The Best Budget-Friendly Hotels to Book in California, USA

The mid-century architecture and rainbow-colored exterior of Saguaro Palm make for Instagram perfection
The mid-century architecture and rainbow-colored exterior of Saguaro Palm make for Instagram perfection | Courtesy of Saguaro Palm Springs / Expedia
Photo of Casey Hatfield-Chiotti
3 December 2020

Often, travelers find they have to dig deep into their pockets when staying in major California hubs such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But that’s not always the case, if you know where to look. Creative hoteliers have stripped away pomp and circumstance in favor of amenities that appeal to today’s savvy travelers, such as buzzy bars and functional design. Here are the best cheap hotels in California, offering plenty of perks without the lofty price tag.

Freehand Los Angeles

The rooftop pool area at Freehand Los Angeles with pink-cushioned lounge chairs and panoramic skyline views
Courtesy of Freehand Los Angeles / Expedia
The wallet-friendly Freehand franchise is easy on your wallet but doesn’t skimp on the amenities ordinarily included with a hotel stay. In the sleek LA iteration there’s a rooftop pool and bar, and a separate coffee bar serving fresh juice and small-batch coffee. Guest rooms vary from private to dorm-style shared rooms, and were designed by cinematic design duo Roman and Williams. Keep your eyes peeled for the handwoven textiles and works by local Los Angeles artists.

USC Hotel

A guest room at the USC Hotel with tan walls and curtains, patterned red carpet, Eames chair and views of the campus
Courtesy of USC Hotel / Expedia
If you plan on visiting the tree-lined USC campus or cheering on the Trojans, look no further than the USC Hotel. With a fitness center, an outdoor pool and a hot tub in addition to its 240 unfussy rooms, the hotel is located right next to the university campus, and just a short walk from many of LA’s other major event venues such as the Galen Center, the LA Memorial Coliseum, the STAPLES Center and the LA Convention Center.

The Tangerine

A colorful room at the Tangerine, with two twin beds with orange pillows against an orange wall with printed wall art
Courtesy of the Tangerine / Expedia
With guest rooms featuring king-size beds and contemporary art, the Tangerine delivers a stay worthy of a big shot for a modest price. Breakfast, which is included, is an offering of fluffy croissants and brioche buns bought fresh from local bakery Porto’s. The Tangerine’s central Burbank location means you can easily walk to restaurants and bars or Uber it to Universal Studios Hollywood, Warner Brothers, Disney and Downtown LA without breaking the bank.

Vertigo San Francisco

The stylish lobby area at the Hotel Vertigo in San Francisco, with marble floors, double-height ceilings, columns and potted plants
Courtesy of Hotel Vertigo / Expedia
The sophisticated but affordable Vertigo hotel in Nob Hill celebrates its ties to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film of the same name. The historic hotel had a cameo in the renowned thriller, and the scene in which it features plays on a loop in the lobby. Whimsical guest rooms display swirling wall art (another nod to the movie), porcelain horse’s head lamps, tufted leather headboards and orange wingback chairs. The light-filled Cafe Vertigo – a Parisian-inspired space with bistro tables and chairs – serves fresh pastries and coffee throughout the day.

Saguaro Palm Springs

The outdoor pool area with yellow lounge chairs and umbrellas and palms framed by the colorful exterior of the Saguaro Palm Springs
Courtesy of the Saguaro Palm Springs / Expedia
The mid-century architecture and rainbow-colored exterior walls of Saguaro Palm are Instagram perfection, and the artsy vibe continues inside. Guest rooms flaunt Amigo Modern furniture and quirky features such as glowing cactus sculptures and geometric paintings by local artists, while the lobby is home to Colloramas – a color-coded art installation by artist Sarah Scheideman that’s impossible to miss. You’ll also find an excellent Mexican restaurant at this hotel, serving fresh fruit margaritas and beer-battered mahi tacos that you won’t soon forget.


Outdoor pool at Skylark Palm Springs with flamingo pool float, white lounge chairs and palm trees and mountains in background
Courtesy of Skylark Palm Springs / Expedia
Any budget-conscious traveler will want plenty of bang for their limited buck, making Skylark the perfect hotel deal in Cali. A heated outdoor pool; a hot tub with mountain views; high-speed wifi and a granola, waffle and frittata breakfast – it’s all thrown in with the room rate here. The property’s 28 rooms don’t skimp on modern comforts, either. Each one has a king-size or two queen-size beds, desks with ergonomic chairs, mini-refrigerators and blackout curtains to ensure you get a deep sleep.

FOUND San Diego

Close-up view of nightstand between two beds with decorative lamp and mirror against midnight blue wall at FOUND Hotel San Diego
Courtesy of FOUND Hotel / Expedia
The Little Italy building this boutique hotel is housed in dates back to 1910. Since then, the area has become a gateway into Italian culture and a magnet for lovers of Italian fare. The Little Italy Food Hall sits right around the corner from FOUND San Diego, as does the Piazza della Famiglia – a great spot for whiling away an afternoon watching the locals go about their daily routine. In terms of facilities, the hotel has something for every taste and budget, including private rooms with kitchenettes and shared bunk rooms with six beds apiece.

The Lafayette Hotel

Airy lobby at the Lafayette with a decorative parasol display hanging from ceiling and an eclectic assortment of furniture
Courtesy of the Lafayette / Expedia
The manor-style Lafayette Hotel has been welcoming a mix of locals and celebrities (Ava Gardner and Bob Hope, no less) since 1946. It’s perhaps best known for its Weissmuller Olympic-size swimming pool and large guest rooms that blend retro furniture with contemporary design, but there’s also the option to stay in your very own two-story bungalow or two-bed-two-bath suite. On the doorstep is the edgy North Park neighborhood – renowned for its modern art galleries and live-music venues – so the Lafayette is a great pick for culture vultures eager to scratch beneath San Diego’s surface.

Autocamp Russian River

A woman sitting on a green hammock strung between two redwood trees underneath fairy lights at dusk at AutoCamp Russian River
Courtesy of Autocamp Russian River / Expedia
The Autocamp brand bridges the gap between hotels and campsites and offers great value for travelers who want to enjoy the outdoors without roughing it too much. The Russian River outpost provides various glamping options, from canvas tents with memory foam beds to Airstream trailers with spa-style bathrooms. If you fancy a change of scenery, there are hammocks strung between towering redwood trees and campfires with grills just a few yards away.

The Astro

A comfy lounge space with black and red leather seating, contemporary light fixtures and antique signs on the wall at the Astro Motel
Courtesy of the Astro Motel / Expedia
Established in 1963, the Astro has evolved from an old-school motor lodge into a 34-room urban motel, after undergoing a major refurb in 2017. Guest rooms overlook a lush garden and feature original mid-century modern furnishings sourced from auctions across the country. In a 21st-century twist, the motel caters more to cyclists than motorists: bike experts are on hand to repair flat tires, and a local artist has even designed illustrated maps of the area’s best rides. It’s just minutes from the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, a car-free path from downtown through vineyard-dappled countryside, which you can experience on a rented Shinola bike.

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