The 10 Best West Coast Destinations for an Affordable Weekend Trip

written by MICHELLE LEMA
Source: Unsplash | Peter Robbins
Source: Unsplash | Peter Robbins

Sometimes, getting away for the weekend is the best way to reset for the week ahead, especially if you’re in need of a change in scenery. As someone who consistently struggles with packing for longer trips, the idea of only having to pack for a couple of nights already sets me at ease. Next on my list? Finding somewhere affordable that’s also within driving distance or a short plane ride away. If you live on the West Coast, there are so many great destinations that are not only budget-friendly but—dare I say—more fun than the typical travel hot spots you might think of immediately.

With these West Coast destinations, you can easily hop in the car or board your flight on a Friday, spend the weekend exploring, and be back home and ready for the week ahead by Sunday evening. So grab your weekender bag: These are the best ​​places to visit on the West Coast for an affordable weekend getaway.

1. Ventura, California

west coast destinations
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While I love a Malibu getaway, Ventura (located about an hour up the coast) is much more affordable and low-key. This surf town offers miles of gorgeous beaches and a casual seaside vibe. Grab a bite and drink at VenTiki Lounge & Lanai on Main Street, or head to Ventura Beach and sample oysters at The Jolly Oyster, located right on the sand. For something more active, the Ventura River Bike Trail is a must for bikers and walkers alike. The miles-long path offers scenic views of the area in a constantly changing landscape.

You also can’t beat sitting on the beach and watching the surfers, and Surfers Point at Seaside Park is a great place to do so. If you feel like partaking, you’ll find plenty of rental shops where you can grab a board and supplies. If you’re looking for scenic views, the Ventura Botanical Garden is a serene place to see the town and the sprawling ocean from above. While the garden closes before sundown, you can easily walk down the hill to Serra Cross to admire panoramic sunset views before heading back into town.

Where to stay: Inn on the Beach (from $170 a night), Ventura Beach Marriott (from $184)

2. Bodega Bay, California

west coast destinations
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If you live in northern California, Bodega Bay is one of the best hidden gems on the coast for a relaxing weekend. You’ll notice quite a few references to the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock in the town, which provided the setting for his iconic (and chilling) movie The Birds. Whether you’re a Hitchcock fan or not, experiencing Bodega Bay will be anything but chilling, as the seaside town is actually quite cozy. But if you do want to experience the chill of cold-water surfing, there are plenty of wetsuit and board rental options in town. Or if you prefer to see the ocean from land, the Pinnacle Gulch Trail leads around the surrounding hillsides, ending right on the beach for a long sandy stroll.

To refuel, snag a table with a view at The Tides Wharf & Restaurant or grab a quick bite at their snack bar while watching the adorable local seals sunbathe on the dock. If you’re into wine tasting, Gourmet Au Bay on the north end of the bay has plenty of local options, as well as a full menu to enjoy while taking in the waterfront view. For a more traditional winery experience, head just south of town to Sonoma Coast Vineyards. Step up to the bar for a guided wine tasting, or pick up a bottle of wine and a charcuterie picnic box to enjoy outside on the hill overlooking Bodega Bay.

Where to stay: The Inn at the Tides (from $195 a night), The Lodge at Bodega Bay (from $227)

3. Long Beach Peninsula, Washington

west coast destinations
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For those looking to explore the Pacific Northwest, there are plenty of beautiful locations off the coast of Washington. For unbeatable Pacific Ocean views, head to Long Beach Peninsula and snap a pic in front of the sign that designates it as the “World’s Longest Beach.” While that claim is not technically correct (it’s the world’s longest beach on a peninsula), the endless stretch of sand is definitely a sight to see. This is the type of beach where you’ll want to sprawl out on the sand and relax all day long. But if you want to get in some extra activity, the nearby Discovery Trail is a perfect place to stretch your legs on its 8.5-mile paved path.

