San Diego is a sprawling city consisting of a bustling downtown area and a collection of beach towns, each with its own unique personality and attractions.
So much variety can make deciding where to stay in San Diego challenging. But never fear, because I’m a San Diego local and I’m here to break down what each neighborhood has to offer and make it easy to choose which suits you.
But, first, if you’re in a rush, let’s quickly summarize the overall best places to stay:
Table of Contents
- Best Places to Stay in San Diego
- 9 Best Neighborhoods and Areas to Stay in San Diego
- Tips for Staying in San Diego
- Answers to FAQs About San Diego
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Best Places to Stay in San Diego
In a rush and just looking for a quick answer on the best places to stay in San Diego? Here are my top picks:
- 🏆 Best Overall – The Lodge at Torrey Pines
- ✨ Best Luxury – Fairmont Grand Del Mar
- 👪 Best for Families – Hotel Del Coronado
- 👔 Best for Business – InterContinental San Diego
- 🛎️ Best Boutique – La Valencia Hotel
- 🏖️ Best Beachfront Resort – La Jolla Shores Hotel
- 💵 Best Budget – California Dreams Hostel
You can’t go wrong with any of the above accommodation options. But, for more info, let’s do a deep dive into the best areas and neighborhoods in San Diego:
9 Best Neighborhoods and Areas to Stay in San Diego
San Diego, the southernmost city in California, is known for its laid-back beachy atmosphere. The downtown beating heart of the city is situated on a large bay and is central to many of the city’s most famous sites and attractions.
Travel northwest and the dense city gives way to small, eclectic beach towns that range from sleepy, to bohemian, to luxurious. I’ll go into these details for each neighborhood, moving from south to north, and give you an idea of what area will be the best fit for you!
Coronado Island is a narrow peninsula that juts out from the southernmost part of San Diego and forms the San Diego Bay. The quasi-island is known for being a resort town and caters to families that want to enjoy the high-end hotels, beach, and quaint downtown area without having to travel around too much.
One of the benefits of vacationing in Coronado is that you won’t need a car to explore the area, which includes some of the most beautiful beaches in San Diego and a quintessential beachside village. You can get to Coronado either by car over the picturesque Coronado bridge or by taking the ferry that departs from both Broadway Pier and the 5th Ave Convention Center.
Pros of Staying in Coronado Island:
- Beaches, resorts, and downtown are all within walking/biking distance
- Beautiful, golden beaches
- Great for families
- Close to San Diego International Airport
Cons of Staying in Coronado Island:
- Hotels can be pricey
- Not much nightlife
📚 Coronado Island Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Families and a Luxury Beach Getaway
- ✨ Best Hotels – Hotel Del Coronado • 1906 Lodge • Loews Coronado Bay Resort
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Coronado Island
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – Sẽrea ($$$), The Henry ($$$), Miguel’s Cocina ($$)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Sun Deck Bar & Grill, McP’s Irish Pub, Coronado Brewing Company
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Coronado Beach, Silver Strand State Beach
Downtown San Diego
Downtown San Diego looks out over the picturesque San Diego Bay and is a great place to stay if you’re hoping to do explore the best activities San Diego has to offer. For example, downtown is home to the historic gaslamp quarter, famous for its bustling nightlife scene, and Little Italy which boasts some of the city’s coolest restaurants.
While you won’t be near the beach, staying downtown will offer you easy access to most of San Diego’s most popular sites and attractions such as Seaport Village, Balboa Park, Old Town San Diego, and the San Diego Zoo, most of which can be reached by taking the trolley.
Pros of Staying in Downtown San Diego:
- Most convenient for popular sites/attractions
- Tons of trendy restaurants and bars
- Lots of hotel options in all price ranges
- Close to San Diego International Airport
Cons of Staying in Downtown San Diego:
- The beach is far enough away to require a car
- Not the best option for a quiet, laid back vacation
📚 Downtown San Diego Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Sightseeing & Nightlife
- ✨ Best Hotels – Pendry San Diego • Hotel Indigo San Diego • The U.S. Grant
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Downtown San Diego
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – Lionfish ($$$), Juniper and Ivy ($$$), Barbusa ($$)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Herb & Wood, Fifth and Rose
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, Maritime Museum of San Diego, Petco Park, Old Town San Diego, Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego Convention Center
Ocean Beach (OB) is one of the quirkiest beach-side neighborhoods in San Diego and is known for being bohemian, eclectic, and wild, attracting people of the same description. The area holds festivities on almost a nightly basis, including impromptu street performances, open-air markets, and festivals, usually concentrated near the Ocean Beach Pier.
