California on a Budget | Santa Barbara, California

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Santa Barbara is a fabulous oceanfront city situated on the central California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Mediterranean architecture reflects the city’s Spanish Colonial influences. Explore the lively downtown district, enjoy the beautiful beaches, and peruse the art galleries. The city is also widely known for its numerous urban wineries. But the gorgeous city doesn’t only cater to expensive tastes; there are countless activities that fit into any travelers’ budget.

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Hotel Milo

The Hotel Milo is a chic, vibrant hotel that offers beautiful oceanfront accommodations. The Spanish Colonial architecture and natural beauty of the surrounding area create the perfect atmosphere for a relaxing vacation. Enjoy the open garden and courtyard with outdoor pools, cabanas, and a hot tub. It’s across the street from the beach and just a short walk away from downtown. Book the Wine Tasting Package to get a taste of Santa Barbara. The package includes a wine tour for two at four local urban wineries, a bottle of wine upon arrival, and complimentary breakfast.

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Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens

Surround yourself with tranquility and lush greenery at the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. It’s an excellent place to take in fresh air and soak in the beauty of nature. Stroll through the park and enjoy the gazebo, koi pond, and picnic areas. The botanical collection boasts over 75 different species of trees and plants. There’s a sensory area that features plants with unique scents and contrasting textures, allowing visitors with visual impairments to appreciate the garden. Bring a few pieces of bread because the central pond is full of ducks and turtles that love visitors!

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Arroyo Burro Beach Park

Spend your day at Arroyo Burro Beach Park, known to locals as Hendry’s beach, and take advantage of Santa Barbara’s consistently sunny weather. It’s surrounded by beautiful cliffs and covered in soft sand. The pet-friendly beach is ideal for swimming, surfing, or just laying out on a blanket. The surrounding park area has BBQ grills, picnic areas, equestrian trails, and a snack bar. The entire park spans almost 7 acres! Keep your eye to the sky and you might spot hang gliders or paragliders launching from the nearby cliffs. Come towards the end of the day to watch the gorgeous sunset.

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Santa Barbara Museum of Art

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art holds over 27,000 works that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. The diverse collection is comprised of pieces from numerous Asian, European, and American artists. Peruse paintings, photographs, antiquities, sculptures, and so much more. The museum brings world-renowned exhibitions to Santa Barbara and holds the most Monet paintings on the west coast! They also hold events, art talks, and educational programs throughout the year. One exhibition we suggest is Looking In, Looking Out: Latin American Photography. Talented Latin American photographers share a glimpse of the life in their native regions. Admission to the entire museum is free through April 16, 2016.

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Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point is a small summit that provides unparalleled views of Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands, and the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find plenty of locals walking, running, or biking on the surrounding roads. The hike is mostly uphill and less than 2 miles from start to finish. It begins at Tunnel Trail and reaches an elevation of 800 feet. There are plenty of rocks at the peak that you can sit on while you marvel at the beauty of the landscape.

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Downtown

Downtown Santa Barbara is a vibrant historic art district. It’s home to various shops, restaurants, galleries, and entertainment venues. Wander through the neighborhood and appreciate the outdoor courtyards, beautiful plazas, and brick-lined sidewalks. The colorful Mediterranean architecture is truly stunning. Public parking is free for the first 75 minutes. It’s a great place to enjoy a simple afternoon walk or have a seat and watch the crowds of people go by. There are also numerous events held in the downtown area each month. Many of them are free and showcase local talent. Stop by Fuzion Gallery and see the Paint & Metal exhibit which features mixed media, large-scale metal works by local artist RUSO. Check out the full event calendar online.

 

California on a Budget | Los Angeles, California

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Los Angeles, the city of angels, is a California icon best known as the hub of the film and television industries. It’s home to the famous Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, and many high-end shops and restaurants. The sprawling metropolis is a mecca of culture, business, and entertainment. Don’t be fooled by the sparkling façade, because a visit to Los Angeles doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. We’ve put together a list of things to see and do that don’t cost a pretty penny.

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Miyako Hotel

Surround yourself with elegance and hospitality at the Miyako Hotel. The chic, minimalist design brings the style of Japan to the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The Japanese term miyako translates to “a flourishing center of business and entertainment.” The property lives up to its name. It’s located within walking distance to the Civic Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Japanese American National Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Each guest room is beautifully appointed, and children under 12 stay free! Book the Miyako Getaway Package and receive a free executive room upgrade and complimentary breakfast!

