Best Beach Towns in California To Live Or Vacation That Are Budget Friendly
Do you crave a relaxed life by the ocean? Does the allure of California’s laid-back, coastal living beckon you? While a beachfront home in Malibu may be off the table, there are several swoon-worthy oceanfront places in The Golden State that come without the hefty price. Whether you’re looking to move or vacation, here are ten of the most affordable beach towns in California that are worth checking out!
A Pacific Ocean beach. Towering redwoods shrouded in the morning mist. A wild river. You can have all this and more in the beach town of Crescent City. A perfect blend of Pacific North Coast aesthetic and laid-back vibes, this town just 20 miles south of the Oregon border is one of the cheapest beach towns in Northern California you should visit if you’d like to explore historic attractions as well as enjoy nature.
The crescent-shaped coastline is not only beautiful, but it offers a host of free/cheap activities too. Hosting some of the warmest beaches in California, surfing and swimming is pleasant here, but you can also go beachcombing and recharge in the salty air at Crescent Beach or enjoy a picnic on its soft sands. Parking is free.
The trails at the Jed Smith Redwoods State Park meander through a huge swath of stately, primeval redwoods. A hike through this tranquil escape comes without an admission fee!
Don’t forget to visit Battery Point Lighthouse, one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the state. Accessible only at low tide, the tour is just $3 per person.
In Crescent City, not only can you have a budget-friendly beach vacation in California, but with median property values less than half the state average, you can also buy a cheap beachfront property to provide you with your own getaway!
A small beach town in California to live near the beach, Trinidad is perfect to get away from it all and savor the sights and sounds of nature. With mesmerizing sunsets and prominent sea stacks punctuating the shoreline, this pristine segment of the US West Coast hosts some of California’s most romantic beaches like the Trinidad State Beach or Moonstone Beach.
Those who prefer action also won’t get bored here! You can discover the endless adventures at the beautiful Sue-meg State Park stretched over an ocean promontory. Hike or bike its scenic trails, go agate-hunting, explore tidepools, or watch sea lions and migrating whales.
You can even get a peek into the indigenous heritage at the reconstructed Yurok village within the park. Day use fee is a reasonable $8. A visit to the Trinidad Museum is a must. In addition to five exhibit halls that tell the history of the area, there’s also a garden with native plants. A great activity for the whole family, there’s no admission fee.
With endless opportunities to enjoy nature and prices that remain affordable, Trinidad is a perfect base camp to explore the Pacific North Coast and a fine example of the most affordable places to live in California near the beach, and also to vacation.
Nature and culture meld in this uncrowded California beach town perched on the edge of Humboldt Bay. With median property values just over $350,000 and an overall cost of living lower than the national average, Eureka is one of the cheapest beach towns in California to vacation and a perfect place to retire.
You can step back in time with a tour of Eureka’s historic Old Town district, a colorful jumble of refurbished Victorian homes; it is a must-see for history buffs and architecture lovers. A brochure with a map and description of each of the buildings is available free of charge so you can visit all the attractions around!
The Samoa Dunes Recreation Area offers a plethora of activities for families such as fishing, surfing, beachcombing, and birdwatching, all absolutely free! Another excellent program is exploring the Sequoia Park Zoo with your kids. One ticket not only gives you access to the oldest zoo in the state but also Sequoia Park where you can immerse yourself in the majesty of old-growth redwoods. A veritable bonus is a jaw-dropping view from the Redwood Sky Walk 100 feet above the forest floor in the tree canopy!
The seaboard of Northern California is home to many stunning beaches, but there’s one that’s more dazzling than the rest, and it’s in Fort Bragg! An under-the-radar California beach town that is budget-friendly, this place on the Mendocino Coast has evolved into a top coastal destination to vacation and live.
The area’s famous shoreline, the unique Glass Beach is littered with a rainbow of smooth sea glass and makes for an exciting day trip. The nearby Laguna Point is another popular destination in the park to explore tide pools, and spot basking seals and foraging shorebirds. There’s also a scenic trail to go hiking and biking. And you don’t have to spend a dime!
Another huge draw is the world-famous Skunk Train that trundles through redwood groves into the heart of the Noyo River canyon. Adult tickets range anywhere from $27 to $42; children are cheaper. The views on the ride are more than worth the price! Ramble through the 47-acre cornucopia of diverse flora at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, all for just $15. Winner!
Imbued with the timeless vibe of a quintessential beach town, this piece of paradise remains hidden from the crowds that explains why Gualala is one of the cheapest beach towns in California. Located at the convergence of the Pacific Coast and the Gualala River, it is perfect not only for those seeking tranquility but also for outdoor adventure. Drift along the Gualala River in a kayak or a canoe or stop at the quiet beach along its shoreline to observe the diverse wildlife in the area.
Stand taller than a redwood tree at the pygmy forest in Salt Point State Park! It’s baffling but true! One of the world’s coastal wonders, the trees in this forest are stunted due to natural environmental conditions. With over 20 miles of hiking trails and an underwater park, there’s plenty more to do here. And all this is for a reasonable $8.
If not for the outdoors, discover a favorite local artist at the Gualala Arts Center. Or meditate in the Sea Ranch Chapel as you admire its architectural whimsy. Whether you’re looking to visit or create your own paradise, Gualala should be on your list.
