San Diego travel guide

San Diego Tourism | San Diego Guide

You're Going to Love San Diego

With cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles around, it’s easy to forget about San Diego, but smart travelers know better. This Southern Californian city offers a unique blend of beach culture, modern urban life, and Hispanic American culture, making it a fantastic place to visit.

When the weather is sunny (and it’s almost always sunny in San Diego), there are beaches like La Jolla Cove and Mission Beach that have amazing surf, miles of sand and safe swimming conditions for the whole family to enjoy.

Back in town, there’s San Diego Zoo, one of the best in the world, fascinating historical sights like the USS Midway and Balboa Park, a lovely urban park that’s filled with museums, gardens, and amusements.

It’s also a great place to eat and drink, with local beers like Ballast Point and lively cocktail bars like Polite Provisions all vying for your attention. Basically, if you love outdoor living, history, and dining out, San Diego is the place to travel.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit San Diego

1. The Zoo

San Diego’s zoo is the city’s premier family attraction, hosting over 3,700 animals, including an incredibly rare breeding pair of giant pandas. You can spend a whole day wandering around the various zones, checking out all of the species on display.

2. Sunshine

San Diego receives, on average, 266 days of sunshine every year. For reference, Chicago enjoys around 190. Temperatures rarely fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and it almost never snows. So you can hit the beach in every season.

3. Surfing

Take classes, rent a board, and hit beaches like Del Mar or Cardiff beach in one of California’s best surfing cities.

4. Mexico

San Diego is only 20 miles from the Mexican border so you can be in Tijuana in no time at all, head down the Baja coastline or take a boat trip to the Coronado Islands.

5. Craft Beer

San Diego has an incredible craft brewing scene, with over 100 separate breweries to sample. Some of the best include Ballast Point, AleSmith, and the Stone Brewing Company.

What to do in San Diego

1. Visit Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of the world’s greatest urban parks. It’s home to the San Diego Zoo, and there are also museums dedicated to photography, anthropology, and air and space travel. The Botanical Building also hosts a magical collection of orchids and palms.

2. Watch the Chargers or Padres

Sport is huge in San Diego. If the NFL is your thing, head to the Qualcomm Stadium to watch the Chargers play football. If it’s baseball season, join the crowds at Petco Park to cheer on the Padres.

3. Surfing at La Jolla

La Jolla is probably San Diego’s most attractive beach and it’s a perfect place for either novice or experienced surfers. Grab a board and hit the breaks, or camp out and watch the experts at spots like Windansea Beach.

4. Take a Craft Beer Tour

San Diego is craft beer central and brewing fans should definitely take a tour of local breweries like Karl Strauss, Ballast Point, and Half Door.

5. Take a Trip to Mexico

With the border just 20 miles away it’s hard to resist a trip to Mexico during a stay in San Diego. Head to Tijuana to try the street tacos or venture down the Baja California coast to try kayaking or snorkeling in beautiful spots like Cabo Pulmo.

1. Visit Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of the world’s greatest urban parks. It’s home to the San Diego Zoo, and there are also museums dedicated to photography, anthropology, and air and space travel. The Botanical Building also hosts a magical collection of orchids and palms.

2. Watch the Chargers or Padres

Sport is huge in San Diego. If the NFL is your thing, head to the Qualcomm Stadium to watch the Chargers play football. If it’s baseball season, join the crowds at Petco Park to cheer on the Padres.

3. Surfing at La Jolla

La Jolla is probably San Diego’s most attractive beach and it’s a perfect place for either novice or experienced surfers. Grab a board and hit the breaks, or camp out and watch the experts at spots like Windansea Beach.

4. Take a Craft Beer Tour

San Diego is craft beer central and brewing fans should definitely take a tour of local breweries like Karl Strauss, Ballast Point, and Half Door.

5. Take a Trip to Mexico

With the border just 20 miles away it’s hard to resist a trip to Mexico during a stay in San Diego. Head to Tijuana to try the street tacos or venture down the Baja California coast to try kayaking or snorkeling in beautiful spots like Cabo Pulmo.

Where to Eat in San Diego

San Diego has two major gastronomic attractions. On the one hand, there are world-class seafood restaurants like the Oceanaire and Truluck’s. On the other, there are Mexican restaurants ranging from down-to-earth to upscale that are world class. Try the tacos at La Puerta or the huevos rancheros at Casa Guadalajara to see what the fuss is about. There are also excellent Asian eateries like J.Wok and Dumpling Inn, so everyone’s taste buds should be satisfied.

When to visit San Diego

San Diego in February
Estimated hotel price
$257
1 night at 3-star hotel
San Diego in February
Estimated hotel price
$257
1 night at 3-star hotel

The sunshine is pretty constant in San Diego, and even winter temperatures are mild (although the beach is probably at its best between May and September). Think about an out of season break in spring (try March to May) or fall (September to November) when there are fewer families visiting and the attractions will be less packed.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to San Diego

Plane

San Diego International Airport is only a couple of miles northwest of the city center, so getting into town isn’t usually a problem. Take bus route 992 (which costs $2.25 and runs until 11:30 p.m.) or take a taxi. Expect to pay $15 along with a customary 15% tip to get to Downtown San Diego.