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The Broad

The Broad is Los Angeles’ newest contemporary art museum. The stunning 120,000-square-foot, $140-million building features two levels of gallery space and is home to a collection of 2,000 works of art. The Broad features contemporary art from the 1950s and operates a lending program to museums and galleries across the globe. The museum also hosts public programs that help foster education and appreciation for the art of our time. Don’t miss one of their inaugural installations: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room. It’s a mirror-lined room containing a dazzling LED display that reflects infinitely, creating the illusion of endless lights. Best of all, general admission is completely free! Advanced online reservations are available online.

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Wisdom Tree Hike

Climb to the top of Cahuenga Peak and find the mysterious Wisdom Tree. The mountain is located just west of the Hollywood sign and reaches an elevation of 872 feet. It’s a rugged, steep trail that rewards you with boundless views of Hollywood and downtown LA. When you get to the top, there’s a lone tree overlooking the city known as the Wisdom Tree. It’s believed to be the only tree left standing after the Hollywood hills fire in 2007. Next to the tree you’ll find an original ammunition box containing notes and souvenirs from past visitors.

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Eastside Music Crawl

Experience the booming nightlife and live music scene in East Hollywood. An exciting night out doesn’t have to break the bank! On Mondays, many venues offer free admission and showcase incredible local talent. Our favorites are The Echo, Satellite, and Bootleg Theater. Each location is within walking distance or just a short drive away. Stop by each of them to discover up-and-coming musical acts.

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The Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore is every book lover’s dream. It’s currently the largest new and used book and record store in California, and it all began in a downtown Los Angeles loft. The bookstore now occupies a 20,000 sq. ft. space in the Spring Arts Tower. It’s been named one of the “20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World” by Flavorwire and the “Best Bookstore in Downtown LA” by LA Weekly and The Downtown News. The multilevel space is full of local art that creates a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. There’s even a dedicated section full of $1 books! Feel free to sell, trade, or donate your unwanted books and records. 

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Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory is a monument to public astronomy, offering telescopes, exhibits, and live shows. It’s been a Los Angeles icon since 1935 and is one of the most popular attractions in Southern California. Admission and parking are always free. Check out the calendar for events held at the observatory throughout the year. Head to the top for amazing views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign!

 

California on a Budget | San Diego, California

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San Diego is often referred to as “America’s Finest City.” With pristine beaches, one of the largest zoos in the world, and beautiful sunny weather year-round, it’s not an exaggerated description. San Diego truly embodies the classic Southern California culture. But a great San Diego vacation is so much more than an expensive hotel and a trip to the beach. The city is full of incredible art, picturesque scenery, and a booming culinary scene. There are plenty of things to see and do in San Diego that are extremely budget friendly. Take a look at these suggestions; your wallet will thank you!

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Sofia Hotel

You’ll be right next to the excitement of the Gaslamp Quarter when you stay at the Sofia Hotel. This boutique hotel is set in an ornate gothic revival building that dates back to 1926. It’s the perfect combination of historic elegance and modern luxury. The well-appointed guest rooms feature flat screen TVs, mini fridges, microwaves, and complimentary Wi-Fi. The property is also pet friendly and completely smoke-free. Book the San Diego Zoo package to experience one of the largest zoos in the world! You’ll receive deluxe accommodations and two tickets to the San Diego Zoo.

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Tacos El Gordo

Skip the fancy white tablecloth and head south. Tacos El Gordo is a family owned and operated company that has been in service for over 40 years. The San Diego location first opened in 1998, and since then they’ve become widely known for their dedication to quality and authentic flavor. The menu is simple and consists of traditional tacos, quesadillas, and various preparations of meat cooked to perfection. The line to order can get long, but it’s worth the wait! Order a few of their adobada tacos made with marinated spicy pork, cilantro, onions, and their signature cream sauce.

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Chicano Park

Visit Barrio Logan to see the murals scattered throughout Chicano Park. Chicano Park spans almost 8 acres and showcases San Diego’s diverse Latin roots. The astounding works of art give you a glimpse into the unique history of the city. Mexican-Americans first settled in the area as early as the 1890s!

