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Back to Southern California Beach Cities - South.
The city of San Diego covers a vast area of land. The majority of San Diego beach hotels are located along the best beaches in the surrounding cities such as: La Jolla, Coronado, and Imperial Beach.
When using the Search Engine for San Diego, be sure to look for Hotels located at Mission Bay/Beach and Ocean Beach.
Save for bureaucratic purposes, San Diego really doesn't have any clearly defined "districts", and they don't make much sense from the standpoint of the average visitor to San Diego or citizen of the city. San Diego is defined by its many individual neighborhoods, which are too numerous to list here.
This list of "districts" is by no means an official breakdown of the city, but one that is meant to make sense from the standpoint of a visitor, based on the number of attractions and/or amenities for the average visitor you'll find in each area.
Downtown – The central business district of the city, downtown is also a hub of nightlife and has many attractions.
Balboa Park-Hillcrest – Located in the heart of the city, Balboa is a massive urban parkland, home to many amazing museums and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Next door is Hillcrest, a trendy urban neighborhood that is the center of San Diego's LGBT community.
Old Town-Mission Valley - Old Town is the site of the original settlement of San Diego. Nearby is Mission Valley, a major commercial center situated along the San Diego River.
Point Loma-Ocean Beach – Located on a peninsula jutting out into the ocean, this area is home to gorgeous views of San Diego, beautiful scenery, and lovely beachfront neighborhoods.
Mission Beach-Pacific Beach - Two popular beach communities with plenty of shops, restaurants, and nightlife, alongside a man-made inlet known as Mission Bay, home to Sea World.
La Jolla – An upscale beach community that's almost a separate city from San Diego.
Mid-City – Treated here as a region of the city, mid-city is composed of many urban and suburban neighborhoods in the heights of eastern San Diego.
Northeastern – Also treated here as a region of the city, Northeastern is composed of many suburban neighborhoods stretching far to the north, with a few scattered attractions.
San Ysidro - Home to the world's busiest land border crossing, where one can travel between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.
In addition, there are many communities and suburbs in the San Diego area that are not actually part of San Diego (such as Coronado).
The area had long been inhabited by the native Kumeyaay people (also known as the Diegueño by the later Spanish settlers), who lived off the land and had created a proud culture. The first time a European visited the region was in 1542, when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sailing under the Spanish Flag, claimed the bay for the Spanish Empire and named the site San Miguel.
In November of 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent to map the California coast. Arriving with his flagship "San Diego", Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and what is now Mission Bay and Point Loma, renaming the area for the Spanish Catholic Saint, St. Didacus (More commonly known as San Diego).
San Diego was established in 1769 as the first Spanish mission in California, at the present site of Old Town. However due to the poor nature of soils in the Old Town area, the mission was eventually relocated about five miles up river in Mission Valley.
In the 19th century, San Diego passed from Spanish to Mexican to American hands. In 1850, a few years after the United States gained control of California, San Diego was officially designated a city. But with much of the westward expansion to California centered on the gold rush and San Francisco, American influences were slow to come to San Diego. But eventually they did, and in the later decades of the 19th century the railroad came to San Diego, resulting in further growth of the city and the establishment of Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The U.S. Navy discovered San Diego in the early 20th century, and constructed a coaling station on Point Loma in 1907. Ten years later, the Naval Air Station on Coronado island was established, and in later years the Navy would take on an increasingly important role in the city's economy. Today San Diego is home to the Navy's Pacific Fleet, and is a favorite leave location for sailors.
In recent decades, growth in San Diego has exploded, with many corporations moving their headquarters here and a huge influx of residents. Today it's a favorite destination for retirees and tourists.
The San Diego area can be an incredible place to visit almost any time of the year. With coastal temperatures around 75 degrees (24°C) most of the time, the weather is ideal.
