Downtown San Diego is the urban center of the city. It’s a hip neighborhood with something for everyone, whether you’re looking for family fun or hot nightlife, chic boutiques or classic and contemporary works of art.
You’ll also find notable San Diego attractions like Petco Park® (home of the San Diego Padres®) and the New Children’s Museum® downtown. The airport is 5-10 minutes away from most Downtown San Diego hotels.
That’s why a lot of tourists decide to make this vibrant area of the city their home base.
On this page, I’ve collected my best Downtown San Diego travel tips, guides to the best places to visit in Downtown San Diego, and information about Downtown San Diego restaurants you should check out, whether you’re traveling alone or with kids.
More About Downtown San Diego
There’s more to San Diego than beaches and sunshine. Downtown San Diego is our vibrant urban center that is a hub of business, pleasure, and our nightlife scene. Find chic boutiques and fine arts, the New Children’s Museum®, Petco Park® (home of the San Diego Padres®), gourmet restaurants, and all the other amenities you’d expect in a thriving metropolitan environment.
Downtown San Diego: A Neighborhood of Neighborhoods
Downtown San Diego isn’t just one destination. You can divide it up into smaller enclaves that each have their own unique vibe and attractions.
There’s Columbia, where you’ll find most downtown’s tallest buildings and a lot of the waterfront attractions like the USS Midway Museum® and the Maritime Museum.
The Core neighborhood is the heart of San Diego’s government, as well as a commercial center with some great shopping.
Cortez Hill is quieter and mostly residential, though it’s also the home of the historic (and notably tall) El Cortez hotel.
The Gaslamp Quarter was the birthplace of downtown and is the epicenter of nightlife in San Diego. Many choose to stay in Gaslamp San Diego hotels for this reason.
Little Italy was originally home to scores of fishers from Italy but is now one of the city’s go-to areas for the best food and drink.
Where to Stay BASED ON TRAVEL STYLE & BUDGET
Which downtown San Diego hotel you choose should really depend on whether you have kids traveling with you, the time of year, what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for, and if you are part of a loyalty program.
In addition to individual hotels listed above, browse lists of downtown hotels some others nearby:
- Hotels Near San Diego Zoo
- San Diego Airport Hotels
- Gaslamp San Diego Hotels
- Little Italy San Diego Hotels
- Old Town San Diego Hotels
The Best Tours in Downtown San Diego
There are many great ways to explore Downtown San Diego, whether you’re most interested in checking out the USS Midway Museum or taking one of the many San Diego Bay tours that cruise around the harbor. Some of my favorites are the Patriot Jet Boat tour, the dinner and brunch cruises offered by Hornblower Cruises, Flagship Cruises narrated tours and whale watching cruises, and the fast-paced Speed Boat Adventures group tours where you’ll get to drive your own mini speedboat.
If you’d like to check out hotspots on land and on the bay, SEAL Tours has a fleet of amphibious vehicles that depart from Seaport Village and another spot along the Embarcadero. Kids will love the boats decorated with the signature cartoon seal and going on a tour that takes groups through the streets of Downtown San Diego before plunging into the waters of the San Diego Bay.
GoCar Tours lets you drive adorable two-seater go-cart style cars around Downtown San Diego. The cars have built-in GPS, so you always know where you are in the city, where you’re headed, and what you’re passing along the way. It’s a great tour for anyone who wants to see San Diego’s sights at their own pace.
Finally, one of the oldest and well-known ways to see the city is on Old Town Trolley Tours. These signature green and orange trolleys look like San Francisco streetcars, and the tour routes cover most of the city (passing more than 100 points of interest). A ticket on the Old Town Trolley includes unlimited hop-on/hop-off stops, and you can join the tour at several places Downtown, including Seaport Village and the Gaslamp Quarter.
Need to Know
You can go carless in Downtown thanks to easy proximity to the MTS trolley, Old Town Trolley, Amtrak, and Uber.
My top picks for San Diego Gaslamp hotels in the historic downtown district in all price ranges from big brands like Marriott to boutique.
InterContinental San Diego is a top luxury hotel in a great downtown location. What to know about the rooms, dining, pool, and more before you book.
What to know before booking The Guild Hotel, San Diego including room sizes, dining, amenities, location, and how to get VIP status.
The best things to do in Downtown San Diego include these bay tours, museums, rooftop pools, Little Italy and Gaslamp Quarter spots, and much more.
Find out where to stay in downtown San Diego including the Gaslamp Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods.
My list of best hotels near San Diego Zoo includes options for closest, luxury, families, and cheap in fun neighborhoods surrounding this top attraction.
These best San Diego Airport hotels are excellent for a quick stay before flying out or an entire San Diego vacation. Most have free airport shuttles.
Everything you need to know before checking into Pendry San Diego including room/suite types, kids’ amenities, famous pool parties, dining, and other tips.
Our favorite things to do at the Maritime Museum of San Diego include exploring historic sea vessels, docent stories, and unique bay tours.
Fun little tidbits about Little Italy, a popular San Diego attraction full of shopping, restaurants, history and even a walking trail.
What to expect when visiting the USS Midway Museum, one of San Diego’s best attractions, including tickets, hours, parking, best exhibits, audio tour, more.
How THE US GRANT, a Luxury Collection Hotel San Diego provides convenience and luxury in downtown San Diego for business and family travel.