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Mt. Woodson Trail

Gear up and climb the scenic Mount Woodson Trail. It begins at Lake Poway and takes you through a challenging route that reaches an elevation of over 2,000 feet. It’s a challenging hike, but you’ll come across extraordinary landscapes as you make your way to the summit. Find the infamous “potato chip rock” before you reach the peak. Be sure to snap a picture! It’s a dramatic rock formation you won’t find anywhere else. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with panoramic views from Lake Poway all the way across the city.

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Spruce Street Suspension Bridge

The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a historical site located in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood near downtown San Diego. The pedestrian bridge is a hidden gem that was built back in 1912. It spans 375 feet long and hangs almost 70 feet above the ground. Be extra cautious if you’re afraid of heights! The bridge tends to wobble and sway towards the middle. Make your way across and you’ll find several “love locks” adorning the railings. Take in the beautiful scenery and hike down to explore the canyon below.

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Cabrillo National Park

Explore Cabrillo National Park to learn about San Diego’s cultural and historic past. The national monument commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast back in 1542. The plaza around the monument offers scenic views that stretch all the way down to Mexico. The park is also home to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, an original structure that’s been restored and is now open to the public. Head south from the lighthouse and you’ll find the whale watch lookout. Keep your eye on the water; January and February are peak months for whale watching!

 

California on a Budget | San Francisco, California

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San Francisco is one of the most recognizable cities on the West Coast. It’s known for foggy weather, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and a bustling city full of cable cars and Victorian architecture. In addition to popular tourist attractions, the city has a culture and charm that’s one of a kind. There are plenty diverse neighborhoods and countless hidden gems to explore. Spending a day in one of the tourist capitals of California can be pretty pricey, so check out some of these spots to experience the incredible city without breaking the bank!

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Hotel Bijou

Stay at the Hotel Bijou, a cinema-inspired property set inside a historic building just steps away from Union Square. The modern design and movie-themed guest rooms create a hotel experience that’s truly unique to San Francisco. Amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi and an in-house theatre that plays a nightly double feature. You’re within walking distance to countless shops, restaurants, galleries, and the Powell St. BART station. Save money when you book the Get Up and Go Shopping Package! It includes a $25 Macy’s gift card, discounts and shopping guides for the Westfield San Francisco Centre, and complimentary bottles of water to take with you.

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Bi-Rite Creamery

Visitors and locals alike form a line down the block for homemade organic ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery. The shop opened in 2006, and since then they’ve created ice cream, soft serve, and baked goods by hand. Local, seasonal ingredients play an important role in the unique flavors. The in-house bakery serves everything from brownies and peanut brittle to granola and breads. Our favorite ice cream flavor is “Ricanelas.” It’s a rich cinnamon base with snicker doodle cookies mixed in! Stop in for a scoop and you can taste the level of quality and care that goes into each product.

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Mission Dolores Park

Enjoy your Bi-Rite ice cream cone at Mission Dolores Park. The park spans 16 acres and features lush lawns, shady palm trees, a soccer field, tennis courts, a basketball court, playground, and more! Locals flock to the park to walk their dogs, lay out on the grass, have a picnic, and take in sweeping views of the city from the top of the hill. Bring a blanket and spend your afternoon people watching! The diverse crowd is reflective of the city’s culture.

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Land’s End

Escape the hectic rush of the city, enjoy a scenic hike, and take in the gorgeous sunset. Explore Land’s End, a windy trail at the northwestern end of the city that offers breathtaking scenery and stunning views of the ocean. You’ll find hillsides covered in cypress and wildflowers, old shipwrecks, hidden beaches, and the remains of Sutro Baths. Stop by the new visitor’s center to learn about the history of the area and pick up a map before you begin your adventure!

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is near the geographic center of San Francisco and is known as one of the best viewing points in the area. The summit reaches an elevation of 922 feet, making it the second-highest point in the city. Drive up to the north peak parking lot and enjoy 180-degree views of San Francisco. Make sure to dress in layers to protect yourself from the wind and notorious city fog!

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Off The Grid

End your day at Off The Grid, an outdoor gathering of food trucks that provides a remarkable culinary and community experience. They operate on a weekly basis in cities all over the Bay Area, including the original location at Fort Mason Center. Discover eclectic cuisine from all over the world, browse merchandise from local businesses, and enjoy live music! Since it began in 2010, it’s grown to be a quintessential San Franciscan activity.