Downtown San Diego Travel Guide

Your urban getaway is ten minutes (or less) from the airport.

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.

Downtown San Diego Hotels

There are places to stay in Downtown San Diego for every budget and every preference. I have extra benefits that include breakfast for two, $100 hotel credits, and more at no additional cost at Pendry San Diego, THE US GRANT, Manchester Grand Hyatt, and Hotel Republic.

Things to Do in Downtown San Diego

One of the best things about exploring Downtown San Diego is that so many of the area’s major attractions are within walking distance of each other. My list of favorite Downtown San Diego activities is fairly long because there are so many sights and activities packed into a relatively small space.

If you are only in San Diego for a short time, make a point of stopping into the USS Midway Museum, which lets you explore a vintage Navy aircraft carrier as part of guided tours or at your own pace with or without an audio tour. The New Children’s Museum is a must-do for families with young kids who will love the hands-on exhibits and opportunities to make art. There’s also the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and plenty of sightseeing tours.

Where to Eat in Little Italy and Downtown

Downtown San Diego has become something of a foodie and craft beer hotspot. There’s an established restaurant culture, and companies offer culinary tours of the area. A walking tour of San Diego’s Little Italy — also located Downtown — will introduce you to the area’s most experienced vintners and bring you to the must-try eateries. You can browse Farmer’s Markets and eat well no matter your budget.

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.

Columbia

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.

Core

The Core neighborhood is the heart of San Diego’s government, as well as a commercial center with some great shopping.

Cortez Hill

Cortez Hill is quieter and mostly residential, though it’s also the home of the historic (and notably tall) El Cortez hotel.

Gaslamp Quarter

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

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:

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 CruisesFlagship 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.

Downtown San Diego Attractions

10 Best Hotels Near San Diego Zoo

10 Best Hotels Near San Diego Zoo

My list of best hotels near San Diego Zoo includes options for closest, luxury, families, and cheap in fun neighborhoods surrounding this top attraction.

10 Best San Diego Airport Hotels

10 Best San Diego Airport Hotels

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.