With a population of over 1.3 million, selecting where to stay in San Diego can be difficult.
But if you love culture, the beach, delicious food, wildlife, and friendly people, San Diego is the perfect city for you.
There are so many unique neighborhoods to choose from. But how do you know which one to choose?
In this article you will find:
We asked local San Diego expert Chantae Reden to use her knowledge and share her opinions on what she thinks a first time visitor to San Diego should see and help us create a guide on where the best places are to stay in the city.
Whether you want to know where to get the best Mexican food or where you should base yourself if you want to explore the beach or the hippie history, this guide will help you plan your next visit to San Diego.
The Best Places to Stay in San Diego
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about the best places to stay in San Diego.
Ocean Beach is a great place to base yourself if you are traveling with family or kids. It is close to famous landmarks and has a great beach.
La Jolla is where you want to stay if you want to be near a great beach and still close to everything.
If it is your first time in San Diego we suggest staying in Old Town. It is full of great food, California history, and is well connected to the rest of San Diego.
The Gaslamp Quarter is the perfect place to stay if you are on a budget. It has some of the most affordable hotels in San Diego and you are close to most attractions.
Best Neighborhoods in San Diego
- La Jolla – for the classic Southern Californian beach experience.
- North Park – a colorful urban neighborhood near museums, restaurants, and nightlife
- Ocean Beach – a fun and funky beach area stuck in the 1960s
- Gaslamp Quarter – San Diego soul in the heart of downtown
- Old Town – Mexican food hotspot and early 1800s Spanish architecture
1. La Jolla
If you were born to be at the beach, you’ll love La Jolla (pronounced the Spanish way, la hoya).
This upscale neighborhood is home to many San Diegan celebrities, and where Dr. Seuss penned many of his cartoons.
If you are looking where to stay in San Diego that offers lots of adventure La Jolla is the place for you.
Picture sunny days spent lounging on the wide beach of La Jolla Cove, paddling in a kayak through the La Jolla Caves, browsing through boutiques, dining on fresh Mexican fare, and more.
La Jolla also hosts Mount Soledad, the Birch Aquarium, a handful of museums, and enough adventure tour companies to keep you active for days.
Where to Stay in San Diego near La Jolla
- Best Luxury Hotel in La Jolla: Pantai Inn San Diego – A 4 min walk from La Jolla Shores. Balinese decor in a romantic setting. Perfect for couples.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in La Jolla: La Jolla Riviera Inn – A 5 min walk to La Jolla shores, free WiFi and each unit comes with a kitchen.
- Best Budget Hotel in La Jolla: La Jolla Beach Travelodge – Close to the beach and includes free WiFi and Breakfast.
Best Tours in La Jolla
- Kayak caves and reserve tour – Paddle with a guide to the amazing La Jolla Caves, where you’re nearly guaranteed to see sea lions.
- Bike tour – See local and nearby landmarks on the Hike Bike Kayak “Freefall” bike tour.
- Segway Tour – Take in the beauty of San Diego by Segway.
- Kayak whale watching tour – Head out on a boat and look for migrating gray whales.
By bus – The public bus #30 runs downtown San Diego to La Jolla
Follow the #30 bus in real-time through the SDMTS website.
By car – Take I-5 and exit La Jolla Parkway. Follow the road into La Jolla, turn right on Prospect Street.
The main streets in La Jolla are La Jolla Village Drive, Prospect Street, Avenida de la Playa, and Girard Avenue.
By taxi – La Jolla does not have a public taxi stand. Book one by phone or through a hotel.
Looking for a car rental?
We use them all the time!
2. North Park
North Park is one of downtown San Diego’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, with street art, bars, quirky restaurants, and cultural sites lining the streets.
Here, creativity is rewarded and the locals aren’t afraid to experiment when it comes to how they live and work.
It’s the type of place that serves beer cocktails, lattes with foam art, and paint pallets as plates.
If you are looking for the coolest area to stay in San Diego this is the neighborhood for you.
North Park is walking distance to many cultural hubs like Balboa Park, the Ray Street Arts District, and the North Park Theater.
