Where to Stay in San Diego: 10 Best Areas

Where to stay in San Diego

Are you wondering where to stay in San Diego? If so, then it makes sense to get familiar with some of the city’s most popular neighborhoods.

Once you have identified some of the best areas to stay in San Diego, you’ll also want to know what to see and do in each of those communities. 

No matter which neighborhood you choose for accommodations, be sure to get out and explore the others. San Diego is an accessible city with plenty of transportation options.

San Diego sits on the Pacific Coast, approximately 120 miles south of L.A. Sometimes called “the birthplace of California,” the city is home to more than 1.5 million people and hosts millions more tourists every year.

Some of the most famous attractions in the city include Balboa Park, which is home to the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Fleet Science Center and many other sites, as well as Old Town and the Gaslamp Quarter.

Many of the best places to stay in San Diego are located within or adjacent to some of the city’s top attractions, allowing for fun and convenient exploration.

Where to stay in San Diego: 10 Best Areas

1. Downtown, where to stay in San Diego for First Time

San Diego’s downtown district is a short car ride away from the airport. At once hip, glamorous and laid-back, downtown is a great place to book a hotel stay. 

That’s not only because the neighborhood boasts numerous transportation options but also because there’s a ton to see and do.

Downtown features diverse can’t-miss attractions like The New Children’s Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego. This also is the place where it’s possible to shop your way through 14 acres of stores at upscale Seaport Village or take in a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park.

Whether you choose to stroll along Waterfront Park or raise a glass at the Mission Brewery, you’ll always find plenty to do. 

In fact, this is a fantastic place to stay if you’re hoping to enjoy some nightlife. Downtown features a huge collection of bars, lounges and clubs that are buzzing every night.

Overall, downtown is a safe place to stay and play. San Diego knows how important their downtown district is to commerce and tourists. Consequently, the neighborhood is patrolled by police to ensure that the streets are safe for locals and visitors.

Another excellent reason to stay in the downtown area is the choice of accommodations. Visitors will encounter everything from tried-and-true national chains to one-of-a-kind boutique properties. 

These range widely in price, with it being possible to discover some rock-bottom bargains or to pay a premium for a beautiful penthouse suite. There are even a couple of hostels in the area for travelers who are on a strict budget.

Downtown is an excellent choice where to stay in San Diego for almost any type of traveler. Those with kids will appreciate the proximity to many fun-filled attractions and adults traveling without kids will love the opportunity to explore fine cuisine and the bustling nightlife scene.

2. Gaslamp Quarter, where to stay in San Diego for nightlife

San Diego’s renowned Gaslamp Quarter makes for a fun and charming place to stay. It’s located within the official boundaries of the city’s downtown quarter. However, because its feel and appearance are so distinctive, it deserves to be called out separately.

Among the many things for which it’s known, the Gaslamp Quarter is the absolute center of the nightlife scene in San Diego. This means that if you’re looking to party all night, then you couldn’t ask for a better place to book a stay.

You’ll be in luck, because there are tons of hotels in this area, and many of them are housed in historic buildings. This provides you with an opportunity to enjoy a real boutique hotel experience, perhaps with genuine antiques for furnishings. 

Of course, if that’s not your style, the Gaslamp Quarter can still accommodate you. It boasts plenty of recognizable brand-name properties that range from the modest to the luxurious.

Accordingly, you’ll be able to find a hotel to suit your budget within the Gaslamp Quarter, regardless of what that budget looks like. If you’re looking for a real bargain, then consider a stay at one of the hostels in the area.

Of course, there’s more to the Gaslamp Quarter than just bars and nightclubs. This place can be pretty busy during the day as well thanks to its many stores and restaurants. 

Ghost hunters won’t want to miss the notoriously haunted Davis-Horton House, which includes a historical museum. Be sure to take a Ghosts of the Gaslamp Walking Tour to learn even more about the neighborhood’s colorful past.

The Gaslamp Quarter also is the perfect place to take in a live theatrical performance, tour an art gallery or visit the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

You can do all of this and more without fear thanks to the low crime rate in the Gaslamp. Like downtown, this neighborhood features a heavy police presence, and with so many bars and nightclubs operating into the wee hours, you’ll find that you’re out with a crowd of other revelers.

3. Mission Beach, California beach lifestyle experience

Have you always dreamed of experiencing the quintessential California beach lifestyle? That’s exactly the opportunity that you’ll get when you book a hotel in Mission Beach. This is the place to be to enjoy sun, surf, casual dining and more.

