Where to Stay in San Diego: Best Areas & Hotels

Written by Karen Hastings
Updated Sep 24, 2021
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Drenched in year-round sunshine, San Diego encompasses a cluster of lively urban neighborhoods and laid-back beach towns. The top tourist attractions are scattered over a large area, so choosing where to stay in San Diego will depend on your interests and the reason for your visit.

If you're a first-time visitor here to see the city's top tourist attractions, downtown is one of the best places to stay in San Diego. If sun, sand, and sea are high on your list, you can stay northwest of the city at one of San Diego's salt-laced beach towns, such as Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, or Ocean Beach. For an upscale seaside escape, La Jolla is a great choice. And if you're traveling with kids, the city offers excellent family resorts near the beach; wilderness areas; and attractions like SeaWorld and Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, and an impressive lineup of museums.

Whether you're on a budget or seeking a luxurious romantic weekend escape, the following guide will point you in the right direction.

Where to Stay in San Diego for Sightseeing

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego Gaslamp Quarter

If this is your first visit to San Diego, and you plan to see all the top attractions and soak up the city's vibe, hotels near downtown San Diego are among the best places to stay. The top sightseeing areas in the city center include the Gaslamp Quarter and Horton Plaza, with their restaurants, shops, and lively entertainment venues. Other popular tourist areas, such as Coronado Island and Balboa Park, are just a short drive away.

If you're looking for a luxury property in the heart of downtown, Pendry San Diego, in the Gaslamp Quarter, oozes sophisticated California style. Sunlight streams into the large lobby, and the spacious rooms feature large windows with San Diego Bay or city skyline views, comfy beds, and crisp white linens. Other amenities include a rooftop pool with cabanas. Foodies will love the choice of six restaurants, and Spa Hendry offers personalized pampering treatments. Sports fans are only blocks from Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres play.

Also in the Gaslamp Quarter, and only a five-minute drive from Balboa Park, the Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown occupies an elegant 1920s bank building with soaring ceilings and impressive architectural flourishes. Luxury bedding, stylish furnishings, and colorful throw pillows impart a sense of elegance to the rooms, and when you're not out sightseeing, you can dine on California cuisine in the hotel's restaurant.

Old Town is another popular area to stay for sightseeing - especially if you're on a budget. This 12-acre state park was the site of the west coast's first Spanish settlement and offers a taste of old San Diego, with costumed heritage tours, museums, shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

If you're watching your wallet, the family-run, pet-friendly Old Town Inn, with a lovely outdoor heated pool, is a little farther out of town, but handy to both SeaWorld and Old Town. This is one of San Diego's relatively cheap hotels, and rates include free parking and a continental breakfast. Apartments with kitchens are also available, and a trolley across the street will whisk you to the city center in minutes.

Where to Stay in San Diego for Luxury

Some of the top hotels in San Diego lie north of the city in spectacular wilderness areas near
Torrey Pines Golf Course

Some of the top hotels in San Diego lie north of the city in spectacular wilderness areas near La Jolla, an upscale coastal neighborhood about 14 miles northwest of downtown. This is a favorite area for outdoor adventures like kayaking, surfing, paragliding, and biking along the beach. It's also home to designer boutiques, museums, and the Torrey Pines State Reserve, a wild and rugged coastal park, where you can hike more than eight miles of trails, spot migrating whales from the cliffs, and bask on the windswept beaches.

About a 20-minute drive from Torrey Pines State Reserve, in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar on 400 acres is one of the best hotels in San Diego. This luxury resort evokes the elegance of a grand estate on the Italian or French Riviera.

The sumptuous guest rooms and suites feature marble baths with deep tubs and gorgeous garden views. You'll find it difficult to choose from all the things to do here. In your spare time, you can swim in one of the four pools, dine at the resort's multiple restaurants, tee off on the Tom Fazio-designed championship course, play tennis, or snuggle up at a movie night. The resort's luxury spa is one of San Diego's best.

Also in a beautiful and isolated location, a little closer to the coast, The Lodge at Torrey Pines exudes rustic elegance. This craftsman-style lodge overlooks the Torrey Pines golf course, with the ocean glistening beyond, and is known for its attentive personal service, wonderful spa, and farm-to-table restaurant.

