Plan an Affordable Summer Trip: SoCal Getaways & Activities on a College Budget!
School’s out for the summer, which means it’s time for you to take a well-deserved break!
Although most of us would love to spend the summer abroad, backpacking through Europe, or on the sea, basking in the sun on a Caribbean cruise, some things are just out of our budget.
Luckily for us, Southern California hosts a variety of spots that are perfect for a daycation, weekend getaway or week-long trip! And the plus side: visiting these places is within your budget.
LOS ANGELES HUNTINGTON LIBRARY
(About 25 minutes away)
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, 91108
Enjoying a tranquil moment by escaping the chaos after one year of college life is definitely the best way to start a summer vacation. Huntington Library is a beautiful place to relax and explore.
It's not only one of the finest research libraries in the world, but it also boasts a splendid art collection and a botanical garden. The scholarly atmosphere inside the library perfectly matches its elegant architecture. You can either absorb yourself into the world of great literature or appreciate the most comprehensive collections of 18th and 19th-century European art.
And roam around those beautiful botanical gardens decorated by a variety of botanical attractions, including the Subtropical, Herb, Jungle and Palm flora.
The admission fee for college students with a student ID is only $12, which is really worth considering.
(About 30 minutes away)
Long Beach is another great summer destination for college students who want to have fun. As a giant playground located in the heart of Southern California, it provides a variety of activities for students to enjoy. From the regal Queen Mary to the stirring theater shows, Long Beach is a city every SoCal resident should explore.
A journey to the Aquarium of the Pacific helps you discover the amazing wonders under the sea. You can touch sea jellies, meet amazing reefs of the tropical Pacific and enjoy Turtle Vision 4-D.
Boarding the Queen Mary is another amazing experience that you must try in Long Beach. The legendary ship is known for its groundbreaking construction and its great adventures during World War II. Its rich history, amazing stories, wonderful exhibitions, interesting tours, luxury hotels and restaurants attract thousands of visitors from around the world.
The ticket package for both the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Queen Mary is only $42 when you order through its website, which is a very reasonable price for a luxury one-day summer trip.
Going hiking around the L.A. area is another way to spend a day during the summer. Here are some recommended and popular trails that are free of charge:
Runyon Canyon Park
2000 N. Fuller Ave.
Los Angeles, 90046
As one of the most popular hiking trails in L.A., this fun hike gives you a sweeping view of L.A. with the Hollywood sign, Downtown, Culver City and more. The trail is not hard, with only a few steep ups and downs. Also, don't be surprised if you run into one or two celebs!
(about 1 hour away)
Rather than providing you a view of L.A.’s city modernization, Sandstone Peak, (the tallest point in the Santa Monica Mountains) gives you a bird’s eye view of the expansive ranges. So, if you’re tired of living in a city and want to enjoy a gorgeous nature view, Sandstone Peak is your best choice.
Los Liones Canyon Trail
(About 32 minutes away)
While hiking on this lush, green, shady trail, you will take in views of Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. The trail is low intensity, perfectly designed for college students who yearn to hang out in the wildness but don’t want to break a sweat.
(off the coast of Southern California)
So, you might not be able to afford visiting islands such as Hawaii or the Bahamas—but you might be able to splurge on a trip to Catalina Island!
This island is a perfect place to explore the underwater world. Clear water and abundant marine life attract thousands of divers and snorkelers looking to have an epic underwater adventure. The two most popular spots to go diving and snorkeling are Casino Point and Lover’s Cove.
Casino Point is a world-class snorkeling hotspot located only an hour or from L.A. The gear can be rented for about $10.
Lover’s Cove is another dive spot, but you can snorkel here for free! Prepare to see octopus, striped starfishes, Garibaldi goldfishes, lobsters and other amazing marine life.
Besides underwater adventures, simply roaming Catalina's streets is fun. The smell of eucalyptus trees and wild fennel will relax you during a one or two-day summer excursion.
For special deals, check out Groupon. You can get a double-queen room for about $77 a night. If you bring a few friends to split the costs, a weekend trip to Catalina is definitely doable.
(About 1 hour and 40 minutes away)
Shrinking London, Sydney or Buenos Aires into a small but comprehensive city, Santa Barbara is a low-consumption destination perfectly designed for college students.
Without crowded streets and traffic jams, the city has a peaceful culture, with its beautiful beaches and mountains.
However, Santa Barbara is also known for its various museums. For example, Santa Barbara Mission is not only a church, but it’s also a museum where visitors can get a glimpse into the city’s history through the museum’s colonial artifacts and amazing photographs. Plus, admission is only $5.
Heading out of Mission into the heart of downtown through State Street, you’ll come across the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, another place you have to visit. A number of art collections and exhibitions from America, Asia and Europe will teach you some things you’ve never learned in school.
All of Santa Barbara’s museums cost less than $10 for college students with a student ID.
If you want to go shopping, hang out in bars or watch movies, Santa Barbara’s most famous street—State Street—is a good place to go. You can either catch a ride on a cheap trolley or simply walk on the street to enjoy the city’s relaxing ambience. Restaurants with various tastes are always waiting for you to drop by.
When planning a summer mini-trip to Santa Barbara, try to plan for a two to three-day visit. You can book a room with a queen bed at The Old Yacht Club for about $104 a night via Groupon. Again, bringing more friends on this trip is the best way to save money!
(About 2 hours away)
San Diego is known for Sea World and the San Diego Zoo; however, there are more fun activities for college students to discover.
Take a small hike to the Cabrillo National Monument, which is located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego. The lighthouse will give you a spectacular view of the city. From there, you can see the Pacific Ocean, San Diego-Coronado Bridge, Downtown San Diego and all the way to Mexico. The entrance fee for a single walk-in visitor is only $3.
Or, take a kayaking tour of the La Jolla Sea Caves. The water tour is about two hours long, but you can also just rent a two-person kayak for as low as $45. When you’re out there on the water, you might see sea lions and pelicans basking on the rocks, dolphins leaping and seabirds flocking above your heads. If you take the sea cave tour, you will be amazed by the caves’ magnificent beauty.
At night, the only place to party is the Gaslamp Quarter. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs—Gaslamp is where the bulk of San Diego’s nightlife is located. Parking is atrocious, though; definitely take a cab or arrive early.
If you want to stay a few nights in San Diego, check out hotels and apartments on airbnb.com or other booking websites. There are so many great places under $100 per night!
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
(About 2 hours and 15 minutes away)
Joshua Tree National Park lies about 140 miles east of Los Angles near Palm Springs. The park is known for its bizarre desert landscape, which features some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts such as bare rocks, rugged mountains, twisted Joshua trees and various cacti. And at night, you can clearly see dozens of twinkling stars in the sky. It’s an ideal place to camp for a seven-day or weekend summer getaway.
There are nine camping grounds, and two of them have running water available. The park charges only $15 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. I recommend you first stop in one of the four visitor centers to get maps, trail information and weather conditions. Then, check out each wonderful spot in the park by following the map’s directions. You can do several small hikes or one long hike.
During the hike, those crazy rock climbers who are dedicated to reaching the top of the cliff will amaze you. And don’t miss a rabbit bouncing back and forth among the rocks in front of you. You will learn to appreciate nature’s loveliness. Also, be sure to bring enough water.
If you want to visit Joshua Tree but you don’t like to sleep outside, a hotel in Palm Springs is your next-best choice.
Palm Springs is a desert resort city located only 45 minutes away from Joshua Tree National Park. Most of the hotels are community-style with friendly services. A deluxe, two-queen bedroom costs around $100, which can be split evenly by four people. Airbnb.com or booking.com are two websites where you can find cheap prices.