There are many ways to experience San Diego. If you want luxury, there are numerous coastal resorts, which sit on radiant beaches with full-service spas to pamper you. You can also find luxury in downtown San Diego, in one of the many modern hotels with ritzy rooftop pools amidst trendy boutiques, hotels, restaurants, and clubs. However, your stay in San Diego does not have to be expensive. You can find budget accommodations across the city in close proximity to the beaches, attractions, and busy strips.
With hundreds of hotels and a diverse collection of neighborhoods in San Diego, your search for the Best Areas to Stay in San Diego becomes a dizzying task without a little help. Well, we have you covered. We will deal you all of the information you need to find the perfect San Diego neighborhood to fit your personality, along with lodging suggestions in each locale – all places we have visited – so that there is no mystery as you plan your trip to “America’s Finest City.”
Choosing a San Diego Neighborhood for Your San Diego Stay
There is great diversity in San Diego’s coastal communities and inland neighborhoods, and we do mean DIVERSE. Every area in San Diego has a unique personality, so you can choose a gritty part of town where people party and the streets get crowded, or you can choose isolation in locations that hug the ocean along beautiful bluffs and cliffs that make the front of postcards. There are five distinct areas in San Diego, and we will bring you through downtown, uptown, and across the shoreline, exploring all of your best possible lodging options.
Downtown San Diego Neighborhood and Hotels
If you stay anywhere in Downtown San Diego, you will be near shopping, eating, and partying options that accommodate all ages and tastes. While a trolley runs through the busiest areas with stops at the major downtown attractions, many popular spots will be within walking distance to your hotel, especially if you stay in the Gaslamp Quarter. The Gaslamp District is the hub of Downtown San Diego, and it is named after the gas lamps that provided the lighting for the district during its early development in the 1860s. As a nod to its past, the Quarter now uses replica gas lamps on many of its streets corners, though they are powered by electricity.
Gaslamp is the busiest area of downtown, along with the East Village. In particular, 4th and 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp area is alive with everything from posh lounges to rowdy sports pubs, along with nouveau nightclubs and restaurants, which are mixed within the largest assemblage of Victorian-style commercial buildings in the United States.
East Village is home to the San Diego Padres, and it was PETCO Park, the Padres’ home stadium, that sparked the revamp of East Village. The Village is the largest neighborhood in downtown San Diego with 130 blocks of property. Before the city built the stadium in 2004, the Village was nothing more than a drab eyesore called the “Warehouse District.” Now, it is a literal work of art, as everything, from the trashcans to the traffic-control boxes, is painted in unique fashion by local artists. Among the art, there are warehouse restaurants and galleries, cafés in redbrick, bars where patrons sit rooftop, and trendy hotels.
If you are looking for a quieter and less-congested area of downtown, stay in Embarcadero or Little Italy. Embarcadero connects downtown to the harbor. Once the spot where fishing folks gathered, you are now more likely to find tourists cruising the waterfront walkway that follows a line from the Maritime Museum to the Convention Center. Along the way, you will find grassy parks with shade trees, gazebos, public fishing piers, war memorials, original sculptures, and Seaport Village, a collection of restaurants and specialty shops. In addition, from nearly any spot along the walkway, you will see a myriad of sailing vessels from Navy destroyers to cruise ships.
Little Italy is authentic to its roots as the landing spot for San Diego’s “Italian Colony,” which it was once called by its residents. There is “bocce” in the park every day, the bustling “Mercato” (farmer’s market) every Saturday, a Fiesta (party) every fall, and nearly every niche of the neighborhood is Italian proud and rooted in “old country” delights, from its food to its slew of churches.
For great luxury accommodations close to the action in the Gaslamp Quarter, stay at Andaz San Diego. When we first entered the lobby of this sexy, beast of a hotel, the party started immediately, as the management had chilled wine on the spot for its guests. This showed us right away that the service would be flawless and we would have a good time. Not only was that the case, but the priceless service came with zero attitude. You pay a lot for this spot in the middle of the action, but with free wine, luxurious rooms that bring the romance, and smiling faces waiting to serve, it is worth the extra cost. However, this is not a place for families; it does get loud as the street party carries into the hotel when the clubs and pubs close.
