Planning a trip to San Diego? If so, chances are that you’re feeling overwhelmed by the many options, particularly the many places to stay. Truth be told, each San Diego neighborhood is its own slice of Southern California paradise. Each has its own attractions, must-try restaurants and bars, culture, feel, and history.
So, what’s the best neighborhood to stay in San Diego?
That answer depends on what you’re looking for. If you were to poll San Diego residents, you might receive ten different suggestions: for a good night out, there’s the Gaslamp; for great food and drinks, there’s Little Italy; and for the quintessential beach staycation, there’s La Jolla. So many places to see, so little time. To make things easier on you, we’ve narrowed down that list to the five best neighborhoods to stay in San Diego. Our San Diego tours take visitors through the best parts of San Diego.
Curious what those are? To find out which neighborhood to stay in San Diego, keep reading to find out!
Neighborhoods by Activity
Few places on earth offer as enviable living conditions as San Diego. It’s renowned for its reliable weather, family attractions, and incredible culinary and nightlife scene. Sandy beaches, warm waves, theme parks, speakeasies, recreational activities, sporting events, world-class restaurants, incredible seaside vistas—you name it, SD’s got it.
Unlike many urban centers, “America’s finest city” is more spread out than your typical tourist mecca. Its sprawling coastline is comprised of dynamic pockets of beach cities and coastal towns, each offering its own unique flavor. While this might pose a challenge for tourists, it simultaneously means that there’s more diversity, discovery, and freedom for any traveler that wishes to visit this Southern California gem. Located near other major Southern California cities, and with its own international airport, San Diego is easy to reach for tourists and locals alike.
With this in mind, it’s helpful to split our neighborhood list into themes, particularly what each neighborhood does best
Mission Beach for Your Family Vacation
Photo Courtesy: Mission Beach, CA
Are you planning a family trip to San Diego? If so, you’re likely going to hit the usual suspects, including:
Mission Beach is a strip of beachfront property that borders Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, and Ocean beach. We recommend Mission Beach for a relaxing vacation experience. This laid-back neighborhood is a ten-minute drive from the San Diego International Airport, SeaWorld San Diego, and the SD Zoo. SeaWorld San Diego is a great place to see marine mammals including whales, dolphins, and seals. There are dozens of lovely beachfront hotels, all of which put you within walking distance dozens of fantastic restaurants, bars, boutiques, and shops. Things to do in Mission Beach include taking a swim in the ocean, checking out the pier, renting some bikes, or popping into a shop or two.
Little Italy for a Romantic Evening
Photo Courtesy: Little Italy
While most every big city has its own Little Italy, San Diego’s Italian suburb is in a league of its own. What the quaint neighborhood lacks in size, it more than makes up for in class, beauty, and variety. These few blocks boast an arresting array of old-school trattorias, contemporary Italian American restaurants, gelaterias, speakeasies, and pop-up bars. The area offers an assortment of fine places to stay, and whether you select a hotel or an Airbnb, you’ll be a stone’s throw from the beach, harbor, airport, and downtown. Most hotel venues also have an outdoor pool if you can’t hit the beach. Some hotel rooms even come with full-service spa options for a relaxing way to unwind after a day out exploring the town.
For a special night out, we suggest the following:
- Call in and make a reservation for an intimate dinner at Bencotto Italian Kitchen. The fresh tagliatelle squid ink pasta with savory shrimp is to die for.
- After, you can grab a late-night coffee at Café Italia.
- You can then end the night on a sweet note with gelato from Pappalecco.
- If you want to try a wine tasting tour in San Diego, our Vino! Vino! Little Italy Wine Tour will take you for a lovely Italian wine tour in Little Italy.
And if all that lovely food and drink doesn’t wipe you out, you’re a five-minute Lyft from DT’s bars and clubs!
Gaslamp District for the Night Life
Photo Courtesy: Gaslamp Quarter
Plan on catching a Padres game with a group of friends? Looking for great food and even better late-night entertainment? Then the Gaslamp District is the place for you. What once was the center of 19th century San Diego’s red-light district, is no less popular today (Check out our Brothels, Bites and Booze Tour for all the inside scoop on Gaslamp District food and history!). It lies in the heart of downtown and is one of those special neighborhoods that perfectly balances history with excitement. The Gaslamp Quarter is a great place for nightlife.
If you’re in your late 20’s or early 30’s and in search of a night on the town, the Gaslamp Quarter is the spot. From its incredible restaurants to its thriving bar and club scene, the Quarter is constantly packed with young professionals on the lookout for a good time. It’s a central location, so you’d be within walking distance of several SD haunts, including:
- Petco Park
- Balboa Theater
- SD Convention Center
Also, if you’re feeling lazy you can always grab a Bird scooter.
La Jolla for Some Peace and Quiet
Are you in desperate need of some R&R? La Jolla is the go-to spot for couples searching for scenic vistas, beach walks, and a taste of SoCal living. Its upscale shopping, pristine beaches, trendy restaurants, and an assortment of art galleries and museums are all reasons why many consider La Jolla to be the jewel of San Diego. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance as well as a children’s museum. Various kids’ club spots around the town provide a chance for families to connect with one another.
Whatever you’re looking for, La Jolla has it in droves.
This charming, quaint beach city feels isolated even though it rests but a few minutes from downtown. So, if you’re searching for that feel of Hollywood Glamour on the California Riviera, look no further than La Valencia Hotel.
Coronado for a Taste of Old-School Luxury
Visiting for your honeymoon or anniversary? Want a romantic weekend getaway? If so, Coronado Island (truthfully, it’s a peninsula) is great for couples and families alike. Things to do in Coronado include visiting the luxurious Hotel Del Coronado to see its beautiful rooms and ocean views. The laid back beach community is known for its white sandy beaches, easy family living, and scenic views of the downtown SD skyline. This beach community has several boutique hotel venues with beautiful sunset views.
Even if you’re only visiting for a day, it’s well worth it to grab a drink and take in the beach views at the iconic Hotel del Coronado, one of the few surviving wooden Victorian beach resorts in the world. As far as hotels in San Diego, this is one of our favorite places to stay. Take a dip in the ocean, catch a bite at a local Cali-Mex restaurant, and share a bottle of red at one of the popular wine bars.
Stay in San Diego
The simple truth is there are too many sights to see, things to do, and places to go in San Diego. It’s impossible to do them justice in a single list. We didn’t even have the chance to mention incredible locales such as Del Mar, North Park, Ocean Beach, and Old Town. With fun things to do in North Park, Old Town, and more, you’d have to come back for a second trip to discover all that San Diego has to offer.
Until you try each one, you never know which spot will capture your fancy. That said, start with those we touched upon and then move on down the list. If you want a great place to stay, check out these San Diego locations. There is something here for all guests.
If you go with an open mind, we guarantee that you’ll end up finding the perfect San Diego neighborhood for you.