Ever priced out that insane West Coast road trip you've been wanting to do forever? There's a good chance you gave up midway through your research -- oceanfront real estate, one quickly learns, is expensive -- if you can even find space. Low season? What's that -- even in the dead of winter, California in particular remains popular with travelers from around the world.
The crowds don't know everything, though. It takes a few trips and a lot of trial and error, but even the most popular destinations along the coast hold their secrets. All along the way, modest inns and motels offer relatively low rates, sometimes even during the peak of summer. Some are diamonds in the rough, some are actual jewels -- others are poorly-camouflaged dumps one ought to give the widest berth. Which is which? Here are fifteen affordable addresses you can book with confidence.
Dolphin Motel, San Diego, $55
Across from busy Fisherman's Landing and just minutes from the airport in San Diego's desirable Point Loma neighborhood, this family-owned (and meticulously-kept) spot is one of SoCal's best budget sleeps, offering free continental breakfast, comped internet and comfy beds.
Why here Walk to shopping, a brand new public market, restaurants and nightlife at Liberty Station, a popular neighborhood taking shape at the site of the former Naval Training Center. Ten minutes by car is the Cabrillo National Monument, offering sweeping views of the city and surrounds and some particularly beautiful coastline, complete with tide pools just begging to be explored. Also? Don't miss a drive along nearby Sunset Cliffs Boulevard at, well, sunset.
Newport Channel Inn, Newport Beach, $99
Consistently one of the most affordable sleeps near the beach in Orange County - even on busy weekends - this modest spot just a crosswalk from the ocean boasts an address in one of the most desirable towns in Southern California. Great staff, free WiFi and proximity to fun on the Balboa Peninsula make this a fine place to stop for the night.
Why here Because rushing through Orange County is a huge mistake -- some of the state's most memorable beaches are tucked along its crowded coastline, hidden even to those who opt for the more scenic Pacific Coast Highway route through the county. Salt Creek in Dana Point, Crescent Bay in Laguna, the miles of open space begging to be hiked at Crystal Cove -- it's all worth stopping for and it's all between here and San Diego. Don't rush - spend the night.
Jerry's Motel, Los Angeles, $89
Detour off the overpriced beach and get a hit of LA at its realest with a stay on the fringes of working-class Westlake, a diverse and densely-populated district adjacent to the city's rapidly-changing downtown. This simple roadside pit stop has become a secret favorite of budget travelers passing through the city -- rates begin at $89 with their "Welcome to LA Special," book on their site directly. This includes parking, wireless internet and more.
Why here From the dramatic architecture and impressive art collection at the new Broad museum to the best old-school Jewish deli west of the Rockies (Langer's, order the #19), a wealth of LA musts can be found just moments from your front door.
Castillo Inn at the Beach, Santa Barbara, $100
Paying this little for nicely-furnished rooms in a hotel where management actually cares isn't typical for one of the most overpriced destinations in California -- and there's a crowded category. But here you are, feeling like you're getting away with something -- particularly during the quieter winter months, which around here are gorgeous.
Why here You're steps from some of the best fish and chips in the the state (On The Alley, adjacent to the marina, now you know), the beach (it's right across the street, beyond the giant public pool) and an easy stroll to the restaurants, microbreweries, boutiques and art galleries of the Funk Zone, an industrial area just off the water that's eclipsed State Street as the place to be among the younger, hipper crowd.
Sundown Inn, Morro Bay, $45
You'd barely expect hostel accommodations at this price in the cities you've just left behind, but little Morro isn't anything like those places. Yes, this is a low season starting rate and yes, prices can double in summer, but at any time of year, you're still getting one of the better deals along the coast when you check into at this cute, well-maintained spot.
Why here Famous for the giant rock sitting along its shoreline and the giant (now dormant) power plant nearby, this treat of a coastal town marries New England charm with the rugged appeal of a Northwest fishing village. Many travelers prefer cutesy Cayucos, a little bit to the north, but you'll typically find prices there to be much higher. Boatloads of old-school charm, a terrific farmers market (Saturdays, Main Street) and some very good, very affordable restaurants -- the breakfast at Dorn's is particularly worthy -- along with the memorable scenery of Morro Bay State Park at the southern end of this agreeable, walkable town make Morro the superior stop-off before tackling the majesty of Big Sur.
