Last Updated on September 1, 2022
The hazy, sun-drenched coast of Southern California is etched into the imagination of almost every traveler. It is an extraordinarily beautiful place to visit, and absolutely perfect for a couple’s vacation.
And when you think of a California vacation, there are probably a few images that spring to mind. Gorgeous stretches of sand, laid-back surf communities, and endless sunny days will be right up there.
As will elegant (and expensive!) restaurants and wineries in Napa Valley, the chic dining scene in San Francisco, the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, and the upscale resorts in Malibu, Montecito, and Del Mar, among others. A romantic trip to California might seem like a dream, but also a little out of your price range if you are trying to travel on a budget!
But California is not just golden beaches and long, hot surfing summers. And it’s also not just for the Malibu, Beverly Hills, and Napa Valley crowds.
A cheap romantic getaway in Southern California can take in a cozy cabin surrounded by giant redwoods, a hut on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a trek through wild desert landscapes or vast forested national parks ending with a night stargazing under canvas, and if you have more time why not plan on cruising from California and explore the Pacific coast? And of course, you can also plan your dream California beach vacation on a budget too!
So if you and your loved one are planning a romantic getaway in Southern California on a budget, check out some of these surprisingly affordable yet supremely loved-up destinations. Each one is guaranteed to bring charm, romance, and a touch of magic to your trip!
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
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Yosemite National Park
The grandeur, tranquility, and sheer unadorned natural beauty of Yosemite National Park is what makes it such an amazing cheap destination for couples, and the beauty of it is that enjoying the vast majority of its splendor doesn’t cost a dime! Hike the trails of the park by day, surrounded by magnificent sequoias and redwoods, then relax and watch the night sky once the sun goes down.
Don’t miss seeing the majestic and remarkable Yosemite Falls. These stunning cascades can be seen for miles around, and at times it seems like you can’t turn a corner without seeing them in the distance, but nothing compares to the awesome power and might of seeing them up close.
If you are vacationing in Yosemite as a couple then you are probably pretty adventurous, so don’t miss out on hiking one of the more famous routes the park has to offer. The two best are probably El Capitan and Half Dome, and while they might be challenging, the sense of achievement you will get after reaching the summit of either of these two landmarks is immense!
Many of the roads in Yosemite are closed in winter due to snow, so avoid the colder months. For the rest of the year, the best months to visit are May and September, when the climate is warm but not stifling and the crowds are not overwhelming.
The most budget-friendly way to stay in Yosemite is, of course, to camp! But if you are in the mood for just a little more luxury than a bedroll and a tent, try the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort & Spa, which offers a wonderful range of accommodation to suit every budget, from hostel beds ($30) to private studios ($200)!
Joshua Tree National Park
Southern California is full of wonderful national parks, and as we’ve seen above with Yosemite they make amazing, romantic, and affordable vacation destinations.
Joshua Tree is one of the best romantic getaways in Southern California for couples on a budget, and is a stunning contrast to the mountainous forests of Yosemite, in a very good way. The eerie, almost alien landscape is stunning and offers the opportunity for all manner of fun couple’s photos, and exploring the park will not even begin to break the bank. Entry is $30 per vehicle, you can camp for around $15 a night in one of the nine campgrounds, or even for free if you are happy to set up your tent far enough away from roads and trails!
The highlight of Joshua Tree National Park is the amazing Joshua Trees themselves. Take the Hidden Valley Nature Trail and explore the remarkable, rugged desert landscapes interrupted by vast, looming rock formations and the twisted, brittle, otherworldly trees.
As a national park, Joshua Tree is all about the great outdoors, so get out and explore! Rock climbing the various cliff faces and crags is an exciting activity, or if you aren’t quite so interested in exerting yourself why not take a road trip and ride through the amazing landscape.
The park is open all year round, but do remember that it is a desert, so the temperatures in summer can be brutal. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to enjoy this destination, from March to May and October to November. Do keep in mind that even at these times the climate is hot, with days regularly reaching 85 degrees!
If you are really trying to get things done on a shoestring, backcountry camping is permitted in Joshua Tree for free! There are other affordable options that come with a few more amenities, like 9 Palms Inn, a simple and charming motel near the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base. You can also consider glamping in Josua Tree or nearby, or book a cabin (you’ll find many options under 100$).
