Where to stay in San Diego, best areas for the beach, families and couples
San Diego is without a doubt grossly underrated. With its endless supply of eclectic attractions and beautiful beaches, it surely deserves a lot more hype.
But you already know how awesome San Diego is, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.
The problem is figuring out where to stay in San Diego.
And this is a legitimate concern considering all the options available.
In this city guide, you will learn all you need about the best areas to stay in the “Birthplace of California” to ensure that you get the most out of your visit, you either visit San Diego with your partner, your family, for nightlife or a quiet stay
I have also added a few hidden restaurants, cafes and attractions loved by the locals, true hidden gems.
Table of Contents
- 1 Where to stay in San Diego for the beach, families and couples – Key Points
- 2 Best area to stay in San Diego
- 3 Best place to stay in San Diego for families with kids
- 4 Where to stay in San Diego on the beach
- 5 Best area to stay in San Diego without a car
- 6 Best place to stay in San Diego for couples
- 7 Where to stay in San Diego on a budget
Need more information before your trip? Have a look at the San Diego Magazine.
Where to stay in San Diego for the beach, families and couples – Key Points
- Best place to stay in San Diego for families with kids: you have two great options. The first one is the Old Town, north of the airport and close to lots of fun activities for kids. The other is Mission Beach, where you can mix some city sightseeing with sunbathing time. Perfect spot for the long San Diego summer. Read more on a stay for families below, including a few suggested attractions and restaurants
- Where to stay in San Diego on the beach: Mission Beach is my first suggestion for a chilled-out stay. Coronado is instead the best area if you are looking for a resort holiday. And finally La Jolla, a stylish area, more upscale than the other two options, located 10 miles or 15 minutes by car north of the Old Town. Read more below about a stay at the beach, with all the transportation options too
- Best area to stay in San Diego without a car: Gaslamp Quarter & Downtown are two great options thanks to the attractions all around, including the vast choice of restaurants, bars and cafes. Another possibility is Coronado, for a more relaxed stay, right at the beach, however, well connected by ferry to the downtown area. Read more below about a stay without a car, including how to move around.
- Best place to stay in San Diego for couples: for a unique experience you should check out the hipster district of North Park. If you are after a romantic stay by the beach then Coronado is the place to be. Finally for a breakaway full of surfing vibe head to Pacific Beach. Read more information below for a stay with your partner, including a few restaurants to have a romantic time.
- Where to stay in San Diego on a budget: the best area for budget-conscious travelers is Mission Valley, close to both the Old Town and the airport. For hostels, you should also check out the Gaslamp Quarter, right in the middle of the action. Read more below about a stay on a budget
- Best district for nightlife: the happening area of San Diego is the Gaslamp Quarter, where you can find plenty of bars and a few clubs too where you can spend the night. Read more about Gaslamp below.
- Best AirBnb and Holiday Homes:
- Unique in downtown: the Sonder Bungalow for 2-3 people, right in the heart of Little Italy.
- With Pool and gym: the Kasa San Diego East Village is the perfect spot if you want to stay close to downtown and Gaslamp, still with a refreshing pool and the possibility to workout at the gym
- Huge: the Little Italy Cottage has 3 bedrooms and the possibility to host up to 7 people
- Value for money: the Pacific Beach Butterfly Suite is one of the best budget studio options in San Diego
- Still can’t decide? This is another website where you can choose your vacation rental in San Diego.
Best area to stay in San Diego
San Diego has awesome weather year-round. The temperature is very mild even in winter and the summer is dry and not too hot.
You can plan your trip in any month and you will be quite likely to experience mostly sunny days (January to March is when you may have some rain)
If you are traveling here for a convention then the best area to stay in San Diego is downtown, next to the Marina, where the San Diego Convention Center is located.
Unfortunately, when there is a big event in the city, like the Comic-Con International end of July, it will be much harder to find accommodation.
The Downtown area is based on 7 unique neighborhoods, from Little Italy to East Village, however, the Gaslamp Quarter is probably the most famous one thanks to its historic buildings and vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene.
Here below is a map of the best areas to stay in San Diego. This is where you will find good accommodations and nice restaurants, for any price tag.
Gaslamp Quarter & Downtown (the heart of the city)
Downtown San Diego is where all the action is at.
One of the top neighborhoods is the Gaslamp Quarter which is the historic area in this part of the city.
With its regal and colorful old buildings like Horton Plaza, the Quarter offers a beautiful contrast to the modern architecture and skyscraper-ridden skyline of the rest of Downtown.
Downtown also has a lively cultural scene with the likes of the Little Italy neighborhoods and all its culinary gems just waiting to be explored.
