My 2.5 Week California & Las Vegas Road Trip Budget

It was the trip of a lifetime. 17 days of pure awesomeness starting in San Diego and ending in Las Vegas.

You’ve probably already seen my itinerary posts on this trip before, where I tell you guys exactly what we did and also the things I wished I’d done!. Part 1 is the San Diego, Los Angles and Pacific Coast Highway section, Part 2 talks about San Francisco, and Part 3 is all about Yosemite and Vegas.

But the one thing I didn’t talk about, which is something I get asked about all the time, is “how much should I budget for a trip like this?”

So, due to popular demand, here it is, my US (California & Las Vegas) Road Trip Budget! Please note, there were five of us, so we were able to split things like the car hire and accommodation so below, you’ll just see my share!


Pre-Trip Costs – £671

Flights: £639

These will vary depending on where you’re coming from, but I’ll include them anyways! We flew from Manchester in the UK to San Diego and then back to UK from Las Vegas with American Airlines. The flights included a stopover in Philadelphia both ways.

Travel Insurance: £23

I just got quite basic, single cover as I knew I wasn’t doing anything too crazy on this trip. I found my insurance through, but check as you might be covered by your bank account!

Visas: £9

As a UK citizen, I have to get a visa to enter the US, which as of August 2015, is $14 (approx £9). You can get this via the official ESTA website. These are valid for 2 years (but check in case this changes)!

US Car Hire

Getting Around – £180

Car Hire: £100

We hired a 7-seater, Yukon GMC from US Car Hire. We had one car from San Diego to San Francisco, and then we swapped over to a different car (same make) in San Francisco and then dropped that one off in Las Vegas.

We did this because we didn’t need a car for the first couple of days in San Diego or in San Francisco or in Las Vegas. So we really only had the car for 7 days in total which cost around £500, but we split this between 5 and we were all over 25 and had 3 people driving.

We had booked a different car, but we managed to upgrade on the day (for round an extra $20 each), and they even threw in the use of a sat nav. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Fuel: £40

We travelled around 1280 miles, San Diego ”“ LA ”“ Pacific Coast High Highway ”“ San Francisco ”“ Yosemite ”“ Las Vegas.

Our car one quite big (so not that economical) and the total cost for fuel was around £200, so my share was £40.

Fill up in the cities, rather than on the highways. The most expensive place to fill up was PCH, where the petrol stations are few and far between.

Other Transport: £40

We did a lot of walking on this trip, but we did take a few taxis around in San Diego, San Francisco and Las Vegas and we also got the MTS tram in San Diego. Then you pay have to pay for parking in a couple of places. You probably won’t spend that much, but I think I spent around £40.

Haight-Ashbury San Francisco

Accommodation – £680

We had a mix of apartments, hotels and even a static tent! The costs below are just my share! I loved everywhere we stayed, apart from the San Diego and San Francisco apartments, they were both in good locations, but not that great! At the bottom in the planning section you’ll see my recommendations of where to stay instead!

  • San Diego: Little Italy Apartment (sleeps 6)  – £69 (3 nights)
  • Los Angeles: Venice Beach Apartment (sleeps 6) = £70 (2 nights)
  • Cambria: Creekside Inn (double room) = £34 (1 night)
  • San Francisco: Lower Haight Apartment (sleeps 6) = £153 (4 nights)
  • Yosemite National Park: Housekeeping Camp (tent sleeps 5) = £27  (2 nights)
  • Las Vegas: The Mirage (double room) = £327 (4 nights)

Activities – £262

There are so many things to do on this trip, California and Las Vegas have everything – surfing, sky diving, helicopter rides, zip lining, you name it, you can do it! But there’s also loads of free stuff to do, so you don’t have to spend loads of money!

So, I’d say to probably add on a few hundred from what I spent, as there’s bound to be something amazing that you’ll come across! I’d definitely do more activities if I went back again. My 3 friends flew to the Grand Canyon for the day whilst we were in Vegas, which usually costs a couple of hundred bucks!

