Where to Stay in San Diego: A Complete Guide

San Diego is a popular destination for travelers seeking warm weather, amazing dining, award-winning breweries, and quality time at the beach. However, given how expansive the county is, deciding exactly where to stay can be downright confusing.

As a California native who grew up in this sunny city, I’m here to tell you exactly where to stay in San Diego during your next visit, depending on what kind of experience you are looking for. 

Planning a trip to San Diego? Don’t miss our guide to spending a weekend in San Diego to help you plan a longer trip, and our guide to spending one day in San Diego if you have limited time and still want to see the best that the city has to offer.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

Psssst! We have a whole guide to planning a perfect weekend in San Diego where Kyra (who grew up in San Diego) breaks down the five best areas to stay, and gives some hotel picks for each.

Where to Stay in San Diego: The 5 Best Areas to Stay in San Diego

Here are five neighborhoods to consider, depending on what you’re looking for in your trip to San Diego.

Don’t have time to read the entire guide below? Here are the things you need to know to find the perfect place to stay in Portland (though you should definitely read the section for the neighborhood you choose!).

  • If it’s your first time in San Diego, stay centrally in Downtown San Diego, either in Little Italy or the lively Gaslamp Quarter. Here, you’ll be walkable to some of the best sights in San Diego, like the Embarcadero, USS Midway and Little Italy Farmers Market, and also have tons of bars and restaurants within walking distance. Stay at Hotel Z for an affordable hotel in a central location, or the Pendry for a more upscale boutique hotel.
  • If you’re in the mood for a bit more charm but still want to be central, look at Hillcrest or North Park on the northeastern side of Balboa Park. Stay at either the ultra-charming Hillcrest House Bed and Breakfast, or an book a vacation rental in North Park to be in the heart of all the breweries and restaurants that make the area one of the coolest in San Diego.
  • If you’re looking for a beach-y getaway, stay in either Ocean Beach (known as “OB”) for a more low key vibe, or up the coast in La Jolla, which is further away and more upscale. In Ocean Beach, your options are limited, but we’d grab a room at the Inn at Sunset Cliffs. In La Jolla, the Pantai Inn is the place to be (with the La Jolla Riviera Inn offering a more affordable option nearby).

Downtown San Diego: Best for Foodies and Nightlife Lovers

Given the wide variety of things to do and the proximity to the airport, downtown is one of the best places to stay in San Diego.

More specifically, the historic Gaslamp Quarter (located right in the middle of downtown) is one of the best areas to stay in. There are plenty of amazing hotels in this area, and it’s known as San Diego’s nightlife hub. You’ll find tons of great restaurants, bars, clubs, and performance venues in this neighborhood. 

In addition to the Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy (a neighborhood in the northern section of downtown) is a popular spot that has fun bars and restaurants. Downtown is also the home to (or conveniently located near) many of the major must-see San Diego spots, including Balboa Park, Coronado Island, the USS Midway, and the San Diego Zoo. 

Pros of Staying in Downtown San Diego

  • Access to Public Transportation: In addition to the buses, Downtown San Diego (and the surrounding area) has a trolley system, which can make getting around the area a bit easier.  

  • Close Proximity to Sights: There’s a lot of things to do and see in and around Downtown San Diego, so it’s a great spot for visitors. 

  • Walkable: It’s incredibly easy to explore Downtown San Diego by foot, as it’s fairly compact. 

  • Lots of Excellent Eateries, Bars, Clubs, and Cafes: There is no shortage of excellent places to eat and drink downtown! Whether you’re looking for something more lowkey or a bit more upscale, you have plenty of options. 

Cons of Staying in Downtown San Diego

  • Further from the Beach: Downtown is by no means super far from the beach – you can get to the beaches in Coronado Island or Ocean Beach in about 15 minutes if you drive. But if you dream of walking to the beach from your hotel, this area might not be for you. 

Downtown San Diego Highlights

Balboa Park: This large cultural park (which is just north of downtown) is home to the famous San Diego Zoo, as well as a variety of museums, performance venues, and gardens. 

Seaport Village: Seaport Village is a fun outdoor shopping center right on the San Diego Bay. You’ll find shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. 

USS Midway: The USS Midway, which is a retired aircraft carrier docked in the San Diego Bay, has a super interesting museum on board, with over 60 exhibits.

Little Italy Mercato: The vendors at this farmers market (which happens every Saturday) offer a wide selection of products, including juice, coffee, nuts, bread, baked goods, salsas, home goods, and more.

