Instead of a break-the-bank beachfront hotel:
Shop West Beach for deals. Like the Spanish colonial–style Hotel Milo (from $239, including breakfast; 805/965-4577). The rooms are simple and comfortable with hardwood floors; beach cruisers come with vanity license plates; and the pool has cabanas.
East Beach is a smidge farther from downtown but has finds too, like the cozy Craftsman Old Yacht Club Inn B&B (from $149; 800/549-1676), with a reputation for its knockout breakfast.