Figuring out where to stay in San Diego is a challenge I help visitors work through daily. Why? San Diego is spread out, and it can take 45 minutes without traffic to drive from Coronado Island in the south to Oceanside in the north, passing many great places to base a vacation along the way.

This post will give you an idea of where popular San Diego neighborhoods are located and which traveler types choose them. And, I’ve listed my favorite San Diego hotels in each area. This list begins in the south and moves toward the north. If you’re still stuck after reading this, we can help you decide because there is no one right answer.

Through my affiliations, you can save on tickets, tours, and hotels. I may be compensated if you purchase through some links in this post—our editorial guidelines.


Coronado

Located south of downtown, Coronado Island 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 and to mostly explore downtown attractions and Balboa Park/San Diego Zoo, with a day trip to La Jolla or North County (LEGOLAND California and San Diego Zoo Safari Park) mixed in.

A little girl plays in the sand on the beach in front of Hotel del Coronado.
The beach in front of Hotel del Coronado is one of our best.

Best for:

  • Travelers who prefer Hotel del Coronado, our best beachfront resort.
  • Proximity to downtown and Balboa Park (10-minute drive) without staying downtown.
  • Beach vacations where you can mostly stay put.
  • Carless vacations (assuming you use Uber and the ferry).
  • Multigenerational trips — Beach Village and Shore House have multibedroom units with kitchens.

Not a fit for:

  • Nightlife.
  • 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 driving over the Coronado Bridge or taking the ferry from downtown San Diego. The drive from the airport takes about 20 minutes (without traffic).

Where to Stay in Coronado

Many small Coronado hotels and motels exist, 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 want easy beach access (and perhaps even a Del Margarita served to your chair in the sand). There are three parts to the resort: the main resort of Hotel del Coronado, Beach Village at The Del and Shore House at The Del. The latter two are private luxury hotels within the larger hotel and booked separately.

Know that the main resort is a 4-star Curio Collection by Hilton property and busy during peak seasons. A major renovation is in progress (though what’s left should not impact your stay too much). People are still booking in and having a great time.

Through us, you have benefits at all three that include our services, daily breakfast for two, a $100 hotel credit and more. If you book this way, search with the number of adults traveling, and I’ll add on your kids later. Book with beenfits:

Loews Coronado Bay Resort

Loews Coronado Bay Resort is about 4 miles south of Coronado along Silver Strand Beach. This resort 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: an ocean beach and a small bay beach. The latter is waveless but doesn’t have the draw (the sand can be muddy here, and it doesn’t feel swimmable when I look at it) that the ocean beach does.

The resort offers a shuttle to downtown Coronado and tons of onsite activities (water sports, beach yoga, and family movies). It’s also pet-friendly.


Downtown San Diego

As the heart of the city, Downtown San Diego offers up incredible convenience and urban fun. This is where to stay in San Diego when you want to have the city’s best restaurants and nightlife within walking distance of your hotel.

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 to Coronado or hop in the car to Ocean Beach, La Jolla, or Pacific Beach beaches.

Parking rates at even budget hotels can be high. If you’re traveling with young kids and need a bathtub, many guest rooms and suites downtown are shower-only, so keep an eye on bathroom descriptions.

A view over the Maritime Museum ships out to the San Diego Bay on a sunny day.
A view of San Diego Bay over the Maritime Museum.

Best For:

  • 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 driving to the beach (or ferrying over to Coronado Central Beach).

Not a Fit For:

  • Travelers who are looking for a quiet vacation. Many hotels have street noise (this is normal for city hotels worldwide).
  • 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.

Where to Stay in Downtown San Diego

Pendry San Diego

Pendry San Diego is San Diego’s high-end boutique hotel with a fun pool deck with cabanas, a social club (guests skip the queue), fantastic urban coastal California decor, and great restaurants. This lifestyle and entertainment hub attracts a broad demographic from families to retirees. I really like going to the spa here. Book a Virtuoso rate online.

THE US GRANT, a Luxury Collection Hotel

The US Grant is an iconic Marriott Luxury Collection hotel that was built by the son of President Ulysses S. Grant over 100 years ago. Rooms have chic modern 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 InterContinental San Diego is a 400-room property that incorporates 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 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. It’s one of our newest big downtown San Diego hotels.


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 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.

