Best Places To Stay in San Diego for Tourists
Are you planning a trip to sunny San Diego and are overwhelmed with the question of where to stay in San Diego? With 1.3 million residents, San Diego claims the title of the second-largest city in California, so choosing one of the best and centrally located San Diego neighborhoods as your home base during your visit is important. Well, you have come to the right place.
Greg and I are San Diego locals and we are sharing our best places to stay in San Diego for visitors – including hotel recommendations for each San Diego neighborhood. Whether you are looking for a beautiful beach resort in San Diego, a boutique hotel in La Jolla, a chic hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter, or the best vacation rentals in San Diego, we got you covered.
Where to Stay in San Diego, California
San Diego is a pretty big city, but it is split up into many smaller neighborhoods, which makes it easier to navigate. Each of the San Diego neighborhoods that we recommend to tourists has a unique vibe and feel to them. Depending on your itinerary and personal preferences, we’ll help you find the best place to stay in San Diego.
Best San Diego Neighborhoods for Visitors
Urban and busy, the center of San Diego is vibrant and offers a lot to locals, tourists, and business travelers alike. The Gaslamp Quarter offers excellent restaurants and nightlife and is within walking distance to the San Diego Convention Center. It is the perfect spot to explore all the things to do in San Diego.
If you don’t have a car, we highly recommend you stay downtown, as many attractions are within walking distance and most others can be reached with public transport or a quick shared ride.
Main attractions in and near Gaslamp Quarter/Downtown:
Balboa Park | San Diego Zoo | USS Midway | Seaport Village | Gaslamp Quarter Nightlife and Restaurants | Petco Park | Convention Center | San Diego Symphony | Bay Cruises | Whale Watching | Cruise Ship Terminal | Maritime Museum | Santa Fe Station | Museum of Contemporary Art | San Diego Children’s Museum
As the name suggests, this is San Diego’s Italian quarter. You will find great restaurants, a bustling Farmer’s Market and a fun piazza to hang out with the locals, tasty food at the Little Italy Food Hall and lots more – all within walking distance to many of San Diego’s main attractions. Hotels here are mainly 3 star, small boutique hotels.
Little Italy is within walking distance to Downtown/Gaslamp Quarter, so this is another great option if you don’t have a car. There aren’t many top San Diego attractions in Little Italy itself, but since it is within walking distance to Downtown and has a really fun atmosphere, Greg and I think it is a great neighborhood to stay in while you visit San Diego. Read our full guide on Little Italy here>>
Main Attractions in Little Italy
Piazza Della Familia | Little Italy Farmer’s Market | Restaurants & Bars | Firehouse Museum | Waterfront Park
Hotel Recommendations Little Italy
Old Town is the historic part of San Diego, with a strong Wild West vibe. It is often called the birthplace of California and you can definitely still feel it the historic importance.
If you are looking for some good Mexican food, Old Town also has some great offers for you. There are over 25 restaurants in just a 1-mile radius.
The top attractions in Old Town San Diego are mainly historic in nature. The main sight is the San Diego Old Town State Historic Park – an open-air museum that takes you back to the Wild West of California. Another must is the Whaley House, known as one of the most haunted places in the US. Read our full guide on Old Town here>>
Top Sights in Old Town
Hotel Recommendations for Old Town
This is San Diego’s Hipster neighborhood. You’ll find trendy restaurants, taprooms, vintage thrift shops and dive bars galore.
There aren’t many tourist attractions in North Park, but you are surrounded by fun eateries, shops, and breweries along 30th Street and Adams Avenue. Balboa Park and the Zoo are just around the corner from North Park and Downtown/Gaslamp Quarter is only about 10 minutes by car.
While technically an independent city, Coronado is a great place to stay, if you are looking for something a little more exclusive and quiet. Don’t stay here if you have a full itinerary that takes you all over the city. There are only three ways to get to Coronado: The Coronado Bay Bride, the loooong detour via the Silverstrand, or the ferry from Downtown.
However, the great restaurants, galleries, stunning views of downtown and top-notch hotels still make it one of the top places to stay in San Diego.
Take the San Diego Ferry to Coronado | Coronado Ferry Landing Park
Hotel Del Coronado | Centennial Park (great view of Downtown San Diego) Downtown Coronado (Orange Ave) | Coronado Beach/Coronado Dog Beach
Hotel Recommendations for Coronado
Mission Beach/Mission Bay
If you are looking for the SoCal beach town vibe, this is the spot. It is the perfect spot for travelers who want to be directly on the water, take surfing lessons, or visit Sea World, while being within a short drive from Downtown, the Airport, and La Jolla.