The climate of Southern California is rather complex, however, and temperatures change rapidly as one travels from the coast eastward. In the summer during the day, the temperature might increase as much as one degree Fahrenheit for each mile going east. In the winter, especially at night, eastern areas are usually relatively cooler. Some valleys and other areas have significantly different weather due to terrain and other factors. These are often referred to as "micro-climates". September is usually the hottest month of the year in the daytime, though by then, nights are slightly cooler than in August. Along the beach during the warmer half of the year, it can get surprisingly cool after dark, even when it's not too cold a short distance inland.
During the late summer and fall there is a reversal of the usual climate conditions, when moist air blows inland from the coast. These winds are called the Santa Ana winds. Milder Santa Ana winds can result in excellent dry air conditions, but powerful ones can last days on end, significantly raising temperatures, creating tremendous fire danger, and sometimes making simply being outdoors a bad experience.
San Diego International Airport (IATA: SAN) is less than 10 minutes from downtown San Diego. The descent into the airport from the east is remarkably close to downtown buildings, which can be a bit alarming for first-time visitors. It is served by legacy carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways, as well as major low fare carriers including ExpressJet, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines. Beware that even discounted coach airfares between San Diego and Los Angeles (about 120 miles/190 km) can cost nearly as much a trip to the east coast. (This will usually be greatly discounted or even free for connecting flights if it's part of the overall routing, but you must leave LAX within four hours for domestic flights or 24 hours international.) The only international flights from the airport go to Mexico and Canada. Visitors from other countries would most likely travel through Los Angeles or San Francisco. Fixed point ground transportation between LAX and San Diego is extremely limited and taxi/van service is more costly than flying (except for groups of about six or more). If arriving at Los Angeles Airport, always know the method and cost of how you're getting to San Diego in advance.
From the Airport to your Hotel:
There are a number of airport shuttle companies that handle transportation to and from the airport. They cost around $15 per person. Metro bus #992 The Flyer ($2.25) travels 10 minutes to downtown San Diego, and connects to the Coaster commuter train, the Trolley, and the Amtrak station.
McClellan-Palomar Airport (IATA: CLD) is the other commercial passenger airport in San Diego County. Commercial operations are limited to two commuter airlines, United Express and US Airways Express, which provide service from Los Angeles and Phoenix. The airport is located in the city of Carlsbad, about 35 miles north of downtown San Diego. Exiting the airport by car, turn right onto Palomar Airport Road and proceed onto Interstate 5 southbound to reach San Diego proper. There is an AVIS car rental facility on-site.
Private pilots will prefer the nearby general aviation airports, Montgomery Field (ICAO: KMYF) in Clairemont Mesa, Gillespie Field (ICAO: KSEE) in El Cajon, or Brown Field (ICAO: KSDM) east of San Ysidro. Some air taxi and air charter firms offer specials to the San Diego area from local airports, including from many smaller Los Angeles airports and from the San Luis Obispo area.
Santa Fe Depot
Amtrak, 800-872-7245, operates from the historic Santa Fe Depot, located in downtown at 1050 Kettner Blvd. The station is the southern terminus of Amtrak's frequent Pacific Surfliner route, which runs north to Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. The depot is within walking distance of downtown hotels and situated next to San Diego Bay. Shuttles offer service between the train depot and San Diego International Airport. To get to hotels in other areas see the "Get Around" section.
There is also a secondary rail station located at the Old Town San Diego Historic Park. It is used mainly for travel within San Diego County, although Amtrak also serves it occasionally.
Other rail services include the COASTER, 1 800-262-7837, a commuter train that runs north from downtown along the coast into northern San Diego County all the way to Oceanside where it meets the Metrolink rail service from Los Angeles. Service is mostly limited to the weekday rush hours, with limited service on the weekends. Fares are based on how far you ride; a one-way fare will be in the range of $4-$5.50. Tickets must be purchased from the ticket vending machines located at each station.
San Diego is easily accessible by car using any one of the three major interstate roadways, the 5, 8, and 15 Freeways.
