California dreaming comes easy at a range of local accommodations, from scenic campsites and lighthouse hostels to sleek Hollywood hotels and deluxe wine-country resorts. The sooner you book, the better – especially June to August.

  • Campgrounds Not just a cheap sleep, but the best way to experience California's great outdoors by the beach, under the redwoods or nestled in desert dunes.
  • Hostels Budget-friendly dorm stays in key locations, including coastal parks and city centers.
  • B&Bs Home-style inns range from romantic vineyard cottages to historic Victorian mansions.
  • Motels Handy for road-trippers and less expensive than hotels; some have swimming pools.
  • Hotels & Resorts Upscale options come with prime locations, views and deluxe amenities.

Intro

California dreaming comes easy at a range of local accommodations, from scenic campsites and lighthouse hostels to sleek Hollywood hotels and deluxe wine country resorts. The sooner you book, the better – especially June-August.

  • Campgrounds Not just a cheap sleep, but the best way to experience California's great outdoors by the beach, under the redwoods or nestled in desert dunes.
  • Hostels Budget-friendly dorm stays in key locations, including coastal parks and city centers.
  • B&Bs Homestyle inns range from romantic vineyard cottages to historic Victorian mansions.
  • Motels Handy for road-trippers and less expensive than hotels; some have swimming pools.
  • Hotels and Resorts Upscale options come with prime locations, views and deluxe amenities.

Amenities

  • Budget accommodations include campgrounds, hostels and motels. Because midrange properties generally offer better value for money, most of our accommodations fall into this category.
  • At midrange motels and hotels, expect clean, comfortable and decent-sized rooms with at least a private bathroom, and standard amenities such as cable TV, direct-dial telephone, a coffee maker, and perhaps a microwave and mini-fridge.
  • Top-end lodgings offer top-notch amenities and perhaps a scenic location, high design or historical ambience. Pools, fitness rooms, business centers, full-service restaurants and bars and other convenient facilities are often included.
  • In Southern California, nearly all lodgings have air-conditioning, but in perpetually cool Northern California, most don't. In coastal areas as far south as Santa Barbara, only fans may be provided.
  • Accommodations offering online computer terminals for guests are designated with the internet icon. A fee may apply, including at full-service hotel business centers.
  • There may be a fee for wireless internet, especially for in-room access. Look for free wi-fi hot spots in hotel public areas such as the lobby or poolside.
  • Many lodgings are now exclusively nonsmoking. Where they still exist, smoking rooms are often left unrenovated and in less desirable locations. Expect a hefty ‘cleaning fee’ ($100 or more) if you light up in designated nonsmoking rooms.

B&Bs & Vacation Rentals

If you want an atmospheric or romantic alternative to impersonal motels and hotels, try bed-and-breakfast inns. Many are converted Victorian mansions or other heritage buildings, bedecked with floral wallpaper and antique furnishings. Travelers who prefer privacy may find B&Bs too intimate.

Rates often include breakfast, but occasionally don't – never mind what the name ‘B&B’ suggests. Amenities vary widely, but rooms with TV and telephone are the exception; the cheapest units may share bathrooms. Standards are high at places certified by the California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns (www.cabbi.com). Quality and price vary at home shares and vacation rentals listed with Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) and Vacation Rentals By Owner (www.vrbo.com).

Most B&Bs require advance reservations; only a few will accommodate drop-in guests. Smoking is generally prohibited and children are usually not welcome in B&Bs – vacation rentals are generally more flexible. Multiple-night minimum stays may be required, especially on weekends and during high season.

Camping

In California, camping is much more than just a cheap way to spend the night. The best campgrounds offer moonlit ocean views by the beach, cushioned spots under pine trees next to an alpine lake, or stargazing in desert sand dunes. The state park system has a variety of campgrounds. To reserve, check out www.reservecalifornia.com.

Hostels

California has 18 hostels affiliated with Hostelling International USA. Dorms in HI hostels are typically gender-segregated and alcohol and smoking are prohibited. HI membership cards (adult/senior $28/18 per year, free for under 18s) get you $3 off per night.

California also has dozens of independent hostels, particularly in coastal cities. They generally have more relaxed rules, with frequent guest parties and activities. Some hostels include a light breakfast in their rates, arrange local tours or offer pickups at transportation hubs. No two hostels are alike, but facilities typically include mixed dorms, semi-private rooms with shared bathrooms, communal kitchens, lockers, internet access, coin-op laundry and TV lounges.

Some hostels say they accept only international visitors (basically to keep out homeless locals), but Americans who seem to be traveling (eg you’re in possession of an international plane ticket) may be admitted, especially during slow periods.

Dorm-bed rates range from $30 to $55 per night, including tax. Reservations are always a good idea, especially in high season. Most hostels take reservations online or by phone. Booking services such as www.hostels.com, www.hostelz.com and www.hostelworld.com sometimes offer lower rates than the hostels directly.

Hotels & Motels

Rooms are often priced by the size and number of beds, rather than the number of occupants. A room with one double or queen-size bed usually costs the same for one or two people, while a room with a king-size bed or two double beds costs more.

There is often a small surcharge for the third and fourth person, but children under a certain age (this varies) may stay free. Cribs or rollaway cots usually incur an additional fee. Be aware that suites or ‘junior suites’ may simply be oversized rooms; ask about the layout when booking.

Recently renovated or larger rooms, or those with a view, are likely to cost more. Descriptors like ‘oceanfront’ and ‘ocean view’ are often too liberally used, and you may require a telescope to spot the surf.

You can make reservations at chains by calling their central reservation lines, but to learn about specific amenities and local promotions, call the property directly. If you arrive without reservations, ask to see a room before paying for it, especially at motels.

Rates may include breakfast, which could be just a stale donut and wimpy coffee, an all-you-can-eat hot and cold buffet, or anything in between.

Green Hotels & Motels

California’s hotels and motels are making environmental progress, with LEED-certified green buildings and state-mandated air and water-saving initiatives – but most are behind the curve. Besides giving you the option of reusing your towels and sheets, many are adopting simple eco-initiatives such as providing recycling bins, switching to bulk soap dispensers or replacing plastic and Styrofoam cups with ceramics. For lodgings that go beyond these basics to make extra sustainability efforts, look for our leaf icon. Also check out the California Green Lodging Program (www.calrecycle.ca.gov/epp/greenlodging), a voluntary, state-run certification program – in the online directory, properties that have achieved the 'Environmentalist Level' are denoted by three palm trees.

Rates & Reservations

  • Generally midweek rates are lower, except at urban hotels geared toward business travelers. Hotels in Silicon Valley, downtown San Francisco, LA and San Diego may lure leisure travelers with weekend deals.
  • Discount membership cards (such as AAA and AARP) may get you about 10% off standard rates at participating hotels and motels.
  • Look for freebie-ad magazines packed with hotel and motel discount coupons at gas stations, highway rest areas, tourist offices and online at HotelCoupons (www.hotelcoupons.com).
  • High season is from June to August everywhere, except the deserts and mountain ski areas, where December through April are the busiest months.
  • Demand and prices spike around major holidays and for festivals, when some properties may impose multiday minimum stays.
  • Reservations are recommended for weekend and holiday travel year-round, and every day of the week during high season.
  • Bargaining may be possible for walk-in guests without reservations, especially at off-peak times.