Which San Diego Neighborhood Is Best for Your Vacation
San Diego is spread out. From Coronado in the south to LEGOLAND in the north, the drive takes across town takes about 45 minutes without traffic (and there will be traffic during special events and the weekday commute).
This post should give you an idea of where popular San Diego vacation neighborhoods are and which types of travelers choose them. This list is from south to north.
Table of Contents
- Downtown San Diego
- Mission Bay and Mission Beach
- Pacific Beach
- La Jolla
- Del Mar
Located south of downtown, Coronado is famous for its stunning beaches, regarded as some of the best in the nation. Coronado works for travelers who would like a beach vacation, to mostly explore downtown attractions and Balboa Park/San Diego Zoo, with a day trip to La Jolla or North County (LEGOLAND and San Diego Zoo Safari Park) mixed in.
- Travelers who prefer Hotel Del Coronado, our best beachfront resort.
- Proximity to downtown and Balboa Park (10-minute drive) without staying in downtown.
- Beach vacations where you can mostly stay put.
- Carless vacations (assuming use of Uber and the ferry)
- Travelers who need to spend the majority of a trip in North County.
- Travelers who want to avoid families.
Getting there: Coronado is most-commonly accessible by the Coronado bridge or ferry from the downtown San Diego Embarcardero. The drive from the airport takes 20 minutes.
There are a myriad of small Coronado hotels and motels, but most people ask me about these two larger resorts.
Hotel Del Coronado
This San Diego icon is our best full-service beachfront resort. It’s historic, haunted, popular, fun and the hotel I book visitors into most. It’s an excellent choice for people who would like easy beach access (and perhaps even a Del margarita served to your chair in the sand). Know that it’s a 4-star Curio Collection by Hilton property and can be busy during peak season. You can also book a Virtuoso rate online (input only the number of adults traveling to get an accurate rate and mention the children’s ages in the special requests – I’ll add them) through me that comes with amenities like complimentary breakfast for two at Sheerwater and more.
Loews Coronado is about 4 miles south of Coronado along Silver Strand beach. This five-star hotel prices well because it is somewhat isolated. People tend to stay here when the Hotel Del Coronado is out of their budget. Guests have access to two beach types: ocean beach and bay beach. The latter is waveless and excellent for small kids. The resort offers a shuttle to Coronado village and is pet-friendly.
- 20 Things to Do in Coronado
- 15 Things to Do at Hotel Del Coronado
- Beach Village at The Del Is San Diego’s Most Luxurious Beach Vacation
- Detailed Guide to Coronado’s Best Beaches
- Guide to Hotel Del Coronado
Downtown San Diego
As the heart of the city, Downtown San Diego offers up incredible convenience and urban fun with the city’s best restaurants and nightlife within walking distance of popular hotels.
One important thing to note is that one can enjoy water views galore over the San Diego Bay, there are no beaches in downtown San Diego. Beachgoers drive or ferry over to Coronado or hop in the car to Ocean Beach, La Jolla or Pacific Beach.
Parking rates at even budget hotels can be high. If you’re traveling with young kids and need a bathtub, many rooms in downtown are shower-only.
- Foodies and nightlife seekers as some of the city’s best bars, clubs, and restaurants are in the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy.
- Travelers who want to go carless.
- Weekend warriors (the airport is minutes away).
- Those focused on exploring mostly downtown attractions and Balboa Park.
- Travelers who are fine to drive to the beach (or ferry over to Coronado Municipal Beach)
- Travelers who are looking for a quiet vacation.
- Travelers who want to primarily spend time on the beach.
- Resort vacations.
Getting there: From the airport, it should take 5-10 minutes to reach a downtown hotel depending on how many traffic lights you hit.
Top Downtown San Diego Hotels
Pendry San Diego
Pendry San Diego is San Diego’s high-end boutique hotel that has a beautiful pool deck with cabanas, a social club (guests skip the queue), fantastic urban coastal California decor and great restaurants. This lifestyle and entertainment hub that attracts a broad demographic from families to retirees. Request a Virtuoso rate.
US Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel
The US Grant is an iconic Starwood Luxury Collection hotel that was built by the son of President Ulysses S. Grant over 100 years ago. Rooms have been refurbished with chic art and comfortable, contemporary decor that blends a bit of new with a grand tradition. Note that there isn’t a pool and spa treatments are in-room. Book a Virtuoso rate online (their rates can be confusing so feel free to email me).
