As far as big-city aviation experiences go, San Diego International (SAN) is a veritable breeze. Located just off the main highway and less than 3 miles from downtown, it’s easy to navigate with just two terminals, close parking lots, and a nearby consolidated rental car center. In 2018, 24 million passengers used the airport—as opposed to the 87.5 million people who flew through LAX—making it the 24th busiest airport in the U.S. (San Diego is America’s eighth-largest city in terms of population.) There are nearly 500 flights a day to more than 60 nonstop destinations in the U.S. and abroad on 17 airlines.
In 2019, SAN became only the second-ever certified carbon neutral airport in North America. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is the other one that received certification through Airports Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA)program.
Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information
Adjacent to the bay, San Diego International Airport (SAN) is 2.5 miles away from downtown, 13 miles from La Jolla, and 20 miles to the Mexican border at Tijuana.
• Phone number: +1 619-400-2404
• Website: https://www.san.org
• Flight Tracker: https://flightaware.com/live/airport/KSAN
Know Before You Go
It’s one of the most conveniently located airports in the world for tourists as it is right in the middle of the city less than 3 miles from downtown, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the convention center. Consider a window seat on the flight into town as you will fly over Balboa Park and the zoo and past downtown skyscrapers.
The layout is fairly straightforward with two terminals set side by side. Departures are on the upper levels. Terminal 1 has gates 1-18 and houses Southwest, Frontier, Allegiant, Sun Country, Spirit, WestJet, and JetBlue. Terminal 2 contains gates 20-51 and the international section and houses Alaska, American, British Airways, Delta, Japan Airlines, Air Canada, Edelweiss, Hawaiian, Lufthansa, and United. Southwest and Alaska handle more than half of the flights coming in and out of SAN. Sixteen new routes were added last year, as Maui, Pittsburgh, Puerto Vallarta, and Frankfurt joined a list of more than 60 nonstop destinations reachable from SAN. In 2018, single-year international passenger traffic at SANtopped the million mark for the first time.
The smoke-free facility is open 24 hours a day but departures only occur between 6:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. to mitigate noise pollution. Ticket counters generally start to open two hours before the first flight takes off.
The new Terminal 2 parking plaza with 2,900 spaces and 16 EV Chargepoints offers hourly and daily rates ($32). Pre-paying drops the rate to $19. Free shuttles that run on propane ferry passengers between the long-term parking lots on Harbor Drive ($20 a day) and Pacific Highway and the terminals. Curbside valet is available for $40 a day.
Curbside pickup and drop-off is allowed but cars are not allowed to sit and wait. To avoid circling the airport, wait in the cell phone lot (which has restrooms) on Harbor.
SAN is mere minutes from exits and entrances for the Interstate 5 Highway. It’s fronted by Airport Terminal Road, which can be accessed via Harbor. Despite the airport being really close to downtown and other popular neighborhoods, San Diego is notorious for its terrible traffic during rush hours. As in all major California cities, drive time rarely equals the distance. It isn’t unheard of for the security line wait to be shorter than the time it takes to drive to the airport.
Public Transportation and Taxis
Ground transportation like off-airport shuttles and taxis can be booked at the transportation plazas in front of Terminals 1 and 2. Taxis depart from designated taxi zones on the arrivals level. Customer service representatives under the blue umbrellas provide additional help.
Route 992 MTS bus stops are in front of each terminal. This route operates between 5:00 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. Riders can use it to get to the Santa Fe Depot downtown to connect with Amtrak and COASTER commuter trains. The website also details how to access the San Diego Trolley light rail network.
Rideshare companies are allowed to deposit and retrieve fares at the airport transportation plaza outside Terminal 1 and in the second lane on the right for Terminal 2.
Free bicycle lockers are available in both terminals. The $25 security deposit is refunded when the key is returned.
Where To Eat and Drink
Beyond the standard chains (Einstein’s Bagels, Panda Express, or Starbucks) or grab-and-go joints, SAN boasts outposts of the city’s culinary favorites like The Prado, Phil’s B.B.Q., Banker’s Hill, Pannikin Coffee & Tea, and Elegant Desserts. You can also lap up one last pint of local liquid legends at Stone Brewing, Craft Brews on 30th Street, and Ballast Point Bar.
The AtYourGate app brings food from all over the airport directly to you at your gate.
Where to Shop
Beyond the basic sundries sellers there are a couple of stores that stand out including Gaslamp Marketplace (local products and souvenirs), Bay Books of Coronado, Shades of Time (sunglasses), The Beach House (ocean-themed apparel, décor, and accessories), Apricot Lane (women’s boutique), MindWorks (toys and games), and MAC Cosmetics. There are also several stores and Best Buy vending machines to fill tech needs.
How to Spend Your Layover
Wander around to take in some art from permanent works like Mark Reigelman’s Formation or Ben Darby’s mosaic Puff, temporary exhibits, and live performances and concerts. They install public art Two Be Relax Spas in Terminal 2 offer massages, manicures, and oxygen and light therapy. If you have a particularly long layover, we’d suggest taking a walk to Spanish Landing or Cancer Survivors Parks, both of which are on the bay.
United Club and Delta Sky Club are in Terminal 2 West. Access to the Airspace Lounge costs $25. It includes showers, complimentary food/drinks, and $10 credit toward premium food or cocktails. American Express Platinum cardholders and their guests get free entry.
Wi-Fi and Charging Stations
The airport is so proud to offer free wifi that they created a hashtag (#SANfreewifi). Free sessions last two hours, but can be refreshed when time runs out by simply logging in again. Charging opportunities are readily available.
Tips and Tidbits
These added amenities help make travel days less stressful.
• SAN has one of the nation’s largest United Services Organization (USO) centers to serve active members of the armed forces and their families. It’s located in the Terminal 2 parking lot adjacent to the Eastern Skybridge on the ground floor. For more information, call (619) 235-6503.
• All rental car agencies operate out of one consolidated center on Admiral Boland Way. Dedicated shuttles continuously run between it and the terminals.
• Three lactation rooms are available beyond security. Find them on the second level of the Terminal 1 West Rotunda, the ground level of the East Rotunda in Terminal 1, and on the second level of Terminal 2 near gate 34.
• There are five Travelex currency exchange outlets including an ATM across from the Terminal 1 food court and a kiosk in the International Arrivals Hall. Terminal 2 has an ATM near gate 23 and kiosks in the International Arrivals Hall, baggage claim, and near gate 48.
• All nine ATMs are Bank of America branded. Non-BOA customers will be charged $2.50 per ATM transaction.
• Luggage carts are free to arriving passengers in the international arrivals area, but cost $5 to rent anywhere else.
• Shoes looking shabby? The Classic Shine runs three shoeshine stations at SAN (try saying that three times fast!). They are located in the Terminal 1 rotunda and near gates 23 and 36 in Terminal 2.
• Should you find yourself in the rare position of being stranded, the closest hotels include a Hampton Inn & Suites, the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, Courtyard by Marriott, and the Hilton Harbor Island.