Those who are looking for the most affordable beach towns in California in the Bay Area should consider visiting Vallejo, located just 32 miles outside of San Francisco. This waterfront town serves up a slice of serenity far removed from the urban bustle of San Francisco but let that not fool you into thinking there’s not much to do here.
You have the unique opportunity of checking out naval artifacts from the last 200 years at Alden Park. You can even have a picnic right next to a 28-foot ballistic missile from the Cold War-era! Entrance is free.
At Mare Island, you can explore bird-filled wetlands, famous dry docks, and historic buildings like the oldest naval chapel in the country. Did we mention it won’t cost you anything? A trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom fits the bill if you’re looking for more action. With high octane thrill rides to slower-paced options, this amusement park has something for everyone in the family. To save, buy tickets online.
Not only great for a vacation with a tiny budget, but with a cost of living much lower than other parts of the Bay Area, Vallejo is definitely worth considering buying a second home far away from the hustle and bustle of life!
If you’re looking for shoreline zen at a modest cost, Grover Beach is a great option. One of the affordable places to live along the Central Coast of California, this small community-oriented town is nestled between Oceano and Pismo Beach.
Adventure seekers can get their adrenaline fix riding dune buggies or motoring ATVs over undulating sand dunes at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. You can also enjoy a slew of other activities like hiking, horseback riding, swimming, and surfing. Day passes are just $5 per vehicle.
If you prefer something quieter, go for a leisurely stroll down the Beach Boardwalk. A scenic trail that loops through the dunes, it leads you to the Monarch Butterfly Grove. A protected overwintering site for jewel-toned beauties, a mesmerizing spectacle awaits nature lovers here during the winter months. And it’s free!
Located right on the ocean and a portal to one of the nicest beaches in California, yet an overall cost of living 10% lower than the state average, Grover Beach is definitely a town to check out on your next trip.
Just up the coast, northwest of Los Angeles lies the more affordable Ventura, which is famous not only for its endless summers and laid-back, unpretentious vibes, but its copious offerings of budget-friendly activities also make it a coveted beach town to vacation and live.
With the soft and spacious San Buenaventura State Beach in town –which is one of the most kid-friendly beaches in Southern California – Ventura is especially recommended for families.
The iconic Ventura Pier two blocks away offers extraordinary angling opportunities and doesn’t even require a fishing license, while Surfer’s Point Beach is perfect for water sports enthusiasts to enjoy free world-class surfing. And this barely scratches the surface of the list of things you can do in Ventura!
The Ventura Botanical Gardens provides a stunning wander through five world Mediterranean climate zones for just $7. Fridays are free. Breathtaking ocean vistas and sunsets atop the garden are complimentary. Also, believe it or not, parking is mostly free in the vibrant downtown! So, you can spend hours exploring the many historic sites, antique shops, cute boutiques, and local eateries.
This quiet seaside community located north of Malibu offers beachfront living without the price tag. Among the most affordable beach towns in California, Riverpark and Marina West are popular neighborhoods in Oxnard where you can find homes at competitive prices.
But don’t you think life is boring in this hidden paradise, there is plenty to do and explore here! You can visit the beach-lined parks or enjoy a picnic at the expansive Channel Islands Harbor. If you want to go sailing, fishing, surfing or paddle boarding, rentals are available at reasonable prices.
The pristine Mandalay State Beach with its fragile dunes and wildlife is just the place if the allure of undisrupted nature appeals to you. Parking is free and you can bring your four-legged friends too. There’s also a historic downtown chock full of boutiques and restaurants.
A visit to Maritime Museum at the harbor is a must. A treasure trove of maritime art, ship models, and artifacts, the third Thursday of every month is free! Car enthusiasts are sure to be blown away by the vintage car collection at Murphy Auto Museum. Admission is only $10, and kids under 13 are free.
With its wide swaths of sand, palm tree-lined neighborhoods, and perfect year-round weather, Oceanside is definitely one of the best beach towns in California to live in. What’s more, you don’t have to break the bank to have a blast here! With an overall cost of living 6% lower than the state average and affordable real estate options, this beach town located between Los Angeles and San Diego is a great place to escape city life!
You can take a leisurely stroll on the 1942-long scenic pier or simply sprawl on the surrounding beach area and soak up the sun. Moreover, Oceanside also boasts a myriad community events and festivals that ere mostly free to attend!
Sea Lion Island is a sight you won’t want to miss in Oceanside Harbor. On any given day, you can spot a bunch of sea lions lounging on the docks, and it’s absolutely free to watch! The meandering trails in Guajome Park are free to hike and bike as is fishing in the two ponds bustling with wildlife. There’s even a playground for kids to make this charming destination even more family friendly.
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When it comes to a beach vacation, Vic is the person who certainly has tips on where to go and what to do no matter it is a luxury tropical holiday, a romantic seaside getaway or a fun family trip to the ocean. As a world traveler with years of experience in exploring tropical countries and a water sports fan, she creates this inspiring site where she writes travel guides, reviews and recommends beach gear and gives travel tips to make planning your trip quicker and easier! Are you curious where She wanders now? Follow her adventures on IG too!