Here, you will find everything from Italian restaurants and casual pizzerias to artisanal coffee shops.
Old Town San Diego (convenient commutes)
Old Town offers the advantage of convenient access to numerous attractions and amenities in San Diego.
The most important of these is the San Diego airport with the proximity saving you both money and time.
Old Town is also home to the famous San Diego State Historic Park with its many museums and historical exhibitions.
The best? Old Town is reasonably close to the Hotel Circle, probably the cheapest area to stay in San Diego.
North Park (the hip and trendy part of town)
This is where all the cool kids hang out. From young backpackers to students, the youthful energy in this neighborhood is almost tangible.
All this hipness comes with a barrage of artisanal eateries, craft cocktail bars and trendy low-budget stores for some retail therapy.
It is also home to the iconic Observatory North Park which is definitely worth visiting.
Mission Beach(the seaside paradise)
Mission Beach is jam-packed with opportunities to have fun in the water.
Whether you want to go surfing, snorkeling or just bum on the sand all day, this neighborhood has you covered.
It is also where you will find Mission Bay Park and Pacific Beach.
Coronado (relaxing escape)
If you want a relaxing escape from strenuous city life then this is the place to be.
Coronado is, for the most part, a nice and quiet area of San Diego that is home to what was once hailed as the best beach in the US.
However, it can get pretty electric especially during the annual Silver Strand Half Marathon race.
La Jolla (the high energy neighborhood)
There is something that takes La Jolla apart from any other neighborhood, the energy (and the money).
It’s one of the best areas of San Diego, there is no doubt, with an amazing coastal walk and view.
The party never ends in this seaside strip of land. Whether it is sightseeing at the La Jolla Cove at noon or fine dining and club-hopping at night, there will be no dull moments during your trip.
La Jolla also has numerous museums and art galleries for some more laid back fun.
It’s an upscale part of the city to stay, for both accommodations and food.
Best place to stay in San Diego for families with kids
When trying to figure out where to stay in San Diego with kids you will have a lot of options to choose from.
However, right off the bat, the Gaslamp Quarter is probably not a great idea due to its nightlife scene.
This neighborhood aside, you are spoilt for choice with two options standing out with the most to offer your family.
Below is more about them and what makes them particularly special for families with kids of all ages.
Old Town (great fun activities)
This is one of the smaller neighborhoods in San Diego but where it lacks in size it more than makes up for with fun.
With attractions like the San Diego State Historic Museum and the multiple tours in the area, you will definitely not lack items for your travel itinerary.
In addition to all the museums and galleries, the children will definitely appreciate a trip to Miner’s Gems and Minerals.
This geology and gem shop offers mining tours where your kids get to go on real-life panning expeditions for gold and other gems. You could also take a fun shopping trip
Where will you eat after all these fun-packed days?
One of the best spots for families with kids is Casa Guadalajara. This is a popular Mexican restaurant in the heart of old town best known not only for the amazing food but also the colorful décor. Just make sure to make your reservation well in advance.
If you want your kids to have as much fun at the hotel as they do exploring old town then the Fairfield Inn & Suites is a great option.
It features awesome interior and exterior décor (see photos here) with Wi-Fi and air conditioning in all the rooms and public spaces. The kids will also definitely enjoy the large outdoor pool.
Check availability at Fairfield
Mission Beach (by the water)
You can never go wrong with a seaside stay when it comes to family vacations.
Mission Beach, in this case, is your best choice.
It is home to some of the best resorts in San Diego for families most of which offer quick access to the water.
Your children will have a lot of fun trying out different water sports while you enjoy the sweeping ocean horizon views on the beach.
There are also numerous other attractions for the family to check out including SeaWorld San Diego and Belmont Amusement Park.
For all your foodie needs, Oceana Coastal Kitchen is one of the best spots. It is a beautiful seafood restaurant with a warm ambiance and a beautiful view of the ocean.
Another great option is Rosaria Pizza. This trendy pizzeria definitely stands out with its unique pie options.
Looking for accommodations? Blue Sea Beach Hotel is ideal for families that love the beach.
The oceanfront property features awesome views of the street and the water (see photos here) which you can enjoy from your private patio or balcony.
Something else the kids will really enjoy in addition to the beach access and the pool is the fact that each room comes with the necessary equipment for some fun when you are not out and about as a family.
Check availability at Blue Sea
Where to stay in San Diego on the beach
San Diego is sometimes nicknamed the Beach City.
With the numerous breathtaking and award-winning beaches and the overall relaxed paradise vibe, it is not so hard to understand why.
However, not all beachside neighborhoods are the same.