InterContinental San Diego
The new InterContinental San Diego is taking bookings beginning in September 2018. The 400-room property will incorporate the vivacity of downtown San Diego’s most vibrant neighborhoods with the soothing waters of the San Diego Bay into decor and offerings. Five distinct dining venues will overlook the water, including Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, a signature lobby-level restaurant with an open kitchen, a rooftop bar, pool bar, and café.
- 15 Best Downtown San Diego Hotels
- Things to Do in Downtown San Diego
- 11 Popular San Diego Bay Cruises
Mission Bay and Mission Beach
Mission Bay is a humanmade bay that is popular for water sports and waveless beaches. It’s also where SeaWorld San Diego is located.
When choosing a hotel on Mission Bay, it’s important to note how far of a walk or drive it is to Mission Beach. Some Mission Bay hotels require driving around the bay to the beach, which can take 10-15 minutes and then you’re stuck with having to park a car at the beach (definitely take an Uber during the summer).
Mission Beach is the ocean beach on the west side of the bay. Our seaside amusement park, Belmont Park, is here as is the start of a fun beach boardwalk to bike, rollerskate and walk down to Pacific Beach. You’ll pass many homes, bars, restaurants, and vendors along the way.
- Casual travelers who aren’t looking for fine dining.
- Those who prefer calm bay beaches.
- Travelers who want both bay and ocean beaches.
- Beach volleyball players (South Mission Beach has lots of courts on a first come basis).
- Those looking for a vacation rental (there are quite a few here on/near the beach).
- Families who are only going to SeaWorld San Diego or visiting the park for multiple days.
- Water sports enthusiasts.
Not a Fit For:
- Luxury travelers should avoid this area completely as all hotels have very mixed reviews and are three- or four-star at best. The vacation homes, however, can be quite nice.
Getting there: The ride from San Diego Airport takes just over 15 minutes.
Mission Beach/Bay Hotels
The two hotels here definitely have a chain hotel/corporate vibe, but they are family friendly, 3-4 stars and I have no problem staycationing at either one.
Hyatt Regency Mission Bay
This hotel juts out into Mission Bay, so rooms have views of the Pacific Ocean, Mission Beach, or the downtown San Diego skyline. The lagoon-style pool is popular with families as it has a waterslide and plenty of seating. It’s also possible to walk to Mission Beach from here in about 10 minutes or so. The full-service marina offers opportunities for sport fishing in addition to kayaks, jet skis, sailboats and more. If you know the room type you’d like here, send me your dates, and I can add Hyatt Prive benefits to stays of two nights or longer.
Hilton San Diego Resort
This San Diego resort has convenient freeway access and is located on Mission Bay. Some of the rooms have fire pits, and the onsite store sells s’mores kits (highly recommend). The pool area is nice as are the tennis courts (locals pay for memberships here). An activities center provides SUP, aqua cycle and kayak rentals for bay fun. It’s a nice family resort but can be busy.
- 8 Best Mission Beach Hotels
- 10 Things to Do at Belmont Park
- How to Buy Discounted Tickets to SeaWorld San Diego
- Best San Diego Beaches from North to South
This neighborhood just south of La Jolla and north of Mission Beach is where many young professionals and college students live. This means that while there are myriad of good casual restaurants and bars, it can have a spring break atmosphere at times.
Despite this, families do stay here because the beach is nice and the hotels price lower than La Jolla, Coronado, and other beach cities. The north side of Pacific Beach at Law Street caters more to families (it’s also where many La Jollans like us go to the beach and surf camp).
Families might find Pacific Beach a touch quirky. I like walking on the boardwalk, the restaurants and going to the beach here but do have a tough time recommending the area as a base for a family vacation. Luxury travelers should avoid Pacific Beach.
- Travelers who would like a casual beach bar scene.
- Young professionals and college students.
- Casual bachelor/bachelorette weekends and getaways with friends.
- Those who want to learn how to surf (we like San Diego Surfing School).
Not a Fit For:
- Luxury travelers.
- Travelers who might be bothered by a young crowd.
- Those in search of upscale nightlife.