San Diego

If I could live in any of the places we travelled to, I think it would be San Diego. Such a lovely place for a family!

  • USS Midway $20
  • Coronado Ferry $10

USS Midway Museum San Diego

Los Angeles

Los Angeles was definitely one of my favourite places on this trip! I wished we’d spent a bit more time there!

  • Tour of the Stars Homes $47 + $10 tip

Venice Beach

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)

Known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, the Pacific Coast Highway (aka Route 1) starts from Los Angeles and ends up in San Francisco.

On this route you’ll go through Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Cambria, Monterey and Carmel, San Simeon and experience the beautiful coast of Big Sur.

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park $10
  • 17-Mile Drive in Carmel $10

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California Helen in Wonderlust

San Francisco

Actually, San Francsico is another place I’d love to live. Such a cool city with so much great stuff to do! I could have stayed here for weeks!

  • Bike Hire (including ferry back from Sausalito) $30 per day
  • Alcatraz Tour $30
  • Sightseeing Bus (1 day) $40
  • Cable Car $6
  • Golden Gate Park Surrey $35

Riding the San Francisco Cable Car


After all that time in the cities, beautiful Yosemite is one of those places that just makes you feel relaxed and where all your cares just fade away!

  • Yosemite Entry $6 ($30 per car for 7 days)
  • Bike Hire $32 per day

Yosemite National Park

Las Vegas

I didn’t expect to like Las Vegas, and I didn’t like it. I loved it!

  • Gambling $10 (high roller me, obvs)
  • Stratosphere $20 (I didn’t go on the rides)
  • Mystère by Cirque du Soleil $90

Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

Food & Drink – £600

The food on this trip is incredible. You’ll go back about a stone heavier… but that’s ok! Diet Schmiet!

Breakfasts: £50

We pretty much ate cereal or yoghurt in the apartment for most of our breakfasts, so it was super cheap, but we did have the odd few out at plcaes like Denny’s or Cambria Cafe.


Lunch: £80

Lunch was usually an on-the-go affair – fish and chips on Santa Barbara pier, sourdough and clam chowder or In-N-Out Burger in San Francisco, Panda Express in Los Angeles or a Chilli Dog in San Diego   – stuff like that. Cheap and cheerful! Maybe not as healthy as it could have been.


Dinner: £220

We ate out quite a lot, mostly in mid-priced restaurants, nothing too fancy. But some nights we just got something simple like a slice of pizza and saved lots of money.

Las Vegas Itinerary (49)

In my itinerary posts, I’ve written about all the places we ate if you want to take a look!

Drinks: £250

We didn’t drink every night, but we did have at least one big night out in San Diego, San Francisco and Vegas – when we didn’t have to drive the next day!

Probably the biggest night out was in Las Vegas (of course), but even that wasn’t too expensive.

When I think of Vegas, I think of big club nights with private areas and people ordering crazily expensive bottles of champagne or Smirnoff vodka that would cost a tenner in the supermarket but costs $300 in a club (seriously???). You could spend literally thousands of dollars on a night out, and people do. But, you don’t have to! In fact I probably spent less than I would on a night out at home.

Las Vegas Itinerary

We started off with a drink in one of our hotel bars, then headed to the slots, took position, played a few dollars as the waitresses brought us ‘free’ drinks. I probably got around $20 worth of drinks for  couple of dollars. Bargain!

Then we had some wine with dinner and then we were touted into a club in one of the hotels. Four of us paid a $20 cover charge, one got in free and us girls got unlimited drinks until midnight, which meant we didn’t spend a penny inside. The club was a bit crap, so we got our money’s worth and headed off into the night, finishing off with some dancing at Rhumbar (and in the casino) in The Mirage!

