San Diego is one of the most laid back cities we’ve ever been to. It’s a popular vacation destination for people who want to soak up all the beach vibes, but it’s also a thriving city with plenty of things to do. And, as one resident loves to point out, the second most breweries per capita in the United States. No matter what you like to do on vacation, you will find it here. It has championship golf courses, plenty of craft beer, amazing farmers markets, family-friendly attractions, and museums. Oh, and the beaches, obviously. I have traveled to San Diego many times, at different stages in my life, and I have always found myself saying “ah, we’ll have to do that next time.”
My favorite thing about San Diego is it has so many locally-owned bars, restaurants, and cafes, so every time I visit, there is something new and unique to try thanks to its growing population and economy.
San Diego is a relatively compact city, but deciding on where to stay in San Diego is an important decision. It will shape the type of trip you have, and you should choose a neighborhood that is central to the things you want to do. Otherwise, you will find yourself spending too much of your precious vacation time sitting in traffic.
This detailed guide to the 4 best areas to stay in San Diego will help you figure out which neighborhood is best for your particular style and budget.
Below, you’ll find:
- My picks for the 4 best neighborhoods in San Diego to stay in
- The best things to do and see in each area
- The best places to stay in each – with specific hotel and Airbnb recommendations
Sound good? Here’s everything you need to know to choose where to stay in San Diego.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Where to Stay in San Diego: The 4 Best Areas
San Diego is relatively compact in terms of the city itself, but there are definitely better neighborhoods to base yourself in to be close to everything you’re going to want to see during your San Diego itinerary.
North Park: The Best Overall Area to Stay in San Diego
North Park is our favorite place to stay in San Diego. Period. Unless you want to stay on the beach, I can’t think of a reason you wouldn’t want to stay here. I have stayed in North Park each of the last two times I was in San Diego, and I plan to return.
It is more of a local neighborhood, which is our favorite kind. It’s largely residential, but has several stretches that are packed with lovely coffee shops and cute little boutiques to explore. It is still really close to Downtown San Diego, so great for getting out and sightseeing as well. North Park is also home to amazing nightlife with a concentration of craft beer and craft cocktail establishments around the intersection of 30th Street and University Avenue.
North Park is a great area, and there is always plenty to do. You can take a yoga class, explore Balboa Park, or take a tour of one of the area’s many craft breweries. It’s also packed with incredible restaurants. It has a wide range of different cuisines, with plenty of authentic ramen stops and Mexican food. It is also a short drive to the coast and all of the beautiful beaches surrounding San Diego.
Pros and Cons of Staying in North Park
- Local vibe – not a whole lot of chain hotels (or any hotels, really). Lots of locals going about their day.
- Great food and drinks. Chock full of restaurants, bars, breweries, coffee shops, and more.
- It’s super walkable. Unless we were leaving the neighborhood to go downtown or to the beach, we walked.
- Not a whole lot of hotel options. The hotels we give you below are in nearby Hillcrest, which is also a great place to stay, about 5-10 minutes away.
- You’re going to be further away from the beach (~20-30 minutes, depending on traffic), so if a beach getaway is your priority, this isn’t the place to stay.
The Best Places to Stay in North Park
There are very few hotels here, so vacation rentals are king. Lucky for you, there are plenty of options in the neighborhood.
We recommend VRBO over Airbnb because of more flexible cancellation policies (though you’ll need to check each listing individually), better service from corporate, and less of a negative impact on housing markets around the world. Honestly, we used to love Airbnb. But more and more we’re finding ourselves rolling our eyes over their antics in cities around the world where they’re trying to keep their foothold in the market, adverse impacts be damned, which reminds us a little bit of Uber, the original law-avoiding shady tech company.
Which is, uh, not a great comparison for Airbnb to say the least.
