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10 Amazing but Cheap Things to Do in California – Exploring The Golden State on a Budget

Are you excited to add cheap things to do in California on your bucket list? There are lots of affordable and fun destinations at The Golden State, so you’ll surely find an activity that best suits your adventurous soul without breaking the bank!

Get ready to fill your bucket list with our top 10 picks for budget-friendly destinations in California! And a list of budget-friendly activities you can do on a California road trip!

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

Location: Lancaster

Want to experience the breathtaking beauty of California poppies? Then, head over to Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve during springtime to enjoy picturesque sceneries featuring these beloved flowers!

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is located at the remote hills of Lancaster, California. It spans more than 1,700 acres of poppy-filled hills and eight miles of breathtaking trails. Orange, yellow, and purple-colored poppies blanket the rolling hills during springtime. This could be as early as mid-February but it typically sets in during March and April, lasting until early May at the most.

The delightful poppies only show off their blooms in full glory granted good weather and wind condition. View the reserve’s online live stream or call their office to check bloom status before visiting. Midmorning is the best time to visit and see the poppies opening up their petals.

Always follow the trails and don’t trample on the flowers. Never pick the poppies as well – keep in mind that everything in the reserve is protected! Leave the place as nice as it is when you arrived. Lastly, be alert for Mojave green rattlesnakes that may be roaming around the wildflower fields on warm daytime hours and hot evenings.

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is open from sunrise to sunset throughout the entire year. Entrance fees are per vehicle – $10 per car, $9 per vehicle with a visitor 62 years and up on-board, and $5 per vehicle with a DPR Disabled Discount Card.

Muir Woods National Monument

Location: San Francisco

Muir Woods National Monument is among the budget-friendly destinations and cheap things to do in California. The stunning Muir Woods is located in the northern region of San Francisco.

This national monument is a must-visit for nature lovers and tree enthusiasts! Muir Woods protects the last old-growth redwoods in the entire Bay Area.

Upon entering the park, you’ll be immediately greeted by the popular redwoods towering all around you! There are raised boardwalks built to prevent damage to the root structures of the redwoods. Walk on these boardwalks as you marvel at the giant towering redwood trees and the interesting plants along the trail.

Muir Woods contains 6 miles of hiking trails filled with towering trees, lush vegetation, and amazing wildlife. You’ll also pass through the sparkling waters of Redwood Creek. Longer hikes that extend to the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park are also available.

You can also embark on one-hour guided walk tours and 15-minute talks from rangers and park volunteers. Learn more about the park, its cultural history, and the redwoods’ ecology during these programs.

Other amenities inside the park include a gift shop, bookstore, a cafe, restrooms, and parking spaces. Entrance to the Muir Woods cost $15 for visitors 16 years old and up. Reservations are required for shuttles and vehicles.

Big Sur Region

Location: in between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon

If you’re looking for California’s most spectacular sights, go for a drive to The Big Sur! This picturesque area features a lovely and dramatic coastline stretch spanning the waterfronts between San Simeon and the Carmel-by-the-Sea highlands.

Big Sur is touted as the most scenic and longest undeveloped coastline in the United States. The region offers you picturesque vistas of the Santa Lucia Mountains facing the Pacific Ocean. It’s the breathtaking meeting place of the sky, sea, and bluffs!

Come to The Big Sur and pullover at several scenic spots such as the renowned and charming Bixby Bridge. Stop for a while and take in the lovely views of the bridge, sky, and rugged mountains!

After that, head on to more activities and destinations in Big Sur! Here are some suggestions:

  • Camp at the State Parks or on private campgrounds in the region.
  • Go nature tripping by following trails on the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
  • Enjoy a relaxing day tour at Pfeiffer Beach.
  • Visit New Camaldoli Hermitage and/or Esalen Institute for some peaceful contemplation.

All these are cheap things to do in California Big Sur area and are guaranteed to make you appreciate the beauty of this region up close!

The Broad Museum

Location: Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

Appreciate the arts even on a budget by heading over to The Broad Museum in Los Angeles! This is an interesting art museum that features contemporary, post-war, and immersive artworks from the 1950s to the present time. The museum’s architecture instantly evokes feelings of modernism with its sleek honeycomb-like structure.

Feast your eyes on more than 2,000 art pieces created by 200 talented artists and displayed on two floors of gallery space! Notable contemporary artists whose works are displayed at The Broad include Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Mark Bradford, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, and Takashi Murakami, to name a few. A growing number of young artists also have their pieces displayed at The Broad.

Exhibitions are regularly rotated to ensure that visitors always see something new. This is especially true for repeat visitors! Special exhibitions also grace the museum every now and then and may charge you first before you’re allowed to view them.

The best part of going to The Broad Museum is that admission is absolutely free! It’s truly among the cheap things to do in California! You can book free tickets on their website. Visitors are highly encouraged to book advanced tickets online to avoid long wait lines to the onsite ticketing service.

The Broad Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays at varying hours starting at 10 am/11 am. It’s closed during Mondays, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving Day.

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Location: San Francisco

Be amazed by a large collection of rare plants and flowers at the San Francisco Botanical Garden! The 55-acre garden features more than 8,000 kinds of plants coming from various areas across the globe.

The entire botanical garden is divided into smaller themed gardens. For instance, the Moon Viewing Garden showcases a breathtaking Japanese stone pagoda, lush greeneries, and lovely Asian blooms. Another mini-garden worth visiting is the Garden of Fragrance with its array of aromatic plants like lemongrass, rosemary, lavender, and mints.

