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    How much does it cost to go to California (and parks)? Budget for a West Coast road trip

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    “California dreamin’ / On such a winter’s day”, sang The Mamas And The Papas: how many are the lovers of the USA who - when the gloomy winter begins - begin to dream of returning to the sunny California? Not to mention those who, having not yet been there, must be content with fantasizing while waiting for the day when that dream will become reality.

    But if it is true that dreaming costs nothing, it is equally true that, in reality, the greatest obstacle to such a trip is precisely the economic one, so much so that the questions are always the same: “How much does a trip to California cost? I can afford it?".  Let's try to give some answers.

    Let's start with the number of days: a tour of California - usually extended to parks in other West Coast states such as Nevada, Arizona and Utah - it can last from 10 to 20 and more days, so I decided to focus on 15 days, and on this basis formulate a cost estimate that includes all the main items: flights, car rental, hotels, health insurance, tourist activities (passes, excursions, etc.) and meals. I will dedicate a detailed paragraph to each of these items: happy reading!


    • Voli
      • Flight + hotel
    • Accommodation
    • Noleggio auto
      • How much do you spend on gasoline?
      • And the tolls?
    • Travel / health insurance
    • Tourist activities
    • Documentation
    • Meals
    • Extra accessories
    • Minimum total expense for two people
    • How to book everything quickly and easily?


    There are mainly two airports to consider: Los Angeles e San Francisco, with the latter being slightly more expensive to reach by plane. The first thing to decide, however, is whether your flight will only be on one airport (roundtrip) or both (flight with multiple destinations).

    If you want to get a better idea, I covered the topic in the article where it is convenient to fly to California: reading the article, you will understand that if you want to save a lot of money, you will have to consider the idea of landing and departing from Los Angeles without including San Francisco in the program, but dedicating a few more days to the parks or, why not, by inserting San Diego in the itinerary.

    Itinerary templates To find out more about the latter, check out our 15-day West Coast tour. If you want to know how to organize a tour of California + Parks in 15 days by entering both San Francisco and Los Angeles, read my travel diary (first, second and third part) or our ebook "West Coast: Cities and Parks in 15 Days".

    Never Costi? Let us therefore take as a point of reference theRome airport, since the only ones depart from here direct flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles. As an example of the time of the year we choose the period of August, which is very frequent for travel. Clearly, being a high season, it is possible that prices are higher than in other months, but by booking in advance good bargains can also be found. Making a quote for 2 people (max 1 stop per way), here are some indicative prices for the dates 1-15 August (prices per person):

    • Return flights:
      • gives Rome to Los Angeles: gives 640 € (1 stopover); from 780 € (direct flights)
      • From Rome to San Francisco: from 650 € (1 stopover); from 900 € (direct flights)
    • Flights with multiple destinations:
      • Rome -San Francisco / Los Angeles- Rome: da 650 € (1 stopover); from 920 € (direct flights).
      • Rome – Los Angeles / San Francisco – Rome: da 670 € (1 stopover); from 1000 € (direct flights).

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    And in the low season months?

    Clearly during the low season months (eg February), much lower amounts are spent. A few examples?

    • Return flights:
      • gives Rome to Los Angeles: gives 460 € (direct flights)
      • from Rome to San Francisco: from 420 € (1 stop).
    • Flights with multiple destinations:
      • Rome -San Francisco / Los Angeles- Rome: da 530 € (1 stopover and 1 direct)
      • Rome – Los Angeles / San Francisco – Rome: da 635 € (1 stopover)

    At the link below, you will find all our tips on how to snatch a low cost fare for flights to the USA.

    Find cheap flights to the USA

    Flight + hotel

    Finally, don't forget that you can also take advantage of the offers Expedia flight + hotel, which allow you to save a lot on the combined booking of the two services. However, remember that the Spanish and American airports must always be the same, both for the outbound and return flights, and that clearly you have to sleep at least one night in the destination city. The offer is not valid therefore for flights with multiple destinations.

