California’s coast attracts millions of visitors each year. However, according to a study by UCLA for the California Coastal Commission in late 2016, most California residents who visit the beach do not stay overnight within one mile of the beach, primarily due to the high cost of lodging.
75% of Californians surveyed state the high cost of lodging is a problem with spending more time on the California coast.
28% stated affordability of coastal lodging is a big problem and 47% stated it is somewhat of a problem.
Average room rate for hotels within one mile of California coast (by California County on coast from north to south)
Del Norte $135 – Crescent City’s lifeline is supermax Pelican Bay State Prison, about two miles from coast).
Humboldt $153 – Most lodging is concentrated around Humboldt Bay in Eureka and Arcata with many upscale B&B lodging units in Victorian houses. Most of Humboldt County coastline is part of King Range Wilderness and includes the longest undeveloped stretch of California coastline in the state.
Mendocino $193 – Fort Bragg is major coast destination in rural redwood country.
Sonoma $223 – Sonoma County is close enough to San Francisco Bay Area for weekend getaways and the coast caters to high end tourists.
Marin $180 – San Rafael is the cheap spot for people who can’t afford San Francisco hotels.
San Francisco $182 – the price of hotels in San Francisco seems low. I attribute this top the number of hotels in the low market segment that are places most tourists would be wise to avoid. San Francisco is near the top hotel rates in the USA for upper upscale hotels like Marriott, Starwood and Hilton.
San Mateo $302 – San Mateo County has beach destination places like Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, where prices are far higher than the cost to be in San Mateo and places near San Francisco Airport. SFO is on the water, but San Francisco Bay is not quite the same as the wild Pacific Ocean beach 20 to 30 miles away on the other side of the county.
Santa Cruz $245 – Santa Cruz is a primary beach destination for people from Silicon Valley aka Santa Clara County around San Jose, California. Roads are always congested around Santa Cruz.
Monterey $274 – Monterey has quite a mix of hotel properties. Around 200 hotels range from some of the top rated in the USA at nightly rates from $700 to $1000+ (Pebble Beach Lodge, Post Ranch Inn Big Sur) to chain brands like Motel 6, Econolodge and Days Inn with off-season mid-week rates under $50 per night.
San Luis Obispo $248 – Pismo Beach is the main beach town in San Luis Obispo. Cambria and Morro Bay are other coastal locations popular with people driving Pacific Coast Highway 1.
Santa Barbara $343 – Santa Barbara has been Hollywood’s getaway for the past century. Santa Maria is about 65 miles north of Santa Barbara and about 10 miles from the coast and the only place I tend to stay in Santa Barbara County for affordable hotels on coastal road trips from Monterey.
Ventura $194 – When I travel from Monterey to southern California, I generally stop for a hotel night in Ventura County as the only affordable place along the coast for a hotel.
Los Angeles $254 – nightmarish traffic on the California coast in Los Angeles County for a weekend or sunny summer day to the beach is the main reason why a hotel within walking distance to the beach is a desirable vacation expense.
Orange County $287 – traffic might even be worse for Orange County beaches.
San Diego $211 – I find San Diego is a city where there are often great hotel deals. But get too close to Tijuana and the beaches may be closed for swimming due to water pollution.
77% of Californians visit the coast at least once per year.
UCLA’s travel budget analysis showed the cost of a a day-trip to the beach is about $37. Beach parking is a major expense of that day-trip budget.
A 4-day trip to the beach in Southern California was estimated at $605.05 for what a typical California resident could afford, but that is only budgeting $103 per night for a hotel when rates typically average over $200 per night. In practical terms, this means a beach goer is likely to stay at a hotel that is not too near the beach.
One of the duties of the California Coastal Commission is to make sure the coast is accessible to Californians. There are interesting details in California Coastal Commission reports about taxes on properties like Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay and Hyatt Highlands Inn Carmel Highlands for the purpose of building low cost accommodations in the form of campsites and hostels. The gist is the taxes raised are not adequate to meet the expense of building new hostels and campgrounds near the coast.
Another UCLA report finding is far more economy hotel rooms have been lost along the California coast in the past 30 years than all other higher category lodging segments combined.
Hotel rooms closed on California coast since 1989
By Lodging Segment
- Economy 24,720 rooms
- Midscale 4,384
- Upper Midscale 4,029
- Upscale 1,806
- Upper Upscale 960
- Luxury 68
Source UCLA: Coastal Access
Living by the Coast
On a personal note, my wife and I have spent most of our lives living within close proximity to the sea on the coasts of California and Maine. Our travels tend to take us to urban cities for a different experience from our everyday beach life.
Now I feel a little guilty that we did not make the 20 minute walk to Monterey beach from our home we said we were going to do yesterday afternoon. We tend to take our beach accessibility for granted. And we don’t have to spend $200+ per night or live in a tent to spend our days within a mile of California’s coast.
The trade-offs of coastal living over the years were more limited employment opportunities, career advancement and no home ownership.
Life’s a bitch in some aspects.
Yet, our life together has pretty much been a beach.
Carmel-by-the-sea beach walk April 30, 2017.
San Jose Mercury News – Are beach vacations for middle-class Californians getting impossible to afford? May 6, 2017.
“Access for All: A New Generation’s Challenges on the California Coast,” 25 January 2017. (PDF)
UCLA coastal access report Southern California supplement, 25 January 2017. (PDF)
“Public Workshop: Lower Cost Visitor Serving Accommodations,” California Coastal Commission, 26 October 2016. (PDF)
“Public Access Program: Status Report of Vertical Accessways Acquired by California Coastal Commission Actions,” California Coastal Commission, 16 September 2016. (PDF)
“Improving State’s Approach to Park User Fees,” Legislative Analyst’s Office, January 2017. (PDF)
“Free the Beach! Public Access, Equal Justice, and the California Coast,” Robert García and Erica Flores Baltodano, Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, November 2005. (PDF)