Many people rent spots inside the garden for private celebrations such as weddings. However, public events in the garden take place as well! Plant sales, Flower Piano, and the annual Garden Feast commence inside the gardens and are free for everyone to enjoy!

Visiting San Francisco Botanical Garden is among the wonderful yet cheap things to do in California! Ticket rates are as follows:

  • Adults – $9
  • Youth 12-17 years and seniors 65 years old and up – $7
  • Kids aged 5-11 years old – $3
  • Families of 2 adults and all kids under 17 living in one household – $20
  • The adult rate for weekends – $12

Found the gardens worthy of multiple visits? Consider being a member or a recurring donor for as low as $10 per month. You can enter the park free of charge at any time of the year with a membership!

Yosemite National Park

Location: Sierra Nevada Mountains

You can’t have a thrilling time in California without visiting the famous Yosemite National Park! It’s popular for the scenic Tunnel View, ancient sequoia trees, breathtaking waterfalls, and the lovely cliffs of Half Dome and El Capitan.

Yosemite National Park embodies the tranquility of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You’ll surely be spellbound by the silent yet majestic beauty of nature that unfolds itself in this National Park!

Hiking and camping are the best ways to savor the magnificent natural beauty of Yosemite National Park. You can go for a day hike on different trails, examples of which include:

  • Lower Yosemite Fall Trail – Easy
  • Valley Loop Trail – Moderate
  • Yosemite Falls Trail – Strenuous
  • Half Dome Trail – Strenuous

You may also camp at any of the numerous campgrounds such as Upper/Lower/North Pines, Camp 4, Wawona, Tuolumne Meadows, and Tamarack.

Apart from that, Yosemite Valley offers lots of places to sight-see amazing plants, flowers, rock formations, mountains, and wildlife. Top destinations include The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Hetch Hetchy Valley, Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Crane Flat Area, and more!

Admission costs for Yosemite National Park start at $15 for individuals on foot, bus, or horseback. The pass is already good for seven days. Motorcycles pay $15 while automobiles are charged $35.

Griffith Park

Location: Los Feliz, Los Angeles

Griffith Park is the place to be for experiencing a mix of both urban and countryside adventures! The park lies at the Santa Monica Mountains’ eastern end, spanning 4,511 acres of a rough and hilly wilderness area.

There’s a plethora of attractions and activities you can do at Griffith park! Some of the must-try activities include:

  • Hiking at any of the trails – the park offers 50 miles of trails for the adventurous spirit!
  • Hiking to the top of the world-famous Mount Hollywood, Griffith Park’s highest point at 1,625 feet
  • Mountain biking on unpaved roads at Sunset Ranch

Little kids can also have their fair share of fun at Griffith Park! Let them see and ride the trains at Travel Town, Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, and Griffith Park & Southern Railroad. Explore plenty of animals at the Los Angeles Zoo thereafter. Admire the natural beauty around you as you venture with your kids in these places!

Done with the nature-tripping side of Griffith Park? Head over to the Autry Museum of the American West for some western art appreciation. You may also visit the open-air Greek Theatre!

Admission to the park is free, but note that some attractions within the park may impose their entrance charges. Nevertheless, Griffith Park remains as one of the cheap things to do in California!

Griffith Observatory

Location: Los Angeles

Griffth Observatory is part of the Griffith Park, but it deems a special spot in our list of budget-friendly things to do in California. Star lovers and astronomy buffs will love this observatory for its public telescopes and star watch parties – all freely accessible when the skies are clear!

Apart from stargazing, there are more activities to be done inside the observatory including the following:

  • Enjoy planetarium shows at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium (with a minimal fee)
  • Visit galleries of astronomy exhibits such as the Gunther Depths of Space exhibit
  • Attend a free program at the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon

Before you leave, refresh yourself with some food and drinks from the observatory’s cafe. Finally, pick up a souvenir or two at the Gift Shop!

Griffith Observatory is open six days a week and closed on Mondays. It’s free to enter the park, but Samuel Oschin Planetarium Shows charge $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $3 for kids 5012 years old to see the performances.

Golden Gate Bridge

Location: San Francisco

Visit the most iconic landmark of California – The Golden Gate Bridge! The entire suspension bridge connects San Francisco’s Presidio to the Marin headlands and runs for 1.7 miles.

You can directly walk on the orange bridge’s sidewalks during daylight hours, savoring in the busyness of the bridge and the scenic views of the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Wheelchairs and bicycles are allowed, but skateboards, rollerblades, and roller skates are prohibited. There are vista points along the bridge’s length – be sure to stop by these points for the most breathtaking scenic views you’ll ever see!

Lombard Street

Location: San Francisco

Lombard Street’s uniqueness is enough to pique your interest and pay a visit! This is the “crookedest street in the world” with eight hairpin turns on a steep one-block section. Try driving through the street or come for a walk on the street sides! Bright flowers and lush greens add to the whimsical charm of this iconic one-way street.

Finding the Right Rental Property Near Cheap Things to Do in California

A great trip to California won’t be complete without a comfortable haven in the form of a vacation rental home. So, head over to Rental Trader to search, negotiate, reserve, and book the right rental property near your Californian destinations!

On the flip side, property owners may sign up for Rental Trader’s free property listings. This will help them grow their potential client base and be booked by several visitors right away.

Want more information? Head over to our Contact Us page and fill up their web form.

There you have it, 10 amazing but cheap things to do in California. Go on and explore The Golden State in all its glory while keeping your wallet happy!

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