Best Budget-Friendly Beach Towns To Visit On The West Coast

It's easy to see the allure of the West Coast: sandy shores, breathtaking views, diverse natural landscapes, and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. Thanks to such beauty, however, it also typically conjures up images of vast cities, luxury living –- and expensive vacations. But, fortunately, you don't need to have deep pockets to enjoy a memorable beach vacation on the West Coast. There are still plenty of options for an affordable trip, thanks to these budget-friendly beach towns which are nestled along the thousands of miles of coastline.

Whether you love hiking, watersports, sampling fresh seafood and local beers, or just relaxing and sunbathing on the beach itself, these budget-friendly destinations promise a memorable vacation on the West Coast –– and all without breaking the bank. From hidden gems to islands to college towns, our list explores some of the best spots in this beautiful scenic region for the cost-conscious traveler.

Crescent City, California

Not far from the Oregon border, Crescent City stands as a hidden gem among California's northern coastal towns. Here, visitors can revel in the natural beauty that California is famous for — surf, sandy beaches, national and state parks, and towering Redwood forests — without encountering the crowds and high prices typically associated with the region's most popular destinations. Offering access to both the Pacific Ocean and beautiful old-growth forests, travelers on a budget will love this beach town. You can while away your days exploring the curving stretch of sand for which the town is named or the numerous hiking and biking trails in the vast, unspoiled landscape that surrounds it: all activities which you can enjoy for free.

This combination of coastline and forest means Crescent City will keep even the most active travelers occupied without having to spend a dime. Jedediah Smith Redwood National Park covers a vast area of 10,000 acres of forest and has 18 miles of hiking trails. Alternatively, if you prefer to stay closer to shore, the town has three beaches around it, all offering different landscapes and activities, from stand-up paddleboarding in the calm waters of South Beach to beachcombing the tidal pools. You'll also find a variety of affordable accommodation options in and around town, including camping and RV parks, both on the edge of the sand and nestled in the forest, as well as some classic, low-cost roadside motels along Highway 101 near the harbor.

Santa Barbara, California

Farther down the West Coast, about two hours north of the bustling city of Los Angeles, lies Santa Barbara. With its white-stuccoed houses, abundant sunshine, and excellent waves, Santa Barbara has all the elements of an iconic Californian beach town. It's even been nicknamed the American Riviera for both its European-inspired architecture and fame during the pre-Hollywood era of the movie industry, when California's first movie studio called the town home. But, despite the glamor of its skyline and reputation, it is also surprisingly budget-friendly: as a college town, it offers numerous affordable places for visitors to eat, drink, and stay.

One of the highlights is its renowned farmers' market, where you can pick up locally grown fruit, artisan cheeses, and homemade jams or pies six days a week — so you can enjoy the taste of the luxury fresh produce that the region is famed for, whilst avoiding restaurant mark-ups. Head up to Franceschi Park for a picnic with some of the best views over Santa Barbara's stunning coastline or, if you're visiting in the summer, enjoy it outside the historic courthouse at a free movie night. University of California, Santa Barbara hosts a series of free events, including outdoor cinema screenings, every Friday evening through July and August.

San Juan Islands, Washington

For beach lovers seeking a closer connection to nature, Washington's San Juan Islands make the ideal destination. You can truly revel in the wonders of the Pacific Northwest on a budget. San Juan Island's hostel in Friday Harbor, right near the ferry terminal, provides a cheap base for exploring further afield or as a first port of call. You can head up to Lime Kiln State Park for a sunset stroll along the rugged cliffs to the lighthouse, or find a spot to look for sea otters, orcas, whales, and porpoises. Reputed to be one of the best whale-watching places in the world, admission to the park is free, although there is a $10 parking fee — all the more reason to leave your car on the mainland.

A round-trip fare for vehicle and driver from the Anacortes ferry terminal on Washington State Ferries starts from $24, although it varies by destination and season. The ferry rides between islands are always free for walk-on passengers, and they're small enough to explore by bicycle or on foot, so you can leave your car behind at the port, save money on fare, and truly embrace nature by hiking and biking.

There are accommodation options on all of the main islands that cater well to cost-conscious travelers, especially campsites. You'll need to reserve your pitch during the peak summer months, but there are plenty of sites to suit every budget, from as little as $45 (for one vehicle and up to four people) on San Juan Island for pitches with incredible views across the water.

La Jolla – San Diego, California

La Jolla boasts crystal-clear waters, gentle surf, and sandy coves — so it's not surprising that this area of San Diego often appears in lists of the top beaches in the world. Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, and its reputation for both the beauty of its beaches and the stylishness of its boutiques, there are lots of free activities to enjoy in La Jolla. There are miles of picturesque coastline to explore and the long stretches of sand and calm waves are perfect for families visiting on a budget, as well as for snorkeling, kayaking, and diving in the warm, fertile waters. You can even watch seals and sea lions frolicking and sunbathing where they've made their home in La Jolla Cove.