Where to Stay in North Park
- Best Luxury Hotel in North Park: The Lafayette Hotel – Located a 5-minute drive from the San Diego Zoo, this eco-friendly Colonial-style hotel features an Olympic-size pool and Free WiFi
- Best Mid Range Hotel in North Park: Berkshire Motor Hotel – Great location for Balboa Park, the Zoo, and North Park exploring. Free WiFi with simple decor.
- Best Budget Accommodation in North Park: ITH Zoo Hostel – Located between North Park and Hillcrest, another great neighborhood of San Diego. Cool decor with free WiFi and Free breakfast.
- San Diego: Buds and Brews Tour – Visit a craft brewery and learn about the history of Cannabis. It is legal now!
- Balboa Park Walking Tour – Perfect for those who want to see Balboa Park from an insider’s perspective. Do this before spending a full day at Balboa Park’s many museums.
- 1 Day Skip the Line Admission to the San Diego Zoo– Skip the line with this full day pass to the San Diego Zoo.
- Tour The USS Midway Museum – Enjoy a memorable visit to the USS Midway Museum when you’re in San Diego. On active duty from 1945-1992, this was the world’s longest-serving aircraft carrier. On board, you’ll relive the Midway’s exploits and hear about events that changed the world.
By car – From the I-805: Exit University Avenue. Turn left onto University Avenue.
From the I-5: Exit Pershing Drive and continue onto Upas Street.
Parking available in a garage on 29th Street.
By bus – Bus #2 stops all throughout 30th Street. Check the bus in real time on the SDMTS website.
By taxi – Taxis are common throughout Downtown San Diego and can be called in advance or hailed from the road.
3. Ocean Beach
My free-spirited grandfather used to take me to Ocean Beach as a child and wistfully say, “O.B. — where you live happy and free” as soon as we stepped out of our car.
Today, the sentiment still rings true. Ocean Beach is a casual neighborhood where alternative lifestyles are not just welcomed, but embraced.
Walk along the main street past all types of restaurants, boutiques selling tie-dye everything, healing crystal shops, and taco stands.
Street art covers formerly bare walls and the sun is usually shining after noon — once the marine layer of fog burns off.
Explore the tide pools, go swimming in the ocean, and walk along the Ocean Beach Pier.
Ocean Beach is accepting of everyone, including pets.
If you are looking for where to stay in San Diego with pets, you’ll find that Ocean Beach is just about as accommodating as it gets.
Great Places to Stay in Ocean Beach
- Best hotel in Ocean Beach: Ocean Beach Hotel – This iconic hotel is only a 1-minute walk from the beach and has free WIFI, free parking and is also close to the airport.
- Top Mid-range Hotel in Ocean Beach: The Inn at Sunset Cliffs – Great location, a 15 min walk to the beach, outdoor pool, free WIFI and close to many attractions.
- Best Hostel in Ocean Beach: USA Hostels Ocean Beach – Your choice of private or dorm rooms, Free WIFI, funky decor and only a 4 min walk from the beach.
Getting to Ocean Beach
By car – From the I-5, to the 8/Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and follow that to Bacon Street.
There is free street parking in residential areas of Ocean Beach and metered parking in the main areas.
By bus – Bus #35 runs from Old Town (a major public transport hub) to Ocean Beach. Bus #923 runs from downtown San Diego to Ocean Beach.
By taxi – Taxis frequently run to and from Ocean Beach, but you’ll likely have to call one in advance.
4. Gaslamp Quarter
Historic neighborhood that never sleeps
If you are looking for where to stay in San Diego and want to be in the heart of downtown, the Gaslamp Quarter is a great choice.
The Gaslamp Quarter, located on San Diego Bay, has an interesting wild western history marked with stories of tavern brawls and shootouts.
The quarter was once home to the city’s red-light district, gambling casinos, and 1860s Chinatown.
Many residents believe that the ghosts of Gaslamp’s past haunt this neighborhood to this day.
There are almost 100 historic buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter, which makes it an interesting contrast to the rest of downtown San Diego’s modern skyscrapers.
Aside from its rich history, the Gaslamp Quarter has restaurants, bars, and is walking distance to highlights like the San Diego Convention Center, Petco Park, Balboa Theatre, and Horton Plaza.