The Lafayette Hotel: The Best Hotel in North Park
Like we mentioned above, there’s basically one hotel in North Park that we’d recommend for your trip. And it’s the Lafayette Hotel, which you’ll find along El Cajon Blvd RIGHT NEXT TO our favorite cider spot in the city, Serpentine Cider.
For over 70 years, this boutique hotel has been wowing guests with its stylish suites, vibrant nightlife, and top-notch customer service. You’ll choose between their Manor rooms, which are in the main building and come with either one king or two queen beds, their poolside rooms with a patio right on the pool, and the bigger family units (sleep 4) and private bungalows (with full kitchens).
If you’re a family with kids and you’re not okay with people partying at the pool, this isn’t going to be the best choice for you – it gets wild, especially on sunny weekends.
Keep in mind that you’ll pay a fee to rent a refrigerator (currently $15 a night) and to self-park (currently $22 a night).
Vacation Rentals in North Park
Here are some vacation rental options in North Park for both traveling couples who don’t need much space, and groups and families who need multiple bedrooms and some space to sprawl a little bit.
Options For Couples
Here are some great options for couples looking for a vacation rental in San Diego.
Charming North Park Cottage: Located just two blocks from Balboa Park’s Morley Field and five minutes from the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy, this converted cottage is a great jumping-off point for exploring the best of San Diego. When you’re not sightseeing, you can spend time relaxing on the private patio where you can soak up the sun in solitude.
Comfy & Chic Bungalow Retreat in North Park: This cozy one bedroom bungalow is the perfect place to spend your weekend away. It has an open floor plan with a fully-equipped kitchen, a spacious living room, and a picturesque outdoor patio with a BBQ grill, dining table, and lounge set.
Stylish North Park Studio: Tucked away on a quiet street close to all the bustling amenities of North Park, this charming studio has everything you need for a comfortable stay, including a full kitchen, a washer and dryer unit, and a shared outdoor patio with a BBQ and fire pit. You’ll also love having your morning coffee or happy hour drink from the private sitting area out your front door.
Options for Groups / Families
Got a group that you’re traveling with? Here are three great options for groups (and families) looking for a vacation rental in San Diego.
North Park Spanish Revival House (sleeps 4): This beautifully landscaped Spanish Revival house is a stylish stay for your group getaway. It has two bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, and a large backyard where you can grill and dine outside. Best of all, it’s just a two-minute walk to some of the best shops, cafes, and restaurants in North Park.
Balboa Park Tropical Hideaway (sleeps 4): This two-bedroom, two-bathroom home is a little oasis in the middle of North Park. The lush garden and outdoor deck provide the perfect setting for a lazy afternoon of sunbathing or evening BBQ (although there is a gourmet chef’s kitchen if you prefer to do the cooking indoors).
Villa Barajas – Spacious, Modern Suite near Park, Zoo, Beaches (sleeps 4): With mid-century furnishing and eclectic art deco décor, this one-bedroom suite (plus pull-out sofa in the living room) has all the cozy touches you want in a vacation rental. It was recently remodeled to include a large tiled bathroom and a modern kitchen. However, you probably won’t be spending much time inside once you see the large outdoor patio with a grill, dining set, and ping pong table.
Bigger groups, check out this five bedroom, three bathroom gem just outside of the heart of North Park, and this three bedroom getaway in a quieter, more residential neighborhood within walking distance of North Park (though it’s a little further out than the options above).
Ocean Beach: Best Place to Stay in San Diego for Beach Lovers
Ocean Beach, or “OB” as it’s known to locals, is a beautiful bohemian beach neighborhood. It is the most low key of all the seaside areas in San Diego, which is why it’s my top pick for a beachside stay.
Ocean Beach is a bohemian paradise, full of eccentric attractions and a vibrant town center. You can fish from the pier without a license, free of charge. Ocean Beach Pier is one of the longest piers in the West Coast, perfect for fishing, and also a great spot to see sea lions. There is also a Farmers’ Market every Wednesday with a bounty of amazing produce grown in the areas just outside of the city. One of my favorite things to do is to go to Sunset Cliffs and find a lovely spot to sit and watch the sunset over the ocean. There is often a combination of tourists and locals up there to see the sunset, but you should be able to find a spot to plop down, no problem.
