affordable family vacations california

Last Updated on April 12, 2022 by Timeline

In ths post, we will be discussing Affordable Family Vacations California and california family vacation packages. Though California is frequently named as one of the most expensive places to live, a family on a budget can enjoy a fun vacation without breaking the bank. There’s plenty of nature, kid-friendly campgrounds, lots of educational opportunities, and even a few theme parks that offer a wallet-friendly alternative to Disney. Here are 10 ideas to inspire you to have an affordable, memorable family vacation.

Families, or perhaps just a couple who want to share adventures with the kids, can plan a vacation in California to create lasting memories. They can make reservations to Disneyland, Legoland California Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain. The most popular attractions like these are not going to be affordable on the average family budget but with careful planning, they will find affordable family vacations California for their ideal time of year and budget.

Family vacations are some of the most important things in life. But they can be expensive. If more people knew about the affordable family vacations California, who knows how much money could be saved?

california family vacation packages

Knott’s Berry Farm

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Knott’s Berry Farm © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr

Knott’s Berry Farm | © Jeremy Thompson / FlickrBook NowIf Disneyland is out of your price range, consider Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park. This theme park has been around since 1920, when it was a berry stand. It blossomed as an amusement park in the 1960s, and has been adding new amenities and attractions ever since. Snoopy characters can be found in the younger kids’ attractions, while other parts of the park have an Old West or ghost town theme. One of their newer rides is Voyage to the Iron Reef, a 4D dark ride that takes passengers down into the briny depths, where they must battle sea monsters with laser guns. Seasonal events include an annual boysenberry fest, a Christmas celebration known as Knott’s Merry Farm, and Halloween’s Knott’s Scary Farm, during which the park becomes a haunted playground featuring over 10 haunted dark mazes and other spooky attractions. Tickets are as low as $45 if purchased in advance online, or $70 to access both Knott’s Berry Farm and their water park, Soak City. It is also possible to bundle admission, meals and overnights at the adjacent hotel for an even better deal.More info


Located in San Diego, Campland is a family-friendly campground near the beach with lots of activities for both children and adults, including volleyball, parks, campfires, arts and crafts, an arcade, live entertainment and fitness opportunities. Daily rates in the summer start at $55 (four people, one dog, one car) and scale up to $432 for their premium sites. Their cheapest campsites have no grass or shade, but do provide a picnic table and fire pit. Campground amenities include showers, toilets, wi-fi, a restaurant and convenience store.

Campland, 2211 Pacific Beach Drive, San Diego,CA, USA, +1 800 422 9386

Dispersed camping

There’s quite a bit of land in California where families can camp free in a tent or RV. This is known as dispersed camping, and it means finding a piece of wilderness and setting up your camp, then leaving no trace behind when you return to civilization. This type of camping is typically allowed in national forests as well on land handled by the Bureau of Land Management. No reservations are required and there are no fees, though that also means there are rarely amenities — not even toilets. Sure, it’s roughing it, but if you want to be at one with nature, there’s no truer way to do it. Research potential campsites at BLM’s website or via

Camping in the wild | © Chris Hunkeler/Flickr

Sierra Club

Depending on your definition of affordable, you may want to consider a trip with the Sierra Club. They occasionally offer service/volunteer opportunities that are appropriate for families, with rates typically ranging between $500 and $800 per person. (Adults are generally more expensive than children.) Lodging, meals, snacks and facilities are included in the price, which could end up being cheaper than taking a more traditional vacation and paying for hotels, meals, and other expenses separately. You’ll work outside, to conserve the planet, with plenty of time for socializing and other ‘free time’ activities.

Lake Arrowhead

San Bernardino County often offers an affordable alternative to L.A. and Orange county beach vacations, containing both desert and mountain terrains. The Lake Arrowhead region can provide snowy adventures in the winter or water activities in the summer. To enjoy the area on a budget, skip the resort. Instead, check out camping options or one of the homier cabin getaways. Pine Rose, for instance, offers studio cabins beginning at $109/night in the summer. Even the studios have kitchens, meaning you can stop at a grocery store and prepare meals on your own versus eating out constantly, or at the very least, save your leftovers.

Activities abound in the area, including hiking, swimming, skiing and nature walks. During the summer, there are free outdoor concerts. Nearby Lake Gregory offers family-friendly fun, with paddleboats, aqua bike and kayak rentals, in addition to a floating obstacle course. Beach access begins at $10/person, with rental and daily use feels associated for the various activities.

