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West Coast Vacation Destinations on a Budget

Author: Matthew Jackson

World-famous vacation destinations such as San Francisco and San Diego tend to be rather expensive. Fortunately, there are cheaper options along the West Coast that offer plenty of great scenery and things to do.

Morro Bay, California

Located on the central coast between the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas, Morro Bay is a hidden gem for those looking to enjoy the California climate without rubbing elbows with hordes of tourists. Main attractions are the nearby Hearst Castle, the oddly shaped Coos Rock, two state parks and the town aquarium. It's free to stroll along the harbor and watch the otters, seals and the occasional splash of a whale tail. If you want to work on your tan, you can find plenty of great spots in the beach town of Cayucos just north of Coos Bay. With a bit of planning ahead, you can get a decent hotel with a pool for about $50 per night. Nearby San Luis Obispo has an airport with many feeders from surrounding hubs, but it is usually cheaper to fly into Los Angeles or San Jose and rent a car to drive to Morro Bay. That way, you get to enjoy the scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway as part of the vacation experience.

Newport, Oregon

Newport sits smack-dab in the middle of the sparsely populated coastline of Oregon, making the small town of just 10,000 the largest in the area. It features attractions that include whale watching tours, Oregon's tallest lighthouse (the Yaquina Head Light), a pier with a very active seal population, gorgeous beaches and state parks. The unique Devil's Punchbowl is a definite must-see; this giant, natural cauldron fills with sea water at tide and creates a magnificent whirlpool. The town also features an aquarium, a wax museum and a Ripley's Believe It or Not. Famous West Coast brewer Rogue offers tours of its brewery as well as a restaurant. Book hotels well in advance for the best deals; with some online research, you should be able to get a good hotel in or around Newport for between $60 and $70 per night. Newport has a small municipal airport just south of town, but flight options through there can be limited. Many visitors choose to fly into the major flight hub at Portland and drive down the I-5 corridor before breaking west at Albany.

Long Beach, Washington

Long Beach is right at the southwestern tip of Washington, somewhat closer to Portland, Oregon than the Seattle metro area. As the name implies, the main attraction is the magnificent beach that stretches on seemingly forever in both directions. The beach boardwalk and its parallel discovery trail offer hikers and bikers many hours of enjoying the oceanside without suffering the tourist overcrowding often found in more popular spots. The exception to this is during the international kite festival held each August, when the sky is filled with thousands of colorful kites performing tricks; as many as 100,000 visitors congregate in the town for the festival. If you're a kite enthusiast, stop by the kite museum to see some spectacular kites along with historical footage and montages. Don't miss taking a budget-friendly self-paced walking tour of the downtown area. In addition to the cozy small-town stores and eateries, Long Beach features a number of wood sculptures of octopuses, seals, seahorses and other ocean motifs. Hotels are usually around $60 per night, except during the kite festival. If you want to avoid the three- to four-hour drive from Portland or Seattle, look into catching a feeder flight to and from Astoria, Oregon, located just across the Columbia River.

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