The other popular beachfront areas in San Diego are Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
Pacific Beach is popular for nightlife, especially among the twenty-something, bar-hopping crowd. While it is great for a night out, it can be a little loud to stay in unless you’re interested in San Diego’s nightlife. If you are, then definitely stay near Garnet Ave.
Pros and Cons of Staying in Ocean Beach
- Right on the beach! You’ll be within walking distance of multiple beaches, and a short drive away from Sunset Cliffs.
- Quiet and low key. Unlike nearby Pacific Beach, which feels like a frat party at times, this is a very quiet beachfront community.
- Like North Park, the hotel options are pretty limited. There are a couple of spots, which you’ll find below, but vacation rentals are your best bet here.
Best Places to Stay in Ocean Beach
There’s a good mix of hotels and vacation rentals here. We’ll give you the best of both worlds below.
Vacation Rentals in Ocean Beach
Here are some vacation rentals in Ocean Beach that caught our eye. Again, we recommend VRBO over Airbnb mainly because of better cancellation policies (though it depends on the property, so double check) and less shady business practices.
Options For Couples
Here are some great options for couples looking for a vacation rental near the beach.
Contemporary Cliffside Getaway with Ocean Front Patio: Overlooking the famous Ocean Beach Pier, this contemporary cliffside home has one of the best locations on the coast. While you’ll find everything you need on the inside (spacious living room, modern kitchen, separate bedroom), the real highlight of the place is the shared patio where you can enjoy the sun-soaked ocean views.
Quintessential Ocean Beach Cottage – Just 1 Block From The Beach! This colorful surf-inspired cottage is located in the heart of Ocean Beach just a few blocks from the water. While there are plenty of fun things to do in the neighborhood, you can also just relax on your private outdoor patio listening to the ocean waves crashing against the rocks.
OB Palms, Tropical Gardens and Hot Tub in Ocean Beach: Despite only being 550-square feet in size, this adorable cottage has more than most other vacation homes. It features a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and shared outdoor yard with a BBQ, jacuzzi, and plenty of beach toys and equipment for you to use.
Options For Groups & Families
Got a group that you’re traveling with? Here are three great options for groups (and families) looking for a vacation rental in San Diego.
Ocean Beach Sunset Cottage (sleeps 4): This Ocean Beach two-bedroom cottage is a bright and cheerful home where you can soak in the laid-back vibes of San Diego. After a day at the beach (the owners have graciously supplied chairs, umbrellas, and toys), you can unwind in the front garden or cook for your family in the large, equipped kitchen.
1 Block from the Beach: Family Friendly, Private Backyard, plus A/C (sleeps 4): This two-bedroom rental is just one block from the beach and dog-friendly (at an extra fee). The outside space is equipped with a BBQ, dining set, and lounge area, as well as boogie boards and surfboards that you can use during your stay.
Ocean Beach Garden Cottage (sleeps 4): This beachy bungalow for four is the perfect setting for your Ocean Beach vacation. Although the water is just a couple blocks away, you’ll be able to enjoy the outdoors without even leaving the property. The private garden features sun loungers, a hammock, and a fire pit.
Desirable Ocean Beach Home – 3 Blocks to Beach (sleeps 4): With over 1,300-square feet of space (and a private outdoor patio), this luxury two-bedroom beach house is a design lover’s dream. From the lofted ceilings in the kitchen to the rich wood-paneled ceilings in the living room, you’ll feel right at home when you spend a couple of nights here with your friends.
Hotels & Hostels in Ocean Beach
There are only a couple of good hotel options in Ocean Beach – here are the three we like the most.