- People who want to get dressed up for dinner.
- People who like to keep their kids in a rated G world.
Getting there: By car, it takes about 20 minutes from the San Diego Airport.
Pacific Beach Hotels
The bayfront Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa offers the broadest range of activities of any Mission Bay hotel. It’s located on the Pacific Beach side of the bay and is just a few blocks from the ocean beach, too. It’s a very family-friendly three-star property with ducks, exotic birds, and turtles that kids love, summer luaus and movies on the beach and a great seafood restaurant (Oceana). I also like the spa, too. On the resort, you can be shielded from the less family-friendly aspects of Pacific Beach. Check prices across top sites.
Pacific Terrace Inn
If you’re looking for the nicest possible option in Pacific Beach, this is probably it. It’s an AAA Four-Diamond beachfront property located on the more northern Pacific Beach side (a bit closer to Law Street where we like to go the beach). It’s a boutique property with a modest pool and no restaurant (though they do offer breakfast), but with excellent service and nice rooms with a classy sort of Tommy Bahama-style decor. Check prices across top sites.
Tower23 is a beachfront, chic, modern, upscale boutique hotel for the young at heart. I’ve had plenty of readers be thrilled here for girls getaways, couples weekends and more. The rooms have a bright coastal palette with epic views. The hotel’s JRDN restaurant is popular, especially at sunset. Check prices across top sites.
Known as “The Jewel” of San Diego, the upscale community of La Jolla is one of the most popular places in San Diego to stay. Visitors to San Diego choose one of three La Jolla neighborhoods: the Village, La Jolla Shores, and the Torrey Pines/UC San Diego area.
La Jolla Shores: Choose this neighborhood for hotels nestled on one of the best beaches in town. Our underwater park enables water sports like surf lessons, SUP, kayak tours, diving and snorkeling tours.
La Jolla Village: Find many of San Diego’s best shops and restaurants within walking distance of each other in this San Diego neighborhood. The beaches in the Village run on the small side for sunbathers, but our famous seals and sea lions do not disappoint nor do the sunsets and winter tide pooling.
Torrey Pines: Golfers, couples, families, and parents of UC San Diego children choose this area, which also has easy freeway access. The famous Torrey Pines golf course and Torrey Pines State Park are located here. It’s quiet, but without shops and many restaurants to walk to. La Jolla Shores is the closest beach. You’d need to drive there but if staying at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, the complimentary concierge cars transport guests within 5 miles of the hotel.
- Ocean water sports.
- Families, especially if they are active.
- Luxury travelers (though there are ways for travelers with any budget to enjoy it).
- Upscale dining.
- Travelers in search of good shops and restaurants in a quieter neighborhood than downtown San Diego.
Not a fit for:
- Bargain shoppers.
- Commuting daily to either North County or Downtown.
Getting there: Driving from the San Diego Aiport to La Jolla Village takes about 25 minutes. La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines hotels have easier access to the freeway which shaves a bit off of that drive.
La Jolla Hotels
La Valencia (La Jolla Village)
La Jolla’s best option in the Village is the Mediterranean-style La Valencia Hotel, located on Prospect Street, the Rodeo Drive of San Diego. The hotel has rooms and villas. The latter are a bit more nicely-appointed and quiet (I think the best rooms in the hotel are the King Ocean Villa and King Ocean Villa Suite). How best to book in varies, but I do have access to Preferred Platinum Partner rates which are best for short stays and when there are no other promotions.
La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club (La Jolla Shores)
One of the most unique places to stay in all of San Diego is the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. It’s a members-only club with 99 accommodations. Guests can use club amenities like the heated pool, tennis courts, and 9-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. They also have one of the only remaining private beaches in the state, with food and drink service to the sand. It’s a very casual atmosphere and a place that families return to annually. Rooms are steps from the sand, and it’s excellent for large families and multigenerational travel. Check prices across top sites.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines (Torrey Pines/UC San Diego)
This, in my opinion, is the very best La Jolla hotel. The Lodge is a California craftsman style boutique hotel sits adjacent to Torrey Pines Golf Course (yes, they can get you a tee time) and on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Service is excellent as is the onsite restaurant, AR Valentien. They also have complimentary concierge cars that chauffeur guests within a 5-mile radius. The Virtuoso rate comes with a slight discount (must be logged in to see it), breakfast for two and other amenities. Book a Virtuoso rate online.