For unique and moderately-priced options in Downtown San Diego, you are limited to hotels in Little Italy or Embarcadero, where you will still pay more than $100 a night. The Found Hotel (previously the Hotel Vyvant) in Little Italy is a charming spot with great value at $139, and Porto Vista Hotel, which is also in Little Italy, costs a little more for a night, but you will be rewarded. This renovated “budget motel” is now a nice little budget hotel with modern furniture and surprising amenities like a slick restaurant and lounge, fitness center, and hair salon (and blow-dry lounge).
Mission Bay, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, San Diego Neighborhoods and Hotels
If you want to get into the middle of Southern California’s beach culture then Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are your best bets. In this area of San Diego, you can find luxury resorts in Mission Bay or low-budget hotels and hostels in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. Either way, the clap of waves and the smell of the salty seas are within reach, as well as parks with biking and hiking trails, golf courses, surf shops, interesting boutiques, inexpensive dining options, ice-cream stands, and lazy and lively beach bars with a peaceful vibe.
In addition, Mission Bay is home to SeaWorld San Diego and the largest aquatic park in the United States. The Mission Bay Aquatic Center is a 4,600-acre park for swimming, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, windsurfing, and boating.
A cool place to stay in Pacific Beach is the Crystal Pier Hotel and Cottages, which offers a rustic, 1930s New England cottage feel on an actual oceanfront pier. Each cottage has a kitchenette and its own deck area with patio furniture. The waves will definitely put you to sleep at night, for a cost of $175.
If you are looking for a boutique hotel on the shores of Pacific Beach, Tower23 is the best spot with a killer view of the ocean. However, it is not as good of a spot as Crystal Pier, which you can see from the modern rooms and chic pool decks of Tower23. There are more high-end amenities at Tower23, and while we did enjoy the comfort of the rooms and the lively atmosphere at the sushi bar in the hotel’s golden coast restaurant, we were not too stoked by the price of $400 a night, when we could have been closer to the shore at Crystal Pier for half the price.
For more Budget options the Ocean Park Inn and the Surfer beach hotel all offer fantastic Ocean Side accommodation at very reasonable prices! Don’t expect quite the same level of service and luxury but they are still decent hotels in enviable locations!
Uptown, Old Town, and Mission Valley, San Diego Neighborhoods, and Hotels
Uptown, Old Town, and Mission Valley are great areas for families because they are close to SeaWorld San Diego, and Balboa Park, which houses the world-famous San Diego Zoo, free cultural events, a myriad of museums and gardens, and hiking trails across 1,200 acres.
There is also great value in this area with lower-priced chain hotels and accommodations that have sleeper-sofa options for large families, and kitchenettes for extended stays. While there are plenty of historic sites, great Mexican restaurants, and even superb craft beer breweries and tasting rooms within reach, there is limited nightlife and it is far from the coast. Therefore, the California vibe is nearly completely missing. This is especially true in Mission Valley, which is straight suburbia with a tangle of major freeways, car lots, and shopping centers.
It is hard to find any unique accommodations in this particular area, but there are plenty of bargains, and you cannot go wrong with the Best Western Plus Hacienda Hotel in the middle of Old Town. The hotel sits atop a hill and has clean rooms and inviting courtyards and fountains, each immaculately kept. In addition, the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant is a good place to rest your head. It also sits in the heart of Old Town, and its veranda overlooks the San Diego State Historic Park. The Cosmopolitan was built in 1869, and each of the hotel’s 10 large suites has Victorian-era, antique décor that includes pull-chain toilets and pine tubs (though, the showers are modern).
La Jolla, San Diego Neighborhood, and Hotels
La Jolla is San Diego’s affluent neighborhood with beaches and hillsides buckling with multimillion-dollar homes. Twenty minutes north of downtown, “The Jewel” gets crowded in the summer with sunbathers and ocean adventure seekers, who surf, scuba dive, and kayak. In La Jolla’s village, there are high-end boutiques, great seafood restaurants, and art galleries. If you want a small-town coastal feel, then head to this locale where ocean views are spectacular. While the tourist season does generate crowds, there is still a feeling of calm as you maneuver through the area.