If you want to go to a pool party, or to one of the big clubs (that isn’t in your own hotel), you’ll need to budget more! Really depends how much you want to party in Vegas!

Las Vegas Itinerary (45)

Total = £2,393 ($3,684)

* Prices approx as of August 2015.


Plan Your Trip to California

Our route: San Diego – Los Angeles – Pacific Coast Highway – San Francisco – Yosemite National Park – Las Vegas.

Getting there: I always search for my flights on Skyscanner. We flew into San Diego and out of Las Vegas.

Car hire: We hired our car via US Car Hire. As there were 5 us us, we had a 7-seater Ford Yukon, which fitted us and our luggage comfortably (don’t forget your luggage). We picked the car up as we left San Diego. Dropped it off when we reached San Francisco. Picked up another when we left San Fran and dropped it off when we arrived in Las Vegas.

Visa waiver programme: Most nationalities need to apply for the visa waiver programme called ESTA – don’t forget to apply before you go, as they won’t let you in otherwise. Once approved, it lasts for 2 years. Just ensure that you are covered for your entire stay.

Travel insurance: Travel insurance is super important anyway, but especially in the US where medical bills are outrageously expensive. I usually get my travel insurance from this link.

Guide books: I love Lonely Planet guide books and usually always travel with one wherever I go. Try the ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Lonely Planet California and the ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Lonely Planet Pocket Las Vegas.

Have an amazing trip to California!

Please Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products/services I really love. Affiliate sales help with the running costs of this site, so thank you for your support!

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    1. Thanks Debbie, Yes, such a cool trip!!! I know, it would be great to win the big bucks, but as I only spent around $10, probably never going to happen! 🙂


  1. Wow! Looks like you had a amazing time! We live in Scotland and are planning our trip to California for October 2016. We are looking at starting at San Diego finishing at San Francisco, your itinerary has helped lots. Did you book you hotels through a travel agent or just book them all your self? We are traveling with our 3 kids 3, 6 & 8 so lots of stop off’s.

    This is how I’ve planned our trip so far, your advice on it would be fab!

    San Diego – 4 Nights
    L.A. – 4 Nights
    Santa Barbara – 1 Night
    Monterey – 2 Nights
    Santa Cruz – 1 Night
    San Jose – 2 Nights
    Yosmite – 3 Nights
    San Francisco – 4 Nights

    1. We did Gayle!!! Sorry for the late reply, just spotted this comment!!

      We just booked everything ourselves!

      This looks like a great itinerary! The kids will love it! Lucky them getting to go on such a great trip! There’s so many activities to do! San Diego is a real family place!

    2. Hi Gayle, how wars your trip ? I’m planning to go with two kids next summer and would appreciate Any recommandations on hotels or appartments.

      Thanks Helen for this wonderful website.

      Sabrina, Montréal, Canada

  2. Hi Helen, been loving your blog over the last few days! Beautiful writing and photographs. I’ve been planning a similar trip over the last few months and it’s pretty similar to yours. I’m travelling with a few friends and we’re doing San Diego-LA-Grand Canyon-Zion-LV-back down to LA and then down the PCH to SF. I was so excited to do Yosemite but it’s supposed to be all snowed under when we go so will have to do it on another trip. Any advice on where to look for accommodation? We’re ideally looking for apartments/houses except in LV where we’re probably going for somewhere mid-range like planet hollywood. I’ve tried air bnb but looking for alternatives.

    PS: My family is from Uganda and I was born there so also enjoying your Africa blogs :D. Keep them coming!

    1. Thank you Sharon, that’s so lovely of you to say.

      All of the places I stayed are listed in this post, but you could also try or or do you mean where geographically?

      For Las Vegas, anywhere in the middle is good, mid-range options you also have the Flamingo and Circus Circus.

