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

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Hotels in San Diego: Where to Stay

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 sections 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 the 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, and 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 almost impossible to find on short notice and expensive even if you book in advance.
  • Avoid August too, when visitors from Arizona flock in to escape the summer heat. Hotel occupancy stays high through the month.
  • Months with lowest hotel occupancy are January, September, November, and December.
02 of 10

Hotels in San Diego: Downtown and Gaslamp

Gaslamp District, San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Most convention-goers and many tourists choose downtown 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.

What most people think of as "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. Include all of those areas in the location filter when you do an online search.

Don't let hotels fool you by putting "San Diego Central" in their names. That doesn't mean downtown. 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 need to pay less, see the tips below.

Attractions Downtown

Pros and Cons of Staying Downtown

  • Close to the Convention Center, some attractions, the 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 downtown hotels charge for parking (which they do not in other parts of town).
  • Hotels are more expensive than in other areas.
03 of 10

Hotels in San Diego: Hotel Circle

Hotel Circle is the name used to refer to the cluster of hotels and motels near the intersection of Interstate Highway 5 and Interstate Highway 8. Some online reservation services also call the area near Hotel Circle Mission Valley.

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 more fun than you might think.
  • 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.
04 of 10

Hotels in San Diego: Mission Bay

Mission Bay Park, San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

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.

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, but they can be expensive.
  • Very nice location with lots of water and parks.
  • You'll also find some nice campgrounds in this area.
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05 of 10

Hotels in San Diego: Old Town

Old Town San Diego

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Most online reservation services identify this area as simply Old Town.

Attractions Near Old Town

  • Old Town State Historic Park: One of the oldest parts of town, with lots of historic buildings and restaurants.
  • Whaley House: Some say it's one of the most haunted places in the United States.

Pros and Cons of Staying Near Old Town

  • Close to Old Town restaurants.
  • Moderate prices.
  • Close to the freeway and convenient for going to other areas of town.
06 of 10

Hotels in San Diego: Coronado

Coronado Island, San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

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 the water from both sides of the road. It sits across San Diego Bay from downtown, giving the bay-facing locations some great city views. 

What you need to know about finding a place to stay in Coronado.

Attractions Around Coronado

  • Coronado Beach This beach is great for family play or 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 lovely 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.
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Hotels in San Diego: La Jolla

Beach in La Jolla

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon

An attractive, upscale community, La Jolla is an excellent place to spend a day and a nice spot to stay as well.

Find out what you need to know about finding a hotel in La Jolla.

Attractions 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 views of the town.
  • Windansea Beach: The area's best surfing beach isn't a place for beginners, but it is an excellent spot to watch the experts.

Pros and Cons of Staying in La Jolla

  • La Jolla is perhaps the most beautiful area in San Diego, with hotels in town and nearby Torrey Pines is among the best golf 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.
08 of 10

Hotels Near San Diego Airport

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

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.

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.
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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. Every single hotel in the San Diego beach hotels guide 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 views:

  • Shelter Island and Harbor Island: These areas face the San Diego Bay, with some excellent 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
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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 go to an online reservation site, search for date and location and reserve the place with the lowest daily rate.

If you don't have much money but are looking for something less expensive, try these ideas:

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. You may pay less than the cost of a dirty, "no tell" motel for a charming, clean little cottage in someone's backyard.

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 in San Diego 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 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. A low rate goes up fast when the property charges for parking and using WiFi or adds a so-called "resort fee" for that daily newspaper you never read. And a higher rate can come out cheaper when you get free breakfast, free parking, a location close to public transit, or an airport shuttle.

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