Herb & Wood: This restaurant and bar in Little Italy offers delicious rustic and wood-fired dishes, as well as amazing cocktails.  

The Field Irish Pub: This authentic pub is owned by an Irish couple who successfully brought the feel of Ireland to the Gaslamp Quarter! Enjoy a Guinness while listening to live music. 

Places to Stay in Downtown San Diego 

Downtown – specifically the Gaslamp Quarter – has the best selection of hotels in San Diego. And it’s not particularly close, either.

Pendry San Diego

Pendry San Diego is an upscale, modern hotel located in the middle of the Gaslamp Quarter. The hotel has six restaurants and bars on-site (ranging from casual to upscale), a sophisticated night club, a rooftop pool, a spa, and a fitness center.

There are rooms and suites available, many of which offer amazing views of the San Diego Bay and the city. 

Omni Hotel

Omni Hotel is a luxury hotel located right on the edge of the Gaslamp Quarter, and just a short walk away from the bay. It has a full-service fitness center, an outdoor terrace with a swimming pool, a coffee, beer, and wine bar, and a bar and grill.

The Omni Hotel has both rooms and suites available, which offer views of the San Diego Bay, the downtown skyline, or Petco Park.

The US Grant

The US Grant is an iconic luxury hotel that dates back to 1910. It is located on the northern border of the Gaslamp Quarter. This sophisticated hotel has a restaurant, a cocktail bar, a fitness center, and a spa on-site. There are rooms and suites available, including some bi-level suites with balconies. 

The Westgate Hotel

The Westgate Hotel is an elegant hotel with French-influenced design located just north of the Gaslamp Quarter, across the street from the US Grant.

This hotel has a restaurant, a bar, afternoon tea service, and a large wellness center with a spa, fitness center, and rooftop pool. There are rooms and suites available, many of which have private balconies. 

Hillcrest and North Park: Great Value, Local Vibes, Amazing Food & Drinks

If you’re trying to figure out where to stay in San Diego on a budget, Hillcrest and North Park (and the areas surrounding these two neighborhoods) are your best options.

These trendy neighborhoods – which are north of Downtown San Diego – are known for having amazing spots for shopping, dining, and drinking. 

Hillcrest is known for being the center of San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community, with plenty of fun gay bars. North Park (which is east of Hillcrest) has more of a hipster vibe, with lots of small craft beer taprooms, boutiques, and cafes. 

Pros of Staying in Hillcrest and North Park

  • Lots of Great Bars, Restaurants, and Cafes: These areas are known for amazing places to eat and drink, so you’ll have no problem finding options that fit your taste. 

  • Walkable: Hillcrest and North Park are extremely walkable. Exploring by foot is the best way to get the full feel of these neighborhoods. 

  • Less Touristy: You’ll definitely get more of a local viewpoint staying in these towns, since they don’t tend to attract as many tourists. 

  • Close to Downtown: Downtown San Diego is just a ten-minute drive away, so you can easily access the city without having to stay in the center of hustle and bustle. 

Cons of Staying in Hillcrest and North Park

  • Limited Accommodations: There aren’t a ton of hotels that are actually in Hillcrest and North Park. You’ll find some hotel options below that are just outside of these areas. 

  • Farther from the Beach: This area is the furthest inland of the options on this list. It will take you about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the beach from Hillcrest and North Park. 

Hillcrest and North Park Highlights

Hillcrest Farmers Market: This Sunday farmers market is one of San Diego’s biggest, with over 175 vendors. 

Great Maple: Great Maple is a brunch and dinner spot in Hillcrest known for comfort food with a twist. This restaurant is famous for its maple bacon doughnuts. 

Tribute Pizza: This bright and open North Park restaurant has amazing wood-fired pizza, including plenty of vegan and gluten free options. 

Coin-Op Game Room: This North Park arcade bar (which has a great beer selection) has 25 games, including classics like Ms. Pac-man and Donkey Kong. 

Polite Provisions: This award-winning North Park cocktail bar has great drinks and a fun, old apothecary-style environment. 

Pigment: This North Park boutique is the place for candles, plant accessories, and other gifts and home goods. 

Best Places to Stay in Hillcrest and North Park

North Park and Hillcrest are fairly residential, which is part of their charm. However, the downside of that charm is that there are very few hotels nearby. Here are three that are worth your time.

The Lafayette Hotel

The Lafayette Hotel is a retro-style boutique hotel in North Park that dates back to the 1940s. The hotel has a legendary pool that was designed by five-time Olympic gold medal winner Johnny Weissmuller, as well as a fitness center and restaurant on-site. The hotel has both rooms and suites available, and some accommodations have a private balcony or patio. 

