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San Diego is that rare jewel of a city that offers an abundance of fascinating history, a buzzing nightlife scene, top-notch food and a killer coastline for you beach-bums.
But San Diego really is a large city, we’re talking colossal! Due to its sprawling layout, it can be confusing to figure out exactly where to stay in San Diego. You don’t want to spend your vacation stuck in infamous Californian traffic!
That’s why our travel experts have pieced together a concise guide to help you decide where to stay in San Diego, based on what you want from your vacation.
We break down Boston by neighborhood to help you plan the best possible vacation.
Whether you’re coming to the southern California gem for the beach, the Mexican food, the nightlife, or to impress the kids – you’ll be able to find a hotel that’s perfect for you. Here are our top picks for where to stay in San Diego.
Table of Contents
Where to stay in San Diego the first time – Old Town
Where to stay in San Diego on a budget – Ocean Beach
Best area to stay in San Diego for nightlife – Gaslamp Quarter
Coolest place to stay in San Diego – Little Italy
Best neighborhood in San Diego for families – Coronado
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in San Diego.
This 3-star hotel ticks all the boxes. It’s centrally located in Downtown San Diego, furnished to a high standard with all the essential amenities and has lovely staff on hand 24/7. They offer bicycle rental and there’s a trolley station a few minutes walk away. Breakfast is included.
This über cool hotel has so much character – guests love the ‘pineapple’ theme in the rooms and its jazzy exterior certainly turns the heads of passersby! The staff are helpful and available 24/7. Valet parking and bicycle rental services are available. Breakfast can be added to the room rate.
Not yet booked? Take a look at our favorite hotels in San Diego!
This 4-star hotel has luxurious bedrooms and spacious bathrooms, curated with style and taste. The Downtown hotel has plenty of entrainment for its guests including an outdoor swimming pool, spa and wellness centre, gym, restaurant and a casino on the premises! They offer a babysitting service and tour desk.
San Diego really is a huge city. It’s the second-largest city in California and the eighth-largest in the United States – home to over 1.4 million residents. The magic lies in its ability to maintain a laid-back, almost small-town vibe. It’s certainly escaped the hustle and bustle you’d expect from such an epic-sized city!
Lingering on the border with Mexico, the city is rampant with Mexican restaurants and Latino spirit (we’re not just talking about tequila). San Diego is also very proud of its Spanish heritage, which makes the city architecture so picturesque-pretty. There’s also Italian influence. In general, San Diego is extremely multi-cultural – one of the most diverse cities in the world. Its mild climate year-round certainly appeals to expats and travelers alike!
So, exactly where to stay in San Diego?
Old Town is endearingly touristic but does have so much to see and explore, so we think it’s perfect for first-time visitors. It’s western neighbor, Ocean Beach, is a hippie beach resort popular with the alternative crowd and those seeking budget accommodation.
The Gaslamp Quarter, in Downtown San Diego, is bubbling with nightlife – party animals should check in here. Its western neighbor, Little Italy, is a cool little ‘hood with Italian spirit and lots of interesting daytime pursuits.
Families are spoilt for choice as San Diego is great for kids, but we recommend the peninsula neighborhood of Coronado due to the excellent beach and family-friendly accommodation found here.
Let’s take a look in detail at the best neighborhoods in San Diego.
Old Town is the destination for history buffs. The birthplace of California is also the first Spanish settlement in California, dating back to the early-1800s. You can see the Spanish roots of the neighborhood in its buildings.
The neighbourhood is east of Ocean Beach and north of Downtown. Old Town is also very well-connected to other parts of San Diego, with its own trolley stop and road links, traffic permitting.
It’s amicably touristic with a Wild West vibe and you San Diego first-timers will be spoilt for choice on how to spend your time!
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Less than 20 minutes’ stroll from Old Town Transit Center, this hotel provides guests with an ideal base when in San Diego. Rooms are air-conditioned, come with tea and coffee making facilities and a Wi-Fi connection is included free of charge. Bathrooms include a bathtub to soak in.
Let’s make this simple. These are the best hotels in Downtown San Diego!
The Victorian-built Cosmopolitan Hotel has 10 historic rooms that are filled with all the necessities to ensure an enjoyable stay. Many of the rooms have a private balcony and pretty views. Guests love the comfy beds and the helpful staff at this friendly hotel with a small-town vibe.
Comfort, style and entertainment value go hand in hand at this hotel. There is an outdoor pool for guests to enjoy plus a jacuzzi, in-house day spa and a golf course. The hotel has a Mexican restaurant on the premises and it is particularly popular with families to stay.
Need a little more convincing? These day trips from San Diego will help you make up your mind!
Northwest of the heart of San Diego is Ocean Beach. This laid-back beachside neighbourhood radiates hippy vibes and happy times. Surfers, skaters and sunseekers flock here to catch the surf and level up the suntan on ‘OB’.
You’ll find some quirky, funky hotels in Ocean Beach at a budget-friendly rate. There’s plenty going on to keep you entertained including yoga studios and coastal walks. You can spend the cash you save on accommodation on some delicious seaside food! Gelato, anyone?
Ocean Beach is a short drive to visit the other parts of San Diego unless you decide to be a beach bum all vacation (which is totally fine!).