Think of Mission Beach as a classic boardwalk town. In fact, it boasts a two-mile boardwalk along which you can enjoy gorgeous views, people watch or find plenty of attractions to amuse you.

The highlight here is the beautiful beach. It’s always a lively scene thanks to the region’s spectacular climate, with some of the top activities including cycling, boogie boarding, whale watching, surfing, volleyball, scuba diving and sport fishing. 

With a wealth of rental shops available for obtaining equipment, visitors can participate in any sand or water sport of their choosing.

One of the other highlights of a visit to Mission Beach is a stop at Belmont Park with its historic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, which made its debut in 1925. The park includes other amusement rides, games and casual eateries.

When the sun goes down, the activity in Mission Beach doesn’t stop. In fact, this is the perfect spot for people who like to dance the night away thanks to the huge collection of nightclubs, lounges and bars.

It’s also worth noting that Mission Beach is home to the world-famous SeaWorld San Diego. If you’re planning a visit, it may make sense to stay in San Diego in this area.

With its teeming nightlife scene and dependence on tourism, Mission Beach is a genuinely safe place to stay. That’s good news if you’re looking for a relaxing, laid-back and stress-free stay.

Mission Beach boasts a variety of accommodation types. Consider a surf hostel that’s located right on the beach or contemporary beachfront resorts that include all of the amenities. 

You’ll definitely find some well-known franchise hotels if that’s what you prefer as well as casual boutique properties that provide a unique experience.

In short, this is an area where you could pay several hundred dollars a night or just a few bucks. The choice is entirely yours.

Read also: Where to stay in Los Angeles, where to stay in San Francisco, where to stay in Las Vegas, where to stay in Hawaii

4. La Jolla, where to stay in San Diego for a stylish beach holiday

An upscale jewel of a beach village, La Jolla is an escape for the well-heeled traveler. It features a gorgeous stretch of coastline that boasts dramatic views and some of the most spectacular sunsets you’ll ever see.

La Jolla frequently is voted one of the best beach destinations on the planet. Just one visit is enough to convince most people that this is a special place. 

This is the home of the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course and Scripps Park, which is a favorite place to have a picnic. 

To the south of this park is one of La Jolla’s most famous sites, the Children’s Pool. Once, a seawall stood there, making this stretch of water a favorite place for little swimmers. Today, it is a haven for seals and sea lions, providing a one-of-a-kind natural experience.

Many people come to La Jolla to visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography with its interactive exhibits and opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the ocean’s rarest creatures. 

With attractions like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the La Jolla Playhouse, this city is a recognized cultural destination as well.

The University of California San Diego is located here too, and with plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and more, it’s easy to see why so many people flock to La Jolla.

Of course, it helps that La Jolla has very little crime and plenty of fantastic resorts. This is not the place to find a hostel, though some of the independent hotels do offer significantly reduced rates when compared with most of the accommodations in the area.

If you’re looking for a laid-back but luxurious stay, La Jolla may be for you.

5. Hotel Circle, where to stay in San Diego on a budget

Located adjacent to Old Town and Mission Valley, Hotel Circle is a bustling thoroughfare that was purposely designed to cater to San Diego’s many visitors. 

With several of the region’s busiest freeways nearby, this is the perfect place for a hotel stay if you’re traveling with a car and plan to visit sites in the surrounding territory.

Nearby attractions and activities include the Riverwalk Golf Club, the Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Nature Center and the Fashion Valley Shopping Mall in addition to Westfield Mission Valley

With tons of other retailers and restaurants within a short drive, this is an excellent place for families to stay or for those who want to have convenient access to freeways. 

Additionally, Hotel Circle is pretty accessible to the airport, so this is a good selection if you have an early flight.

In Hotel Circle, you’ll find all of the usual suspects as far as national hotel chains are concerned. If you have a favorite brand, you’ll probably find it here. 

Prices generally are reasonable when compared with some of San Diego’s more upscale and exclusive neighborhoods. 

Bargains may be had at some of the older properties, but this isn’t the place to expect much in the way of hostels. Still, the crime rate is pretty low, making this a good place to stay in San Diego.

6. Coronado, San Diego’s most desirable and exclusive neighborhood

Perhaps San Diego’s most desirable and exclusive enclave, Coronado has a storied past and an elegant present.

