TimingOne of the best ways to enjoy a getaway for less is to go off-season. We aren't suggesting that you visit Palm Springs in July when temperatures soar over 100 degrees in the shade, but if you time your travel, you can save a bundle. Rates might plummet at your dream destination when the calendar turns a page from April to May, but in reality, the weather won't be much different on April 29 than on May 2. Because lodging is the biggest part of most budgets, check hotel websites to find out what the "season" is in the area you want to visit and time your trip to arrive just before it starts or just after it ends.
- Stay one night: Instead of leaving on Friday night, avoid end-of-week rush hour traffic, get up early the next day and save one night's lodging costs. This may be harder to do in popular areas, where many properties require a two-night minimum stay, but even those places occasionally come up with just one night open, so it's worth a try. If your travel days are flexible, you can also try staying on a Sunday night.
- Try a no-frills camping cabin: Many campground chains are building small, no-frills cabins these days, such as KOA's Kamping Kabins and Kottages. All you have to bring is your bedding. A one-room Kabin in San Diego will run almost half the cost of a hotel room.
- Try a tent: Don't dismiss this idea, even if pitching a tent and sleeping on the ground isn't your idea of fun. Many locations offer upscale camping experiences, such as Evergreen Lodge just outside of Yosemite, where all you have to do is show up.
- Buy smart: You don't have to stay in a shabby hotel to save money, but you do have to know how to find a bargain. Use Hotels.com
for finding a good place to stay for a good price, and you'll sleep in nice place for the same price as you would have paid for the "roach motel" down the road.
- Stay in a business area: This works especially well in cities. For example, the Hilton Garden Inn in El Segundo, just south of LAX is a mile from the beach and right beside a Metro train station. It fills with businessmen during the week and lowers rates by 40% or more on weekends.you can find these at Hotels.com
- Avoid "tourist" areas: Restaurants in areas where many tourists go tend to be expensive and their service may be poor to boot. Instead, go where the locals go. Ask shopkeepers, policemen and anyone else you meet where they like to eat. Alternatively, look for the place with the most cars parked around it.
- Share a meal: If you're away from home, leftovers may go to waste because you can't refrigerate them. Split a meal if portions are large or you aren't very hungry.
- Big breakfast: This tip will not only help you save money, but it will give you more time for sightseeing, too. Have a big breakfast, skip lunch and have an early dinner.
- Picnic: Especially if you're in a pretty place, pick up picnic foods from a local grocery store or deli and head for a park or vista point.
- Farmers Markets: Many California cities and towns have regular farmers markets. They're a great place to pick up a light lunch, get goodies for your picnic or fruit to eat in your room for breakfast.
- Go for lunch: If you want to enjoy a meal at a more expensive restaurant, go at lunchtime when prices are often lower.
- Look for specials: In San Francisco, many of the city's nicest restaurants participate in the annual Dine About Town promotion, offering fixed-price meals at much lower prices than you'd get off their menus.
Day TripsIf your free time is too limited for weekend getaways, try a day trip instead. Day trips are less than 2 hours away, places you can go to and get back from in one day, but many of them are also fun California weekend getaways.
- Day Trips Out of Town
- Drive South on the Coast Highway: Follow the directions going south for a drive down Highway One from San Francisco to Monterey and Carmel (or further).
- 17-Mile Drive: If you want to visit Pebble Beach or have lunch at Roy's in Spanish Bay, it's worth the admission. Or try our admission-free alternative if you're just looking for pretty views.
- Big Sur: California Hwy 1 from Carmel south is one of the state's most beautiful drives. Add a stop to tour the Point Sur Light Station and it makes a nice day out.
- San Francisco to Santa Cruz on Hwy 1: This often-overlooked section of Hwy 1 is just as pretty as Big Sur, less crowded and a lot closer to the city.
- Sir Francis Drake Blvd: Follow US 101 north out of San Francisco, then go west in San Rafael toward Olema and the drive is almost as pretty as your destination on the coast. Return via Hwy 1.
- Valley of the Oaks: Head south to King City on US 101 then go west into one of the least-changed landscapes in central California.