If beach fun is what you are visiting for, below are the 3 best places to stay in San Diego near the beach.
That way, your fun day in the sun and sand will be just a short trip away
Mission Beach (laid back)
This is as close to seaside paradise as you will ever get. Ok; maybe not ever. But it is a pretty magical place.
And Mission Beach is not only for families. Couples can find here some nice beach-style accommodations for a nice boutique stay
Mission Beach is one of those neighborhoods whose air vibe is as beachy as it gets. Even the restaurants reflect this laid-back air.
One awesome example is Mizu. This seaside Japanese restaurant strikes the perfect balance between fine dining and a casual small-town restaurant feel.
You should also try out Baja Beach Café. This colorful boardwalk spot serves all your typical beach treats from frozen cocktails to light snacks including tacos and sandwiches.
Paradise Point Resort and Spa is the perfect getaway for travelers seeking the R&R laid-back experience.
The beautiful hotel oozes luxury with its beautiful landscapes, design and room decor (see photos here).
However, the best part is without a doubt the fact that it is right on the water so you are literally 5 minutes away from fun in the sun.
Check availability at Paradise Point
If you are looking for more a resort-style stay then Coronado is the perfect seaside neighborhood.
Coronado offers great ocean views with the peninsula’s isolated feel rounding it all up to a beautiful stay on what is truly paradise.
Coronado is also easily connected to downtown through a ferry. Just another great option to reach all the attractions that San Diego has to offer
While here, make sure to try out Sheerwater restaurant. Its large patio offers plenty of outdoor sitting for guests to enjoy the beautiful views of the Pacific.
Coronado is known for its resorts and none is as popular as Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Spa.
The beautiful oceanfront property offers breathtaking views of the ocean (see photos here) from the private rooms, pool lounge area and from lush gardens.
It is also very close to other attractions and amenities like the San Diego International Airport.
Check availability at the Marriott
La Jolla (stylish)
La Jolla is, for the most part, a pretty swanky and stylish part of San Diego. Its numerous attractions and unique boutique experience make the investment more than worth it.
You will have more of an upscale experience in La Jolla. Hard to find it anywhere else in the city
La Jolla Shores Park is a must-visit spot and has a lot to offer including green space, playgrounds and a picturesque beach.
The area also has numerous ritzy restaurants to try out.
One of these is Donovan’s Chop and Steak House. It is perfect for fine wining and dining especially if you are in the mood for a high-quality steak.
Another foodie’s option is Crab Catcher. A lot can be said about this restaurant but the most important facts are that they have some of the best seafood and ocean views in town.
About accommodations, Starlight La Jolla looks like something right out of a luxury architectural spread (see photos here).
The high-end homestay option is right on the beach but with its amazing amenities, you might not want to go out much.
These include a beautiful pool that is heated and lit at night, a Jacuzzi, free Wi-Fi and beautiful gardens with outdoor sitting spaces
Check availability at Starlight
Best area to stay in San Diego without a car
San Diego has a pretty well-developed and connected public transport system.
From water taxis and the Coronado ferry to public trollies and routine buses, you have a lot of options on how to get around.
Therefore, if you cannot or do not want to get a car, you will still be able to enjoy all the different attractions and activities.
It is, however, very important that you are careful when choosing where to stay in San Diego without a car.
This is because not all neighborhoods have these convenient means and networks. To help you out, here are two of your best options for this need.
Gaslamp Quarter & Downtown (attractions & happening)
Downtown is a very lively district with a lot to offer in terms of attractions and activities for you to try out.
Should you choose to stay here and specifically in the Gaslamp Quarter, you will not have to do a lot of commuting back and forth.
I mean you have places like the Horton Plaza and the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum that are literally a few blocks from each other.
The best eateries also happen to be really close to each other.
In the Quarter, a popular eatery and watering hole is Barleymash. They are known for their amazing artisanal pizzas and lively DJs.
Another option worth making time for is Ryan Bros. Coffee which is a simple little café conveniently located near major attractions including the USS Midway Museum.
Located in the very active Downtown District, the Marriott Gaslamp Quarter Hotel is a great option if you are traveling to the city without a car.
It puts you in the perfect location to explore a lot of the city by walking or taking advantage of the public transport system.
The rooms themselves feature elegant décor and offer amazing city views (see photos here).
Check availability at the Gaslamp
Coronado (by the beach)
If you want to stay on the water but still have quick access to San Diego’s mainland gems, Coronado is your best choice.
You also get an excuse to take a ride or more on the iconic Coronado Ferry.
It is a pretty breathtaking ride that is more of a romantic trip than a regular commute.