Lone Oak Lodge, Monterey, $66
The secret of Big Sur is that you really don't need to spend the night -- not with the prices most hotels are charging, anyway. A leisurely and lengthy day with as many stops as you feel like making is usually plenty, particularly when your Big Sur visit is just one destination of many along an extended route. That said, few people emerge out either end energized for a long drive elsewhere - if you're heading north, best to flop at one of the Monterey Peninsula's affordable motels, such as, for instance, this one. Like the Sundown in Morro, the rooms here are far nicer than you'd expect for the price. (Rates do climb at peak times, but once again, not as high as you'd think.)
Why here Crashing after a long day in Big Sur is always the smart move -- you need the energy and the daylight to make the most of the Monterey Peninsula, a destination in its own right that too many coastal road-trippers rocket past on their way to San Francisco or wherever else they think is more important. Pressed for time? Skip the pricey and slow 17 Mile Drive and head straight for beautiful Asilomar Beach. Just before you get there, at the top of the adjacent Spanish Bay golf course, west of the intersection of Sunset Drive and Asilomar Avenue, note the trailhead for a pathway leading between the links and the beach. This is easily one of the best little coastal walks in the state.
Ocean Park Motel, San Francisco, $115
This handsome, deco moderne jewel dating back to 1937 at the end of the MUNI L-Taraval rail line makes a great seaside base from which to explore San Francisco at very reasonable prices. Rooms are basic but clean, those facing the street will hear train noise (ask for earplugs!) but lush landscaping out your window and an unlimited supply of sea breezes make this so much nicer than the cramped Lombard Street motor inns that many budget road-trippers opt for.
Why here Yes, you can hop that train and be at Embarcadero faster than you'd expect, but don't overlook this side of town -- the hotel is steps from the dunes of Ocean Beach and the San Francisco Zoo, for starters. A short walk up the beach and you're in the suddenly cool Outer Sunset area, home to of-the-minute hangouts like Outerlands and Andytown Coffee. Don't leave town without exploring nearby Land's End, secluded China Beach and other gems located inside the vast Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Metro Hotel and Cafe, Petaluma, $99
A restored 1800s-era building at the heart of a pedestrian-friendly downtown is the setting for this cheap and cheerful inn offering a French Country (by way of Pier 1) vibe just a short drive through some beautiful Sonoma County farmland from the coast. Luxurious, not really, but this makes a nice change after a string of nights in coastal motels. Complimentary coffee and pastries are available mornings.
Why here Ditch the car for the evening and walk to Petaluma's impressive selection of restaurants, bars, interesting shops and open spaces found along the Petaluma River. Also, you're in Sonoma, where beer is nearly as important as wine -- Lagunitas Brewing may now be a national brand, but their original tap room still packs in the faithful at the northern end of town.
Surf Motel & Gardens, Fort Bragg, $69
The blue collar "big city" of Mendocino County has in recent years become almost fashionable -- much to the amusement / chagrin of those who knew it way back when -- but that doesn't mean you have to give an arm and a leg for a comfortable stay after a day of exploring the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts. Lovely gardens conceal the property's inherent motel-ness, décor is decidedly standard-issue but stays are comfortable and the staff is pleasant.
Why here You need to rest up for the long trip to the far north, particularly if you plan to make any crazy detours through the wilds of the Lost Coast (hint, hint) on your way to the redwoods. Plus, Fort Bragg is quite agreeable -- do dinner and drinks at North Coast Brewing Company and stop at Cowlicks afterwards for the best ice cream in many a mile.
View Crest Lodge, Trinidad, $95
Located above the ocean near scenic Patrick's Point, this simple, old-timey motel painted all in red could use a little more competition to help it realize its true potential, but for a one-night stay, it's worth eschewing Eureka and its dull chain properties for a chance to experience one of the most charming settlements anywhere along California's coastline.
Why here Easily the most picturesque coastal town between Mendocino and the Oregon border, tiny, historic Trinidad punches above its weight with great oceanfront, some cute places to stay and eat, including one of the best burgers on the coast at The Lighthouse Grill. Some people breeze right by Trinidad on the highway and never know what they've missed. Don't be like some people.
Ocean Suites, Brookings, $89
This modest but clean (and well-staffed) motel isn't on the ocean, but you're generally paying nearly half of what they're asking for a couple of blocks away at the town's better-known beachfront hotel. Larger rooms and suites feature fully-equipped kitchenettes, making a strong case for slowing down and spending a couple of nights in what you'll discover is one of the most scenic spots along your route.
