How to do Highway 1: On a Low Budget and a Time Crunch

This past May, I had the awesome opportunity to travel along with my sweetheart up the California coast on my way back for summer break off of school. Now I had heard many travel connoisseurs out there tell me that the only way to really see the beauty of California was to drive up Highway 1, a long strip of freeway that takes you along the coast line virtually from San Diego to the San Francisco redwoods (where I call home).
As I began to budget and prepare for this crazy coastal adventure, I noticed how the drive home if were to go up central California versus along the 1, was drastically different. Five and a half hours versus close to ten hours! I am an adventurer at heart, so this wouldn’t normally bother me. But because we had to get home for family reasons but still wanted to experience the beauty of the small coastal towns, my boyfriend and I decided to plan out our trip where we could have some great memories without taking up the entire weekend to do it.
Below are the following towns we stopped at and those I would recommend checking out on your coastal trip up through golden California! I also snuck in some budgetary tips to get the most out of your trip without taking the most out of your wallet.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a great cheap alternative for cute hotels without breaking your budget by staying in high-tourist places like San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara. The location is very central so there are lot’s of other small beach towns. Only a 20 minute drive to San Luis Obispo, we were able to experience all the fun aspects of the city without staying in a hotel that would have cost us the totality of our stay in Morro Bay.

The best activities in Morro Bay include tons and tons of antique shops! Strips of old town shops where we had a blast just stopping in and finding unique treasures. Morro Bay also boasts lots of restaurants on the water without being the upity-seafood places that your grandparents would go to.


A little north of Morro Bay lies the cute little beach town of Cayucas. Cayucas has an awesome downtown strip with little bakeries, taffy shops, and of course more antique stores! Antique shopping is something great to do if you are on a budget because it can be so interesting even without buying anything. It is fun just to be silly with your friends or significant other by trying on all the funny vintage accessories. A nice aspect about Cayucas is that the downtown strip is very close to the water, allowing for easy and cheap parking. While we were in Cayucas, they were having a really cool vintage car show! They host multiple of these over the summer so be sure to check it out. A great place for straggling husbands and boyfriends to go when shopping becomes a little too weary 🙂

Travel tip: If you ask any local antique store owner, they will give you the map of all the antique stores in the San Luis Obispo area! This was really helpful when traveling around the different beach towns and seeing where the more retro areas were hidden in the city.

San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande

The main reason this area attracts so much tourism has to be the clean downtown and awesome restaurants. With SLO (Californian’s way of saying San Luis Obispo) being a college town home to Cal Poly, there are a lot of cute coffee shops and places to get work done if you need to take a break from vacationing and do some adulting.

My boyfriend and I enjoyed going to the drive-in movies in Arroyo Grande. Arroyo Grande is a city adjacent to SLO with great Indian Food and a retro Drive-In! Drive-In movies are the cheapest sort of entertainment and a great way to feel the ocean air while cuddling up to watch a movie.

San Simeon

The highlight of our trip was heading into the more inland town of San Simeon. The main attraction of this town is definitely Heart Castle. Whether you are a history buff like me, or just in need of some beautiful views and amazing scenery, Hearst Castle is a blast for everyone who visits. It is truly a castle on a hill, and a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the California lifestyle.

They also have a nighttime tour during the fall and winter seasons! Tours are cheap and not too long which is a plus if you are bringing little ones. As you take a bus from the tourist station up to the castle, your cares slip away as you focus on the true beauty of the Heart Castle before you. I highly recommend this tour to go with a great lunch on the coast!

The California coast is truly something everyone should experience in their lifetime. Hopefully my little travel guide proves useful to you and you are planning your next road trip adventure!

Brianna is a Business Administration at a private school in Southern California! With her home being in the Bay Area, Brianna is a foodie at heart, a passionate writer, and a lover of all things history! She loves birthday cake Oreos and binge watching Netflix originals.

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