The spacious guest rooms continue the craftsmen theme and feature comfy beds cloaked in Egyptian linens and marble bathrooms; most also come with sliding doors onto balconies or patios with views over the botanical reserve. A croquet lawn, heated outdoor pool, library, and pool table are among the many amenities here, and you can hike the trails in the adjacent reserve.

If you're looking for luxury right on the ocean, the Balinese-inspired Pantai Inn in La Jolla offers excellent value. This boutique beauty features 30 uniquely-decorated rooms, suites, and cottages, with features like fireplaces and four-poster beds.

In-room spa treatments add a little extra pampering, and you can mingle with other guests by the outdoor fire pit, hike along the seaside, and look for seals and whales in the water. Included in the rates are parking, a deluxe breakfast, and afternoon tea and coffee.

Where to Stay in San Diego: Mid-Range

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Lighthouse

San Diego is full of great-value mid-range hotels. About six miles west of the city, on Point Loma, near where whale watching cruises and sportfishing charters depart, The Pearl Hotel is a hip boutique property with a mid-century vintage vibe, individually-themed rooms, and a lively social scene - the hotel screens weekly movies at the poolside lounge. The Pearl is handy to the airport, as well as Shelter Island and its yacht-filled harbor.

In a fabulous location a short stroll from the beach in La Jolla, near designer shops, galleries, and restaurants, the pet-friendly Empress Hotel - A Greystone Hotel offers excellent value. Its stylish rooms come with large leather headboards and high-end linens, and suites come with separate living rooms, whirlpool tubs, and wet bars. Rates include an excellent breakfast, and the hotel's Italian restaurant is a popular spot for dinner.

If you want to stay near Torrey Pines State Park, Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Del Mar, in Torrey Pines, makes a great base. The well-appointed guest rooms are cozy and comfortable, and on-site amenities include an American bistro, a garden deli and cafe with gluten-free and vegetarian options, a lovely outdoor pool, a spa, salon, and fitness center. Breakfast is complimentary.

Where to Stay in San Diego on a Budget

Casa de Balboa in Balboa Park
Casa de Balboa in Balboa Park

Most of San Diego's budget hotels lie out of the city center, but still close to popular attractions. About seven miles north of downtown, just east of Old Town, Mission Valley is home to a string of affordable hotels, with most centered in an area called Hotel Circle. From here, you have easy access to Balboa Park, SeaWorld, and Fashion Valley Mall if you're traveling with a car, f.

Right on Hotel Circle in Mission Valley, the family-owned Kings Inn Hotel is a mom-and-pop-style mid-century gem. The buildings wrap around a heated free-form pool and spa, and the freshly renovated guest rooms feature vintage surfing photos, club chairs, and activity tables. Waffles are the specialty at breakfast, and another cantina-style restaurant serves up Mexican food.

A short stroll from Mission Bay Park, Red Roof Inn San Diego - Pacific Beach/SeaWorld is a solid budget bet with friendly staff. The red-hued rooms come with individual air-conditioning units, coffee makers, microwaves, and mini-fridges. Breakfast is complimentary, and other restaurants are within walking distance.

In Mission Valley, The Atwood Hotel sits on Hotel Circle with easy access to top attractions like SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park. The motel-style rooms are comfortable, with hardwood floors, comfy beds, colorful throw pillows, and coffee makers, and you can relax by the outdoor pool and Jacuzzi.

Where to Stay in San Diego near the Beach

San Diego beach
San Diego beach

San Diego is famous for its beautiful sun-soaked beaches, and each has its own personality. Northwest of the city, about ten minutes by car from downtown, a busy three-mile long boardwalk runs north from lively Mission Beach to the popular surfing spot of Pacific Beach. Along the boardwalk, skaters, joggers, and walkers soak up the fresh sea air and linger at the beachfront restaurants and cafes.

For true beachfront accommodation, Pacific Beach is a fantastic choice and offers a classic Southern California beach vibe. At the light-filled Tower23 Hotel, steps from the sand, you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves and wake up to inspirational ocean views from private patios in the sleek, modern rooms. Sushi is one of the specialties at the hotel's hip restaurant, and free bikes and in-room spa treatments make your stay even more enjoyable.