The Mission Beach Boardwalk in front of Belmont Park in San Diego.
A boardwalk runs next to Mission Beach

Best for:

  • 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 (quite a few are 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 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.

Where to Stay in Mission Beach/Mission Bay

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 Spa and Marina

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. Check rates and reviews online.

San Diego Mission Bay Resort

San Diego Mission Bay Resort has convenient freeway access and is located on Mission Bay. Some rooms have fire pits, and the onsite store sells s’mores kits (highly recommended). 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. Check rates and reviews online.


Pacific Beach

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 very 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 hotel’s prices are lower than in 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 I have a tough time recommending the area as a base for a family vacation. Luxury travelers should avoid Pacific Beach.

A glowing sky near sunset over Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach with onlooker watching from the sand.
Golden hour at Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach

Best for:

  • Travelers who would like a casual beach bar scene.
  • People who don’t mind an eclectic crowd.
  • 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.

Where to Stay in Pacific Beach

The Catamaran

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 are shielded from the less family-friendly aspects of Pacific Beach. Check rates and reviews.

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 rates and reviews.

Tower23

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. We like to eat and have drinks there. Check rates and reviews


La Jolla

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.

Village of La Jolla: 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.

Seals lay on the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla, a popular tourist neighborhood.
Seals sunbathing at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla

Best for:

  • Ocean water sports.
  • Families, especially if they are active.
  • Golf.
  • 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:

  • Nightlife.
  • Bargain shoppers.
  • Commuting daily to either North County or Downtown.

Getting there: Driving from the San Diego Airport 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.

Where to Stay in La Jolla

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 adjacent to Torrey Pines Golf Course (yes, they can help get you a tee time) and on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Service is excellent, as is the onsite restaurant, A.R. Valentien. They also have complimentary concierge cars that chauffeur guests within a 5-mile radius. The Virtuoso rate comes with a slight discount (you must create a Virtuoso account and be logged in to see it), breakfast for two, and other amenities. Book a Virtuoso rate online.

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 varies, but I think it’s wise to check rates and reviews online in addition to the hotel’s own website for 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 rates and reviews.


Del Mar

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 one of the top luxury resorts in the nation.

Aerial view of Del Mar City Beach, a great choice for where to stay in San Diego
Aerial view of Del Mar City Beach.

Best for:

  • 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 in to 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.
  • Nightlife.

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 in and out of the beach area of Del Mar is notoriously difficult during the San Diego Fair and summer horseracing season.

Where to Stay in Del Mar

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, a kids’ club, 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 rates and reviews.


Carlsbad

LEGOLAND California calls Carlsbad home, as do a handful of fantastic luxury hotels, which makes this location the answer to where to stay in San Diego for many families. The beaches here are quieter and still very good. This part of town can be 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.

Beachgoers enjoy South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach

Best for:

  • 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).
  • Nightlife.
  • 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.

Where to Stay in Carlsbad

As mentioned above, Carlsbad hotels provide excellent value relative to others in town.

Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara, North San Diego

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 the 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. I also have special amenities to add to reservations here. Request a Preferred Partner rate.

Park Hyatt Aviara

This is another hotel that prices well due to its location and 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. Book a Virtuoso rate (with outstanding benefits).

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. They often have sale rates on Omni’s website but check rates and reviews to see what is best.

Oceanside

Oceanside is having a moment. In fact, I didn’t even have it in this post for some time, but now it’s more than deserved. A lot of our clients prefer stay in Oceanside now, thanks to two incredible new Hyatt beach hotels and the various excellent restaurants popping up around the beach area.

View from the water showing the two Hyatt Oceanside hotels across the street from the beach.
Mission Pacific on the left and The Seabird on the right (photo courtesy of Hyatt)

Best for:

  • A casual beach scene.
  • Tighter budgets or for those who want more value.
  • People who don’t mind a northern location.
  • Sightseeing primarily in North County and those who won’t drive around a lot.
  • Travelers also visiting Orange County (it’s a shorter drive to, say, Disneyland than Coronado is, for example).
  • Vacations where travelers use the Coaster train between Oceanside and downtown (avoids traffic).

Not a fit for:

  • Luxury travelers.
  • Those who prefer sprawling resorts.
  • Vacations centered around downtown San Diego sights.