Beyond the beach, La Jolla has many more free things to do. You can fly kites in Ellen Browning Scripps Park, wander through the tree-lined streets, and soak up the atmosphere of this lively, bustling town. There are a host of galleries and museums (many of which are free, including the Salk Institute, the Map and Atlas Museum, and the Athenaeum), with the highlight being the incredible Stuart Collection on the University of California San Diego campus, where sculptures and art installations have been integrated into the existing buildings and landscapes, and which is also free to visit. You can find the best deals on accommodation here in La Jolla Village, in the area surrounding the UC San Diego campus.

Coos Bay, Oregon

One of the most affordable beach towns in Oregon, Coos Bay has just as much to offer vacationers on a budget as it does to its residents. With its mild coastal weather, gloriously clear water, and rugged coastline, this is one beach town not to miss in Oregon. Coos Bay is a hidden gem along the scenic Cape Arago Highway which offers a range of hotels, rentals, and campsites for both travelers making a pit stop during a road trip along the West Coast and those looking for an inexpensive site for a beach vacation. Campsites at Bastendorff beach start from as little as $22 a night for tents in the high season.

The beautiful rocky beaches and lush surrounding forests create an unforgettable setting for plenty of free outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, bird watching, and clamming. You can buy fresh fish and wild seafood from local fishermen at the market under the boardwalk (10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Saturdays) to cook up on your camping stove or at your vacation rental for a convenient, cost-effective meal. The owners also have a roving food cart, serving fresh fish and chips and homemade clam chowder, which is the perfect budget-friendly option for visitors who are staying at a hotel or rental without kitchen facilities.

Long Beach, Washington

Just across the Columbia River from the artsy, popular town of Astoria, Oregon, Long Beach offers a budget-friendly alternative for a coastal escape. While it's a convenient base for a day trip to explore Astoria's famous shops and breweries — it's only 30 minutes by car, and the drive has stunning views — Long Beach provides more affordable places to stay and dine. Because it's not as popular a destination for tourists, accommodation in Long Beach tends to be less expensive and more individual, with motels, B&Bs, and cottages, such as the charming Seaview cottages on offer, rather than larger chain hotels.

In addition to its proximity to Astoria, this picturesque town on the southern tip of the Washington coastline has plenty to offer for a seaside vacation in its own right. At 28 miles long, it is the longest stretch of contiguous beach in the United States: a fact which inspired Long Beach's name. Alongside swimming or building sandcastles on the beach, free activities include flying kites along the vast stretch of sand, or watching the vibrant spectacle of the week-long Washington State International Kite Flying Festival each August, hiking out to the historic lighthouses at the mouth of the Columbia River, and strolling along the colorful boardwalk. There are also excellent small-batch brewers and distillers on the seafront at Long Beach, just like in Astoria. Buy a can or fill your own growler with one of the local brews at North Jetty then find a spot among the dunes for a budget-friendly night out.

Cama Beach, Washington

Families hoping to explore the West Coast on a budget will love the wilds of Cama Beach Historical State Park. An hour or so north of Seattle, this resort on Camano Island retains all the charm of the 1930s, which was when the historic camp was first established, thanks to the rows of traditional wood cabins and the wide range of family-friendly activities on offer here. You can rent one of the refurbished waterfront cabins from $72 a night and embrace the sociability of camp life with cook-outs and card games, or just drive in and park up for the day with a Discover Pass ($10 per day or $30 for the year).

There are campfire circles and horseshoe pits — perfect for some good, old-fashioned family fun — as well as a plethora of budget-friendly family programs all year round that take advantage of the stunning natural setting. These include free toy boat building workshops, run by the Center for Wooden Boats, every Saturday (a suggested $5 donation is appreciated), as well as painting, crafting, journaling, and drawing.

Down on the pebble beach, children will love beachcombing and spotting wildlife in the water or the forests that provide a dramatic backdrop. There are also 15 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore in the state park — another excellent way to enjoy spending time together without having to spend a dime.

Carlsbad, California

Named after a renowned Bohemian spa town (now Karlovy Vary, in the west of the Czech Republic) because of the mineral springs that were discovered here by the town's settlers, Carlsbad boasts several sandy beaches and three lagoons. It is situated in North County, 30 miles north of downtown San Diego. You can surf and paddleboard in the warm waters of Tamarack Beach and then jog, cycle, or rollerblade with incredible views over the ocean on the long stretch of paved path that extends along the coastline from the town center.