I-5 begins in San Ysidro, at the US-Mexico border crossing, and continues northward through Los Angeles and Central California to Oregon and Washington, terminating in Blaine, Washington at the US-Canadian border crossing.
I-8 begins near the coast in Ocean Beach and continues eastward through eastern San Diego and Imperial Counties into Arizona, where it connects with Interstate 10.
I-15 begins in southern San Diego County and continues northward into the California deserts, through Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, eventually terminating at the US-Canadian border in northern Montana.
Additionally, there are numerous other freeways that crisscross the county, making access to most places in San Diego relatively easy. However, be advised that traffic is frequently congested during daytime hours.
GotoBus, 617-354-2101, sells tickets to and from Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, Nevada for a variety of bus companies.
Greyhound, 619-515-1100, has a station in downtown San Diego on Broadway Street. Private charter lines operate service between other California cities (especially Los Angeles) and Mexico.
LuxBus, offers four daily trips to and from Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
The Cruise Ship Terminal  in downtown San Diego currently only services excursions departing from San Diego to Baja Mexico and Los Angeles. These include dinner cruises, three-day gambling cruises and 'party excursions' to the Mexican coastal ports of Baja.
Public transportation exists and can be used to get around effectively. Some buses run late at night (up to around midnight) but this doesn't apply to all routes so it requires significant planning. Read the Bus section below. Taking the bus will also significantly increase the amount of time you spend traveling from place to place. Overall, renting a car will significantly add to your enjoyment of a trip to San Diego if you want to "see it all".
The San Diego metropolitan area is large and sprawling. If possible, car travel is the most efficient way of navigating the city and county. However, in the beach communities parking can often be in short supply. So your decision to take the car or leave it at the hotel should depend on what you're going to see.
If you've got the money, you can also rent a limo. Among the limo services in San Diego are Top Cat Limousine San Diego Limobuses A Plus Limousine , Royality Limousine and San Diego Limousines.
By public transit
The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) operates bus service to almost all parts of the county, although service in many areas is sparse and infrequent. The weakest points in the transit system are suburb-to-suburb travel and poor links between the individual coastal communities, both of which often require long trips to one of the transit hubs. If you will be mainly in the areas around downtown, the bus may be suitable, but as a rule San Diego has inadequate mass transport for tourists or residents. The fare is $2 for local/neighborhood routes, $2.25 for urban routes, and $2.50 for express routes. Transfers are not available. Day passes (which also include rides on the Trolley) runs at $5. All downtown buses intersect with Broadway Street at some point. During the day all kinds of people will be taking the bus. At night some people might feel a little less comfortable, but generally not unsafe on the main parts of downtown. The MTS has offices in downtown, on Broadway Street.
Trolley (light rail)
San Diego Trolley
The San Diego Trolley is a light rail system operated by the MTS which mainly serves tourists and people living in the southern and eastern parts of the city that need to get to downtown areas. There are three trolley lines: blue, green, and orange. The Blue Line operates from the US-Mexico border at San Ysidro and runs to Old Town, via Chula Vista, National City, and Downtown. The Green Line travels from Old Town east to Santee, via Mission Valley and SDSU. The Orange Line connects the eastern cities of El Cajon and La Mesa with Downtown (generally not as usable for tourists except for getting around parts of downtown).
Standard one-way fares run from $1.25 to $3 depending on how far you travel. Day passes (which include bus service) run at $5, and there are 2, 3 and 4 day passes available. Tickets have to be purchased from the vending machines at the station before you board the train. There's no formal system to check if you've purchased a ticket, but there are trolley guards that may come around and ask to see your ticket, and the fine is normally around $120 for not having a ticket.
Like much of California, English is the predominant language with Spanish widely spoken. Store signs are commonly written in both languages and most businesses have bilingual employees that speak both English and Spanish. Tagalog is also commonly spoken in San Diego by the city's large Filipino population.
Once you've gotten settled into your hotel, you'll want to get out and see all that San Diego has to offer.