    Here are some examples, calculating one 3-day hotel stay in the landing city in the period 1-15 August (prices per person):

    • gives Rome to Los Angeles: by 1360 euro (direct return flights, 3 nights in a 3 * hotel in Downtown Los Angeles)
    • from Rome to San Francisco: by 1700 euro (1 return stop, 3 nights in 3 * hotel in Union Square)

    Search for a flight + hotel offer


    As already mentioned and as you will have easily guessed from the price of the flight + hotel,  San Francisco is the city in California where people spend the most on hotels. Since a minimum stay of 2-3 nights is recommended for the visit of the city, for the high season it is necessary to charge a minimum 280-380 euro to find a satisfactory hotel room in a strategic area of ​​the city (yes, because there are also dangerous ones!). If, on the other hand, you want to save a little (but waste more time traveling), you can follow the advice on where to sleep outside San Francisco, near the BART stations.

    Our recommendations for accommodation in San Francisco

    For the other big cities (2 nights in Los Angeles, 1-2 nights in San Diego and we also add 1 night in Las Vegas), you can get by with lower prices, staying on figures ranging from 80 to 120 euros per night minimum, depending on the type of accommodation: for example Los Angeles it's so big that it's easy to find a reasonably priced motel in a suburban area! You will say: and then how do I get around? Easy, by car: in Los Angeles it is normal to grind miles to go from one part of the city to the other.

    • Our recommendations for accommodation in Los Angeles
    • Our recommendations for accommodation in San Diego

    A Las VegasInstead, there are themed hotels: not all of them are as expensive as you might think, so take a look at our in-depth article. If, on the other hand, you don't want to sleep in the crazy hotels of the Strip, read this in-depth study: something can be saved.

    Our recommendations for accommodation in Las Vegas

    And for the eventual on the road in the parks? The first rule is move ahead, because very often the areas of natural interest are remote, in the mountains or lost in the desert. There are opportunities, motels are not lacking, but never reduce at the last moment, because otherwise you risk paying much more than expected. For one night in motel take into account from 40 to 100 euro, if you want to sleep in a lodge within the parks or in a higher category hotel you go from 100-120 euros upwards.

    Strategic advice on how to book accommodation

    Specific advice for each destination

    Noleggio auto

    Here, too, the travel plan you have in mind counts a lot. While it is certain that you will need the machine to do all theon the road, it is not the same if you decide to visit certain cities. A few examples? If you land in San Francisco and stay there for 3 days, you can avoid renting the car immediately and collect it only when you leave for the on the road of the parks; if you land in Los Angeles instead, you will need it after landing.

    In the same way, if you start from Los Angeles and the last stop is San Francisco, you can leave your car as soon as you arrive in the city and visit it on foot or by public transport, then reaching the airport by BART trains. San Diego and Las Vegas can also get by without a car, so if these two cities are your first or last stop on your vacation, you can save some money by leaving early (or picking up late).

    More to know?

    • There is the chapter drop-off (also known as One-Way tax), the tax that you pay if you collect your car in one city and return it to another. This tax is rarely avoided, especially in the high season months, but it is not excluded that between California and Nevada they exempt you from paying it. Clearly this problem does not arise if you have chosen to make return flights at the same airport.
    • We also mention the extra accessories, one above all the GPS navigator, which is almost never included in the rental and can cost $ 10-15 per day. The cost is not indifferent, so consider whether to alternatively use the GPS navigator of your mobile phone with the folder offline.
    • As regards the additional driver, always try to buy rates that include it, otherwise you will pay around $ 12-14 per day.

    In summary, in the worst case scenario, you will pay the rental for 14-15 days, but if you visit San Francisco and / or San Diego you can also collect it for a short time and pay only 10-12 rental days. For 12 days in the first fortnight of August, the costs of renting an intermediate car start from a minimum of 320 euros. If you want to rent a car of a higher category, you can go by 350 to 850 euros. If there is a drop off fee, a variable surcharge can be paid depending on the period, the type of car and the availability in the agency.

    Our car rental tips

    How much do you spend on gasoline?

    In the United States the petrol it is measured in gallons, and this could put you in trouble with the calculation. But I can already reassure you: petrol is cheaper than in Spain. The point is that your on the road will make you total several kilometers, and you may find yourself refueling every 2 days, even in remote areas where fuel costs a little more. To make an approximate calculation of how much it will cost you, take a look at our dedicated article, where you will find a site that tells you the prices of gasoline state by state.

    And the tolls?