      Aw, Uganda, has a very special place in my heart! 🙂 I will keep the blogs coming! xx

      1. Hi Helen. I’ve still been using your site to plan my trip and the accommodation is almost all booked up! Last one we’ve been struggling with is San Francisco, didn’t realise quite how expensive anywhere central in SF would be! I’ve managed to find a few great apartments in North Beach on VRBO (which i’d never heard of before your blog too!) so thanks again. Very excited now x

        1. Aw that’s great Sharon, glad it’s been useful!! 🙂

          Yes, San Francisco is expensive!!! But glad you’ve found some places!! North Beach is a cool location, so you’ll be near to a lot of stuff!

          Have an AMAZING trip!!! When do you go?

          1. December 31st! Arrive in San Diego just in time for New year’s celebration. I’ll report back on how it all went 🙂

  3. Helen – I’m (touch wood, theoretically, don’t want to jinx it etc etc) planning a California/Vegas road trip next year and your blog has been SO super helpful. Thank you! By the way, your blog was the first result when I googled ‘California road trip blog’ so high five for the good SEO skills 😉

    I’m planning the route sort of the opposite to what you did and in more of a circle. We’re planning to fly direct to LA from London (cheapest way to fly for us), down for a day or two in San Diego, up to Vegas via Cleveland National Forest and Joshua Tree National Park, spend a few days in Vegas including a trip out to the Grand Canyon. Then drive from Vegas to Sacramento via Death Valley, then Sacramento to San Francisco, then San Fran to Carmel (how beautiful is Carmel?! God damn), then take the PCH all the way back to Los Angeles and fly home from there. Phew!

    Anyway, I’ve made loads of notes from your posts and will doubtless be coming back to refer to them again – so thank you!

    1. Hi Leanne!

      Thanks, glad you like the post! The SEO thing was a total fluke! 🙂

      Sounds like you have an amazing trip coming up (touch wood)!! Hope you have a great time!!!!!!!! Give me a shout if you have any questions!!

  4. Always good to see people’s budgets for trips like this. Knowing about what you should be spending is a good guide especially for people new to travelling. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Fab blogs. Doing a road trip with some friends for my fiftieth and I think yours is the best information. Thanks for the effort.

  6. Hi, loved reading your blogs – so inspiring!
    We (hubby & I) have booked flights to LA in June 2016 for 15 days. We are 58 & 63 years young!
    We need an itinerary, we want to see as much as possible but we have a couple of issues and would welcome any advice.
    Luckily we have family & friends – Fountain Valley, and Temecula which is great so we wont need accomodation all the time but my big problem is mobility – I have MS – I walk with a stick at best but at home I also have a wheelchair for big trips plus a blue badge for the parking access.
    Big ask but can you give us any tips bearing these things in mind please?
    Be good to give the family a broad idea of where we want to go!
    Thank you so much

    1. Hi Sue,

      Thanks so much and apologies for the late reply!!! 58 and 63 years young – I like it!!

      To be honest, the route I took shouldn’t pose you too many issues. There can be a lot of walking on this trip, but also a lot of driving too, so you can get around pretty easily with the car and limit your walking. Are you taking your wheelchair? Might be a good idea so you are not tied to the car. The prom along Venice Boardwalk and Santa Monica were made for wheels! 🙂 Even in Yosemite, you can drive a lot of places, and then it’s just a short walk to some of the viewpoints!

      I love your adventurous spirit! Have an amazing time, and please come back to tell me how you get on!!

  7. I loved reading all about your trip and I will be doing a very similar one end of March with my 12 year old daughter, I can’t wait. The only real difference is we will be using buses rather than hiring a car as it is a lot of driving for one person. Thanks for an enjoyable and informative read.