Although the locals refer to Coronado as an island, it is more correctly categorized as a peninsula. It’s also connected to the mainland via a spectacular two-mile long bridge that features glorious views of Coronado. 

Many people tour the “island” via bicycle, but you can drive there too. Just be sure to observe the 25 miles per hour speed limit and look out for golf carts on the roads.

There’s also a ferry service that operates between Coronado and mainland San Diego. It offers a gentle, beautiful cruise with a fun destination at the end.

Despite its relatively small size, there is an abundance of things to do in Coronado. The sailing here is spectacular, with many people going to Glorietta Bay Marina to rent a craft. Kayaks, paddle boats, jet skis and water skis also are available.

Cycling is always a popular pastime on the island, or you might choose to rent a surrey so the whole group can enjoy the ride.

Many visitors who come to Coronado enjoy the Museum of History and Art as well as the heritage walking tour. Orange Avenue is the place to be to explore one mile of shops, restaurants and entertainment. It’s easily the busiest street in the neighborhood.

Naval Base Coronado is located here too, and you’ll find the homes of a large number of retired naval officers. In fact, this is a wonderful place to explore some really memorable historic architecture in addition to well-manicured gardens.

One of the most famous sights on the island is the Hotel del Coronado. Gorgeous Queen Anne architecture and a star-studded guest list make this a destination of considerable renown. 

You’re probably already familiar with this property thanks to the part it’s played in many movies and television shows.

Because the island is small, accommodation choices are few and far between. What there is is almost uniformly spectacular and is likely to cost a few hundred dollars a night.

A few smaller inns do offer somewhat more reasonable rates, but these can be pretty expensive when compared with other San Diego neighborhoods. 

Nonetheless, the opportunity to stay in such an exclusive, crime-free neighborhood will be worth it to some travelers.

7. Old Town / Mission Valley, great area for sightseeing

Are you looking for a place to stay in San Diego that lets you savor the atmosphere of the past? If so, then the Old Town / Mission Valley area is the place for you to be.

Much of Old Town resembles a living history museum with plenty of graceful old architecture and museums

People flock to the neighborhood to see sites like the Whaley House, alleged by many to be the most haunted house in America. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you’ll be fascinated by the structure’s history. 

It was not only a family home but also the city’s first commercial theater, the county courthouse, a general store and much more.

Another major attraction is the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Within the confines of the park, visitors experience life as it was lived in the middle of the 19th century. 

An historic plaza plus buildings such as La Casa de Estudillo, a Wells Fargo History Museum, the Old Town Theatre and much more await visitors.

Old Town also is a fabulous place to enjoy a bite to eat. Restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine abound, and this further is the best place to experience tequila. 

Plenty of shopping experiences can be had here too whether you’re looking for candy, want to try dipping your own candles or pick up some handcrafted trinkets.

Like Old Town, Mission Valley is just a few minutes from the San Diego International Airport. 

The community boasts a variety of shopping malls, golf clubs, regional parks and a great diversity of restaurants. Either one of these neighborhoods is a great choice for families, and the crime rates here are traditionally low.

Old Town and Mission Valley both are known for providing affordable accommodations. Many of these properties carry well-known brand names, so they are familiar places to stay in San Diego.

Hostels generally are not available here, and independent hotels are few and far between. Still, with so many reasonably priced chains, you’ll have some good choices.

8. Mission Bay, water sports and families

Anyone who is looking for a place to stay in San Diego that allows them to maximize their water sports opportunities will be thrilled with the offerings in Mission Bay. Mission Bay is a man-made 4,235-acre aquatic park. 

It’s a saltwater bay that connects to the Pacific Ocean through a channel that’s easily navigable. Several marinas are located within the bay. Accordingly, think of it as a wonderland for water sports. 

This is where you can conveniently engage in stand-up paddle boarding, learn to sail, try kite surfing, indulge in wake boarding, go jet skiing or do pretty much any other water sport that you can imagine.

If you’re looking for something a little less athletic, then board the sternwheeler Bahia Belle for a moonlit cruise and some live music

Staying on land is fun too with activities like picnics, cycling and bonfires. SeaWorld San Diego is right there too if you want to explore the creatures that live in the ocean.

In addition to water sports, you also can play golf, stroll the beach, fly a kite, have brunch at one of the restaurants, enjoy the family-friendly offerings at Tecolote Shores Park or explore the Kendall-Frost Reserve to see the wildlife.