OB is still near enough downtown that you can quickly visit many of the popular San Diego sites. It has tons of laid-back bars and restaurants and is great for people wanting a lively and unforgettable beach vacation on a budget, as there are more affordable hotels and hostels in OB. Be warned that OB has lured many young travelers to move to San Diego full time.
Pros of Staying in Ocean Beach:
- Right next to the beach
- Lively nightlife and tons of eccentric bars and restaurants
- Great for younger travelers
Cons of Staying in Ocean Beach:
- Not many luxury hotels
- Not very family-oriented
📚 Ocean Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Young Travelers Seeking Adventure
- ✨ Best Hotels – Samesun Ocean Beach • The Inn at Sunset Cliffs • Ocean Beach Hotel
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Ocean Beach
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – The Joint ($$), Hodad’s ($), Mike’s Taco Club ($)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Kilowatt Brewing, Wonderland Ocean Pub
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Ocean Beach Pier, Sunset Cliffs, Cabrillo National Monument
Mission Beach is a narrow strip of land that divides the Pacific ocean and Mission Bay. It’s a popular destination for laid-back travelers looking to enjoy the ocean, sunshine, and a variety of casual bars and restaurants. While the area certainly isn’t luxury, it does offer something for everyone, including families, younger crowds, and everyone in between.
Mission Beach is also centrally located, making it easy to visit downtown and surrounding attractions without being in the hustle and bustle. The area also offers easy access to both the pacific ocean and Mission Bay, where you can do a variety of water activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming, and is also home to Belmont Park, a beachfront theme park with an antique rollercoaster located in South Mission Beach.
Pros of Staying in Mission Beach:
- Affordable and laid back
- Beach, restaurants, and bars within walking distance
- Close to airport and popular sites and attractions
Cons of Staying in Mission Beach:
- Not many luxury dining or hotel options
📚 Mission Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for a Casual Beach Vacation
- ✨ Best Hotels – Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa • The Dana on Mission Bay • Ocean Park Inn
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Mission Beach
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – Cannonball ($$$), Sandbar Sports Grill ($$$), The Mission ($$)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Miss B’s Coconut Club, Draft
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Belmont Park, Water Sports on Mission Bay
Pacific Beach (PB) is a bustling beach town whose many bars draw crowds of young college students and recent graduates. The area is very laid back, with most people opting for flip-flops and bathing suits during the day and nearly equally casual dress at night when they flock to the many bars.
You won’t find many luxury options in PB, but you’ll find plenty of San Diego’s laidback and beachy spirit. I especially recommend a stay in Pacific Beach for young people looking for lively evenings and beachy days.
Pros of Staying in Pacific Beach:
- Energetic nightlife and wide variety of casual bars and restaurants
- Short walk to the beach
- Cheap hotels available
Cons of Staying in Pacific Beach:
- Can get crowded during high tourism season
- A mostly younger crowd that can get rowdy at night
📚 Pacific Beach Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for a Springbreak Atmosphere
- ✨ Best Hotels – Tower 23 • Pacific Terrace Hotel • The Beach Cottages
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Pacific Beach
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – JRDN Restaurant ($$), Fig Tree Cafe ($$), Oscar’s Mexican Seafood ($)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Flamingo Deck, PB Shoreclub, Mavericks Beach Club, Pacific Beach AleHouse
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Law Street Beach, Mission Bay (my favorite part is Sail Bay), Crystal Pier
La Jolla, known as “The Jewel” is a luxurious neighborhood with some of San Diego’s most expensive homes, most gorgeous coastline, and best luxury hotels. The area is home to La Jolla Shores, one of the most beloved beaches in San Diego, as well as La Jolla Cove, and tide pools. And the downtown boasts numerous art galleries and a variety of fine dining options.