Balboa Park – Here you'll find an expansive campus of museums, parks, gardens and arboretums. Neo-classical Spanish architecture, flowering gardens, a beautiful clock tower and intriguing museums make visiting Balboa Park a must.
San Diego Zoo. – Located in Balboa Park. Possibly the premier zoo in North America, the San Diego Zoo encompasses over 100 acres of displays and habitats. Animal shows run constantly, and there are creatures here that aren't visible in any other zoo on the planet. Definitely worth a visit, but you need a full day to really do it justice.
Wild Animal Park. – The sister park to the San Diego Zoo. The park covers 1800 acres and is located about 30 miles north of San Diego near Escondido, in the San Pasqual Valley in Northeastern San Diego.
Sea World. – Home of Shamu. Sea World San Diego allows visitors a chance to interact with aquatic animals in an exciting way. Through shows, displays and enclosures people can learn about the worlds oceans and the creatures that inhabit them. See the Mission Beach article.
La Jolla – An upscale coastal community of San Diego, La Jolla includes secluded coves, beaches and ocean cliffs to explore. There are dozens of coffee shops, restaurants and high-end shopping outlets to be explored in La Jolla.
Harbor seals, Children's Cove. Originally a small beach built for children, this scenic little spot has become a breeding ground for harbor seals.
Birch Aquarium – Fantastic exhibits include physical oceanography, standard aquarium fish, and a massive kelp tank.
Point Loma lighthouse
Point Loma Lighthouse, Cabrillo National Monument – From the high vantage point of Point Loma visitors can get a panoramic view of the Naval Air Station, downtown San Diego, the Coronado Bridge and the distant mountains. The lighthouse is a short walk and allows stunning sunset views of the Pacific Ocean and off-shore islands. Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's expedition for Spain of California in 1542.
Old Town – This area includes preserved buildings and icons of the Spanish heritage of San Diego and the Old West, from 19th century cannons to the haunted Whaley House. Shopping and restaurants dot this historic district and living history performances regularly take place.
Downtown – The urban center of the city, with plenty of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.
San Diego Maritime Museum – Home to a collection of 19th century sailing ships including the Star of India, the world's oldest active sailing ship, as well as a steam ferryboat and a former Soviet Union attack submarine.
USS Midway Museum – A former aircraft carrier of the US Navy, it is now open for tours and home to a collection of former naval aircraft housed on her expansive flight deck. Guided tours and displays offer the public a unique look into the life aboard a powerful, old warhorse.
Mission San Diego de Alcala. – Located in Mission Valley Mission San Diego is the oldest of the California missions.
Hotel Del Coronado. – Located in Coronado, this gorgeous hotel was constructed in the late 1800's and is located at the beach. Offers high class shops and service on one of San Diego's most beautiful and clean beaches.
Walking Tour of Belmont Park — A couple-hour walking tour depending on how long you linger at this sea-side amusement park.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park Walk— A two-hour tour of a historic Spanish settlement.
When you leave your hotel in San Diego the options of how to spend your time are limitless.
Beaches – Along San Diego's coast one can find miles of beaches for swimming, surfing, and general beach-going. In the San Diego area, one can find good beaches at Imperial Beach south of San Diego, Coronado, the beach towns of Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and up the coast of Northern San Diego County. Each beach is unique, ranging from popular white sand beaches to harsh surf spots to the clothing-optional Black's Beach in La Jolla.
Surfing – San Diego's miles of beaches provide excellent opportunities for surfing. Beach breaks, Reefs and Points all within easy driving. Conditions vary by beach. There are also numerous surf schools throughout the San Diego area.
Sailing – Mission Bay and San Diego Bay offer ample opportunities for sailing, windsurfing, boating, and jet skiing.
Whale-watching – California gray whales migrate south along the coast each February. There are some great places along the coast to view the migration, such as the overlook in Cabrillo National Monument (in Point Loma), and several private companies offer sailing tours during the migration season that bring you much closer to the whales.