- Best La Jolla Hotels
- Free Things to Do in La Jolla
- Guide to La Jolla Shores
- Where to Go Shopping in La Jolla
Del Mar’s fairgrounds and racetrack make it a top choice for summer vacations. The beach here is fantastic (parking for it is definitely not) as are the restaurants and shops.
It is one of our more affluent communities, but it’s not large which means that hotel options are slim. You can stay west of the freeway near the beach or on the east side at the number one luxury hotel in the nation.
- Luxury travelers.
- Horse racing season (though pricing will skyrocket).
- People who would like to stay mid-way between the Zoo and LEGOLAND.
- Those who train into San Diego as Solana Beach station is nearby.
- Travel with dogs (L’Auberge is pet-friendly and Del Mar has a dog beach)
Not a fit for:
- Budget travelers.
- People who need to frequently get in and out of Del Mar Village during rush hour.
Getting there: The drive takes about 25 minutes from the San Diego International Airport. The Solana Beach Amtrak train station is about 5 minutes away, a good option for SoCal residents. However, getting out of the beach area of Del Mar is notoriously difficult during the San Diego Fair and summer horseracing season.
Del Mar Hotels
Fairmont Grand Del Mar
This luxury hotel’s East Del Mar location avoids some of the traffic issues that Village hotels have. It’s located on the Los Penasquitos canyon preserve which means guests have access to lots of trails for hiking and biking. The resort offers golf, tennis, a full-service spa, lots of family programming, an onsite equestrian center, heated pools and more. Book a Virtuoso rate online (Tip: Input only the number of adults to get the correct rate. If traveling with kids, put their ages in the special requests at time of booking and I’ll add them to the room.)
L’Auberge Del Mar
L’Auberge Del Mar is a boutique hotel designed to feel like a private coastal estate located across the street from the beach at 15th street (popular with families), in the heart of Del Mar Village. Rooms feature interior design by local favorite, Barclay Butera. Other highlights include ocean views from the pool and the spa. Check prices across top sites.
LEGOLAND California calls Carlsbad home as do a handful of fantastic luxury hotels. The beaches here are quieter and still very good. This part of town is excellent for families and typically good value for money when it comes to hotels. It’s in North County San Diego, and while many people use it as a base for an entire San Diego vacation, there can be traffic during rush hour on the I-5 freeway to downtown attractions.
- Luxury travelers and families.
- LEGOLAND vacations.
- Travelers who are looking for larger accommodations that don’t break the bank.
- Travelers who plan to have rental cars.
- Those who like a quieter beach scene.
Not a fit for:
- Vacations with emphasis on downtown San Diego attractions (a day trip or two to the Zoo/Balboa Park is not a big deal).
- Luxury hotels on the beach (they’re all inland).
Getting there: It takes about 35 minutes to get to Aviara and La Costa from the San Diego International Airport without traffic. Plan at least an hour or more if traveling during rush hour.
As mentioned above, Carlsbad hotels provide excellent value relative to others in town.
Four Seasons Aviara
I love this hotel, and it’s one of my top picks for luxury travelers to San Diego. It’s a quiet, residence-style resort located next door to Park Hyatt and Aviara golf course. The one- and two-bedroom residences are perfect for extended stays and larger families. And, you’ll get five-star Four Seasons service and food, too. Request a Preferred Partner rate.
Park Hyatt Aviara
This is another hotel that prices well due to location as amenities. Suites here usually price only slightly higher than rooms (relative to most hotels). Highlights include golf, game room, pools, and the spa. Connecting rooms can be guaranteed. Request a Hyatt Prive rate.
Omni La Costa
Omni La Costa is popular for staycations as well as vacations. Kids tend to love the splash pad area, kids’ club and pools while adults enjoy the award-winning spa and golf. It’s a four-star property with large villas (up to three bedrooms) for larger families and extended stays. Rooms need an upgrade, however. Check prices on top sites.
- Hotels Near LEGOLAND
- 20 Things to Do in Carlsbad with Kids
- How to Buy LEGOLAND California Discount Tickets
Which San Diego neighborhood do you prefer to stay in?