Most of the hotels in La Jolla are pricey, luxurious, and unique, offering a special experience to those who stay here. Plus, most are within walking distance of the beach, and the La Jolla Shores Hotel offers access to the only private beach in San Diego. This is my number one recommendation for anyone looking for a romantic getaway or a luxury beach resort vacation.
Pros of Staying in La Jolla:
- Tons of natural beauty to explore
- Lots of fine dining and shopping
- Many boutique hotels and luxury resorts
Cons of Staying in La Jolla:
- Hotels and dining can be expensive
- Not much nightlife
- Difficult to get in and out of the area
📚 La Jolla Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for A Romantic Getaway
- ✨ Best Hotels – La Valencia • La Jolla Shores Hotel • Pantai Inn
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in La Jolla
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – The Marine Room ($$$), George’s at the Cove ($$$), The Taco Stand ($$)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – La Sala Lounge, Duke’s La Jolla
- 🎟️ Top La Jolla Attractions – La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Shores Park, Birch Aquarium
Del Mar is another high-end area of San Diego, though smaller and less ostentatious than La Jolla. The village is quaint and offers both laid-back dining as well as some more elegant dining options, art galleries, and stunning clifftop views of the pacific ocean.
Some of the nearby attractions include the world-renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course as well as the gorgeous outdoor recreation area, Torrey Pines State Park. Del Mar is the perfect destination for a luxurious yet laid-back vacation for anyone trying to escape the hustle and bustle.
Pros of Staying in Del Mar:
- Close to the beach
- Close to some attractions (Del Mar Fairground, Torrey Pines, Torrey Pines Golf Course)
- Great for quiet vacations
- Halfway between the zoo and Legoland
Cons of Staying in Del Mar:
- You’ll need a car to get to more popular attractions further south
- Little to no nightlife
- Can be pricey
📚 Del Mar Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for a Quiet and Luxurious Getaway
- ✨ Best Hotels – Fairmont Grand Del Mar • L’Auberge Del Mar • Les Artistes Inn
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Del Mar
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – Jake’s Del Mar ($$$), Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar ($$), The Poseidon Restaurant ($$)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Sbicca, Bellyup Tavern
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Del Mar Fairground & Racetracks, Torrey Pines State Reserve
Encinitas, located in north county San Diego, is a trendy area that toes the line between luxury and laid-back beach town. Even though the town grew from sleepy to fashionable, it’s held on to its small-town vibe which means you can find both high and low-end restaurants, bars, and shops in the downtown area.
Because the neighborhood is well north of the San Diego Airport, it’s not as popular a tourist destination, so crowds tend to be smaller than the southern beach destinations. Check out Jess’s local guide to what to do in Encinitas for more information.
Pros of Staying in Encinitas:
- Less crowded, less touristic feel
- Has variety both quality and quantity of food and shopping
- On the beach
Cons of Staying in Encinitas:
- Far from popular San Diego attractions
- You’ll need a car to go to most other places
📚 Encinitas Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for a Taste of Local Charm
- ✨ Best Hotels – Inn at Moonlight Beach • Surfhouse Boutique Hotel • Leucadia Beach Inn
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Encinitas
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – Le Papagayo ($$$), UNION Kitchen and Tap ($$), VG Donut and Bakery ($)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – The Bier Garden, Encinitas Ale House
- 🎟️ Encinitas Attractions – San Diego Botanic Garden, Annie’s Canyon Hike
Carlsbad is one of the most northern beach towns in San Diego County, located 40 minutes away from San Diego International Airport. It’s a quiet, beachy, family-friendly neighborhood with a small downtown area that contains some cute restaurants, shops, and bars. It’s one of the places that families will loyally return to visit year after year.
Carlsbad is a great place to vacation for those looking to recharge and relax away from the crowds. It’s also the home of Legoland, so if visiting the park is the priority of your time in San Diego, then you may consider staying in the picturesque town.