Abpópa Hillcrest

Abpópa is located in the center of Hillcrest, within walking distance of tons of great restaurants, bars, and shops. This intimate modern boutique hotel has unique “micro lofts,” which are small studio spaces with mini kitchens, living rooms, and split-level floor plans, in addition to the more traditional single level rooms. Some spaces also have a private patio. 

Legacy Resort Hotel and Spa

Legacy Resort Hotel and Spa is a large, modern hotel with three restaurants, a spa, a pool, and a 4D dome theatre. Legacy has premium and deluxe rooms, with the deluxe rooms offering a sitting area and private balcony. 

La Jolla: Best Place to Stay near the Beach

If you’re trying to decide where to stay for your first time in San Diego, La Jolla is one of your best options.

This popular coastal town is great for visitors, because you have easy access to some of the most beautiful beaches in the county. La Jolla is also centrally located, so you can easily explore both downtown and the northern coastal towns.

In addition to the gorgeous coastline, La Jolla is known for having a ton of excellent eateries, bars, cafes, and shops, particularly in the Village of La Jolla. While it does skew more upscale, there are still some great casual options, too. 

Pros of Staying in La Jolla

  • Centrally Located: La Jolla is one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego for visitors, because it’s right in the middle of the coastal towns to the north and downtown to the south. This makes it easy to access all areas of coastal San Diego. 

  • Beach Access: There are a lot of great beaches that you can access in La Jolla, each of which offer their own unique benefits. 

  • Lots of Excellent Eateries, Bars, and Cafes: You’ll have no problem finding a place to eat or grab a drink when staying in La Jolla. 

  • Walkable: La Jolla is incredibly easy to walk around. Explore neighborhoods, the central shopping and dining area, or walk along the paths that line the coast. 

Cons of Staying in La Jolla

  • Can Get Touristy: La Jolla is an incredibly popular spot to visit, since the coastal location is picturesque, there are ample accommodations, and there is a lively central shopping and dining area. With that in mind, it can get very busy, especially during the summer. 

La Jolla Highlights

La Jolla Cove: This cove is small, but it’s incredibly picturesque – and there’s a good chance you’ll see some sea lions lounging on the sand! It’s also a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. 

La Jolla Shores Beach: If you just want to lounge on the beach or go for a swim, this beach – which stretches for over a mile without any obstruction – is the place for you.

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave and Store: This store has a man-made tunnel that leads down to a super cool seashore cave. 

George’s at the Cove: This restaurant serves contemporary California cuisine. It has different dining areas, including an outdoor terrace.  

La Sala Lounge: This bar is located in the gorgeous La Valencia Hotel, and is the perfect place to sip on a cocktail while taking in the views of the coast.  

The Cottage: This breakfast, brunch, and lunch restaurant serves great traditional American food. If the weather is nice, dine on the beautiful outdoor patio.

Places to Stay in La Jolla

In general, staying in La Jolla is going to be more expensive than average, even for San Diego. As long as your budget is prepared for that, it’s a fantastic place to base yourself.

La Valencia Hotel

La Valencia is an elegant Spanish-style hotel that is conveniently located in the middle of the Village of La Jolla, just steps away from the coast.

This iconic hotel offers both indoor and outdoor dining options, a bar, a pool that overlooks the ocean, and a fitness center. The hotel has rooms, suites, and villas, with the option to upgrade to accommodations with private outdoor spaces and fireplaces. 

Pantai Inn

Pantai Inn is a boutique hotel with a Polynesian-inspired style that overlooks the ocean. This intimate hotel is just a few steps away from the best dining and shopping in the Village of La Jolla.

The inn offers suites with full kitchens (including multi-bedroom suites for larger parties), as well as studios with kitchenettes. There is an option to upgrade to accommodations with a balcony and ocean view. 

Grande Colonial 

Grande Colonial is another great Village of La Jolla option that is just a short walk away from the coast. This upscale boutique hotel is styled with elegant and traditional décor, and has the award-winning Nine-Ten restaurant on-site.

The hotel has both rooms and suites, with the option to upgrade to an ocean view option. There are also rooms with kitchens and kitchenettes available. 

Estancia La Jolla

Estancia La Jolla is a luxury, hacienda-style hotel located in the northern part of La Jolla, closer to Torrey Pines.

This hotel, which is set on 10 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, has a fitness center, outdoor yoga and barre classes, a saltwater pool, an award-winning spa, and multiple dining options. There are both rooms and suites available, with the option to upgrade to a private balcony or patio. 