    Toll roads are a rarity throughout the United States. In many states they are completely absent, but in California there are a few: one of the ones you might find yourself traveling on is the 17 Mile Drive in Monterey, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco's Oakland Bay Bridge. However, these are not huge figures.

    Travel / health insurance

    As you know, this is a fundamental point on the notebook of every person who is organizing a trip to the USA: although it is not mandatory by law to take out travel insurance, in fact it is. On our site you will find a rich in-depth study on travel insurance, with tips, suggestions and specific advice on the most reliable insurance companies for overseas travel. For a 15 day trip you spend from 46 to 116 euro per person depending on the desired coverage and the chosen company. For a more accurate quote, take a look at the link below.

    See our comparison table

    Tourist activities

    However many the needs of each individual traveler may be, this is the most difficult calculation to make. However, in my experience, I can propose a minimum amount to be charged, which includes some must-sees and useful tools to save on admissions. In practice, one good base for the tour.

    1. the parks card: it costs $ 80 and allows you to enter all national parks. In this article you will find some more info.
    2. the Alcatraz tour: A trip to California without San Francisco is a missed opportunity, and a visit to San Francisco without an Alcatraz tour is just as much! The cost starts at $ 39 per person.
    3. a theme amusement park: Among many others, in Los Angeles there are Universal Studios and Disneyland, two world famous theme parks. If you go to the city, at least the entrance to a park, put it into account! Prices start at $ 109 per person.
    4. il tour all’Antelope Canyon: an unmissable natural treasure, which cannot be visited independently. Nobody skips it on a California and Parks tour! The Antelope Canyon tour costs around $ 65-70 per person.
    5. the entrance to Monument Valley: being in Navajo territory, admission to the amazing Monument Valley is not included in the parks card. The entrance fee is $ 20 per vehicle.

    The total is therefore approximately $263 a person. This calculation excludes all State Parks and other monuments, museums and attractions not included in the categories and examples cited.


    On our site you will find an entire section dedicated to documents for travel to the USA: in summary, to enter the United States you will need the passport e l'This. If you do not have a passport or need to renew it, you will have to charge for administrative procedures; as for the Esta, you will have to bear a cost of $ 14. To find out more, read our article dedicated to the Esta.


    It depends on you! From the type of restaurants you want to frequent, from the foods you want to eat, from how many times you want to sit at the table, if you are satisfied with even frugal meals bought at the supermarket between one stop and another. Usually, during my on the road in the USA between the parks, I decide to have an energetic breakfast, have a quick lunch by buying something at the supermarket (you often find them open 24 hours a day) and then eat at the restaurant in the evening (eye, it is not uncommon for restaurants to close at 24-21.30). When booking your hotel, try to secure rates that include breakfast to save time and money. If, on the other hand, you want to fill your stomach with one in the morning full american breakfast (pancakes, egg, bacon, beans, etc.), you will spend a little more, but you could also arrive in the afternoon without feeling hungry.

    If you want to follow my example, take it into account $ 5-10 for breakfast, a maximum of $ 10 for lunch al market e $ 25-40 each for dinner.

    Extra accessories

    If your telephone operator doesn't have a satisfactory offer, the first accessory you will need to get is one American SIM Prepaid that allows you to have unlimited internet connection: in the age of social media, it is unthinkable to take a trip to California without sharing photos with friends and family! In the article indicated above I recommended a very reliable prepaid SIM, tested in the field and easily purchased on Amazon. The cost for 15 days is approx 39 €.

    In addition to the prepaid, you will have to buy the adapters for power outlets (About 7 €). Finally, they might be useful to you maps, paper guides and a whole series of accessories that we have summarized in our article what to pack for the USA.

    Minimum total expense for two people

    Here then how much can a trip to California and parks cost at least (price for two people):

    • flight (1 stopover): 1280 euros
    • car rental: 320 euros
    • hotel: 1000 euros
    • petrol: 225 euros
    • travel insurance: 92 euros
    • tourist activities: 470 euros
    • documentation: 25 euros
    • sure: 600 euros
    • extra accessories (SIM + socket adapters): 92 euros

    Total: 4104 €

    How to book everything quickly and easily?

    We have created a low cost handbook which allows you to book all these services quickly, comparing the offers available. In this way you can easily keep an eye on all the expense items of your trip!

    Use the handbook


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