Ten tips for visiting California on a budget

California is one of America’s most beautiful and popular states for tourism. From wintry ski resorts to dry desert landscapes you can have it all – but all that choice also means California can get expensive quick. Between airfare, big cities like San Francisco and admission to theme parks, a California traveler can spoil a budget in no time. Here are some money-saving tips to keep your California vacation budget in check.

Buy a National Parks pass

California is home to some of the most beautiful National Parks in the country, but each of these parks have admission fees. If you pick up a National Park pass, you can travel to and from any of these parks as many times as you like in a year, all while saving a few bucks in the process. Check out the national parks page for California and schedule your vacation around one of the United States’ most beautiful outdoor areas. Once you’ve purchased your pass, the possibilities are endless. Everything from hiking, boating, exploring and picnics is within reach, all for cheap.

Check out areas around the state’s big cities

It can be very expensive to stay in some of the major cities in California. Consider San Francisco, where the average hotel can set you back $200 or more. Check out nearby cities where you’ll easily find accommodations while still using the city’s public transit. San Francisco has one of the countries best public transit systems, so chances are you won’t even need a car. Great cities not far from San Francisco include Berkeley, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and San Jose. There are great things to do in these cities as well, and they offer a convenient and cheaper alternative to a money-gouging big city hotel.

Discover California’s less touristy beach locations
California is well-known for beautiful beaches and coastline, but don’t forget to look for the beaches and parts of the coast that don’t see as much tourist activity. Spots like Pismo Beach offer beautiful sand with perfect scenery without the high prices. Located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this beach town offers fantastic, affordable accommodations, great restaurants and plenty activities for the family. It also is a beautiful honeymoon spot or romantic getaway. From Pismo Beach, if you have a car you can travel to some of the nearby cities for a day trip. San Luis Obispo is a short trip from Pismo Beach, as well as the famous Hearst Castle.

Head to the desert during “shoulder season”
The desert starts heating up in March and April, but is still completely comfortable, beautiful…and affordable. The prices are driven down after February as the “sun birds” begin to skip town. For some great desert travel on the cheap, check out beautiful, sunny Palm Springs. Palm Springs is a short 2-hour drive from Los Angeles and you’ll find great deals there in the spring months.

While in Palm Springs there’s plenty to do, including hiking, golfing, shopping, and plenty of great eating. If you are lucky enough to be in Palm Springs on a Thursday night, you can go to the famous Palm Springs Village Fest, which offers plenty of entertainment, shopping and eating. You can do self-tours for free in Palm Springs of all of the famous 50’s retro modern architecture as well as the famous celebrity houses, like Bob Hope’s house and Frank Sinatra’s house. Also, not far from Palm Springs is the unique and gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park. Take a day trip out to the park and check out the famous Joshua Trees, where the band U2 got their inspiration for the album “Joshua Tree”.

Go to a ski town in the off-season

If you are not big into snow and skiing, finding a ski town in the off-season is the perfect way to spend a vacation, and get some great deals at the same time. Big Bear Lake happens to be one of the most beautiful places in California. And in the off-season, you can spend a fraction of the price on beautiful lodging. There is plenty to do when the snow isn’t falling: hiking, boating, swimming are plentiful and perfect in the spring and summer months. For a relaxing and affordable vacation, Big Bear Lake is a great money-saving choice.

Visit San Diego

Home to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, San Diego is your one-stop California vacation place for sun, ocean, theme parks, shopping, and nightlife for less. First stop are the beaches at La Jolla and Coronado Beach, both rated as top beaches in the United States. Not satisfied with just the beach? Check out Mission Beach, boasting two miles of boardwalk along the beautiful coast. Then head down to the famous Belmont Park where you can ride the oldest roller coaster in California, catch a ride on the wooden carousel and play glow in the dark mini-golf all while watching surfers for free at the famous Wave House. Head to downtown San Diego for a walk around Little Italy, a walk through the modern Gaslamp Quarter. And be sure to check out San Diego’s Old Towne. This park is completely free, and free to park featuring great shops, entertainment.

Visit California’s top-notch farmers’ markets for inexpensive meals
California is already famous for its bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables. Why not take advantage of all that deliciousness and save some money while you’re at it? All throughout California you’ll find some of the country’s best farmers’ markets. Chances are whatever city you decide to visit you can find a farmers market on almost any day of the week. These markets offer fresh fruits and vegetables, and most offer inexpensive food stands with delicious local treats.

Find a vacation rental

You can save a lot of money on a California vacation by renting a vacation home rather than staying in a hotel. Check out AOL’s travel page of vacation rental listings, or head to one of the many web-based rental sites like VRBO. Staying in a vacation rental is great for everyone from families to individuals and couples. You can save a lot by not eating out, and most are below what hotels charge, and offer every thing you need for your vacation.

Enjoy a free
/cheap California festival
There are numerous festivals around California throughout the year. Most are free to get into, or have a very low admission. How about the Patterson, California’s famous Apricot Fiesta? Or maybe Big Hat Day in Old Towne Clovis, CA . There are festivals each month of the year, and offer a unique view of each city and daily life. There are tons of deals to be had, and a lot of free activities. For more information check out the California Fairs and Festivals page.

Theme parks
California is home to some of the best (and most expensive) theme parks in the country. Disneyland, Sea World, Legoland, Knots Berry Farms are some of the best, though a visit can add up quick. Save some money by staying outside the parks. Cities like Anaheim, CA have plenty of accommodations and will save you a few dollars over staying in the park itself.