The new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas offers boutique beachfront accommodations in San Diego. Here’s what else to know before you book.
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. And, I lived in a luxury hotel so 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.
How to Choose the Right San Diego Hotels
San Diego is as laid back as it is beautiful, but it’s also a sprawling, busy city. There are amazing San Diego hotels to choose from 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 in order 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, then 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.)
- What kind of getaway is this? Is it romantic, a staycation, a multigenerational trip, or one full of active sightseeing? This may determine what type of amenities at the hotel you need (or don’t). They’ll 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?
- What is your budget? Are you a luxury traveler (if so, San Diego luxury hotels is the only list you need), 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 what your needs are. If you’re a list person, I have almost 30 for you to read.
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 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.
Before selecting a hotel, you’ll need to 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 you’re 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 enclave 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 that are 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.
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 that I walk people through in my San Diego family vacation guide.
You’ll find a lot of hotels in the area cater to little ones with kid-friendly amenities such as pool areas, kids programs, water slides, and babysitting services. Some even have game rooms and equipment rentals for activities like biking and surfing. Many of the on-site restaurants also offer kids menus, so you don’t have to worry if you have picky eaters on your hands.
All of the hotels in San Diego mentioned in the beachfront section above are family-friendly. I might add these as well for families to consider.
If you don’t mind injecting a little chaos into your family vacation, the LEGOLAND Hotel and LEGOLAND Castle Hotel will blow a child’s mind. They fun but not relaxing for parents, however.
If you’re going to ask me what my favorite San Diego hotels are, they are here:
- Pendry San Diego (Downtown)
- The Lodge at Torrey Pines (La Jolla)
- Fairmont Grand Del Mar (East Del Mar)
- Rancho Valencia (Rancho Santa Fe)
- Park Hyatt Aviara (Carlsbad)
- Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara (Carlsbad)
- Beach Village at The Del (Coronado)
- Hotel del Coronado (Coronado – read about the renovation here under terms and conditions)
I believe that hotels can make or break a vacation. These are chosen not only because I can offer value-added perks, but also because I have people behind-the-scenes who take care of guests who book in 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.
Take 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.
Many of them are listed on my San Diego Virtuoso hotel page if you want to shop now. You can send me your dates for Four Seasons and Beach Village as they can not be booked directly online with benefits.
Browse All San Diego Hotel Reviews and Lists
San Diego budget hotels don’t always mean sacrifice. These spots have great decor, convenient locations, fun amenities and/or food even locals love.
My picks for best hotels near LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad includes beach hotels and adjacent resorts.
The best dog-friendly hotels in San Diego have not only great amenities for human guests but also pamper pets.
Hotel Circle San Diego and Mission Valley hotels provide convenience and lower prices than other tourist areas. Here are my top picks.
An always up-to-date list of Hotel del Coronado holiday events and activities at San Diego’s most popular beach resort.
What to know before booking Rancho Bernardo Inn San Diego, how to use my VIP benefits and a review of the rooms, golf, spa, and activities.
These historic hotels in San Diego have preserved original features and interesting stories. Where to stay now from luxury to budget.
My top picks for San Diego Gaslamp hotels in the historic downtown district in all price ranges from big brands like Marriott to boutique.
The best hotel pools in San Diego have ocean views, water slides, cocktails served chairside, parties, kids pools and more vacation fun.
See what it’s like to stay at The Pearl Hotel San Diego, things to do nearby, and book in using my special discount.
I rate the best San Diego luxury hotels based on personal experience, client feedback, insider tips and share how to book in as a VIP.