You can find bargain hotels in the area, but most of the spots cater to folks with big wallets, which keeps the riffraff out. The two best spots in La Jolla are the Grande Colonial and The Lodge at Torrey Pines. In the heart of La Jolla village, you will find the Grand Colonial, which has gorgeous ocean views, and European décor like chandeliers, mahogany rails, and French doors. If you want to hang out in luxury surroundings by the beach in the middle of the busiest area of La Jolla, this is your spot.
On the other hand, The Lodge at Torrey Pines sits atop ocean-side cliffs and springs a rustic and woodsy California ambiance. The Lodge has a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean and the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course. You will get celebrity treatment in the spa, and you will feel like you have been transported to another place and time with door attendants who wear kilts, fireplaces in the common areas, and hardwood room furnishings.
Coronado, Point Loma, and Shelter Island, San Diego Neighborhood and Hotels
The bay area of San Diego is a mix of family-friendly resorts and hotels, historic sites, residential homes, and military family quarters. If you stay in the areas of Coronado, Point Loma, and Shelter Island, you are sure to get a big room, a pool, and a nice view of the bay and beach in most of its hotels.
If isolation is your desire, you will find it Coronado, which lies across a bridge, or by way of ferry, from San Diego proper. Beautiful white beaches are on the other end, and they don’t draw the crowds of those sandy areas north of San Diego. However, since the area does sit in isolation, you will be far from the major attractions, so you will need to rent a car, commute by taxi, or hitch a ride through Uber or Lyft., which can become expensive if you do it often.
Shelter Island is a manmade peninsula between Downtown San Diego and Point Loma. The area is a relaxed spot with grassy parks and tree-lined pathways, while Point Loma is home to a naval base, Cabrillo National Monument, and Liberty Station, a shopping and dining destination.
For the best deal in Point Loma, San Diego, head to The Pearl Hotel, a revamped vintage motel that is now a retro hangout with kitschy decor and artwork provided by local children. It has a hip bar in the hotel and it is near the marina. This is not a great place for families because their rooms only have one bed, but for $139 a night, it is perfect for the budget-friendly couple.
On Shelter Island, look for the Best Western Plus Island Palms Hotel & Marina for the best deal. This particular Best Western is unique, with well-kept tennis courts, a jogging trail, and complimentary bikes. It has great views of the waterfront on a private marina, for around $159 a night.
Finally, for a great luxury experience in this particular area, check out Hotel Del Coronado, which boasts beautiful ocean views and spectacular architecture, for it is an old-school wooden, Victorian beach resort. At the time it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort in the world, and it is still considered one of the top ten resorts on the planet, according to USA Today. You will have to pay top dollar for a stay here though!
For years, it has been a popular destination for celebrity guests, royalty, and heads of state, including Presidents Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Wilson, Prince Edwards and Wallis Simpson, and entertainers such as Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, and Mae West, in its early years. More recent guests include EVERY PRESIDENT from John F. Kennedy to Barrack Obama, and mega-stars Brad Pitt, Madonna, and Oprah Winfrey, which only touches the surface of all the celebrity that has crossed Hotel Del Coronado’s path.
The Final Word on San Diego Accommodations
Along with the unique lodging locations we mentioned, there are plenty of chain hotels with prices below $100 a night, and they are not hard to find. However, when you visit a city as unique as San Diego, it is nice to stay at a place that matches its rich history and singular nature, as Southern California’s jewel, and “America’s Finest City.”
Once a quiet beach town, San Diego is now livelier than ever. While you can still find those sleep beachside lodges, you can also hit the streets of Downtown San Diego and most city centers in every San Diego location for late-night shenanigans. So, whether you are planning a family trip or a raucous adventure, San Diego is sure to please, with a room to match.
Have Your Say?
Where do you love to Stay in San Diego? Which is your favorite area in the City? Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of downtown or the relaxed pace of the beach resort areas? Which hotels do you love and have you stayed anywhere we all should avoid! Let us know in the comments below. Or if you have any questions or specific hotel recommendations just leave us a comment and we will get right back to you. We always love discussing San Diego.