For another break from the beach, Long Beach Peninsula offers several museums and historical sites to explore, including the North Head Lighthouse, where you can enjoy panoramic ocean views from atop the cliffs. Make sure to also check out the World Kite Museum, which houses over 1,500 kites from around the world. Afterward, rent your own kite to fly on the nearby beach. When you’re ready for a snack, Pickled Fish is a go-to spot for local seafood, craft cocktails, and stunning views of the ocean. And if your priority in the mornings is coffee, check out Bold Coffee Art & Framing, where you can admire some local art and caffeinate at the same time.

Where to stay: Boardwalk Cottages (from $109 a night), Inn at Discovery Coast (from $157)

4. Morro Bay, California

west coast destinations
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If you’ve ever driven along the Central Coast of California, you might have noticed the iconic Morro Rock, a huge volcanic mound that sits just off the coast. Just inland from this 576-foot-tall landmark lies a little seaside town with a perfect vibe for anyone who loves the ocean and local art. Of course, the most popular place to hang out is the area around Morro Rock, including the surrounding beach and ecological preserve. Before you hit the beach and take in the views, walk down the Embarcadero waterfront district to do some souvenir shopping or grab a bag of saltwater taffy. Don’t miss the otter viewing area on the nearby T Pier, where you can watch the otters live their best lives as you relish in the bay views.

For a break from the beach, drive east about 15 minutes to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, or head north on Highway 1 about 30 miles to tour Hearst Castle, a fabulous estate built by William Randolph Hearst. After heading back to town for dinner, check out Blue Sky Bistro on the Bay for a spectacular sunset view and live music.

Where to stay: 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites (from $90 a night), Inn at Rose’s Landing (from $175)

5. Pismo Beach, California

west coast destinations
Source: Pexels | Lindsey Garrett

Just south of Morro Bay, Pismo Beach has an energetic vibe, with plenty of local events and activities to take part in. The Pismo Beach Pier Plaza is the center of the action and often hosts events like wine-tasting pop-ups, car shows, jazz festivals, and the annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival, which has been going on since the 1940s. For a more low-key activity, Pismo Beach is a great place for whale watching, as gray and humpback whales are often spotted in the area. So if you, like me, love seeing whales jump out of the ocean and cackling in pure delight, this is definitely the spot to settle in on the beach with your binoculars in hand.

If you feel like hopping in a car, the famous Madonna Inn, known for its eclectic-themed rooms and storybook atmosphere, is just a 15-minute drive away. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s a fun place to wander, grab a drink, or book a spa treatment if you’re feeling luxurious. The signature spa facial starts at $150. When you return to Pismo, grab a bite to eat near the boardwalk (Sunsets at Pismo is just one of many delicious options on the pier) and take an evening walk along the sand to finish your night.

Where to stay: Sandcastle Hotel on the Beach (from $160 a night), Sea Venture Beach Hotel & Restaurant (from $184)

6. Bandon, Oregon

west coast destinations
Source: Unsplash | Peter Robbins

For a magical seaside escape that feels more off the beaten path, make Bandon, Oregon your next road trip destination. Although the town itself is very small, the spectacular views and secluded beaches are definitely worth a visit. Stroll down the beach just steps away from the main street to take in the area’s unique rock formations and spot some wildlife. Back in town, you can check out Bandon’s Farmers and Artisan Market, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays and offers a wide selection of local produce, baked goods, and handmade crafts. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a bike or throw on your hiking boots and check out the many scenic trails just a short drive away.

After a good night’s sleep, grab a cup of coffee at Bandon Coffee Cafe before wandering the shops and taking in the outdoor art around the Old Town shopping district. In the evenings, Bandon’s nightlife is quiet and serene, but the local restaurant scene does not disappoint. If you’re in the mood for Italian, Alloro Wine Bar & Restaurant is the perfect place to grab a glass of wine and some house-made pasta. Or if the night is warm, pull up a seat on the upper balcony of The Loft Restaurant & Bar, where you can enjoy views of the marina and a cozy atmosphere.

Where to stay: Bandon Marina Inn (from $86 a night), Bandon Inn (from $133)

7. Paso Robles, California

west coast destinations
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Paso Robles is one of California’s oldest wine regions, but it often gets overlooked in favor of more well-known areas like Sonoma and Napa. However, you’ll find some incredible family-owned wineries here that have amazing wine-tasting rooms. Even if you’re not big into wine, the scenic views of the rolling hills are enough to warrant a visit. For the best place to stay in Paso Robles, book a room at one of the wineries, many of which include a curated bed and breakfast experience. If you’re just looking to check out wineries and distilleries during the day, Croad Vineyards and Re:Find Distillery offer excellent experiences.

