunshine and warm weather, the nights can be cold, and get colder the farther north you travel. Gear up appropriately from the beginning and avoid costly necessary purchases along the way. The popularity of vacationing in coastal towns means lodging and campsites book up far in advance. Plan out a rough itinerary of your trip, and pin down places to stay for a night. You’ll save money in the long run by avoiding a hotel stay when a campsite is booked. And do your research: There are so many museums, delicious seafood restaurants, wineries, and entertainment along the way. Make solid plans for the destinations you don’t want to miss.

Take Advantage of Local Tourism Websites

Not only will you discover fun activities and cool places to visit during your travels, but many city tourism websites also include discounted lodging offers and other travels deals. Search the websites of local tourism organizations online, or pick up the phone and call the information line to speak with a local.

Eat Local

California is one of the top producers in the country of fruits, vegetables and nuts—and the coast is an excellent place to find fresh seafood. As you venture up the coast, be sure to stop at roadside fruit stands, farmers markets, and fisherman’s wharfs along the way. You’ll find cheap, fresh eats that are filling, delicious, and friendly on the wallet and the body.

The beauty of road trips is discovering hidden gems and finding new towns to explore. To truly have the ultimate West Coast road trip, opt to travel along California’s historic Highway 1, where you’ll pass through adorable cities like Carlsbad, Ventura, Monterey (where you can gorge yourself on free clam chowder samples at the Fisherman’s Wharf!), Big Sur, and Crescent City—where you’re most likely to find one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ve ever seen.

Find The Best Cruises
Find a cruise

Find the best deals!

Click on multiple sites to get the lowest prices

Click on multiple sites to get the lowest prices