Where to Stay in San Diego - Guide to Finding the Best Hotel for You

  • 01 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: Where to Stay

    San Diego Hotel Areas Map
    San Diego Hotel Areas Map. Adapted from Google Maps

    This map shows you the general layout of San Diego and where things are.

    The following pages will give you an idea of what each part of the city is like, with the pros and cons of staying there. Browse around and once you find an area you like, you can go to our lists of the best hotels in that area.

    Tips About Where to Stay

    • San Diego attractions are spread out and no place you pick will be close to all of them.
    • In general, the further you get away from downtown, the cheaper, but this rule breaks down when you get to La Jolla - which is lovely but pricey.
    • Big conventions can suck up every available room downtown. Try Mission Bay or Hotel Circle when this happens.
    • Learn about hidden hotel costs and how to avoid them
    • Be sure you think about all the costs of staying in San Diego, including parking fees, transportation and the intangibles of convenience and comfort.

    Hotel Occupancy and Rate Trends

    San Diego is a big, busy city. Hotels are about 75% full on the average, but that can soar to more than 85% during the busiest months, driving up prices at the same time. If your travel dates are flexible, follow these guidelines to visit when hotels cost less:

    • Avoid July. The annual Comic Con convention brings in nearly 150,000 attendees. Rooms are nearly impossible to find on short notice and expensive even if you book in advance
    • August is also popular, with lots of visitors from Arizona escaping the summer heat. Hotel occupancy stays high through the month.
    • Months with lowest hotel occupancy (and hopefully lower rates) are January, September, November and December.
    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: Downtown and Gaslamp

    Downtown San Diego
    Downtown San Diego. Mitch Diamond / Getty Images

    Reserving a Hotel in Downtown San Diego

    • What most people think of "downtown" goes by several names when you're looking for a hotel in San Diego. The Gaslamp Quarter, Convention Center, marina, East Village and Little Italy are all downtown.
    • Don't let hotels fool you by putting "San Diego Central" in their names. They may be in the center of the San Diego metropolitan area geographically, but are far from downtown and the popular attractions.
    • You'll only find a couple of downtown San Diego hotels with rates less than $150 per night. If you stay in them, you'll probably end up wishing you hadn't. If you nned to pay less, try Old Town instead, where you can catch the San Diego Trolley directly to downtown.
    • Read the tips for finding a San Diego hotel deal
    • Go to the Location filter and select Gaslamp, City Center, Downtown and Little Italy to compare prices and read reviews at Tripadvisor

    Attractions Downtown

    Most convention-goers and many tourists choose downtown and the smaller Gaslamp area within it as their base for a San Diego visit. It's the obvious choice for the convention crowd and close to many attractions. However, if you schedule your vacation during a big convention, it may be impossible to find a hotel room in all of downtown. If this location is important to you, you may want to check hotel availability before you set a firm date.

    Pros and Cons of Staying Downtown

    • Close to the Convention Center, some attractions, baseball park and restaurants
    • Convenient to the San Diego Trolley, which can take you to some (but not all) other parts of town and to Tijuana.
    • Many hotels charge for parking (which they do not in other parts of town)
    • Hotels are more expensive than in other areas
    Continue to 3 of 10 below.
  • 03 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: Hotel Circle

    Reserving a Hotel on Hotel Circle

    • Hotel Circle is the name used to refer to the cluster of hotels and motels near the intersection of I-5 and I-8
    • Some online reservation services also refer to the area near Hotel Circle as Mission Valley
    • Read the tips for finding a hotel deal

    Attractions Near Hotel Circle

    Hotel Circle isn't really close to much in the way of sights, but these are the nearest:

    • Old Town State Historic Park One of the oldest parts of town, with lots of historic buildings and restaurants.
    • Sea World A marine-themed park that's most famous for its killer whale Shamu.
    • Mission Bay Pleasant parks and beaches surrounding a protected bay.

    Pros and Cons of Staying on Hotel Circle

    • Parking is usually free and there are lots of choices
    • Close to the freeway and somewhat central if you're visiting a lot of San Diego sights
    • Very few attractions nearby, but there are lots of family restaurants and shopping centers
    • Large group tours tend to use these hotels, which can make them noisy and crowd the lobby when they arrive and depart
    Continue to 4 of 10 below.
  • 04 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: Mission Bay

    San Diego's Mission Bay
    San Diego's Mission Bay. Adapted from Phil Konstantin/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Reserving a Hotel at Mission Bay

    • If you're looking for a Mission Bay hotel at any of the many travel reservation websites, it may be called Mission Bay Park, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach or Pacific Beach.
    • Read the tips for finding a hotel deal

    Attractions Around Mission Bay

    Mission Bay itself is the biggest attraction in this part of town, but it's also close to Sea World.

    Pros and Cons of Staying on Mission Bay

    • Some of the prettier hotels and more spacious resorts are here
    • Very nice location with lots of water and parks
    • On the expensive side
    • You'll find some nice campgrounds in this area
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: Old Town

    Old Town in San Diego
    Old Town San Diego. Mitch Diamond / Getty Images

    Reserving a Hotel in Old Town

    Attractions Near Old Town

    Pros and Cons of Staying Near Old Town

    • Close to Old Town restaurants
    • Moderate prices
    • Close to the freeway
    • Location is convenient for going to other areas of town
    Continue to 6 of 10 below.
  • 06 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: Coronado

    Historic Coronado Hotel
    Hotel del Coronado. Aimin Tang / Getty Images

    Reserving a Hotel on Coronado

    Attractions Around Coronado

    Coronado is sometimes called an island, but technically it's a peninsula, a thin strip of land attached to the mainland on one end, so narrow that in some places you can see water from both sides of the road. It sits across San Diego Bay from downtown, giving the bay-facing locations some great city views.

