Where To Stay In San Diego – The Best Neighborhoods & Areas

Written By: The Planet D

Southern California has some great cities and San Diego is one of the more beautiful along the west coast of the United States. With gorgeous beaches, great culture, fantastic food, and rich history, San Diego is one of those cities that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and families too.

Known as the birthplace of California, San Diego was once a Mexican fort that grew its way into the 8th largest city in America. Situated close to the Mexican border, you can feel the influence of its southern neighbor in almost every part of the city. It’s what gives it its charm.

There is no shortage of things to do in San Diego. From catching some rays on the beaches of La Jolla, taking in Balboa Park’s 17 museums, or strolling the boardwalk at Mission Beach, you will find something that interests each member of the family.

Table of Contents

Best Areas to Stay in San Diego

We asked local San Diego expert Chantae Reden to use her knowledge and share her opinions on what she thinks visitors to San Diego should see and help us create a guide on where the best places are to stay in San Diego.

Best Places to stay in San Diego

San Diego is one of the safest cities in America and that makes choosing where to stay a little easier for first-time visitors. There are plenty of places to stay ranging from hostels for budget travelers, boutique hotels for the more discerning traveler, upscale resorts for those with luxury in mind, and plenty of vacation rentals too.

Before choosing the area you want to base yourself in, it is best to get oriented with the city. The map of San Diego below will help you get the lay of the land and give you a general idea of where the neighborhoods are.

San Diego Neighborhoods Map

Our #1 Money Saving Tip in San Diego – Purchase a San Diego Pass They are valid for 12 months and you can get them for 1-7 days

1. La Jolla -Best Place to Stay in San Diego for Beach Lovers

Where to stay in San Diego 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.

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. This area is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Like most neighborhoods in San Diego there is a lot of different types of accommodation in La Jolla, but it is mostly known for its luxry hotels.

Best Luxury hotel in La Jolla: Pantai Inn San Diego

Located just a 4 min walk from La Jolla Shores. Balinese decor in a romantic setting. this is the perfect place to stay for couples looking for that romantic setting.

Best Mid-Range Hotel in La Jolla: Inn By the Sea

This hotel is perfectly situated 5 min for La Jolla Sores. Each room has a balcony to enjoy the fresh seabreeze, lots of dining options nearby a pool and free wifi. a great place to base yourself when exploring San Diego.

Best Budget Hotel in La Jolla: The Shoal La Jolla Beach

Centrally located with cute clean and affordable rooms. You are within walking distance of the beach. Modern decor and each room comes with a small fridge and Microwave. Perfect for a weekend getaway.

Best Apartment Rental in La Jolla: Spanish Casita

Located in the heart of an upscale neighborhood this 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom casita has a living room, kitchenette with new microwave, coffee maker, sink, induction cooktop and a compact refrigerator. There is a large patio/deck with a new Viking grill, freezer, outdoor heater, and outdoor table, lounge chairs, and 3 market umbrellas.

Getting There

  • 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? Check out Rental Cars Connect for the best deals! We use them all the time!

2. North Park – Hippest Neighborhood in San Diego

North Park San Diego Graffiti

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 within walking distance to many cultural hubs like Balboa Park, the Ray Street Arts District, and the North Park Theater.

This is one of the best places to stay in San Diego if you are looking for the cultural side of the city.

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. Each room is clean and comfortable.

Best Budget Hotel 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.

Best Apartment Rental in North Park: Balboa Park Tropical Hideaway

Located in the heart of an upscale neighborhood this 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom casita has a living room, kitchenette with new microwave, coffee maker, sink, induction cooktop and a compact refrigerator. There is a large patio/deck with a new Viking grill, freezer, outdoor heater, and outdoor table, lounge chairs, and 3 market umbrellas.

  • Getting There
    • 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 – Where to Stay for Families

Ocean Beach sunset San diego

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. Make sure to check out the Ocean Beach Farmers Market. It is full of organic food stalls and they even put on live music!

Best Luxury 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.

Best Mid-Range Hotel in Ocean Beach: The Inn at Sunset Cliffs

This hotel has a great location and is only a 15 min walk to the beach. It also has an outdoor pool, free WIFI and is close to many attractions.

Best Budget Hotel in Ocean Beach: USA Hostels Ocean Beach

This hostel is perfect for the budget traveler. It has your choice of private or dorm rooms, Free WIFI, and you will love the funky decor. Add that it is only a 4 min walk from the beach and you know why we recommend it.

Best Apartment Rental in Ocean Beach: Sunset Cottage

This bright and breezy 2 br 1 Bath beach bungalow is a short walk to beaches, shops, restaurants, and weekly farmer’s market. Your home away from home lends itself to a relaxing and fun visit, vacation, or extended stay in the youthful and energetic city of San Diego.

  • 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 – Best Neighborhood in San Diego for nightlife

where to stay in san diego gas lamp quarter

Gaslamp Quarter is a 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 Luxury hotel in Gaslamp Quarter: Kimpton Solamar Hotel

Located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and featuring Free WIFI, Rooftop Pool & free wine tasting! This is the usual Kimpton Luxury experience.

Best Mid-Range Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter: 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 Gaslamp Quarter: USA Hostels San Diego Downtown

Built back in 1880 this hostel offers mixed dorms, free WIFI, Free Breakfast, and a vibrant new age decor.

Best Apartment Rental in Gaslamp Quarter: The Heart of the City

Located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter. This is a 2nd Floor Expansive unit with lots of space. with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath, it is perfect for families or couples. It also comes with access to a parking space and is close to everything.

  • Getting There
    • 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 – Best Place to Stay in San Diego for First-Timers

Old Town San Diego Market

Old Town San Diego is The birthplace of California. 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.

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!

Best Apartment Rental in Old Town: Cottage in the City

This 2BR 1Bath cottage is in the heart of all the excitement, history, heritage, and charm of Old Town San Diego, just far enough removed to be a quiet, secluded retreat. It is within walking distance of a ton of delicious restaurants, quaint and eclectic shopping, and Old Town State Historic Park.

  • Getting There
    • 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.

Final Thoughts

What is the best neighborhood to stay in San Diego with kids?

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.

Where to stay in San Diego near the beach

La Jolla is where you want to stay if you want to be near a great beach and still close to everything.

Where is the best area to stay in San Diego for first-timers?

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.

Where are the best places to stay in San Diego on a budget?

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.

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!

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

10 thoughts on “Where To Stay In San Diego – The Best Neighborhoods & Areas”

  1. where is the best place to stay with a 3 year old? Would be nice to be close to zoo or Marine World . Maybe a hotel that has safari west pick up service or can get us thee

  2. I have a hotel option of the Courtyard in Old Town or the Sheraton in Mission Valley – any thoughts on either? We are traveling with children…

  3. This looks amazing! San Diego is a good jumping off point for cruises. It would make sense to go a few days early and enjoy San Diego itself. Thank you! I should go soon!

  4. Such a useful guide and tips you shared with us. This place looks so beautiful, want to visit this in future. Thanks for the great information about the San Diego Neighborhoods!!

  5. Wow! This really is a detailed guide on everything I need to know about San Diego Neighbourhoods. So informative and helpful, thank you!

  6. San Diego seemed like a really nice place to visit, even more so now. Thatks for the tips on planning our next road trip!