Samesun Ocean Beach
This boutique hostel – which is our favorite kind of hostel – is somewhere between a normal hostel and a boutique hotel. But we think it belongs on this list.
The Samesun Ocean Beach is a fun option if you’re on a budget, but want to be near the beach. You can choose between dorms, private rooms with shared bathrooms, and rooms with private bathrooms, giving you a nice range to choose from based on your budget and travel style. Rooms are comfortable and you’ll have access to a communal kitchen and laundry facilities. Oh, and it’s literally three blocks from Ocean Beach Pier.
Inn at Sunset Cliffs
Built in the 1950s but renovated in 2018, this vintage motel has one of the most spectacular views of the ocean from its massive outdoor patio. Try to grab one of their premiere or king suites for unobstructed views over the surf (although all their other rooms are equally as charming and wonderful too).
Ocean Beach Hotel
The golden sand beach is right at your fingertips when you stay at the Ocean Beach Hotel. You can go from your room to swimming or surfing in just a matter of seconds, or you can simply admire the view from your oceanfront room or outdoor seating area instead.
La Jolla: Best Area to Stay in San Diego for Families
La Jolla is a little more expensive, but this area offers quintessential SoCal style luxury. It is only 20 minutes outside of town, but a quiet suburb, and extremely safe. It is a high-end beach neighborhood, consistently voted as one of the best beaches in America.
It is home to plenty of art galleries, museums, boutiques, and amazing farm-to-table restaurants that will be popular with the whole family. One of the best things to do is to walk out on the seawall where a local seal colony lives. The coast is also a great spot for whale watching, and the tide pools are great fun to explore with children. Take your little explorers to the aquarium; it is a world-class research aquarium and has informative talks alongside a wide array of sea life.
The beaches and the coastline are the main draws of La Jolla. My favorite beaches are Windansea Beach and La Jolla Cove. The water is warm in summer, making it a popular spot for vacations and watersports. The beaches around here are popular surfing beaches, the water is choppy though, so ensure you research the best beaches for your skill level. It is a popular spot for snorkeling as well. Hiking at nearby Torrey Pines is worth the short drive outside of town for some of the best coastal views in San Diego – don’t miss Broken Hill!
Pros and Cons of Staying in La Jolla
- Right on the beach! You’ll be within walking distance of multiple beaches, including La Jolla Cove.
- The downtown area is charming and walkable. Lots of great food, drinks, and shopping nearby.
- La Jolla is up the coast a bit from Downtown San Diego and Coronado, so if those are important parts of your itinerary, know that there will be a bit of a drive to get there.
- It gets crowded with tons of tourists. It’s a popular place to visit, so expect crowds on the weekends.
Best Places to Stay in La Jolla
Like I mentioned above, La Jolla is going to be a bit more expensive than some of the other areas on this list. But if you’re looking for a safe and quiet area with plenty to do and see and prime beach access, La Jolla is an amazing place to stay in San Diego.
Vacation Rentals in La Jolla
There is a nice range of options of VRBO in La Jolla – we left out the ones that cost $1000+ a night because, let’s face it – that’s out of our price range, and probably yours too.
Options For Couples
Here are the options that caught our eye for couples in La Jolla.
Guest House In La Jolla, One Block to the Beach, Walk to Everything!
This coastal beach home has been completely remodeled with bamboo floors, an open living and kitchen space, and two outdoor living spaces (one with an outdoor shower). And since it’s just one block from the beach, you can spend the entire day splashing in the water or chilling in the sun before making the short half-mile trek into the Village for dinner or drinks.
Beachcombers Hideaway: Dog Friendly, Enclosed Patio, 1 Block to Beach
This pint-sized rental may be on the smaller size, but it still manages to squeeze in a full kitchen, a living area, a spa-like bathroom, and a separate bedroom. Plus, there’s a large outdoor area where you can lounge in the sun or dine outside. But if you need a bit more space, you’ll be happy to know the beach is just a quick three-minute walk away.