If your plans involve LA but you don’t actually want to be in LA, then Ventura might just make the perfect romantic weekend getaway destination in Southern California. Located just north of Los Angeles, it is a charming, relaxed seaside town with loads of romantic things to see and do, without the high prices that come with the big city.
Lying just off the California coast, the Channel Islands National Park is a tiny archipelago of 5 remarkably ecologically rich islands, perfect for nature lovers to explore. Anacapa Island offers great hiking and a charmingly romantic historic lighthouse. Santa Cruz has the moody, atmospheric sea caves, while Santa Rosa has the rare Torrey pines. If wildlife watching is your thing, head to San Miguel for seals, or Santa Barbara for nesting seabirds. Entrance to the park is free.
For energetic couples, the excellent Ventura to Ojai bike path is a great activity. The 30-mile ride is gentle yet exciting, with some great mountain and lakeside views, and Ojai itself is a pleasant town with an artsy, New Age atmosphere.
Ventura has wonderful weather year-round, but does get busy during the most popular summer months. Take advantage of the glorious climate and visit in spring, autumn, or even winter!
If you don’t want to break the bank but still want to stay somewhere cool and romantic, then try the delights of Waypoint Ventura, a trailer park with a twist! Consisting of 10-15 retro trailers from the 1950s restored to perfection, this is vintage cool personified, while the communal fire pit and barbeque add a delightful convivial ambiance.
They are also many condos available for less than 100$ a night.
Idyllwild is a charming little SoCal spot tucked away deep in the San Jacinto Mountains, although only a couple of hours drive from LA. As a small mountain town it offers a laid-back, relaxed, and simple atmosphere, without the hustle and bustle (and high prices!) of the larger California cities. Idyllwild has a refreshingly old-timey vibe, with loads of independent restaurants and stores to explore, and makes for a lovely and romantic weekend break in Southern California.
Check out the Idyllwild Nature Center, just outside town on Highway 242. It is one of the best places to really dive deep into the history and culture of the San Jacinto Mountains (including the Cahuilla Native culture), the fauna and flora of the area, and the various fascinating habitats and ecology. It boasts a couple of lovely tours and trails where you can see the delightful plants and flowers of the region.
One of the best things to do in Idyllwild is to get out of town and up into the mountains, as the local rock climbing scene is superb! If you and your partner are into outdoor adventure, Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock are two of the best spots to try your hand at bouldering or abseiling.
Autumn is without a shadow of a doubt the best time of the year to visit Idyllwild. In September the temperatures are still good, but the summer crowds have gone, and you’ll begin to see the fall colors of the mountain forests, which is quite a magical sight!
There are plenty of romantic hotels, lodges, and inns scattered around town, but for value for money it is hard to beat Idyllwild Vacation Cabins. 40 self-catered cabins in a beautiful forest setting, with 24hr guest service, internet, and even a hot tub!
Have you ever wanted to take a romantic trip to Europe, but just couldn’t save up the cash? If so, then Solvang is absolutely the Southern California destination for you! This quaint and unusual California town is designed to look and feel exactly like a Danish village, and exudes historic charm and Scandi cool in equal measures. The architecture is gorgeous, and you’ll find you could spend a lot of time just wandering around the town center, but there are plenty of other things to do as well. And at just under an hour’s drive from Santa Barbara, it is incredibly accessible!
The European vibes are immensely strong in the Santa Ynez Valley, and you can combine northern AND southern European experiences by heading up to the Old Mission Santa Inés in the hills above the Santa Ynez River. A historic Spanish mission, one of 21 built in the region by Franciscan missionaries, it is a truly beautiful building and houses a fascinating museum as well.
No visit to Solvang would be complete without really getting under the skin of this delightful little town. This means strolling around admiring the Scandinavian-style architecture, popping into as many shops and boutiques as you can for traditional Danish souvenirs, and gorging yourselves on delectable Danish treats like aebleskiver from the many wonderful bakeries the town offers.
Given the exquisite SoCal climate you can visit Solvang all year round. The best months, weather-wise, are from May to October, although the summer high season can be a little crowded.
For elegance and sophistication that won’t upset your bank manager, the Mirabelle Inn is a great shout and an affordable romantic hotel in Southern California. This classic half-timbered Danish building is right in the town center, and offers light and airy rooms complete with antique furniture and hardwood floors.