California Discount Travel Tips: Traveling Five Star For Less

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A Vintage California Travel Postcard

A Vintage California Travel Postcard

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine

I have a confession to make. I love to travel. Many years ago an old boyfriend accused me of wishing to live in luxury hotels and travel the globe non-stop. In hindsight, there is some truth to that statement. But really, what’s so wrong about that?

I love the luxury of a Frette robe and a room service breakfast savored in bed while reading my morning paper. From time to time, we all need a little pampering to renew our spirits and refresh our souls. The trick is to live deluxe but not pay five star prices. Finding the best for less has always been The Recessionista’s manifesto.

Living in Los Angeles, I am very lucky. Los Angelinos enjoy easy access to one of the largest airports in the world and a variety of wonderful getaways just a short car trip away. In this article, I want to share with you some of my top California travel destinations. I also wanted to share some of my travel tested resources and recommendations for enjoying a reasonably priced, luxurious trip. Following are some of my favorite excursions in California.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, some of you may be looking for a special getaway.  Most of these hotels offer romance packages, or can help you create a package tailored to your needs.

My favorite road trips from Los Angeles

Big Sur, Monterey and Carmel
One of my favorite getaways from Southern California is the natural beauty of the Big Sur coast and the quirky town of Carmel.  Big Sur is a refuge for nature lovers and a place to truly get away from it all.  If you crave escape from the big city, Big Sur is the place.  You can travel high-end or low end in Big Sur.  For a cheap and cheerful getaway, check out the campgrounds and cabins.   For a more high-end getaway, take a look at the Hyatt Highlands Hotel.  The location is conveniently located between the charming village of Carmel and Big Sur.  It really is the “gateway” to Big Sur.  The rooms are luxurious condos with fireplaces, kitchens and jacuzzi tubs.  For R&R there is a full gym, swimming pool and trails you can run or hike through the property.  The hotel restaurant, Pacific’s Edge, is an excursion itself with fantastic food and wine on the menu.  To save a bit, try the Happy Hour in the bar.  The food is from the same kitchen and it’s every bit as good as ordering from the restaurant during dinning hours.

If you want to spend a bit less but still be near Big Sur, check out the Hyatt Monterey.  The hotel regularly offers specials.  Benefits of the Hyatt Monterey include the fantastic Accista spa, the fire grilled pizzas at the TusCA Ristorante and the golf course.  Of the amenities at the Hyatt Monterey, the spa is the most worthwhile in my opinion.  I visited last fall and was blown away by the quality of services offered.  The staff is top notch and both the facials and massages are relaxing and nuturing.  Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, the spa is worth visiting.  Check out their Facebook specials to save. The only drawback of the Monterey Hyatt is the rooms are not all connected via an indoor walkway.  That means you have to walk outside to get to your room.  But, for the price, that may be an inconvenience  you can live with.

If you want to stay in the heart of the village of Carmel, try either the TallyHo Inn or Doris Day’s Cypress Inn Hotel.   Look for deals on both hotels using Yelp or TripAdvisor where specials are posted.   Staff at both hotels is personable and uber-friendly.  Don’t hesitate to call either hotel on the phone and ask about specials. Going direct to the hotel, before summer vacation season, and asking about specials is a great way to save. Carmel-by-the-Sea offer great shopping as well as wine tasting.  Fifteen  tasting rooms are now located in the walkable Carmel one square mile known for unique shops.  Vineyard experiences along River Road are also gaining momentum with A-T-V rides through the vines.

Monterey County offers some of the best wine tasting in California.   Wine Enthusiast has just selected Monterey as one of the  2013 Top Ten Wine Travel Destination in the World.  Monterey County is the only California wine region to make the 2013 list.  “Monterey County offers so many unique and top-class experiences in not only wine and food but in everything from outdoor adventures to art to sightseeing. It has an undiscovered, offbeat, creative flair while at the same time offering very elegant experiences. We feel Monterey represents our reader – extremely modern, approachable, sincerely quality driven.  Glamour without pretense,” says Wine Enthusiast Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa.  To get details on wine tasting in Monterey, visit

Santa Barbara, CA
Beautiful Santa Barbara features one of the Best Motel 6 locations in the world, right on the beach. Even in the summer, rates at the Motel 6 – Santa Barbara – Beach #1 start at approximately $160.00. While you won’t find a Frette Robe in the closet here, you’ll enjoy having extra cash for all the luxe Santa Barbara attractions including great food, wine, and of course the fabulous Sunday Brunch at the Four Seasons. If you can’t bring yourself to stay at a Motel 6 no matter the location, try the family run Santa Barbara Inn a wonderful small boutique hotel with great service or the Hyatt Santa Barbara.   The Hyatt Santa Barbara the old Miramonte Hotel ( built in 1931) that the Hyatt bought and restored.   The rooms are small, but super comfortable.  The pool has ocean views and the restaurant is absolutely delicious.   To learn how to get the best deal on a Hyatt Hotel stay, read my post on the two free nights you get when apply for and get a Hyatt credit card.

Solvang, CA
Check Expedia or use your AAA discount for the best rates at the Royal Scandinavian Inn. Enjoy a cheap and cheerful dinner and great bottle of wine at the Hitching Post (Yes, this is the Restaurant from the movie Sideways). Solvang is a wonderful little getaway and is close to great wineries like Rideau Vineyard and Gainey Vineyard. Check the Solvang tourist map for coupons for discounted wine tasting.

Ojai, CA
Stay at the lower-priced Blue Iguana Inn, but book your spa treatments at the Ojai Valley Inn or the Oaks at Ojai. You’ll enjoy a charming little hotel for much less than you would pay at the larger resorts. And you can still enjoy those 5 star spa treatments, without paying for the higher hotel room.

For more information, check my favorite online travel resources for savvy touristas:

  • Trip Advisor: This great site offers reviews from other travelers and checks trip prices for you from various online travel sites in one simple search.
  • LA Times Travel Blog and Daily Deals: This entertaining blog offers hand-picked travel deals, tips for locales of interest to those in Southern California .
  • Budget Travel: This informative site offers great deals on everything including cruises and trips to Europe.
  • GoGoBot: GoGoBot is a website, as well as an iPhone/iPad app,  that I have come to love and rely on.  GoGoBot features travel reviews and pictures from users like me that can save you time and money.  Users post their reviews on restaurants, sightseeing and hotels.   I can’t recommend GoGoBot highly enough and it has become a valuable resource for me when I travel.
  • Foursquare: Check in on Foursquare to find deals at hotels and restaurants when you are traveling.  It’s always a good idea to check in, and then look for “deals nearby” to save on food and drink. User reviews save you from spending money or places that are subpar.
  • Twitter Travel Updates: Check Mark Kahler from’s Budget Travel Blog for up-to-the-minute updates, follow the tips on Twitter @ AboutBudgetTrav 
  • Follow The Frugal Traveler on Twitter @frugaltraveler from The New York Times and read The Frugal Traveler Blog by Seth Kugel.
  • Follow the Recessionista on Twitter for additional travel updates.

Since 2008, Mary Hall has been the author of The Recessionista Blog, which is read by thousands of regular readers in over 160 countries. An internationally recognized expert on the art of the living the good life for less, she has been a commentator on local, national, and international radio and TV shows. Her advice has been featured in over 2,000 media outlets, including The New York Times, Reuters, Life & Style magazine, ABC News, NBC News and now The Huffington Post, among many others.