If you’re up for a bit of light-spirited debauchery and want to stay near many of San Diego’s greatest landmarks, choose the Gaslamp Quarter as your base.
Best Places to Stay in the Gaslamp Quarter
- Best Hotel in San Diego: Kimpton Solamar Hotel – Located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and featuring Free WIFI, Rooftop Pool & free wine tasting!
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Gaslamp: Staypineapple at Hotel Z – A romantic hotel with quirky decor. It is pet friendly and offers free Wifi and is walking distance to almost everything.
Best Budget Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter: USA Hostels San Diego Downtown – Built in 1880 this hostel offers mixed dorms, free WIFI, Free Breakfast, and a vibrant new age decor.
- Brothels, Bites, and Booze – A walking tour that takes you to some of the best places to eat in the Gaslamp Quarter while educating you about the neighborhood’s boisterous history.
- Petco Park Tour – Take an exclusive look at where the Padres practice and play.
By car – The Gaslamp Quarter is in the middle of downtown San Diego and runs along 5th and 6th Avenue.
Parking can be hard to find and is very expensive in the Gaslamp Quarter.
By trolley – All trolley lines service the Gaslamp Quarter. The stations are Gaslamp Station and Fifth Avenue Station.
By pedicabs – The Gaslamp Quarter is serviced by pedicabs, bicycle-powered rides that often have music playing out of a boom box. These are a fun way to get around downtown.
5. Old Town
The birthplace of California
Old Town, as you can guess from the name, is a historic part of San Diego that was the first Spanish settlement in the early 1800s.
Before that, it was an important area for the Kumeyaay Native Americans. Old Town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What makes Old Town so interesting today is that its retained its charm and style of architecture.
Many San Diegans believe that Old Town is haunted, with most ghosts residing in the Whaley House.
You can spend your time browsing through museums, visiting the Mission, sampling Mexican food, and listening to live music from a mariachi band.
Old Town is perfect for visitors of all ages interested in food, history, folklore, and have a great imagination.
Where to Stay in Old Town
- Best Luxury Hotel in Old Town: Cosmopolitan Hotel – Built in 1869 it features Victorian decor, free Wifi, Breakfast included and there is an onsite restaurant with happy hour.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Old Town: Hilton Garden Inn Old Town – A great value hotel is just a 10-minute walk to Old Town. It has an outdoor pool and free WIFI.
- Best Budget Hotel in Old Town: Old Town Inn – This beautiful budget hotel comes with breakfast included, an outdoor pool and a games room. Also Free HBO!
- Urban Adventure Quest – A tour led by your smartphone that has you and your team solve clues and complete puzzles to get to the next destination. Starts in Old Town.
- Tequila, Tacos, and Tombstones – This tour highlights Old Town’s haunted reputation and takes you to some of the best Mexican food restaurants in town.
- Old Town Tequila and Tortillas – A tour nearly every foodie will love, this walking tour explores Old Town’s best Mexican fare.
- Old Town State Park Tour – A free tour led by at the state park — no reservations necessary.
- Old Town Trolley Tour – Ride one of San Diego’s quirky trolleys and listen to fun historical facts about the area.
By car – Old Town is located in the northern end of downtown San Diego between the I-5 and the I-8. Exit Pacific Highway from the I-5 and Taylor street from the I-8.
By bus/trolley – Buses #8, #9, #10, #28, #35, #44, #88, and #105 service Old Town and go throughout most of San Diego. The Green Line trolley also passes through Old Town and stops at the Old Town Transit Center.
Get more details about the bus routes on the SDMTS website, including live updates.
By taxi – Taxis frequent Old Town regularly but you will likely want to call one in advance.
No matter which neighborhood you choose as a home base in San Diego, you’re sure to have a spectacular time.
You can easily bounce from one neighborhood to the next without ever feeling bored or as though you’ve seen it before.
The city has a well-deserved reputation for being lively and diverse, a combination that pleases even the most high-maintenance traveler.
I hope this has made the task of finding where to stay in San Diego a little easier.
Remember to pack sunscreen and brace yourself for spicy Mexican cuisine. Eat an extra California burrito for us!