Getting there: It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Oceanside Pier area from the San Diego International Airport without traffic. However, it’s actually easy to take the train (Coaster commuter rail) from downtown to Oceanside because there’s a train station right near the two Hyatt hotels in the beach area.

Where to Stay in Oceanside

Two of our most popular booked hotels are in Oceanside. The Seabird Resort and Mission Pacific Hotel are sister Hyatt properties so guests can have signing privileges at both hotels and can use the facilities at both hotels, which is a nice perk. Another nice perk?

Both hotels participate in the Hyatt Prive VIP program which means we can book you in with extra perks like a $100 hotel credit, daily breakfast for two, and an upgrade at time of booking (subject to availability). Request rates here.

The Seabird Resort

This newer hotel across the street from the beach is one of our most popular because you get a nice room, spa, pool, and dining for significantly less than you would pay for a beach hotel elsewhere in San Diego. It’s family-friendly

Mission Pacific Hotel

We like Mission Pacific Hotel for couples and singles. It’s the more adult-centric of the two properties so if you’re traveling with kids, we’ll direct you to The Seabird Resort. Valle, an outstanding Michelin-star Baja-style restaurant, is located here as is the Top Gun House (now a pie shop). The pool turns into a 21+ social spot with cocktails and a DJ after sunset.

FAQs About Where to Stay in San Diego

I understand it’s difficult to decide where the best place to stay in San Diego is for your budget, travel style, and itinerary because, in my opinion, there is no one right answer.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that land in my inbox to help.

What is the best part of San Diego to stay in?

Coronado Island delivers what most people are looking for in a San Diego vacation because of the beach resorts, easy access to downtown, casual dining, water sports, history, and a myriad of things to do. Our clients ask for it the most. However, the real answer is, “it depends.”

You will be able to find the best place to stay in San Diego for you across our 70 miles of coastline and even some inland hotels and resorts based on your budget, travel style, and itinerary. It just takes some research, which we have done for you in this post.

What part of San Diego is good?

San Diego is full of good areas to stay in. The most popular neighborhoods are the coastal ones, which include Coronado Island, La Jolla, Del Mar, Mission Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside.

From a safety perspective, they are all considered safe, but like in any major city, you want to stay on the beaten path. They all have excellent hotels (Mission Beach is most popular for vacation rentals) in all price ranges, great dining, and things to do.

How Many Days in San Diego is Enough?

Three days is recommended to give you enough time to visit at least one theme park, have a beach day, and perhaps a leisure day that you could spend in museums, visiting other areas, eating out, or taking a day trip. However, we do have people come down for Friday–Sunday stays all the time, and they can cram in a good amount. They might spend the morning through the mid-late afternoon at a theme park or sightseeing and end the day at the beach (or vice versa). We also have clients who stay a week or longer.

Is it worth it to stay in La Jolla?

Yes, because staying in La Jolla doesn’t have to break the bank! We have casual (usually) reasonably priced family beach hotels, luxury hotels, moderately-priced boutique hotels, and nice budget hotels. Get the details from my list of La Jolla hotels.

Where should I stay in San Diego for the first time?

Most first-time visitors choose Downtown San Diego or Coronado, in our experience, because they either want easy access to major sights and the airport or a big beach resort. First-time travelers with families often choose Del Mar, La Jolla, or Carlsbad because of the hotels.

What is the nicest part of San Diego?

According to many real estate agents, La Jolla is the most coveted part of San Diego. Yes, I live here, but I agree. We have some of San Diego’s best restaurants and boutique shopping, gorgeous beaches, water sports, spectacular views, and a relaxed vibe (for an affluent community). I just love it.

What is the main area of San Diego?

The main area of San Diego is Downtown San Diego, including Little Italy and the historic Gaslamp Quarter. You will not run out of fun things to do, and there are a lot of places to stay at all price points. It’s also very close to Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo.

Is staying in Coronado worth it?

Yes. If your budget permits and you find a hotel you like, it’s worth staying in Coronado. Most people will choose Hotel del Coronado first because of its beachfront location. But there are other really great places to stay, such as boutique hotels 1906 Lodge, Hotel Marisol, and others. Another huge draw of Coronado is that many restaurants and shops are within walking distance of these hotels. It is the part of San Diego that our clients prefer the most.

Which San Diego neighborhood do you prefer to stay in?

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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