Mission Bay is especially good for families with young children who want access to family-friendly beaches. Solo/couple travelers who are into watersports and beach culture will also enjoy Mission Beach.
Things to do in Mission Beach/Mission Bay
Sea World | Beach Walk & Beach | Mission Bay Park | Bellmont Park Roller Coaster | Watersports Activities | Beach Volleyball
Hotel Recommendations for Mission Beach/Mission Bay
La Jolla is one of the top choices when deciding on where to stay in San Diego. La Jolla is known for its stunning beaches, gorgeous villas, and glitzy lifestyle.
You will also find the beautiful UCSD University campus there as well as the famous Torry Pines golf course and state park, which is one of our favorite hiking spots in San Diego.
La Jolla offers excellent dining options, high-end shopping, and more in a laid-back yet sophisticated atmosphere. Take a look at some of the best beach resorts in San Diego, if you want sweeping ocean views and direct beach access.
Things to do in La Jolla
La Jolla Village | La Jolla Shores | Children’s Pool & La Jolla Cove | Watch La Jolla Seals & Sea Lions | Birch Aquarium | La Jolla Playhouse | Kayaking at La Jolla Caves | Geisel Library | Shell Beach Tide Pools | Snorkeling with leopard sharks
Hotel Recommendations for La Jolla
Just north of downtown, this is a great neighborhood if you want to plan to visit the museums in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and more. It is a very hip and open-minded community, which hosts the annual San Diego Pride Parade and a great place to hang out. Greg and I used to live in the heart of Hillcrest and we loved it.
This is a great neighborhood if you are looking for small eateries, laid back nightlife and an open-minded crowd. It has a very residential feel, lots of green space and is ideally located if you want to be close to, but not in the heart of things.
Best Things to Do in Hillcrest & Bankers Hill
Balboa Park | San Diego Zoo | Restaurants & Bars | Vintage Thrift Shops
Hotel Recommendations for Hillcrest/Bankers Hill
San Diego’s hippie beach town with a super laid-back vibe and fun atmosphere. Cute cafes, surf and smoke shops, local breweries, and a great dog beach make Ocean Beach a fun place to stay in San Diego.
Top things to do in Ocean Beach
Hotel Recommendations for Ocean Beach
This is a fun beach town where a lot of college kids live and hang out. There are plenty of bars and nightlife options, restaurants and coffee shops to hang out for you.
You are about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown and the main sights of San Diego. Pacific Beach is a popular Spring Break destination and on the weekends, many students like to party along the bars on Grant & Garnett Ave.
Best things to do in Pacific Beach
Beach & Surfing | Nightlife | Cafés & Restaurants | Pacific Beach Pier
Hotel Recommendations for Pacific Beach
North County Beach Towns
From Oceanside to Carlsbad, Del Mar, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Solana Beach, and Encinitas, the coastal beach towns of San Diego North County are all very, very charming. Centrally located between San Diego and Los Angeles, this is a great location if you want to be within driving distance of many attractions but don’t want to stay in a big city.
Best things to do in Coastal North County
Beach & Surfing | Legoland | Premium Outlets | Oceanside Pier
Hotel Recommendations for Coastal North County
Why You Should NOT Stay at Hotel Circle
Yes, I know, the name sounds promising, but if you are visiting San Diego as a tourist, I would highly recommend you do NOT stay at a Hotel in Hotel Circle.
This area in Mission Valley/Fashion Valley has two attractions: Mission Valley Mall and Fashion Valley Mall. Other than that, you will find car dealerships, big box stores, chain restaurants, gated apartment complexes, but not a lot of culture and atmosphere.
If you stay there to just sleep, you might be ok, but you won’t get the full San Diego experience. I lived in Mission Valley during college for two years, and except for having the coolest two roommates, I don’t have many fond memories of living there. There are better options in San Diego!
Of course, there are many more great neighborhoods in San Diego, but these are the most ideal for visitors. They are within short driving distance to the top San Diego sights and have good hotels and accommodation options as well as restaurants and things to do within walking distance.
Where to stay in San Diego was written by San Diego native Maria Haase for San Diego Explorer.
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Last Updated on October 17, 2023 by Maria Haase