Windansea Lovely Beach Getaway
Why stay in a hotel when you can enjoy all the comforts of five-star living at this charming cottage near Windasea Beach? The bedroom is outfitted with a king-size bed and high-thread-count linens while the bathroom has plush robes so you can stay warm after a day at the beach. Just prop open the French doors in the living room and enjoy the serene quiet from your private patio in peace.
Options For Groups & Families
Here are some great options for a group or family of 4-6 people who need a little more space, and want the privacy of a vacation rental.
Stunning Oceanfront Property Overlooking Windansea Beach
This stunning condo has floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping views of the ocean from every single room. With two bedrooms and two bathrooms, it’s ideal for a family traveling together. And best of all, you can keep an eye on your little ones playing at the beach while you prep meals from the large, sleek kitchen.
Outdoor La Jolla Living At Its Finest
If you’re looking for a private beachy bungalow in the heart of La Jolla, then look no further than this coastal retreat. It has one full bedroom (although there’s a Murphy bed with a gliding privacy wall in the living room), a kitchen, and a massive outdoor space with a dining set, lounge area, and a fire pit.
La Jolla Paradise: Redwood Windansea Beach Bungalow with Hot Tub
Surrounded by six private acres of land, this rustic mid-century bungalow is the ultimate San Diego getaway. Inside you’ll find a cozy living room with a Swedish wood-burning fireplace and an outdoor patio with an outdoor seating and dining area, as well as a hot tub. You can make the short trek towards the beach or enjoy the ocean views from the scenic outlook on the property.
Hotels in La Jolla
Note that the hotels in La Jolla are all relatively expensive. But, on the plus side, they’re gorgeous and usually within a stone’s throw of the beach.
Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and La Jolla Village, this Balinese-inspired hotel has one of the most spectacular locations in San Diego. Enjoy the ocean view from the property lawn or from your private suite or villa, and stroll to the heart of La Jolla within a few minutes of walking out the front door.
La Valencia Hotel
The La Valencia Hotel counts members of the Hollywood elite among its glamorous guests. It has a large outdoor pool with coastal views, plenty of sunbeds and a bar. The décor is Mediterranean; simple, with small pops of color or print and large windows that let the beautiful views be the star of the show. The onsite restaurants offer great ambience and good quality food, but there are plenty of dining options surrounding the hotel if you plan to stay for longer.
Estancia La Jolla
The Estancia La Jolla is gorgeous, 10 acres of resort-style tropical gardens and resort-style amenities. The grounds include fire pits, secluded seating areas, and a large pool. The hotel has been renovated from an 1800s equestrian estate. It incorporates elements of its history, including using the bricks of the old structure. The hotel’s restaurant has been designed to look like the estate’s tack room, and the business center retains elements of the caretaker’s cottage.
The Gaslamp Quarter: Best Area to Stay in Downtown San Diego
I wouldn’t recommend staying in Downtown San Diego, it’s honestly a little boring, and doesn’t have as much character as the surrounding local neighborhoods (although I do love Little Italy). On the other hand It is definitely worth a visit, and is super central for short stays or if you will be in San Diego without a car.
If you do choose to stay Downtown, then you should stay in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is within walking distance to a great selection of bars, coffee shops, and restaurants. On an average weekend morning, you’ll find it lined with outdoor patios packed with boozy brunch crowds. It can get super rowdy here, as with a lot of Downtown, but if you are only in San Diego for a short period of time or you won’t have a car, the central location might be worth it. If you’re in town to catch a San Diego Padres game, you’ll find Petco Park here. Whether you’re into baseball or not (we’re in the “not” category, for sure), a game at Petco Park is a great day out, with some famous eateries serving food and craft beer on tap.
The restaurants and bars here include many craft cocktail bars, breweries, and high profile restaurants by celebrity chefs. While you’re here, you should probably stop by one of the rooftop bars and sip absurdly expensive cocktails while you look out over the city.