  8. Hi Helen, all sounds amazing. We’re going in On June 20th this year and returning on 9th July for our 25th wedding anniversary. We start in San Fransisco (4 nights booked) and then want to travel coastal road to San Diego. From there we want to drive back up and through Death Valley into Las Vegas ( last week booked in Vegas at MGM Grand). We want to see as much as we can, but need to budget also, just wanting advice on places to sleep/ Stay overnight/ routes to take and where to eat ect. Also will it be cheaper booking helicopter flight over Grand Canyon and down Vegas strip before we travel? All advice would be much appreciated, thank you, Mandy

    1. Hey Mandy, how exciting! It’s a great trip – you’ll love it!

      In terms of recommendations, I can only really suggest what we did so hope it helps.

      In terms of places to stay en route, on the PCH, we stayed at Cambria which was lovely. San Francisco – LA and San Diego are pretty straightforward. But if you are driving down to San Diego, to go to Vegas, you’ll be coming into Vegas from the other side, so Death Valley is a bit out of your way. But you could potentially go up to Yosemite but that’s further out of your way. But if you have time it’s lovely! We didn’t go through Death Valley as the forest fires blocked our way from Yosemite. We went a different route. I’d advise getting a sat nav which makes everything easier.

      I wrote posts on everything we did, start with this one:

      It has my route, what we did and where we ate. Where we stayed is above in this post.

      Hope that helps!

  9. Hi Helen!

    Thanks for sharing – loved all of these posts.

    I’m planning on driving from Canada all along the west coast in April, for a month or so. Would you say you could do the trip on a cheaper budget? Hoping to couch-surf/self cater to save some pennies.


    1. Thanks Hollie!

      Yes, you could definitely do it on a cheaper budget if couch surfing, not eating out as much! I wasn’t on a strict budget, although we didn’t go crazy with activities! Howver I guess I saved on fuel as there were 5 of us! But if you have your own car too it will be a lot cheaper! 🙂

      Have an amazing trip!


  10. Hi Helen,

    Wow what a trip!

    Can I ask what you would do if you only had 7 days? (planning a 6/7 day trip in September – can’t get away for longer).



    1. Hey Lauren,

      Favourite spot for food was Serendipity 3. It’s not too fancy, but the food was good and the portions big! 🙂 There’s always the buffet’s too!

      In terms of my favourite spot of all, hard to say. I loved just walking the Strip, taking everything in.

      I only went to one club and that was 1 Oak and I thought it was totally lacking atmosphere – BORING! My hubby has been more than me though and he liked Drai’s, Marquee and XS. Much better if you have a booth I believe! Although I love Gilley’s at the Venetian! Line dancing, unpretentious! And there’s a whiskey bar at MGM Grand, Whiskey Down is fun! 🙂

  11. Hi Helen,

    Was wondering was that the total for all 5 of you? Cos I am planning my first holiday abroad without the family, and we thought a road trip along the west coast so this was perfect! There will be 4 of us and students so wanted to make it as cheap and cheerful as possible.

    Much appreciated,


    1. Hi Tahmeed, I’m not sure exactly, but I assume it was around my cost $3,684 x 5 = $18,420.

      You can definitely do it cheaper, maybe camp, cook for yourselves etc.

  12. Hi Helen, saw your blog..nice!
    Planning a 3weeks California trips.
    We have 7adults and 6luggages, was wondering YuKon GMC can fit all in?
    How many luggages did you place put the car?

  13. Hi Helen, i am from Asia, 7 seaters should not be quite alrite for us. Only worry about the luggages. Do you have any photos showing the luggages inside the car? Thank you.

    1. No I don’t sorry. It really depends on how big your luggage is. We found it a squeeze with 4 cases and a backpack. You could always Google the size of the boot/trunk and then work to fitting your luggage to that size?

  14. You hit some cool spots while you were here. I love San Diego too and try to visit at least once a year with my family. I may be pretty close to a lot of the places on your list but I don’t get to venture to them often and I have never been to the Big Sur area but hopefully one day. I like the idea that you didn’t rent a vehicle during your stay in the major cities such as San Diego and Las Vegas. I wouldn’t rent a car there either because everything is a short walk, drive, and now they have those rentable bikes all over the place.

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