Once you’ve gotten your wine fix, head into the main town square to visit the Paso Market Walk, a modern take on a farmer’s market where you can sample local foods and purchase local crafts. For dinner, make a reservation at Taste, an intimate eatery that offers a fusion of different cuisines. Afterward, take a serene walk along the nearby Salinas River Walk, a two-mile trail that meanders along the river.

Where to stay: The Edenhouse Vineyard (from $125 a night), Allegretto Vineyard Resort Paso Robles (from $191)

8. Cannon Beach, Oregon

west coast destinations
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Cannon Beach is one of the best West Coast destinations for anyone who loves to take their dog with them on vacation. The city’s namesake beach is dog-friendly, as are many of the shops, restaurants, and surrounding hiking trails. Leash up your pup to stroll along the sand and catch a view of Haystack Rock, a huge sea stack that rises 235 feet out of the ocean. To work up a bigger sweat, explore the nearby Ecola State Park, where you’ll find several miles of hiking trails stretching along the coastline (many of them paved). And for any surfers out there, if the waves are good, you can rent all the gear you’ll need at one of the many surf shops in town.

If you’re looking for a more relaxing activity, head into town to peruse the many art galleries and shops, or take an art class at House of Orange and create your own work of art. In the evenings, grab a drink at Pelican Brewing, which has a spacious dining area and is just steps away from the beach. After happy hour, check out Anna’s Table, a source-to-table restaurant that celebrates the area’s regional cuisine.

Where to stay: Hallmark Resort & Spa (from $164 a night), Schooner’s Cove Inn (from $259)

9. Ojai, California

west coast destinations
Source: Unsplash | Johanna Zender

Ojai is one of those places that feels like you’re stepping into another time and place. There’s really no other town like it, thanks to its mixture of interesting shops, endless bike and walking paths, and wellness retreats. This is the ultimate West Coast destination for anyone who needs to recharge and reconnect with friends or a partner. While you wander down Ojai Avenue and check out shops, make sure to try a kombucha tasting at Revel or a honey tasting at Heavenly Honey Company. A must-see classic in the area is Bart’s Books, an outdoor bookstore that has tons of charm and whimsy—and a lot of photo ops for the book lovers out there.

As someone who loves bees, but usually tries to steer clear of them, I was surprised that the beekeeping experience at Ojai Valley Inn was one of my favorite activities in Ojai. Fitted in a full beekeeper suit for protection, you’ll tour the local beehives with an expert. This might sound nerve-wracking, but for me, the humming and presence of the bees was actually calming. Afterward, head into town for a delicious meal and dessert at The Dutchess, a Burmese-Californian restaurant that has quickly become one of the most popular spots in town.

Where to stay: Caravan Outpost (from $190 a night), The Emerald Iguana Inn (from $259)

10. Joshua Tree, California

west coast destinations
Source: Unsplash | Amanda Murphy

If you’re looking for a desert adventure instead of the beach, Joshua Tree is the perfect getaway. Just north of the slightly more expensive Palm Springs, Joshua Tree offers a rustic and quiet atmosphere with endless desert views studded with the trees the town is named for. Nights in Joshua Tree are especially peaceful, and you’ll be amazed by the amount of stars you’re able to see on a clear night. As such, it’s a great place for camping or glamping, a popular alternative to staying in a traditional hotel.

During the day, make sure to check out the sprawling Joshua Tree National Park. With endless trails, lookout points, rock climbing, and horseback riding, you can honestly spend an entire weekend just exploring the park and still feel like you have more to see. For a meal and music, it’s worth the 15-minute drive to see the famous restaurant Pappy & Harriet’s, located in Pioneer Town. It’s almost always crowded, but it’s worth the wait to enjoy the unique atmosphere while you cool down from the desert heat.

Where to stay: Joshua Tree Village Campground (from $115 a night), The Castle House Estate (from $139)