10 Great Family Vacations In California If You’re On A Budget

Published on:
September 29, 2021

2020 did a pretty good job of putting a stop to family vacations in California for a time. It also did a number on a lot of families’ budgets. Luxuries are usually the first things to be eliminated when trying to save money. You may wonder what options are available to you and your family regarding fun family vacations on a budget. Not to worry! California has you covered. Here are some fun family outing ideas if you’re on a budget.

Calico Ghost Town

If you or your kids are into the Wild Wild West scene, taking a trip to the Calico Ghost Town is sure to be a hit. With daily admission set at $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 4-11, and children under 3 getting in for free, it’s pretty affordable. You can even bring Fido for $1, provided you keep him on a 6-foot leash at all times. There are lots of great kids activities to enjoy. You can try your hand at panning for gold, explore an authentic silver mine, tour a railroad, and experience a house full of optical illusions. There are also opportunities to hike, camp, or bike. Be aware that some activities may come with extra charges, so be sure to look into that when planning your trip.

Death Valley

For the outdoorsy family that wants to have an adventure, Death Valley may be the place to go. Death Valley holds the official record for being the hottest place on earth and the lowest point in North America. For $30 per vehicle, you can spend the next seven days going in and out of Death Valley. Any season except summer is typically considered the prime time to visit. Still, you’ll need to be well prepared to visit no matter where you go. You can see different sites featured in Star Wars movies, go stargazing, visit a castle in the middle of nowhere, and observe the desert wildlife.


Not too far from San Francisco, Vallejo boasts various things to see and do, making it a great option for a fun family outing. It’s home to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and the Children’s Wonderland. There are also a variety of parks to play at and trails to explore. When it comes to food, it’s hard to beat fresh, which is exactly what the Vallejo Farmers’ Market offers. How much you spend will depend on what you decide you want to do. Parks tend to be pretty inexpensive, and the Children’s Wonderland is wonderfully affordable at $3 per person over 2. An adult must accompany children. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is one of the more expensive attractions, starting at $19.99 per person.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs may not be the first place you think of taking your kids, but rest assured—it’s full of fun, kid-friendly things to do. There are places to hike, a zoo and gardens, museums, kid-friendly resorts, fun places to eat, a skate park, a desert ice castle, and a trampoline park, just to name a few attractions. Be aware that temperatures can get very hot at Palm Springs, especially during the summer. Make sure you and your kids dress appropriately for the heat and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Sunscreen will be a must.

Balboa Park

If you’re looking for a place to take the family for free, Balboa Park may be a good option for you. While you will have to pay for some attractions, others are free. Admission to park grounds is free, as are the Botanical Building and Timken Art Museum. If you visit during the weekends, you can add the botanical garden shows and Sunday lawn programs to the list of free things to do as a family. Other attractions such as museums, tours, classes, and special events have various admission prices since they are individual institutions. That said, there are plenty of playgrounds, gardens, history, architecture, fountains, trails, and statues to experience at no charge.

Lake Tahoe

If your family likes boating or water sports, Lake Tahoe is a fantastic place to go for a fun family outing at any time of the year. There, you can participate in lots of opportunities for hiking, biking, and water or snow sports. The East Peak Trail offers a gondola ride as part of the experience (though there is a fee for anyone over the age of four). The Emerald Bay gives you a chance to see a reproduction of a Norse castle from 800 AD. These hikes are 1.6 miles and 2 miles, respectively, so they may be better suited to families with children instead of toddlers unless you want to use a carrier for some of the hikes. For younger families who use strollers, Tahoe Meadows is a nice, easy hike with beautiful views. Most water activities probably won’t involve a ton of swimming since this lake is an alpine lake. Kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, and fishing are all popular water activities. If warmer water is more to your family’s taste, be sure to check out the hot springs. During the winter months, you can take advantage of the ski resorts.

Lake Arrowhead

Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, Lake Arrowhead has lots of fun activities for everyone in the family. You can take a boat tour on the Arrowhead Queen, play in the water at the nearby Lake Gregory, hike, bike, fish, and go geocaching. Then there’s Lollipop Park, which has a bunch of fun activities for kids. They can ride a merry-go-round, play miniature golf, ride bumper carts, and visit a candy store that has funhouse mirrors that are sure to tickle a laugh out of your little ones. No matter what time of year you choose to visit, there’s bound to be something fun to do.

Yosemite National Park

If you want to truly blow your kids’ minds, take them to Yosemite National Park. They’ve probably seen some decently large trees before (or at least what they thought were big), but the giant sequoias are big enough to make an adult’s jaw drop too. You can wade in the Merced River, hike a variety of trails, visit different waterfalls, and observe a variety of wildlife. Your kids can even become Junior Rangers if they want! Expect to pay $35 per vehicle to visit for a day.

Knott’s Berry Farm

For the family that loves amusement parks, Knott’s Berry Farm is sure to please. There are a variety of fun rides and attractions for younger children and thrill rides for older children. A few rides can work for kids between the two age groups, but not too many, so this vacation may be best if your family fits well into one of those two groups. If you want to visit during any festivals, be sure to check their calendar to see when they are before planning your trip. Expect to pay $55 for a normal single-day ticket purchased online or $89 when purchased at the gate.

Old Town San Diego

To see where everything got started in California, check out Old Town San Diego. There are a bunch of different attractions and historical sites. Whether you want to check out haunted spaces, museums, delicious restaurants, or give your kids a chance to see what it’s like to be locked in an old west jail cell, there are fun activities for everyone. Kids can try their hand at dipping candles, indulge in sweet treats at a candy shop, solve a crime scene, and check out a model railroad display.

As it turns out, there are many fun, relatively inexpensive family vacation spots worth visiting in California. If all of that time at home has the family going a bit stir crazy with a case of cabin fever, take some time now to plan a great family vacation that won’t break the bank. You deserve a break from the stress of ongoing pandemic life. When it ends, celebrate with a fun-filled, inexpensive family vacation ripe with multiple opportunities to make fantastic memories.

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