Ocean Beach and Surrounding Neighborhoods: Best Casual Coastal Area 

Ocean Beach is a laid-back beach town northwest of Downtown San Diego. This neighborhood – known as “OB” – has a bohemian feel, and all the charm of an old-school Southern California beach town. It’s the more casual sibling of the more upscale La Jolla and Del Mar to the north. 

You’ll find plenty of unpretentious bars, restaurants, and shops on and around Newport Avenue. At the beach, there’s lots of open space to lay out and catch some rays, and there’s also a large dog beach on the north end of town.

It gets more residential as you move further inland from Ocean Beach, but you’re going to find more hotel options in the greater OB area (more on that below). 

Pros of Staying in Ocean Beach

  • Beach Access: There is a ton of open beach space along Ocean Beach to lay out and soak up the sun, as well as gorgeous rugged cliffs and tide pools further south. 

  • Lots of Great Bars, Restaurants, and Cafes: There are many great options along and around Newport Avenue, and you’ll also find a selection of spots to eat and drink further north on Voltaire Street. 

  • Walkable: Ocean Beach and the surrounding area is super walkable. If you’re staying in OB, the beach will be within walking distance!

Cons of Staying in Ocean Beach

  • Can Get Crowded: Ocean Beach is a popular spot for San Diego locals and visitors alike, so it can get busy – especially during the summer and on the weekends. 

  • Limited Accommodations: In the actual town of Ocean Beach, there isn’t a wealth of hotel options within walking distance of the center of town. With this in mind, there are a few hotels on the list below that are within a 10-minute drive of OB.

Ocean Beach Highlights

Ocean Beach Pier: This pier extends a half-mile out into the sea – making it one of the longest piers in Southern California. You’re also able to fish here without a fishing license. 

Santa Cruz Cliffs: These gorgeous coastal cliffs are the perfect place to put out a towel and relax or do a little exploring. You’ll also find plenty of tide pools!

Hodad’s: This burger joint has been a San Diego staple since the 1960s. This casual spot is a great place to enjoy a beer and a burger after a day at the beach. 

La Doña: This restaurant (which is just a short walk away from the beach) is the spot to go to for great Mexican food and delicious cocktails.  

Wonderland Ocean Pub: This oceanfront bar and restaurant has an expansive seafood-heavy menu, as well as a ton of local beers on tap. 

Kilowatt Brewing: This funky and colorful tap room has a wide variety of hand-crafted beers on tap.

Places to Stay in Ocean Beach

Like I mentioned above, not a whole lot of places to stay in Ocean Beach itself – it’s fairly residential. However, there are a couple of good hotels nearby, all within a 10 minute drive.

The Inn at Sunset Cliffs

The Inn at Sunset Cliffs is a small, beachfront hotel just under a mile away from the hustle and bustle of the center of Ocean Beach.

This casual and beachy hotel – which was built in the 1950s and renovated in 2018 – has a pool and a deck right on the cliffs above the water. There are rooms available, as well as larger suites with full kitchens. 

Ocean Beach Hotel

Ocean Beach Hotel is located just a few steps away from the beach, right in the heart of OB. This Mediterranean-inspired hotel has a charming courtyard with views of the ocean.

There are both rooms and suites available, with the option to upgrade to a suite with a balcony or room with an ocean view. 

Kona Kai Resort & Spa

Kona Kai is located outside of Ocean Beach on Shelter Island in the San Diego Bay. This luxury, contemporary hotel has two pools, a private beach with cabanas, a spa, a fitness center, a restaurant, poolside bars, and nightly bonfires.

There are both rooms and suites available, all with private outdoor spaces. 

Humphreys Half Moon Inn

Humphreys Half Moon Inn is another waterfront hotel located on Shelter Island. This hotel – which has an upscale tropical vibe – has a pool, fitness center, restaurant, and live musical performances.

There are both rooms and suites available at Humphreys, many of which have private balconies with views of the bay. 

Del Mar: Best North County Option

If you’re interested in staying further north, Del Mar is one of the best places to stay in San Diego. It’s similar to La Jolla in that it’s an upscale coastal town, but the main shopping and dining area is a tad smaller.

That said, there are still plenty of amazing eateries, cafes, bars, and shops, and the beach in this area is just as picturesque. 

In addition to the beach, there’s also great coastal hiking just south of Del Mar in Torrey Pines. You’re also just a short drive away from other small beach towns in the north part of the county, including Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad.

Pros of Staying in Del Mar

  • Beach Access: Del Mar is right on the coast, so there are plenty of accommodations that allow you to walk to the coast in less than five minutes.