    • Coronado Beach This beach is great for family play or for a romantic stroll.
    • Coronado The town itself is a nice place for a stroll or a little shopping.

    Pros and Cons of Staying on Coronado

    • One of the prettiest areas of San Diego, with nice beaches
    • You'll find some very nice hotels here
    • You can get to downtown San Diego by water taxi
    • By car, you have to drive over the Coronado Bridge to get to the rest of town, which can be crowded at rush hour
    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Hotels in San Diego: La Jolla

    La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA
    La Jolla Coastline. Richard Cummins / Getty Images

    Reserving a Hotel in La Jolla

    Attractions in La Jolla

    An attractive, upscale community, La Jolla is a good place to spend a day and a nice spot to stay as well. Discover how to spend a day in La Jolla. Some of the most popular La Jolla attractions are:

    • Birch Aquarium A nice, small aquarium with some great exhibits.
    • La Jolla Cove One of the best places for tide pooling.
    • La Jolla Shores A wide beach with lots of room for walking and good views of town.
    • Windansea Beach The area's best surfing beach isn't a place for beginners, but it is a good spot to watch the experts.

    Pros and Cons of Staying in La Jolla

    • La Jolla is perhaps the very nicest area in San Diego, with hotels in town and nearby Torrey Pines among the best anywhere
    • Luxury comes at a price. Most La Jolla hotels are on the expensive side
    • La Jolla is at the north end of the San Diego metropolitan area, which means you'll have to drive across town to get to many attractions. On the other hand, it's so pretty you may just decide to stay put.
    Continue to 8 of 10 below.
  • 08 of 10

    Hotels Near San Diego Airport

    Downtown San Diego and the Airport
    Downtown San Diego and the Airport. Images by Steve Skinner Photography / Getty Images

    Reserving a Hotel Near San Diego Airport

    • The San Diego Airport is just north of downtown. Some online reservation services will list hotels in the airport area.
    • If you're looking for something less expensive, try hotels located on the north or west side of the airport.
    • Read the tips for finding a hotel deal

    The airport is just north of city center, an easy drive on city streets from downtown. These hotels are located between the airport and downtown.

    Pros and Cons of Staying Near San Diego Airport

    • Somewhat less expensive than downtown and most have free parking
    • Conveniently close to the freeway.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Looking for Something Special? How About These?

    San Diego Beach Hotels

    If all you're looking for is a hotel that's on the beach, it might be harder to find than you think. Sometimes, a hotel with the word "beach" in its name is not all that close to the sand. Places that say they're "close" to the beach may not be.

    It can take a long time to figure out exactly which ones are telling the truth, but don't worry. I did all that work for you. Every single hotel in the San Diego Beach Hotels list is right on the beach. Not across the street, not two blocks away - but right there on the beach. So close you might get sand in your shoes just looking out the window.

    How to Find A Room With a View

    If you’re looking for a hotel with a nice view, the first and most obvious choice is any of the high-rise hotels downtown. However, most hotels won’t guarantee a specific room or view - although a few might have ocean view options at a higher rate. Other locations where the hotels may have nice views:

    • Shelter Island and Harbor Island: These areas face the San Diego Bay, with some nice waterfront properties that have either Bay or marina views.
    • Coronado Island: Hotels on the east side facing downtown have nice skyline views. On the west side, some rooms at the Hotel del Coronado have ocean views.
    • La Jolla: A couple of the downtown La Jolla hotels are tall enough to have a view and the ones in La Jolla Shores have views across the bay toward town.

    Alternatives to Traditional Hotels

    • San Diego has a few traditional-style bed and breakfast inns, some of them in lovely Victorian-style buildings. Check them out at BedandBreakfast.com.
    • If you brought your tent - or RV - check out these San Diego Campgrounds
    • You'll also find a few hostels in San Diego. They're inexpensive and some have private rooms
    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    If All You Need is a Cheap Place to Stay

    Dirty rooms. Noisy, unsafe locations. Unspeakable things lurking under the bed or in the corner - or even worse: under your pillow. That's what you might get if you just go to an online reservation site, search for date and location and reserve the place with the lowest daily rate.

    We've all been in a budget crunch from time to time and I understand how that is. If you don't have much money but are looking for something less expensive, try these ideas:

    Read How to Get the Best Deals on a San Diego Hotel. It's full of tips - some of which are quite effective - for paying less for a nice place for the cost of the El Roach-o.

    Be Flexible. If you can choose when you go, you can get hotel rooms for less. Check the rates and occupancy information on the first page of this guide.

    Try AirBNB. On my last stay in San Diego, I paid less than the cost of a dirty, "no tell" motel for a nice, clean little cottage in someone's back yard.

    Try KOA. You don't have to bring your own tent, just a sleeping bag or bed linens and pillow. Their cheapest cabins are less than half the going rate for a San Diego hotel room.

    Try a Hostel. Don't turn up your nose yet. Today's hostels may not be what you think. Many of them have private rooms and are very well-rated. And you can't beat the cost.

    Cheaper Areas in San Diego include north of the airport, Point Loma, Hotel Circle and the Little Italy section of downtown.

    Try Further Away. If you have an automobile and If the difference in daily rate is more than your extra gasoline costs, try locations away from the main tourist areas. These might include Carlsbad or Oceanside, Escondido, El Cajon or Chula Vista. Check overall ratings and read reviews before choosing a place to stay.

    Don't be Short-Sighted. An apparently low nightly rate goes up fast if the property charges for parking, using their WiFi or adds on a so-called "resort fee" just because they have a swimming pool. Extras that could make an apparently more expensive place a better deal include free breakfast, free parking, location close to public transit or an airport shuttle.