Another major plus is the convenient schedule as the ferry runs every 30 minutes with the last ferry leaving for Coronado at 9pm on weekdays and 10pm on weekends.
Need a place to kill time as you wait for your ferry to arrive?
Try Village Pizzeria Bayside which in addition to being really close to the ferry’s landing has some pretty awesome food and views.
You certainly do not need a car in Coronado
What about the hotels? El Cordova Inn is a great option if you want to be by the beach but at the same time not too far away from all of the action.
The rooms are beautiful and simple and include charming views of the pool and courtyard (see photos here).
For people traveling without a car, it is awesome as it is a few minutes walk away from the beach, a bustling shopping center and several major attractions.
Check availability at El Cordova
Best place to stay in San Diego for couples
If you are planning a romantic getaway then the best area to stay in San Diego for couples is somewhere that allows you to enjoy all the wonders this beautiful city has to offer.
Here are 3 locations worth considering and what they have to offer.
North Park (the hipster district)
This is one of the best places to stay in San Diego for young couples.
This does not, however, mean that you cannot book a stay here to celebrate your decades together. You just have to be up for the hype and energy that you will be immersing yourself into.
North Park is a quirky neighborhood that offers a boutique stay with access to numerous unique attractions.
The most important of these are the numerous live music spots and performance theatres like The Merrow and The Old Globe.
What about a hotel?
The Luxe Modern North Park is a beautiful option in San Diego’s Hipster district for couples who want a little privacy.
The beautiful fully furnished apartments (see photos here) come with free Wi-Fi.
Another great alternative, more on a budget is the Charming Abode, just 5 Minutes to Balboa Park
Coronado (romantic by the beach)
Coronado is a nice and quiet area which is ideal if you are looking for a more laid back and isolated getaway.
It is also a great choice if you and your partner want to stay close to the beach.
And when you are done exploring all the island has to offer you can just take the ferry back to mainland San Diego for more options.
While here, try and get yourself a reservation at Peohe’s. The view from this upscale seafood restaurant is truly magical.
The Crown City Inn is a great value, low budget option right next to the beach (see photos here) that is perfect for couples looking for a laid-back stay.
One of the most exciting perks of staying here is the fact that they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner so you do not always have to think out where you will go eat.
Pacific Beach (surfing vibe)
This does not have a lot to offer in terms of attractions but it is perfect if you are after a place with a nice surfing vibe, with the possibility to try some water sports, especially surfing.
It’s a very relaxed neighborhood of San Diego with some great cafes and lovely laid back restaurants
You will also have access to some trendy resorts and boutique hotels where you will get the perfect combination of luxury and laid-back surfer vibes.
For a trip to downtown, catch the direct bus #30 from Mission Boulevard (around 50 minutes ride). Grab a taxi and you will half the commuting time.
Ocean Park Inn is the type of place where you check-in and all your troubles get left in the lobby. It is a beautiful property with amazing views from the air-conditioned rooms and the lounges (see photos here).
When you aren’t taking a dip in the pool, chilling in the Jacuzzi or watching TV together, you can take a walk and explore the many awesome attractions next to the hotel including the Pacific Beach Boardwalk.
Check availability at Ocean Park
Where to stay in San Diego on a budget
Planning your trip with a tight budget should not compromise your stay in San Diego. You just have to make a great choice in terms of where to stay.
Hotel Circle/Mission Valley
The best option without a doubt is Mission Valley.
It is pretty close to the airport and Old Town and its numerous attractions which makes it ideal for backpackers.
It is also a very friendly option if you plan on driving as parking is easy to get and the traffic is not that bad.
However, keep in mind that you need to budget the commuting cost to the beach and downtown attractions, and this all adds up.
In the Hotel Circle area, you can find some fun restaurants like Ka Prao Thi. You get to enjoy great Thailand cuisine without going broke.
You could also try out El Pollo Loco which is a Mexican comfort food spot also popular for their low-budget meals.
Kings Inn is a great low-budget option that definitely does not skimp on the perks.
Despite the relatively low price point, you get to enjoy amenities like a swimming pool, pool-side lounging, free parking and free Wi-Fi.
The rooms are also very beautifully designed and decorated (see photos here) and come with a flat-screen TV and a small fridge for you to use.
Gaslamp Quarter is another good option for budget trips.
It has a number of hostels that you could stay at offering great access to the best city attractions without the cost of commuting around.
You can check out:
- the Gaslamp Hostel, one of the best-rated hostels in San Diego
- the International Travelers House Hostel in Downtown
- the HI San Diego, well located and offering free breakfast too
Photo credits on a few photos in this post