Why here Barely thirty minutes from some of the best features of vast Redwood National Park, agreeable little Brookings is a far more pleasant place to hang your hat than park-adjacent Crescent City. As if the redwoods weren't enough, Brookings sits at the the southern entrance to the wow-a-minute Boardman Scenic Corridor. Stretching north toward Gold Beach, this is one of the most stunning pieces of Oregon's vast coastline -- plan at least a few hours (and lots of stops) to really take it all in.
Deane's Oceanfront Lodge, Yachats, $65
It's been online for less and rates almost double in July and August, but for most of the year, this simple but well-kept motor inn located roughly midway up the Oregon coast and minutes from magnificent Cape Perpetua is a reliable go-to for a cheap and cheerful night's sleep.
Why here You could take the Oregon Coast in a day, but you'd miss out on so much -- better to stop off along the way. Many travelers unfamiliar with Oregon aren't prepared for the beauty of Cape Perpetua, not to mention the hiking opportunities in the immediate area -- staying in tiny but pleasant Yachats allows you more exploration time the following morning, should you arrive later in the day.
Norblad Hotel & Hostel, Astoria, $69
Modern, Scandinavian-ish décor, comfortable beds, clean shared (but one-at-a-time) bathrooms and exceedingly attractive rates make this former workingman's flop a couple of blocks off the water preferable to other affordably-priced lodgings in town. Feeling friendly? Hostel beds are available for just $29.
Why here Astoria's cool quotient has upped considerably in recent years -- with Portland just a short jaunt up the Columbia River, that's not surprising. One of Oregon's many buzzed-about breweries, Fort George, is just across the street (you'll hear their music when they open up in the morning, hope you weren't planning on sleeping late) while two of the best cups of coffee in town (Street 14 Café and Blue Scorcher Bakery) are a block away. Downtown Astoria is rougher around the edges than some might expect, but on the whole, this is a nice change of pace after a week of tourist-centric coastal towns.
Three Rivers Resort, Forks, $73
It can be tough to figure out where to base yourself when visiting the Olympic Peninsula -- ideally, you'll stay in a couple of different places -- but for those just passing through, it's hard to beat tiny Forks, where the old-school Northwest still lives, thanks to a rather insane annual rainfall and a remoteness from, well, pretty much everything. Some of the best beaches in the region are moments from your front door when you check into this cabin resort, popular with fishermen and RVers but welcoming to all. It's like a summer trip to the lake in the upper Midwest -- you check in at the gas station / mini-mart, grab a burger and a shake from the attached grill and mellow out in your retro-cool cabins, which come complete with kitchenette, should you feel like cooling your heels for a few days. The Peninsula is a minefield of miserable lodgings run by ambivalent owners. Three Rivers is not one of them.
Why here So you can begin (and end) your day at Second Beach, a moment's drive down the hill (followed by a pleasant walk through classic Northwest coastal forest) from your cabin. Also, if you forgot/neglected to detour up into the Hoh Rainforest on your way here, you're close enough to double back. Of course, there's the rest of Olympic National Park to consider as well, from coastal rainforest hikes at Ozette to the high-altitude alpine landscapes of Hurricane Ridge, just to name two more essential stops. (Got a week to spare?)
Hotel Zed, Victoria, $75
There are so many directions to take once you've conquered the Olympic Peninsula, but to really complete your mission to cover the entire Pacific Coast, drive aboard the ferry in Port Angeles for at least a quick glimpse of Canada's Vancouver Island (don't forget that passport). Just an hour and a half later, you'll drift into the appealing Inner Harbour of British Columbia's provincial capital, Victoria. A rather civilized, energetic little city, Victoria provides a startling (and welcome) change of pace after a couple of days in relatively rustic Washington. With the American dollar still up by around 20 percent, you'll find decent rates -- outside of the heat of summer, anyway -- pretty much anywhere in town: If you were going to splurge anywhere along the way, your money will go the furthest here. All tapped out? Entirely understandable -- the colorful little Zed, a basic but fun motel in a strip of blah-to-ghastly budget lodgings north of downtown, is a reliable pick. Here, you're just a couple of blocks off the Galloping Goose Trail, the perfect leg-stretcher and a great way to get down to the Inner Harbour sans wheels after, what, 800 days of driving?
Why here Now that you've conquered the American west coast, you're here to preview your next vacation. It's all tremendous, every mile between San Diego and here, but Vancouver Island is a world unto itself and deserves as much of your time as you can possibly afford. (For starters, if you can tolerate a few more hours in the car, the remote surfer's paradise of Tofino is one of the most special places in North America. Because of course you're not completely overwhelmed by now.)
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