The Best San Diego Hotels: Expert Reviews & Guide for Where to Stay

By Katie Dillon • Last Modified: April 13, 2024

No one knows more about San Diego hotels than I do.

If you’re looking for hotel advice, you’re in the best place possible. There isn’t anyone who keeps tabs on San Diego hotels as well as I do. I talk to readers and clients about where to stay daily and have contacts at most of the hotels listed below who keep us up to date. Plus, I live in San Diego, and I lived in a luxury hotel, so I know what a good stay should be like. I can also offer awesome value-added benefits at some of the hotels and resorts across the county (and the world) at no extra cost to you.

My Favorite San Diego Hotels

If you’re going to ask me what my favorite San Diego hotels are, they are here, and you can click to read my full reviews on each of them:

I believe that hotels can make or break a vacation. These are chosen because I can offer value-added perks and have people behind the scenes who take care of guests who book through me. I trust the service and have had my own positive stays. Just because a hotel isn’t mentioned here doesn’t mean it’s not great — I tried to keep this list short.

After taking a look at my San Diego hotel reviews and lists, if you decide to choose a hotel in my portfolio (these are clearly marked), you’ll have access to extra benefits at no extra cost to you that I can share as an Independent Affiliate of Cadence Travel. If you want to shop now, check out my San Diego Virtuoso hotel page. You can send me your dates for Four Seasons and our higher-end Hyatts, as we need to manually book these hotels to attach the extra benefits for you.

Top Areas to Stay In

These are the most popular areas that people choose when they’re wondering where to book hotels in San Diego.

Tip: Read my full write-up on where to stay in San Diego.

How to Choose the Right San Diego Hotel for Your Trip

San Diego is as laid back as it is beautiful, but it’s also a sprawling, busy city. There are amazing San Diego hotels in just about every neighborhood that run the gamut from ultra-luxurious to budget-friendly.

Because of its size, where to stay in San Diego can be tricky, and there are usually some trade-offs involved. These are the questions to ask yourself to narrow down the choices.

  • How important is beach access? Do you need to be beachfront? Is walking distance or getting there by car okay? This usually is the #1 driver behind hotel choice, and you should start with my list of San Diego hotels on the beach. I’ll address this more below.
  • Do you need to be in a certain neighborhood? If you’re visiting friends or attending a conference at the Convention Center, this will decide which part of San Diego to stay in. I have quite a few neighborhood-centric lists that you’ll find below.
  • Do you need nightlife? If yes, then Pacific Beach hotels, Little Italy hotels, or Downtown San Diego hotels are best for you.
  • What kind of getaway is this? Is it romantic, a staycation, a multi-generational trip, or one full of active sightseeing? This may determine what amenities you need at the hotel (or don’t). You may also need to cater to whether you’re traveling with kids or pets.
  • Do you prefer boutique hotels, big-brand hotels, large resorts, or extended-stay properties? We have all of them.
  • What is your budget? Are you a luxury traveler (if so, San Diego luxury hotels is the ONLY list you need), a budget traveler, or somewhere in between?

You will have to find a balance as there is no one-size-fits-all San Diego hotel. Through the content I have written on this site, you should be able to find a hotel after you really think about your needs. If you’re a list person, I have about 30 for you to read.

What Determines Price?

(Aka, why can San Diego hotels be so expensive?)

Understanding what influences price can help you narrow your search. Here are the factors.

  • Time of year — all hotels are more expensive during school holidays, major conventions, and summer.
  • Distance from the beach.
  • Distance from popular tourist neighborhoods (i.e. Oceanside in the north is less expensive than centrally-located Del Mar or La Jolla).
  • Qualify of the property and accommodations.

Tip: I think that between Labor Day and mid-October is the best time of year to visit because the weather is typically still sunny and hotel prices are lower.

Best San Diego Hotels on the Beach

Before selecting a hotel, you must decide how important beach access is. It may surprise you to know that despite our 70 miles of coastline, we actually don’t have that many truly beachfront hotels.

Even a budget hotel on the beach or near the beach may price much higher than a like hotel in other parts of the country, especially during peak season. One of the things that drives San Diego hotel prices is the proximity to the beach, so keep that in mind when looking at rates.

If you must be on the beach, our best full-service resort is Hotel del Coronado (even with its ongoing renovation), and its luxury enclaves Shore House at The Del and Beach Village at The Del. In fact, the latter is the most luxurious beach vacation possible in San Diego County.

If you prefer La Jolla or would like a more relaxed beachfront hotel experience, sister properties La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club (LJBTC) and La Jolla Shores Hotel are located on my favorite beach. LJBTC has a private beach area with food and beverage service and rooms as close as you can get to the beach in San Diego. Both are three-star properties, but we love staying in them for the experience, which you’ll understand by reading my article on activities possible at La Jolla Shores Beach.

There are waveless bay beaches in Mission Bay, a water sports haven, that are not to be confused with our Pacific Ocean beaches. Mission Bay hotels are popular because they price reasonably (relatively speaking) and provide people access to water. However, some are not short walks (or walkable at all) to the ocean beach. Catamaran Resort Hotel is an exception that give guests easy access to both beach types.

Lounge chairs surround the pool at Pendry San Diego hotel.

“Best of” San Diego Hotel Lists

Top picks grouped by major attractions, in certain neighborhoods, and by travel style.

The Best Time to Book San Diego Hotels

We are lucky to have gorgeous weather year-round. There’s really no off-season, so occupancy rates in the best hotels in San Diego almost always tend to be high.

My advice generally is this. Book your hotel as soon as you know your dates. When you do this, make sure the rate is a cancelable rate. If rates drop, you can have the rate adjusted by the hotel (I do this for my clients all the time) or cancel and rebook.

The reason is that San Diego hotel rates usually rise closer to the date, especially during peak season. Things slow down a little bit in September after Labor Day, early November before Thanksgiving, early December before winter break, and January after winter break through the week before President’s Day weekend.

If you’re wondering what the cheapest days of the week are, it’s usually Sunday–Thursday, assuming none of these days fall on a holiday or school break.

Best Hotels in San Diego for Families

There are so many fantastic things to do in San Diego with kids, so it’s no surprise that many families choose it as their vacation destination. I’ve carved out a niche for helping visitors plan San Diego family vacations because I have a lot of opinions about kid-friendly amenities. I’m a big believer in win-win.

The hard part isn’t finding San Diego hotels that welcome kids — it’s figuring out which of the best kid-friendly hotels in San Diego is right for your family. You can read more about the decision tree I walk people through in my San Diego family vacation guide.

You’ll find many hotels in the area catering to little ones with kid-friendly amenities such as fun swimming pools, kids’ programs, water slides, and babysitting services. Some even have game rooms and equipment rentals for activities like biking and surfing. Many on-site restaurants also offer kids’ menus, so you don’t have to worry if you have picky eaters on your hands.

All the best hotels in San Diego mentioned in the beachfront section above are family-friendly. If you don’t mind injecting chaos into your family vacation, the LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel will blow a child’s mind. They are fun places, but not relaxing for parents. 🙂

What Our Clients Are Saying…

We’ve recently started collecting client reviews of their stays at popular San Diego hotels. Here are a few that we have permission to share. These reviews help us advise readers and clients of future stays and inform our content.

San Diego Hotels