Lake Gregory Water Park | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

Palm Springs

Most people think of Palm Springs as being a chic desert getaway, but that doesn’t mean you can’t entertain a family on a budget in this mid-century mod oasis. Motels and traditional hotels are typically more affordable than resorts, and suitable for families. Travelers often mention the 7 Springs Inn & Suites and the local Best Westerns as a great budget options for families.

Then, you can check out the Palm Desert Aquatic Center, which contains three pools, plus play areas for children of all ages. It’s only $6 for adults, and $3.75 for children. A pricier option is available via Wet ‘n’ Wild, a family water park. Tickets generally cost $24.99 and up, but that’s still a lot cheaper than Disneyland.

If it’s not too hot, you can check out The Living Desert, a nonprofit zoo and garden focusing on desert conservation. It’s home to numerous animals, including giraffes, ostriches, fennec foxes, cheetahs, reptiles and more. You can take a guided tour on the shuttle, or walk the track yourself for maximum animal viewing. Kids will enjoy the petting zoo, and there are numerous educational opportunities scheduled throughout the day.

Temperatures in Palm Springs can exceed 100 degrees on summer days, making this time of year the cheapest season to visit. But if you don’t want to spend your time seeking out air conditioning, the other seasons are also gorgeous.

The Living Desert | ©Juliet Bennett Rylah

Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Located in Redding is the amazing educational playground known as Turtle Bay Exploration Park. It’s 300 acres of nature, with residents including foxes, butterflies, birds and other critters. Guests can walk across the beautiful sundial bridge which connects the north and south sides of the park, spanning 720 feet in length. There’s also the interactive Turtle Bay Museum, which offers exhibits on history and nature, including a spot to view fish as they swim underwater. The largest exhibit is the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, which take up two thirds of the park. Admission is typically $16 for adults and $12 for children. However, there are deals at select times and on select dates.

Lodging in Redding tends to be pretty affordable, with chain motels ranging between $55-$75 a night. There are also numerous campgrounds available in the area.

The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park | © Ray Bouknight/Flickr


Between Sacramento and San Francisco is Vallejo, where families can enjoy a day at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. A day pass typically hovers around $50 if bought in advance online, making it a significantly cheaper theme park experience than Disney or Universal.

About a 17-mile drive away is Fairfield, where guests can go on a free, self-guided factory tour of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, which includes free samples, games and interactive exhibits. The factory also has a cafe where pizza, burgers and other American food is available. Motels in this area are generally less than $80/night, and various campgrounds are nearby. The area’s many public beaches can round out a solid getaway.

Calico Ghost Town

Located in Yermo and within the San Bernardino County Regional Parks system, Calico Ghost Town offers a host of frontier-inspired activities for kids and adults, plus camping. Back in the 1880s, Calico was a silver mining town, but it was abandoned in the 1890s when silver’s value decreased. In the 1950s, the ghost town was restored by Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame, and now offers a glimpse at what life was like way back when.

Attractions include a museum, mining displays, train rides, panning for gold, ghost tours and a mystery house. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children 4-11, and free for children under three. Campsites start at $30, while cabins can be rented starting at $65/night.

Calico Ghost Town © Tracy | Flickr

The end-of-year holiday travel season is a notoriously busy and expensive time to travel. In the US alone, an estimated 107 million people travelled for the holidays in 2017. While most drove or flew, 3.6 million took buses, trains, or cruise ships, according to AAA.

If you plan to spend the holidays with out-of-town family and friends, the stress of the trip can be daunting. Fret not, with these 10 holiday travel tips you’ll travel like a pro, make it to your destination with a smile on your face, and fully ready to celebrate!

Affordable Family Vacations California

Holiday Travel Tips

1. Choose your destination wisely

No one ever goes there? You should go!

Are all your friends heading to Saint-Barthélemy? Don’t. Seriously, travelling to the most popular destinations means guaranteed chaos & holiday madness. Unless you’re stuck travelling to a precise location to see someone in particular, avoid top holiday destinations like the plague. Avoiding the classic holiday trips will ensure you have space to breathe and quietude on your side… And we promise, you’ll be more rested when you head back home.

Consider vacation packages

You may not be an “all-inclusive” type of person. We get it. But if there’s one time in your life to try vacation packages, the holidays are a perfect time. Why? Because most companies make deals that you simply cannot refuse. From travel expenses to accommodation, car rental and sometimes even food, the package deal is so appealing that you’ll most likely spend less on your trip than you would while staying at home. 

