a budget travellers guide to california


Hollywood, San Francisco, Venice Beach, San Diego and a whole lot more of fun is waiting for you in California. The left coast has long been known as the best coast for its beaches, weather and laid back attitude.

Want to catch some waves in Santa Cruz? No problem. Want to cut up a bowl in Hermosa Beach? You can do that. Want to relax and let the Pacific Ocean's waves wash over you? That is definitely in the cards.

California offers budget travellers so much to see and do. There is history all over the state. One day you may be enjoying a tour of Alcatraz before setting off for Southern California to get a glimpse of the Walk of Fame. Finish things off with some delicious fish tacos in San Diego before laying on the beach underneath the stars. The Golden State is just that, and it provides an unforgettable holiday to any budget traveller.


Colourful and diverse, the culture of California has been influenced by a wide range of peoples over the centuries. The state has Spanish and Mexican ties that go back to before the United States took control of California. The state became part of the US after the Mexican-American War and the country completed its expansion westward.

As time moved on, more immigrants from abroad found their way to California. These peoples came from Asia, and with them, brought a way of life very different than the groups already living in California.

The California Gold Rush attracted people from all over the US to descend on the state in 1848. By 1855 it was over, but thousands of the prospectors and others that had arrived with them stayed and set up lives. When the great depression arrived more people went to California as they looked for a new start after losing everything in the midwest.

Due to all of these peoples and ethnic groups settling in California, the state create a culture of its own. California still attracts people today, whether it is just to visit or to live, there is still something quite alluring about the people and cities of the 31st state admitted to the US.

Places to visit

Los Angeles

Start your California holiday in Los Angeles when you step out of LAX. You can practically touch fame and fortune when you do; and everyone wants to be a star. From the girl serving your espresso at Starbucks to the bag boy at the grocery store, LA is for dreamers. The City of Angels is a great place for any sports fan no matter what you are in to. Soccer, American football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey... you name it, there is plenty of sports to go around. The diverse city is also home to Hollywood. You can't miss the opportunity to get a picture of the iconic sign and check out all of the cool stars on the Walk of Fame.

San Francisco

LA is bright lights and fame walks down every street – or at least most of them. But San Francisco is completely different. If LA is about movie stars, then San Francisco is about hippies and free love. The city boasts green living and is far more forward thinking in terms of the environment than its southern counterpart. At least that is the vibe it gives off. The city is extremely hilly, perfect for cycling or urban hiking. But just outside of the city are hiking and biking trails that take you into the countryside. One minute you are in the city and the next well away from it. Head over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge for some of the best views of the city. Once you have done that catch the ferry over to Alcatraz. The Rock is one of the most famous prisons in the world and lucky for you, they won't lock you up.

San Diego

Situated near the Mexican border, San Diego is often called one of the most beautiful cities in America. While LA and San Francisco is often the hub of tourists, only those in the know make it down to San Diego. Yet, the city is far less congested than LA and not as stuck up as San Francisco may seem. San Diego Zoo is one of the city's most well-known venues. The Gaslamp Quarter is located in downtown San Diego and the area has had its Victorian buildings restored to appear just as they did in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Gaslamp Quarter covers over 20 blocks and is a great area to roam around when in the city.

Don't miss out on these cool towns


Located in central California, Fresno is the home of the university of the same name. The Tower District is one of the coolest places to party in the city.


The state capital, Sacramento is centrally located. It has far less hustle and bustle than the rest of California, but offers a relaxing environment that is close to the beautiful natural surroundings of Northern California.


Nothing is more California than the delicious fast food restaurant that is In-N-Out Burger. The fast food chain originated in California and today it is only found in a few west coast states. There is just something about the burgers, fries and drinks that no other fast food restaurant can do in the world. If you have the chance, don't miss out on this California staple.

Just as you shouldn't miss out on In-N-Out Burger, don’t skip out on the chance to eat some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico. Thanks to the Mexican immigrants that made California their home, there has been a long tradition of great Mexican food available in the state. Food trucks, tiny taco stands or proper restaurants all serve delicious Mexican dishes.

What to see?

Alcatraz reopened as a tourist attraction in 1973, but before that it was the home to some of the most infamous criminals in US history. As it grew older, the prison's upkeep became more costly, so prisoners serving simple sentences for crimes like armed robbery were shipped off to The Rock to do their time. You can tour the cells and premises while you are visiting.

While in NorCal you will see cable cars whizzing by as you walk the streets. San Francisco's cable cars are nearly as famous as its other sites. Don't miss the chance to ride around the city on one. After jumping off the cable car, head over to the Golden Gate Bridge. Walk, bike or drive across the bridge to get into the rural parts of the area. Golden Gate Park is on the other side of the bridge, so don't miss the chance to explore the gigantic park. Just remember your walking shoes.

Staying in Northern California you will find Yosemite National Park. Packed with mountains, valleys, rivers and waterfalls, you will fall in love with the beautiful natural scenery in the park. Further south is Death Valley, an area that is as intimidating as it is unlivable. Death Valley National Park offers visitors a unique experience within the desert. There are trails to hike as you explore the arid land. Just remember to bring some water.

Get back to the coastline when you head to Big Sur National Park. Perfect for camping, Big Sur is a picturesque spot that offers plenty of natural scenery for visitors. Many visitors go for the beach and take in the great surf and sun.


What do you want to do? That is the question to ask yourself in California. There is a venue to do practically anything once the sun goes down. Nightclubs, rock clubs or simple bars to grab a beer are all over the larger cities like LA, San Diego and San Francisco.

If you find yourself in Napa Valley, California wine country, you can experience a number of great local wineries and restaurants. During the day take a tour of the wine making area before indulging in reds and white at night.

California has led the charge in the US microbrewery and craft beer revolution. Companies offer great tastings in the evenings and you can find bars that serve unique beers.

Back in LA, Sunset Strip is one of the most famous places to go after dark. Dance the night away in one of the clubs that dots the street. You may even spot a celebrity hanging out in the venue.

If nightclubs and bars aren't your thing, remember you are in California and it has plenty of other entertainment options. Comedy clubs, sports teams and theatres promote shows practically every night of the week.

Down in San Diego, the nights get a little more relaxed than in hectic LA. Of course, you will find all kinds of fun, but the glitz and glamour is a little more dim. Brewpubs, music venues and hipster microbreweries offer refreshment to those looking for a unique taste.