Scuba diving – San Diego has some great dives including the Yukon, Ruby E and others in Wreck Alley. You'll see kelp beds and much more. In addition, several dive boat operators have regular runs to the Coronado Islands off the Mexican coast where you can dive with sea lions. Please be aware that diving here is usually considered cold water diving and the visibility is not always the greatest.
Hangliding – At the edge of cliffs towering above the Pacific Ocean, the Torrey Pines Glider Port in La Jolla allows anyone to soar over one of the most pristine sections of coastline in southern California. Training and tandem glides with an expert are offered.
Golfing – There are many public and private golf courses scattered throughout San Diego. The Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla hosts the PGA Tour Buick Invitational annually in Jan or Feb.
When you get the best deal on your hotel, you'll want to take advantage of San Diego's shopping.
San Diego is dotted with major shopping centers and upscale boutiques catering to nearly every style of dress and expression. The most well-known shopping centers in the area are Horton Plaza in Downtown, Fashion Valley and Westfield Mission Valley in Mission Valley and Westfield UTC near La Jolla. In addition to these, one can find numerous other malls and outlet centers across the city.
If you're more interested in smaller shops and more local businesses than you'd ordinarily find in your average mall, Downtown, Hillcrest, and the beach neighborhoods (Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, etc.) offer a slightly more unique shopping scene.
San Diego offers a wide range of hotels at a wide range of price levels. If one doesn't mind splurging, there are a number luxury high rise hotels in Downtown and numerous beachside (and bayside) hotels and lavish resorts along the coast in Coronado, Point Loma (along the bayside), Mission Beach/Bay, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla.
The Best Western Blue Sea Lodge is located on the beachfront so guests can walk right out the door to miles of beautiful beaches ideal for surfers, volleyball players and families wanting a day of water fun. Just minutes away in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, find a variety of local shops and restaurants as well as Belmont Park, home to the oldest wooden roller coaster. Families visiting the area will also enjoy convenient access to SeaWorld, LegoLand and the San Diego Zoo. Spend an afternoon strolling through the museums at Balboa Park or visit the Del Hotel on Coronado Island.
At the Best Western Island Palms Hotel & Marina guests will receive comfortable and affordable waterfront accommodations near Shelter Island. the San Diego, California hotel offers waterfront accommodations convenient to beaches, Sea World, San Diego Convention Center the San Diego Zoo and Petco Park.
There are also many vacation rentals/beach cottages available for the traveler, most of which can be found along the shores of Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
Add the dates for your stay in the “Quick Search” box on this page and all the available hotels for your selected dates will be shown.
San Diego is considered to be one of the safest cities in California. Though crime is present, violent crime is on an overall decrease, but property crime still exists. One should use the same precautions as you would in any large metropolitan area. Avoid walking in Southeast San Diego or Barrio Logan (near or under the Coronado bridge) at night. If you do or must, avoid walking down dark alleyways or approaching unknown people. Most people do not encounter any problems if they avoid buying illegal drugs or prostitution. In addition, gangs are not as present as they are in Los Angeles, but they still exist.
Rip currents are notorious in San Diego for their strength and sudden appearance. Do not go out in the water without lifeguard supervision or at night. At La Jolla Shores, rip currents can be so strong that people standing (not swimming) in waist-deep water have been pulled out over their heads -- sometimes with deadly results (especially for non-swimmers). Except for sunbathing, avoid low tide like the plague at this beach. (This means the largest of the two daily tide cycles. Check newspaper weather page for Scripps Pier, or view the Weather Channel.) All of the major beaches have lifeguards on duty in the summertime, with only the more popular beaches having lifeguards year round.
Many of the ocean cliffs are made of a compressed sandstone and are prone to collapse, especially in rainy weather. Follow all signs. Heavy rain may cause rising bacteria and chemical levels in the ocean waters. Care should be taken to read the newspapers or call the county health office to see if the water is safe for swimming. Generally most people keep away from the beaches for 24 to 72 hours after rain.