In addition to its beautiful beaches, Carlsbad is the ideal destination for travelers who like to learn, explore, and discover during their vacation. Known for being the home of LEGOLAND, there are nonetheless lots of great attractions which don't come with such a high price tag. The Carlsbad-Oceanside Art League offers free entry to the North Coastal Art Gallery, as well as free monthly workshops with professional artists. You can also enjoy free admission to the Leo Carillo Ranch Historic Park, where you can explore the hand-crafted adobe buildings that were built in the 1930s, and the vast, beautifully landscaped canyon park. There are even free guided tours available every weekend that include entry to the historic hacienda.

One of Carlsbad's prime features, however, is Batiquitos Lagoon — a magnificent coastal wetland where you can experience some of the West Coast's most extraordinary ecosystems. The nature reserve is also free to visit and the foundation regularly hosts free talks and guided tours for those interested in learning more about the diverse species and environmental concerns of the area.

Ventura, California

The combination of a sunny climate, spectacular coastline, and impressive park system make Ventura one of the most desirable places to live in America. Ventura County has even officially earned this label, according to the "natural amenities index," as reported by The Washington Post. As a result, it's one of the richest parts of California — but that doesn't mean that you have to break the bank in order to vacation in this gorgeous town. The incredible 107-acre Botanical Gardens are free to enter on Fridays (or for a $7 general admission charge on other days) and you can easily while away the day enjoying the thousands of plants — many of which are endangered species — and views over the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands.

Ventura is also famous for its promenade where you can delight in nearly three miles of scenic coastal vistas along Pierpoint Bay from Surfer's Point to Marina Park without spending a dime. You can walk, jog, or cycle along the paved path for excellent beach views during the day, or opt for a sunset stroll to the historic wooden pier while sampling takeout drinks and fresh seafood from one of the nearby street vendors. The beaches themselves are wide and sandy, and you can camp right on the waterfront from just $37 a day for a non-hook-up site.

Yachats, Oregon

Rather than sandy beaches, Yachats is known for the dramatic, rugged shoreline of black basalt rock.  The town's unusual name means "dark water at the foot of the mountain," thanks to the Cascade Mountains which tower over it on the horizon, as well as the unusual tide pools and ocean landmarks which have formed in the rock. Devil's Churn, Thor's Well, Spouting Horn — these strange natural formations in the surging waters make for some of the most interesting sightseeing along the Oregon coast. Perfect for nature lovers and photographers who are traveling on a budget, they can all be visited for free; just be sure to check the tide times before you visit for the best experience.

You can also explore the coastal rainforest and the rocky shoreline of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, which offers excellent tidepooling and beachcombing opportunities. There are 26 miles of hiking trails through the old-growth trees and panoramic views over the ocean from the picnic sites near the visitor center. Parking is available for $5 a day per vehicle.

Bandon, Oregon

Farther south along the Oregon coast, Bandon is a small historic town that lies on the southern side of the Coquille River where it flows into the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to its compact size, the river, forest, scenic beaches, marina, and Old Town district are all within easy walking distance of one another. You can also walk farther afield on the coastal path toward Port Orford and marvel at the free outdoor art exhibits and sculptures which are nestled along this stretch of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail. The beaches are a mixture of tide pools, rock formations, and stretches of soft, golden sand. One of the best spots is Coquille Point where you can both climb the paths up to the top of the bluff and descend on a wide wooden staircase to the beach.

Downtown, this charming and quintessential West Coast beach town has even more offer. A leisurely stroll here will take in window shopping through the indie boutiques and galleries of the Old Town, the public art displays, and views over the Coquille River Lighthouse, where you can also find free tours of the signal room during the summer months. Grab a bite to eat from one of the seafood shacks along the docks that serve up fresh local catch, or hire a clam shovel or fishing rod from $6 a day to get your own.

Sequim, Washington

Located in the northwest corner of Washington, Sequim is the ideal gateway on the Olympic Peninsula for tourists on a budget. The town is surrounded by natural beauty and offers easy access to the Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest, and America's longest natural sandspit that lies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. One of the driest places in the western part of the state, the sunny climate in this valley is ideal for growing lavender and fresh berries. When they're in season, you can visit the local farms to pick your own fruit (which is often cheaper than buying them at the grocery store) or simply to delight in the fragrance and sight of the lavender fields in full bloom. Some of the farms are free to visit, although others do charge a nominal entry fee to help with their costs.

In addition, Sequim is an excellent base for exploring the beaches of the peninsula. If you have a boat or kayak, you can launch your craft for free at Dungeness Landing, or head the short distance north to Port Williams Beach and take a boat trip back around the Sequim Bay. The whole Dungeness Wildlife Refuge — which includes access to the sandspit — is also free to visit. You can walk all the way out to the lighthouse (which is an 11-mile round-trip) and then look back across the Salish Sea for a unique perspective on the towering mountains and rainforests of the Olympic National Park. If you prefer to stay closer to shore, the sandy beach is full of an interesting mix of driftwood, colorful stones, birds, and marine life.