  • Lots of Excellent Eateries, Bars, and Cafes: Del Mar has some great restaurants and places to drink. You’ll find both casual and more upscale options. 

  • Walkable: While the main shopping and dining area isn’t huge, it’s super walkable. You can also walk for miles down the beach (just be mindful of when high tide is!). 

Cons of Staying in Del Mar

  • Farther from Downtown San Diego: If your itinerary has you exploring more of north county San Diego, this isn’t a bad thing. That said, if you plan on spending a lot of time further south (which is where more of the touristy destinations are located), this might not be the best area for you. 

Del Mar Highlights

Powerhouse Park and Beach: This park and beach area is a short walk away from the main area of Del Mar. It’s the perfect place to have a picnic, enjoy a day at the beach, and watch the sunset!

Torrey Pines State Reserve: If you want to get some hiking in during your visit to San Diego, Torrey Pines State Reserve is the place to go. There are a variety of interconnected trails on this coastal reserve, and you get beautiful views of the ocean. 

Del Mar Racetrack: If you’re visiting sometime between July to early September, you might want to get tickets to the famous horse racing events at this racetrack. 

Viewpoint Brewing Co.: This brewery and restaurant is the place for you if you want to enjoy San Diego’s beer culture! This waterfront spot is right on the San Dieguito Lagoon. You’ll have to drive or take a rideshare since it’s a bit tucked away, but it’s well worth it. 

Jake’s Del Mar: The restaurant is situated right on the beach, so it’s the place for lunch or dinner with a view! You’ll find coastal fare and a great cocktail menu.

Board and Brew: If you need a quick bite to eat for lunch or early dinner, this casual sandwich shop – which is a local favorite – is the place to go. 

Places to Stay in Del Mar 

L’Auberge Del Mar

L’Auberge is a luxury hotel in the heart of Del Mar, located right on the coast. This bright and airy hotel has a full-service spa, a 24-hour fitness center, and a pool.

There is also a restaurant on-site that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a cafe that brews Bird Rock Coffee Roasters coffee. There are both rooms and suites available, with the option to upgrade to a balcony or patio and an ocean-view room. 

The Lodge at Torrey Pines

The Lodge at Torrey Pines is about 4 miles away from the heart of Del Mar, and overlooks the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course and the ocean. This elegant, craftsman-style hotel has a pool, spa, and both casual and upscale dining options.

There are both rooms and suites available, most of which come with a patio or balcony. All suites also have a fireplace. 

Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is located just steps away from the beach, and is within walking distance of the main shopping and dining area of Del Mar. The hotel has a contemporary and vibrant style, and has two swimming pools, a 24-hour fitness center, and a bar and grill on-site.

There are both rooms and suites available (which were all recently renovated), many of which include private or semi-private balconies.

San Diego Geography Overview

San Diego covers a lot of land, with county lines stretching all the way through Anza-Borrego State Park on the east. That said, for visitors, the best neighborhoods in San Diego to visit and stay in are generally along the coast. In addition to the beaches – which is why most people choose to visit San Diego! – most of the main sights are located closer to the coast. 

A section of the southern coastal area (from Downtown San Diego to La Jolla) is where most of the sights people associate with San Diego are located.

Here, you have Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway, the Coronado Bridge, Hotel del Coronado, Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and more (including the airport). With all of this in mind, if you’re visiting San Diego for the first time, you’ll likely want to stay closer to this area if hitting up these iconic spots is important to you. 

The northern coastal area of the county has fewer “must-see” sights compared to south county, but there are still lots of great beach towns that are fun to visit. Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Del Mar each have lively town centers with lots of excellent restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops.

Since they have a lot to offer on their own – and since they’re just steps away from the beach – these areas are still popular for tourists. 

Where NOT to Stay in San Diego

When figuring out the best areas to stay in San Diego, a general rule of thumb is that you won’t want to stay too far inland.

This is true even for those not planning on spending any time at the beach. Most of the places of interest in San Diego are located closer to the coast, so you’ll just be spending a lot of time in the car if you’re far from these areas. If you’re looking at accommodations as far east as Poway or El Cajon, you’ve gone too far!

There’s also no need to stay anywhere south of Downtown San Diego. This section of the county is mostly residential, so it isn’t too exciting for visitors. The same can be said of anywhere north of Carlsbad. 

That’s all folks! With that, you’ve got the inside scoop on five great neighborhoods to stay in for your trip to San Diego. Any one of them would be a great choice – it just depends on what combination of amenities and location you’re looking for.

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