Access to the beaches is safely made by using any of the public stairways provided; they are well maintained (except at Black's Beach) and free. The stairs at Black's Beach are in disrepair, so use at one's own risk. Wear sturdy shoes, and don't try unless you are in very good physical condition and able to climb the 300 ft. (100m) back from the beach. Beware of the false trails going down the cliffs, as every year a few people get stuck (or worse!). Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the area and observe where others are going. Though a long walk, you can also get in from the north via Torrey Pines State Beach. (Parking $8 in the lot or free along the highway.) High tide will cut off this route, so plan ahead.
The bridge that connects Torrey Pines (north of Black's Beach) with Del Mar (former Hwy US 101) is old and in need of repair. Avoid walking directly underneath, as pieces of concrete occasionally fall off. It's still considered safe enough to drive over for now. If concerned, access this area from the south via I-5 and Genesee Avenue (exit #29) which soon becomes N. Torrey Pines Rd. Always supervise children very closely at places such as Sunset Cliffs and the Torrey Pines Glider Port above Black's Beach. It may be necessary to hold their hand at all times. If you have unruly kids, don't go there.
Thefts do occur at the beach and can ruin a perfectly wonderful day. Do not leave any purses or other personal items of value alone on the beach or in an open car. Vehicle burglaries are more prevalent in most beach communities and take place in broad daylight. If possible, do not leave anything of value in your car even when locked. Most kayak and beach rental shops offer safe boxes free of charge, and will store your valuables while renting.
In addition, take caution when around certain beach areas, as you may wander (inadvertently) onto a military instillation, where security is tight and beaches are either reserved for military patrons and their families or training centers.
From you hotel in San Diego you can venture out for a variety of day or afternoon excursions.
San Diego is probably the best city in America for making a quick trip to Mexico. Tijuana, San Diego's twin city across the border, is only a short trip by car. The San Diego Trolley also provides service from downtown San Diego to the US-Mexican border. Avoid driving hassles and long waits when returning by parking in pay lots near the border and walking across. Taxis, buses, and private car hires are all available. if traveling to Tijuana Airport, Mexican airline Volaris operates a bus service between that airport and San Diego's Santa Fe Train Depot.
For a delightful, low-key alternative, drive 60 minutes on the American side to the small border crossing of Tecate (home of the Tecate brewery). It's a short walk to the town square. Coming back, there are typically only a couple of people in line at the pedestrian crossing. You can easily combine a trip to the train museum in nearby Campo with a quick trip across the border for lunch!
Julian is the largest and most popular mountain community in San Diego County. Also, nearby is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Palomar Mountain which has a large observatory. Beware, on hot summer days, the mountains are actually warmer than the city (as they're next to the desert).
The greater San Diego County has a lot of smaller, more private beaches (e.g., Del Mar and Encinitas), and some great small towns to stay in and explore. Further east, the Imperial Valley and the California Desert give a change of scenery.
It's also relatively easy to get up to Los Angeles and other points in Southern California. Interstate 5 extends through the San Joaquin Valley of California, Oregon and Washington to the Canadian border. Although slower, California Route 1 (Highway 1 or Pacific Coast Highway in most of Southern California) and the US Route 101, through the Central Coast, Monterey Bay, and the San Francisco Bay Area, makes for more of a pleasant and fruitful trip.
There are no boats to Catalina Island (Avalon) within San Diego County. You'll have to go north into neighboring Orange County to the pier at Dana Point. By car, take I-5 to exit #79 Pacific Coast Hwy 1 (make reservations).
Temecula Wine Country is located about 60 minutes northeast of San Diego and makes a good day trip. There are about 20 vineyards (with tasting rooms) located fairly close to each other. One hour further is the mountain resort of Idyllwild which features shopping and outdoor activities in an alpine forest.
Source Wikipedia 2008