Train

San Diego’s Amtrak terminal is on Kettner Boulevard. The only route served by the station is the Pacific Surfliner, which runs along the coast of California. However, there’s also a commuter rail system called Coaster, which terminates at Oceanside, where it links up with LA’s own light rail system.

Car

Drivers tend to use I-5 to get to San Diego (if they are coming from Los Angeles and the North) or I-8 (if they are coming from the east). Be aware that rush hours in the morning and evening see heavy traffic on all of the city’s freeways.

Bus

Greyhound runs buses into their terminal at 120 W Broadway and run connections to Los Angeles and San Francisco to the north, and destinations like El Paso to the east.

Other bus companies running services into San Diego include Hoang Express, InterCalifornias and LuxBus, all of which connect the city to other Californian cities.

Airports near San Diego

Airlines serving San Diego

United Airlines
Good (69,474 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (47,655 reviews)
Lufthansa
Good (28,391 reviews)
KLM
Good (3,805 reviews)
Delta
Good (30,730 reviews)
Air France
Good (4,357 reviews)
British Airways
Good (23,340 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (23,603 reviews)
SWISS
Excellent (9,185 reviews)
Iberia
Good (6,158 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Excellent (11,525 reviews)
Austrian Airlines
Good (4,859 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (25,041 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (15,772 reviews)
Brussels Airlines
Good (2,480 reviews)
Scandinavian Airlines
Good (5,442 reviews)
TAP AIR PORTUGAL
Good (5,578 reviews)
Alaska Airlines
Excellent (30,302 reviews)
Finnair
Good (3,874 reviews)
Spirit Airlines
Okay (63,076 reviews)
Show more

Where to stay in San Diego

A lot of the best hotels are either Downtown or in the Old Town. Luxury options in Downtown include the Keating Hotel and the enormous Manchester Grand Hyatt. In the Old Town, check out the Old Town Inn and the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley for convenient, comfortable places to sleep. For a cheaper option have a look at La Pensione Hotel, on West Date Street, while for a hotel by the sea try the Crystal Pier Hotel & Cottages in Mission Beach.

Popular neighbourhoods in San Diego

Downtown – The commercial center and cultural hub of San Diego, Downtown has great connections to everywhere else in the city, making it an ideal base. It’s also the home of the Padres, take note baseball fans, and there are plenty of museums in the area like the Museum of Contemporary Art.

La Jolla – For something completely different, try La Jolla. This community is focused around San Diego’s most attractive beach and with the University of California in the neighborhood, it’s got lively nightlife as well. Take a walk in Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, snorkel in La Jolla Cove, and dine at hip eateries like Shores Restaurant.

The Old Town/Mission Valley – Where it all began, the Old Town has plenty of historic buildings to see and is the most famous tourist quarter. Check out the Mission San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769 and take a tour of the Whaley House, thought to be one of the most haunted houses in the USA.

Most popular hotel in San Diego by neighbourhood

Where to stay in popular areas of San Diego

Most booked hotels in San Diego

Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
Excellent (8.7, Excellent reviews)
$510+
Grand Pacific Palisades
Excellent (8.6, Excellent reviews)
$382+
Hotel Indigo San Diego-Gaslamp Quarter
Excellent (8.3, Excellent reviews)
$374+
Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
Excellent (8.3, Excellent reviews)
$503+
Hilton San Diego Bayfront
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
$541+
Paradise Point Resort & Spa
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
$596+
See all hotels

How to Get Around San Diego

Public Transportation

San Diego’s public transit is run by the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and has good coverage of the central districts (though not so good to outlying suburbs). Basic bus fares are $2.25 for a single journey and $5 for a day pass, which is usually the cheapest option. There’s also the Trolley, a fast light rail connection that the serves southern suburbs. Day passes cost the same as they do for buses.

Taxis

The meter drop in San Diego costs $2.80 and after that, taxis charge around $2.50 per mile. Uber is active in the city and charges $1.10 per mile, with no basic charge, so it usually works out to be much cheaper.

Car

If you are staying in or planning to visit the beach suburbs in northern San Diego or want to drive to Las Vegas or Los Angeles, having a car is essential. You’ll find rental outlets like Hertz and Budget at the airport and expect to pay about $25-30 per day (depending on the model you choose). All parking in the center is metered, and costs vary by location. Handily, you can pay for on-street parking via debit cards.

The Cost of Living in San Diego

Shopping Streets

Shopping is one of San Diego’s hidden attractions. Head to Mission Valley which has a huge open air mall that features major stores like Bloomingdale’s and Gucci. The historic Gaslamp Quarter is home to boutiques and craft stores (check out the Goorin Bros hat store for a great example). There are also plenty of fashionable clothing stores in affluent La Jolla, including boutique athletic brand Lululemon and Cinderella Shoe Clinic.

Groceries and Other

Generally, San Diego is slightly more expensive than the US average for groceries, and significantly more expensive in terms of accommodation. Expect to pay around $15 for a basic meal, $12 for a bottle of wine and $4 for 12 eggs. Shopping at supermarkets can save money, and chains in the city include Von’s, Albertson’s, Safeway, and Ralph’s.

Cheap meal
$22.30
A pair of jeans
$71.65
Single public transport ticket
$3.99
Cappuccino
$6.15