When you think about a family vacation on the West Coast, you might think beaches…Disneyland…expensive stuff where you might have to take out a second mortgage just to afford hotel rooms and attraction tickets for the fam.
And yet there are plenty of vacation spots where you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg (maybe just an arm). You can even head to some of those family hot spots like Disneyland if you aim for off-peak times and don’t have strict expectations of where to stay.
From north to south, here are our favorite affordable vacation spots on the West Coast…
What? A vacation in Tacoma? Why not! As Seattle’s prices continue to skyrocket, Tacoma is looking more attractive to area residents moving out of the city and there’s no reason why it can’t be the same for visitors. Seattle is an easy jaunt from Tacoma either by car (but, yes, there will likely be traffic) or catch the light rail from one of the southernmost stations and ride that up so you don’t have to worry about parking. Tacoma has a great downtown for families as everything is close together. You can stop by the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, Washington State History Museum, Museum of Glass (watch glass blown up close), Tacoma Art Museum and then not too far off is LeMay – America’s Car Museum as well. And if you want to see more of Western Washington beyond Seattle, Tacoma makes a fabulous base. Cross the Narrows Bridge and explore Gig Harbor and the Olympic Peninsula, head south to see the state Capitol in Olympia, or venture out to the coast.
The Washington Coast is dotted with beach towns, but Ocean Shores is a winner for families for a few reasons. If you’re driving from anywhere in Western Washington, Ocean Shores is the easiest coast town to get to – less time in the car is never a bad thing. It also has more shops than many other Washington Coast towns, and it has an actual grocery store so you can snag those wipes you forgot or pick up some crackers for your picky kids. The beach is wide open and perfect for exploring, and you can drive to the far southern end of town and see giant waves rolling in from the jetty.
Like the Washington Coast, there’s no shortage of beach towns on the Oregon Coast and all of them are fun and family friendly. But if I had to pick one, I’d pick Seaside. It’s got everything you think of when you think of a beach town – a boardwalk that’s perfect for tiny feet and strollers; an aquarium; shops and restaurants galore so you can find one where your kids will actually eat; and cool activities to do like taking a swan-shaped pedal boat up a canal. Oh, and there’s a pretty swell beach too that goes for miles. Hotels in Seaside can get pricier during peak season, but they’re cheaper than other beach towns like nearby Cannon Beach, and you can easily find a room or vacation rental without an oceanview that’s affordable.
Disneyland might not be your first thought when you think about affordable vacations, but the fact is that you can totally control your expenses. Stay at good neighbor hotels that are still very close to the park, but shave a ton off of the cost of an official park hotel. Pack your own food and bring it with you into the park. And buy your souvenirs before you go. These are just a few tips, and you can find a whole lot more affordable Disneyland tips as detailed by Suzette after making many trips to Disneyland with her boys.
Visiting a national park can be a fantabulous affordable family vacation with a range of possibilities. Have a little more in your budget to work with? Most national parks have some kind of hotel or lodge within their bounds. Want to go super cheap and still bask in the awesomeness of nature at its finest? Go camping! Most national parks have campsites or yurts or even cabins if you prefer not to sleep on the ground (#teambed). National parks dot the West Coast and include several stellar ones to choose from – Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, while California serves up Joshua Tree, Death Valley and Yosemite. Best of all, your WiFi or phone connection probably won’t work super well so you can get those kids to focus on family activities out of desperation.
There are lots of California vacation spots that get a lot of buzz. Carlsbad gets less of that buzz, but it’s got a bit of everything as well as hotels that won’t break the bank. For one, you’ve got LEGOLAND and LEGOLAND Water Park, and what kid doesn’t want to go to LEGOLAND? You’ve got beaches – not just one beach, but beachES to choose from – Sea Life Aquarium, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch (the kids might not love this, but it’s super pretty and and an amazing place to take photos), and there are lots of outdoorsy things to enjoy in Carlsbad’s near perfect climate. Take a surfing lesson, go stand up paddle boarding, ride some go karts.
You might not think of Palm Springs as affordable or a family vacation destination, but it’s both. Palm Springs has a series of other desert towns near it, including Cathedral City, Palm Desert, and La Quinta, all in a row along Highway 111. While Palm Springs proper is known for its vintage hotels and glitz, you can easily look for hotels (or resorts…there are some lovely resorts along Highway 111 with pools and palm trees…just leave the kids at home and it will be great!) in Cathedral City, Palm Desert and La Quinta. Activities range from hiking through the Indian Canyons, riding the Aerial Tramway, visiting the Living Desert (a kind of desert zoo), or learning all about dates and enjoying a date shake at Shields Date Farm. Palm Springs is heavily driven by its peak season in the fall, winter and spring. Just say no to visiting during the summer as it’s unbearably hot!
San Diego isn’t really a secret spot, but it can be more affordable than a Disney vacation if you do it right. It’s a great Southern California city for slow travel: visit the San Diego Zoo one day, maybe the San Diego Zoo Safari Park another day (soooo worth it). If your kids are older, explore the Gaslamp Quarter or Old Town, or head to a beach another day. While there are definitely attractions that will cost you, there’s also plenty to do that doesn’t cost much at all like the beach or Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Need more tips? Check out our ultimate guide to traveling with kids!