Pros of Staying in Carlsbad:
- Lots of activities in Carlsbad for families
- Calm and relaxing atmosphere
- Close to Legoland
Cons of Staying in Carlsbad:
- Far from the airport
- Not much nightlife
- You’ll probably require a car
📚 Carlsbad Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for a Relaxing Family Getaway
- ✨ Best Hotels – Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort • Omni La Costa Resort and Spa • Carlsbad Seapointe Resort
- 🏠 Apartments – Browse Top Rentals in Carlsbad
- 🍽️ Where to Eat – Campfire ($$$), Vigilucci’s ($$$), Jay’s Gourmet ($$)
- 🍸 Where to Drink – Pure Project Carlsbad, Park 101
- 🎟️ Top Attractions – Legoland, Carlsbad Flower Fields (springtime)
Tips for Staying in San Diego
San Diego is Generally Very Safe
First time visitors to San Diego will be pleased to know that San Diego is very safe for tourism. In fact, it’s consistently rated as one of the safest large cities in the US.
Of course, you still should practice common sense. In particular, the ongoing global health crisis continues to affect San Diego (as it does the entire world) and travelers should be sure to research the latest information, numbers, and restrictions before their stay to make sure visiting is within their comfort zone.
⛱️ Read Next: Where to Stay in Oceanside, CA
Plan out your Transportation
San Diego is a huge city that takes 45 minutes to drive across without traffic. So depending on what activities and areas you want to stay in, you’ll want to think about what transportation you’ll want to use.
Uber and Lyft can be expensive, but if you only plan on venturing out from where you’re staying a few times, it could be a good option.
If you’re staying downtown, you may be able to take the trolley to most of the popular nearby sites and attractions. But if you’re staying farther north or want to explore multiple areas mentioned above, it’ll probably be worth renting a car.
👉 Read Next: The Best Things to do in San Diego (By a Local)
When to Come to San Diego
The best beach weather in San Diego is in late summer into early fall when temperatures reach into the high 70s near the coast. Summer is the high season for tourism, so if you want the best weather without the crowds, plan your visit for mid-September.
For a more detailed guide on times to visit the city, check out my article on the best time of year to visit San Diego. If you do decide to visit in Summer, be sure to book your lodging at least 6 months in advance as they fill up fast.
📽️ Read Next: Best Areas for Where to Stay in Los Angeles
Try the Mexican Food Joints
San Diego has some of the most incredible Mexican food north of the border (I may be a bit biased about this, but I stand by my opinion).
The best food tends to come from the smallest and most unassuming taco shops, so don’t let appearances stop you from trying the food. Do as the locals do and order a California Burrito.
Answers to FAQs About San Diego
Where should I not stay in San Diego?
I recommend staying away from inland San Diego or areas very close to the Mexican border as they tend to have fewer activities and attractions to offer visitors. For example, I would stay away from Chula Vista and National City and choose a location further North to get closer to San Diego’s more popular sites.
Is it better to stay in La Jolla or San Diego?
Whether to stay in downtown San Diego or La Jolla depends on the activities you hope to enjoy during your visit. La Jolla is minutes from the beach, quiet, and luxurious, whereas downtown is urban, bustling, great for nightlife, and easier to visit many of the city’s attractions.
Is Mission Beach or Ocean Beach better?
Ocean Beach will offer a more unique and unforgettable experience than Mission Beach. Many young people who move to San Diego claim that a stay in OB sold them on picking up and moving to the city full time.
Should I stay in Downtown San Diego?
Downtown San Diego is a great place to stay if you like exploring trendy and lively bars and restaurants and want a more urban-life experience in San Diego. Downtown also offers the easiest access to places like Balboa Park, Little Italy, the San Diego Zoo, and other sites. If you want a beachy, laid-back vacation, then I recommend staying in a different neighborhood in San Diego but the view of the San Diego skyline is unparalleled from the bay.
The Pendry is a top hotel option in Downtown as it has great dining options and a rooftop pool. Or, for a slightly less big city atmosphere but with many of the plus sides of staying in Downtown, check out North Park, which is one of the most popular San Diego Neighborhoods for young professional residents.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet beach getaway, or to let loose at some local breweries or bars, one of San Diego’s many neighborhoods is sure to be a good fit. Hopefully, this guide has given you some insight into where to stay in San Diego!
If you’re planning on a longer stay in San Diego and want to explore surrounding areas, take a look at my guide on day trips from San Diego!