2. Outsmart the crowds with your travel plans

Travel on unpopular days 

During the holidays, most people have similar vacation dates, which means many travel on the same days to get the most out of their time off. This also translates into expensive fares and a higher density of travellers. In fact, in the US, the Tuesday and Wednesday before, and Sunday following American Thanksgiving are three of the busiest travel days of the year. For Christmas, it depends on which day of the week the holiday falls on. January 2nd is also a busy travel day. 

To avoid some of the holiday craze, figure out when people are most likely to travel. Generally, people will schedule their travel dates to ensure they “waste” the least vacation time, which generally means they’ll leave before weekends or try to make a bridge between holidays and weekends. If you can, work your holiday travel schedule around these popular days. You’ll pay less for your ticket, and won’t face as many crowds.

Choose alternate airports

If it’s an option, book your tickets through an alternate airport, a smaller one if there is one not too far away. These tend to be less crowded than main airports, which means fewer delays and sometimes, even cheaper travel options! What’s more, parking or rental cars at the departure or arrival airport might be less expensive as well.

Avoid connexions

Also, if you absolutely need to fly, avoid connexions if you can. With the holiday craze, delays are frequent and chances are that you’ll end up stressing out to catch your second flight, or worse, missing it altogether. If you must, plan enough time between your flights. 

Travel early or late

Another great holiday travel tip is to travel on days on which people gather to celebrate, as most people would rather wine and dine with loved ones than take the bus, train or plane. Consider travelling on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or the likes. 

If that’s not an option, your best bet is to travel early in the morning or late. Why? Because most people don’t enjoy early departures, since it means heading to the airport, train or bus station in the middle of the night. Most people (and especially families travelling with young children) will book flights at a less ungodly hour and hey—you may just have fewer crying children on board, too!

Travel by bus 

So of course, buses tend to be a little more crowded during the holidays, since many people travel back home to spend Christmas with their loved ones. But, compared to airports, bus stations are an oasis! So, if possible, take the bus to your holiday destination and enjoy well-deserved peace and quiet. 

Give yourself a few buffer days

Delays during the holiday season are inevitable. Often, weather and traffic jams cause cancellations and extended trips. If you need to attend a holiday gathering, wedding, or an event that you know you can’t miss, don’t leave it down to the wire. Give yourself a buffer in between when you plan to arrive and when you need to be there.

3. Arrive early

Travelling by bus

If you travel by bus, there are multiple reasons to arrive early, most importantly:

  • You won’t have to rush and worry about missing your bus. No extra stress needed this time of year.
  • To make sure you know where your bus will pick you up. Not all carriers pick up passengers at a bus station or terminal. Some bus stops are in parking lots, gas stations or on various city streets. Don’t forget, the exact pick and drop off locations are available on your confirmation email and in your Busbud account.
  • If you’re in line early you can secure your preferred seat, as not all carriers offer assigned seating.

A note on bus travel…

Each bus provider’s rules and regulations are different. For example, some carriers will let you board with a ticket on your phone, or just a confirmation number, while some bus companies require a printed ticket. The last thing you want to do is run around searching for a FedEx Office near the bus stop to print your ticket. While you’re at it, you can take a look at the major bus companies in the US and how they compare. Read the Busbud confirmation email carefully. It contains all the information that is pertinent to your trip such as exchange and refund policies. What if you get caught late at work and need to hop on a later bus, is that allowed, or do you forfeit the fare? Read up to be prepared!

Travelling by plane 

Getting to the airport ahead of time usually means you won’t have to wait in line for too long. Yes, you’ll have more time to kill before hopping on your flight, but at least you’ll be waiting close to your gate—perhaps sipping a drink—rather than spending your time lining up with a hoard of anxious people. And (since you’re early) even if there are major delays at security, you won’t be running for your life hoping you don’t miss your flight. Another holiday travel tip: check in online if you can. This usually ensures you won’t have to wait in line to get your bag tags.

4. Make backup plans

Whatever you’re planning, the most important holiday travel tip to follow is to have a backup plan for everything. Everything! Travel plans, travel itinerary, travel dates, travel accommodation, travel bag, travel entertainment, planned activities, etc. Make a plan A, B and perhaps even C, so whatever happens with plan A, and even plan B, you can still make it to your destination.

5. Pack smart & ship your gifts

Dealing with gifts

The less you pack, the better. It might be tempting to stock up on gifts for friends and family, but trust us, it’s a bad idea! (Yes, you can blame it on us when you show up empty-handed.) Seriously, don’t risk getting caught at customs with fresh cheese or truffle oil. Or worse, don’t risk having to clean your suitcase after a delicious bottle of wine exploded in it. 