Not surprisingly, many families love to stay in the Mission Bay area. You’ll find lots of brand-name hotels offering comfortable and familiar surroundings with fun amenities like swimming pools, exercise rooms, laundry facilities and much more. 

For good measure, there are also a few hostels in the neighborhood, which makes this area a good choice for anyone who is on a strict budget.

Like much of San Diego, crime rates tend to be low in Mission Bay. There are not a lot of night spots here, but there are a few, so you may encounter other revelers in the wee hours. Generally, there is no need to feel uneasy if you are out and about after dark.

9. Pacific Beach, beach and nightlife

Called P.B. by the locals, Pacific Beach is one singularly laid-back destination. In fact, it’s incredibly popular with young adults who are anxious to get out and party. If nightlife fun is high on your list of “must do’s,” then this is an ideal place to stay in San Diego.

While you definitely may encounter free-spirited, partying twentysomethings while in Pacific Beach, you also may run into plenty of families with kids. 

The upshot is that this is simply a really popular location thanks to the beautiful beach views and the variety of fun activities that are available.

Pacific Beach is widely considered to be one of the best beaches in San Diego. Consequently, it stands to reason that most of the things to do here revolve around being on the sand or the water.

The beach is wide and flat. Also, there is a more than three-miles long boardwalk that’s lined with all sorts of shops, restaurants and bars. 

If you decide to walk here, be aware that you occasionally may come across the odd homeless or excessively eccentric person. Crime remains rare here, but it is always wise to be aware of your surroundings.

At the heart of Pacific Beach, you’ll find a never-ending beach party. Crowds of young adults sunbathe, play games, bar hop and just generally behave in a loud and carefree manner. 

Most of this behavior is relegated to the area between Crystal Pier and Mission Beach. If this scene isn’t for you, it’s pretty easy to avoid.

A much quieter stretch of beach is found at North Pacific Beach. This is where many locals, especially families, go because of the calm waves and the wide beach. Lifeguards watch swim and surf areas at this beach.

Tourmaline Beach is the northernmost beach in the neighborhood, and it’s one of the best surfing spots in the city. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned vet, you’ll find excellent waves here.

Built in 1927, Crystal Pier is a popular spot for fishing or watching the sunset. It’s easy to find at the end of Garnet Avenue where most of the neighborhood’s shops, bars and restaurants are located.

Pacific Beach is a great location if you want to find a hotel that’s on the ocean. Of course, most of these accommodations come with a premium price. 

Inland hotels in the neighborhood tend to be more affordable. You’ll find ordinary hotel rooms, condos and even a few hostels. Brand-name properties are scattered throughout with a lesser number of independent hotels.

10. Point Loma, one of the most popular places to stay in San Diego.

The Point Loma neighborhood is one of the most popular places to stay in San Diego. It’s a hilly peninsula that is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. 

It’s not unusual to hear this area described as “the place where California began” as it is the landing site of the first European expedition.

Today, that history is celebrated at the Cabrillo National Monument, which marks the location where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped onto the soil in 1542. 

A visit to the park helps tourists understand exploration in the 16th century thanks to a visitor’s center and an impressive statue of Cabrillo. 

Within the monument, it’s possible to explore tide pools, hike and see the beautiful Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

Point Loma boasts many trails for hiking or cycling, making this a popular destination for active travelers.

Additionally, the neighborhood attracts people who appreciate culture with attractions such as Jean Isaac’s San Diego Dance Theater, the New Americans Museum and the Women’s Museum of California.

Point Loma also is a destination for foodies thanks to the Seafoods Fish Market and notable restaurants like Brigantine, Old Venice and Mitch’s. 

The Liberty Public Market is yet another place to pick up excellent fresh produce and other delectable foods, such as those found at the irresistible Venissimo cheese stand.

Point Loma visitors may catch a live show at Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn or get out on the water from Sun Harbor Marina. Other diverse attractions include the San Diego Comic Art Gallery, San Diego Seal Tours and the San Diego Bay Walk.

When looking for places to stay in San Diego, it becomes apparent that Point Loma offers outstanding variety. Prices range from the affordable to the upscale, with most properties being recognizable brand names. A few hostels and inexpensive independent hotels are in the neighborhood. 

As with most of San Diego, there is little crime to worry about.

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