Summer may be high season for travel but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender all hope of sticking to a budget. Deals are in bloom all over the Golden State if you know where to look.
When you’re planning your trip, check out the tourist board sites of your destinations—like San Diego Tourism Authority, Discover Los Angeles, and San Francisco Travel—which often post great deals for local hotels and attractions. Sonoma County’s Deals page, for instance, features hotel packages and enough two-for-one wine tasting offers to make you a wine country connoisseur in no time.
Check out these sales and deals below for your summer travel—some are just for June, but many are good throughout the summer and beyond. Another good tip: once you’ve arrived at your destination, stop by the closest California Welcome Center—they’re gold mines of maps, brochures, and local coupons—as well as free copies of the California Visitor’s Guide
Deal: Car Rentals
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner runs from San Diego up to San Luis Obispo, stopping at Anaheim, downtown L.A., Ventura, and Santa Barbara along the way. Buy one full-fare ticket to Santa Barbara and you can get up to three more tickets at a 50 percent discount. Once you arrive, the city of Santa Barbara is easy to explore car-free. Good through June 22.
Stay at one of the “Good Neighbor” hotels a short drive (or even walk) from Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and you’ll get a fourth night free, bundled with tickets to Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure. Check the list of participating hotels: Some have deals that expire mid-June, only to re-start in August, but overall the deals last through 2018.
Deal: $50 Gift Card in Burbank
If you want to watch live TV show tapings or tour studios, the L.A. County town of Burbank makes a prime home base (it even has the easy-access Hollywood Burbank Airport). And when you book your hotel though Visit Burbank’s site, you get a $50 gift card to use during your stay. Good through June 30.
The plush Fairmont Grand Del Mar north of San Diego has a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, the foodie-magnet restaurant Addison, a huge spa, and even an equestrian center. In other words, you likely need more than two days to make the most of it, and this ongoing deal gets you a third night free.
For a lot of theme parks, buying your ticket before you arrive can save you money. In the case of this Carlsbad theme park, you save $14 by buying a one-day ticket online. Better yet, buy an unlimited-entry Play Pass for $109 (just a few bucks more than a regular ticket at the gates), which gives you season-pass privileges until December 25. (You just have to use it for the first time before June 29.) You can also book a hotel stay—choose from the LEGOLAND Hotel and the just-opened LEGOLAND Castle Hotel—that bundles in free kids’ admission tickets, as well as the all-important free breakfast.
The Buena Park theme park and hotbed for boysenberry pie offers an extra-nice incentive for buying ahead: admission prices are just $48 online, a $31 savings from what you’d pay at the park gates.
Summer brings lots of deals to the Palm Springs area and its bevy of stay-cool swimming pools. At the mid-century-modern Riviera, pay tribute to the hotel’s original 1959 opening by booking a second night at $59; the deal also comes with spa and dining credits.
Free: Jazz at LACMA
Downtown L.A. has changed a lot in the past 20 years, but one thing has not: the free evening jazz concerts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The concerts run on Friday nights (starting at 6 p.m.) from April through November, and feature veteran musicians and singers as well as up-and-comers.
Free: North Beach Festival, San Francisco
Soak up the flavor of San Francisco’s historic Little Italy on June 16–17. Now in its 64th year, this is one of the oldest street fairs in the nation and has, beyond the food and art booths, Italian chalk paintings, a kids’ chalk area, and a blessing of the animals.
It’s not the only free festival in San Francisco this month, either. June also brings the Union Street Music Festival (June 2-3), Art & Wine Walk at the Wharf (June 10), and the 34th Annual Fillmore Jazz Festival (June 30–July 1), the biggest free jazz fest on the West Coast.
Explore some of the biggest sights in San Francisco with some seriously qualified guides: the folks at San Francisco City Guides offer free tours, pretty much every day, of iconic attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Nob Hill, and Fisherman’s Wharf—and even cool spins on the city, such as Hitchcock’s San Francisco. Tours typically last 90 minutes to two hours. Check the schedule for meeting times and locations.
Free: Balboa Park Summer Evenings, San Diego
Summer heats up the options at this sprawling city park in San Diego. Thursdays bring free twilight concerts, and “After Dark” Fridays mean that museums stay open later, food trucks line up, and there’s free live music.
Free: Lake Tahoe’s Kiva Beach
Summer in Lake Tahoe offers a wealth of opportunities to kayak, SUP, and just relax on the lakeshore. Locals know that Kiva Beach, on the South shore and at the mouth of Taylor Creek, is one of the few lake beaches with free parking. A nice bonus: the beach is dog-friendly too.
Free: Jelly Belly Factory Tour
The town of Fairfield—about halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento—is home to the Jelly Belly Factory, and this free tour is a shoo-in for both kids and sweet-tooth grownups. The 1/4-mile self-guided tour offers a birds-eye view of the assembly line and includes, of course, free samples.
Free: 1st Thursday, Santa Barbara
On the first Thursday of the month, many of downtown Santa Barbara’s art galleries offer free admission, some adding wine tastings, activities, and live music to the mix.
Other cities have their own versions of that: In Fresno, the artsy Tower District celebrates its ArtHop on the first and third Thursdays of the month. And in L.A.’s Venice Beach, go on the first Friday of the month to try L.A.’s best food trucks, lined up along Abbot Kinney Boulevard.