Best Places to Stay in the Gaslamp Quarter
This part of San Diego is full of hotels, with offerings from some of my favorite mid-range chains to bougie boutique hotels. There are some Airbnb options, sure, but hotels are probably your best bet in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Best Mid-Range Hotels in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego
These four hotels are a great blend of style and value, and will be some of the most affordable places to stay in Downtown San Diego.
The Moxy Hotel San Diego
The Moxy Hotel in San Diego is a fun, quirky bar with a nautical theme that reflects San Diego’s military past. There is a cozy library stocked with plenty of books and plush armchairs. The gym is in a shipping container and equipped with everything you need for a great workout. The hotel bar is one of the highlights, though, it is where guests check-in so every guest gets a free signature cocktail.
Hotel Indigo is one of my favorite mid-range hotel chains, as they are always well decorated and have a bit of character to them. This one has a beautiful rooftop space with a bar, ample seating, a fire pit, and lots of greenery. It is a great place to relax in the evening and enjoy the view over the city.
StayPineapple Hotel Z
The StayPineapple Hotel Z in the Gaslamp Quarter is funky yet unpretentious. Your stay will be comfortable without unnecessary extras. Each room has plush and comfy bedding, a microwave, a coffee machine, and a minifridge. The hotel has high-speed wifi, complimentary use of the hotel beach cruisers, and a $10 grab and go credit. Each guest also gets unlimited bottled water.
Andaz San Diego
The Andaz San Diego is the epitome of glamour and sophistication, just a short walk from all of San Diego’s attractions. It has a beautiful rooftop deck with a sundeck, large pool, and a rooftop bar where popular DJs play. The hotel gym is open 24/7, so you can get a workout in, no matter the time.
Best Boutique Hotels in the Gaslamp quarter
These two hotels are going to cost a bit more per night, but they are both stylish, comfortable, and won’t break the bank.
Pendry San Diego
The Pendry Hotel is a fun, young-feeling place to stay in San Diego, with a Moet vending machine in the lobby and stylish décor. All the rooms have floor to ceiling windows, walk-in showers, and huge comfy beds. There is a large rooftop pool, where there is always something happening and plenty of options to grab good food and a drink. Stop by the beer hall for a pretzel and beer or grab a cocktail and soak in the vibes at the cocktail bar.
The Kimpton Solamar is a modern hotel right in the center of the lively Gaslamp quarter. The hub of the hotel is the rooftop which is home to a heated outdoor swimming pool with private cabanas with lovely views of the city. There is also a bar on the roof where you can sit at the bar or sunbathe in a cabana with your drinks.
That’s all we’ve got! We hope we helped you find an amazing home base for exploring San Diego, whether you’re there to eat all the amazing food, or to hang on the beach for a long weekend.
More to Explore in California
Heading to the great state of California? Here are some other posts you might like.
- One Day in San Francisco: How to See the Best of San Francisco in a Day
- 4 Days in San Francisco: How to Plan an Amazing San Francisco Itinerary
- Where to Stay in San Francisco: A Local’s Guide to the Best Places to Stay
- Gluten Free San Francisco: A Complete Travel Guide for Celiacs
- The Best Day Trips from San Francisco: 10 Amazing San Francisco Day Trips
- 5 Days in Los Angeles: How to Plan a Perfect Los Angeles Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Los Angeles: A Complete Guide to L.A.’s Best Places to Stay
- Gluten Free Los Angeles: A Complete Guide for Celiacs
- 3 Days in San Diego: How to Plan a Perfect San Diego Itinerary
- Where to Stay in San Diego: A Complete Guide to the Best Places to Stay
- Gluten Free San Diego: A Complete Guide for Celiacs
- How to Plan an Amazing San Francisco to Los Angeles Road Trip
- Northern California Road Trip: The Best of the Northern California Coast