If you’re travelling home with presents, consider shipping them. Our pro tip, use Amazon’s gift wrapping option and send the gifts directly to your destination! Your packages will be there when you arrive, and you won’t have to worry about carrying a heavy suitcase or having fragile gifts flail around the cargo hold of the bus during your holiday travel. 

Now, if you can’t avoid bringing gifts, consider the following rules:

  1. If you fly, don’t wrap your gifts ahead of time as you may have to unwrap them at security.
  2. Make sure breakable items are well secured.
  3. If you’re bringing food or booze, check the local regulations to make sure you’re not breaking any laws.

Light packers, prevail!

If you can, travel with a small carry-on sized bags to avoid any further delays to claim your baggage, and to be able to keep an eye on your belongings wherever you go. The less you have, the less you have to worry about.

6. Charge devices and download ahead of time

You’ll find that some bus companies offer on-board Wi-Fi, while others don’t. However, there are no guarantees on the quality of the connexion—it might not support streaming services or could be slow due to everyone on the network.

If you download before you go (movies, TV episodes, podcasts, audio books, etc.), and make sure you’re at 100% battery, you’ll have a library of entertainment at your hands during your holiday travel season.

If you have one, pack a portable charger so you never run out of juice! If not, jot down important phone numbers for when you arrive at your destination so you don’t end up panicking if your phone is out of batteries. If you are travelling with someone, read up on games to play on the road.

7. Be prepared for anything!

BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks) + BYOW (water)

No one wants to be the hangry person on the bus stuck in hours of traffic. If you have a longer route, there might be rest stops, but it’s not guaranteed. Also, the food selection at highway rest stations can be limited, not ideal if you’re health-conscious or on a restricted diet.

Pack light and easy snacks that are high in protein and nonperishable to keep you feeling great on your journey; almonds, trail mix, granola or protein bars, or jerky. Also, make sure to pack plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you’re flying, pack a leak proof stainless steel bottle, isotherm if you have one, and simply empty it before passing through security. You can then fill it up (for free!) and avoid purchasing and repurchasing plastic bottles to stay hydrated.

Embrace the mom essentials

Mothers generally have large purses filled with various useful items—embrace that mentality during your holiday travels. Think hand sanitizer, packs of tissues, ibuprofen, mints, cough drops, or even packets of Emergen-C/Airborne. If you’re stuck on a long bus ride in traffic, you never know when you might get a runny nose or headache. Not to mention that the change of weather, a decreased immune system from stress, and germs from other travellers are a recipe for illness, so protect yourself.

8. Keep calm and smile

If you go into your holiday trip prepared for bumps in the road, lengthy travel times, and an abundance of crowds, you’re more likely to keep your cool throughout the journey. Stay Zen during the trip, by downloading meditation apps like InsightTimer or HeadSpace. They offer tons of free guided meditations. You can also try doing some seated deep-breathing exercises or easy stretches. Modify a few of these car yoga poses to work in your bus seat. Just try not to bother your seat-mate.

In any case, no matter what happens [insert incident here], breathe, and remember to smile. This will not only ensure you enjoy your trip, it will also encourage people to be nicer to you. So keep cool and keep your smile on. After all, it’s the holidays… Spread the love!

9. Remember, it’s the holidays

Opening hours

If you’re planning some major touristy activities, check—and double-check—opening hours. Perhaps even call ahead to make sure the places you are planning to visit are really open. Indeed, although regular opening hours are usually posted on websites, the holiday hours are not always updated and you might end up being disappointed.

Eating out

If you’re planning a lovely meal out in a delicious restaurant—again, it’s the holidays! Many people may have had the same idea and you might end up starving if you don’t reserve beforehand. In some cases, reservations need to be done weeks ahead. 

Getting around

Celebrations are in the air and people are going out! 

  • Note that in some cities, public transport can work on a Sunday schedule during the holidays (which means that there are fewer vehicles on the road and they tend to be more crowded). 
  • If you’re more of a taxi person, consider that there may be long waiting times at night, when people have been drinking at parties.
  • If you’re driving, don’t drink! It might seem like an obvious one, but it is always good to keep it in mind. 

10. Prepare for peace of mind

Depending on where you live, you might be a little worried about leaving your homestead. Holidays tend to see a spike in burglaries, as lots of people are away. Don’t be shy to ask friends or family to pop by regularly, switch on a few lights and water the plants. Or even better, rent out your place and make a few extra bucks while you’re gone. 

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