Also in Pacific Beach, at the far north end of the boardwalk, the family-friendly Pacific Terrace Hotel offers bikes, beach toys, and boogie boards for guests' use. A little farther south from here, the Blue Sea Beach Hotel is a great-value beachfront property, and most of the rooms have private balconies with gorgeous sea views. All three of these nice hotels have sparkling oceanfront pools.

If you're looking for luxury right on the ocean, within walking distance to shops and restaurants, La Jolla's rose-hued oceanfront La Valencia Hotel, also called "The Pink Lady," exudes old-world Mediterranean elegance and is known for its warm hospitality and stunning views of the sea.

South of Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach buzzes with a hippy vibe and is a great place for a laid-back beach escape, with its surf shops, seafood restaurants, and antique stores. Locals love to cast a line off Ocean Beach Pier and walk their pooches on the nearby dog-friendly beach. A short stroll from Ocean Beach, The Inn at Sunset Cliffs is a popular budget property, where you can hear the waves breaking on the beach from your room.

Where to Stay in San Diego for Families

SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego

If you're traveling with toddlers or kids, you'll find plenty of family-friendly resorts in San Diego. But if SeaWorld is your main destination, consider staying at Mission Bay, about 12 minutes by car from the famous marine park and only a few minutes' drive from Balboa Park.

Overlooking the calm waters of Mission Bay, the Polynesian-themed Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa is a fun-filled destination for families with kids of all ages. Koi ponds, tiki torches, and waterfalls add to the tropical feel, and multiple on-site restaurants cater to fussy eaters.

Take the kids kayaking or stand up paddleboarding off the private beach, bike around the waterfront trails, or splash in the outdoor pool. All rooms come with private patios or balconies, and the best rooms for families here come with separate bedrooms and kitchenettes.

A little farther out, the moderately-priced Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego-Del Mar, in Torrey Hills, is also popular with families. Legoland is about a 20-minute drive north, and family-friendly destinations, such as La Jolla, SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, and Torrey Pines Reserve are a short drive away.

This is an especially good option for families who want the option of cooking their own meals, as the suites come with fully-equipped kitchens. Kids love the heated outdoor pool and whirlpool, and the rates include a complimentary shuttle within a five-mile radius during certain hours, a hot breakfast, and a light evening dinner Monday through Thursday.

Where to Stay in San Diego for Couples

Sunrise on Coronado Island
Sunrise on Coronado Island

For a romantic weekend escape, one of the best places to stay in San Diego is Coronado Island, a peninsula connected to the city by a sliver of land called the Silver Strand. Though the island is only minutes by ferry or car from downtown San Diego, it feels relatively peaceful and far-removed from the city hubbub. Here, you can bike between the beaches or stroll around the charming shops on Orange Avenue. The Old Ferry landing offers wonderful views of the city and is home to a popular farmers market on Tuesday afternoons.

One block back from the beach, the boutique Hotel Marisol Coronado sits on a quiet street, steps from the shops and restaurants in town. The 15 elegant rooms and suites come with luxury Italian linens, top-notch toiletries, and spa robes. Borrow beach cruiser bikes to explore the island, enjoy a picnic on the beach, and dine in the lovely garden courtyard. Call in advance for romantic perks on arrival, like roses and chocolate truffles.

Jutting off Coronado Island, on its own 15-acre peninsula, Loews Coronado Bay Resort pampers couples with its three heated pools, hot tub, and sauna. Many of the rooms have ocean views, and all feature plush beds and beachy decor in seaglass hues. Book a couples massage at the luxury Sea Spa and watch the sunset from s sea-view deck.

Where to Stay in San Diego near the Airport

Aerial view of downtown San Diego

Staying near the airport in San Diego is convenient if you have a very early morning plane to catch or get stranded at the airport overnight due to a canceled or missed flight. There are a few decent options near the airport.

Try the Hampton Inn & Suites San Diego Airport Liberty Station. Adjacent to the airport, it offers express check-in and also a complimentary morning breakfast. The rooms are clean and comfortable with blackout curtains. There is a swimming pool and workout room on-site.

If you are traveling with a dog, check out the pet friendly Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island. It runs free shuttles to and from the airport and offers upscale rooms and suites with views of the harbor and marina. Room service is available if you don't feel like leaving the comfy beds. Other hotel amenities include a swimming pool, bike rentals, a workout room, and a restaurant.

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