This 3-star accommodation includes dorm rooms and private bedrooms, making it an ideal base for budget travelers or those looking to mingle. The hostel has been recently refurbished and offers a 24-hour reception, free Wi-Fi and luggage storage. Breakfast is included and there is a communal kitchen.
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This contemporary beach-side hotel provides 55 air-conditioned rooms equipped with all the essentials to ensure a comfortable stay. They are fitted with a refrigerator, TV with cable channels and some rooms have scenic views. The hotel offers bicycle rental and there is BBQ area available for guest use.
Boasting soaring ocean views and an outdoor, heated pool with a terrace for sunbathing make this hotel ideal for a beachside break. There is also a beauty centre and golf course on-site. Rooms come with a spa bath, TV, refrigerator and kitchenette. Opt for a room with a view.
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If its evocative sounding name doesn’t lure you in, perhaps its raging nightlife will!
In Downtown San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in town. With its elegant Victorian-era buildings you’d never guess that this is the former red-light district! The area has cleaned up its act and is now a key destination for eating, shopping and more PC nightlife.
Alight with a whole entity of different types of bars and clubs, the Gaslamp Quarter is perfect for party animals. There are plenty of hostels here for budget travelers or those looking to be sociable, as well as upscale hotels.
For those looking to party with new pals, this hostel is a great accommodation option. In addition to dorm rooms, the hostel has private bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. There is a games room, a 24-hour reception and the hostel provides breakfast each day. There is a shared kitchen.
This historic 3-star hotel features elegant rooms all stylishly designed. Some of which have fireplaces. There is free wireless internet access in all areas. The hotel has a large outdoor courtyard where guests can eat and unwind with a drink from the property’s bar before exploring the nearby nightlife.
This 5-star hotel comes with an outdoor pool with stunning views across the city roofs. There is a 24-hour reception and valet parking. Rooms are luxuriously designed and you can request views or opt for a suite with kitchen facilities or living quarters. Enjoy breakfast served each morning.
Little Italy is a sub-district of San Diego’s Downtown neighborhood. Nestled on the banks of San Diego Bay, this port-neighborhood has a rich heritage of tuna fishing.
As you can gather, Little Italy is also the proud home of generations of Italian families, which can only mean one thing – it’s brimming with delicious Italian food!
Besides pasta, Little Italy is overflowing with craft beer brewpubs, boutique hotels, art galleries and patio cafes. This charismatically cool spot will honestly transport you to the coast of Italy!
In the heart of Little Italy, this hotel offers dorm rooms and private rooms for travelers on a budget or those looking to be more social. There are ample living quarters to relax in including an outdoor terrace and BBQ area. Private rooms and small studios with kitchenettes are available.
This boutique hotel features 68 contemporary air-conditioned rooms filled with all the necessities to ensure a comfortable stay including free Wi-Fi. Each room has a spacious private bathroom. There is an Italian restaurant within the property plus as a fitness centre, so you can work the pizza off!
This 4-star hotel features an outdoor pool with plenty of seating to soak up the Californian sunshine. There is a fitness centre and a bar which has some games including a foosball table. Rooms are contemporary and designed with the comfort of guests in mind. Valet parking is available.
Across the San Diego Bay from Downtown San Diego is the peninsula of Coronado. Coronado is noted for its Mediterranean and Spanish style villas, sandy stretches of beach and its island vibes. It’s certainly an exotic place to stay in San Diego!
Coronado combines a stylish, urban neighborhood with easy access to the outdoors. It’s hip, pretty and chilled – and many of the resorts and hotels are geared up to receive families.
You can travel by car over the San Diego – Coronado Bridge or along the Silver Strand Boulevard back to the mainland. Save time (and the planet) by using the water taxi service.
This comfortable motel comes with complimentary wireless internet, as well as a 24-hour reception and an express check-in and check-out feature. Most rooms have basic kitchen facilities, and others have kitchenettes. There is a terrace for guests to relax on and plan their days exploring the area.
This recently refurbished, family-friendly inn has 40 rooms, making it an intimate vacation resort. There is a swimming pool and BBQ/picnic area. All rooms feature air-conditioning and some come with kitchen facilities. The hotel has bicycles available for guests to rent and the reception is 24-hour.
This historic and luxurious 5-star resort comes with an outdoor pool, a sauna and even its own private beach. Made for families – the hotel provides family-friendly amenities, with room layouts and services for families of any size. There is also a kids club and babysitting/child services.
San Diego is a city that caters to every taste. You have the city and beach in one big, sun-drenched package. Pick and choose between museums, exploring the outdoors or eating your way through European-infused streets.
To recap our travel guide, Little Italy is our top choice for where to stay in San Diego. This bayside neighborhood offers beautiful views, charming hotels and lots of chilled places to grab a bite or kick back with a drink. Its the perfect spot to bask in culture and good times, and the rest of Downtown San Diego is within walking or cycling distance.
Our top pick for the best hotel overall in San Diego is the La Pensione Hotel. This boutique hotel is impeccably designed with all you need to enjoy your south California vacation, and the Little Italy location is spot-on for exploring Downtown San Diego.
You seriously won’t find a better place to stay in San Diego!
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Born in Los Angeles, Aaron Hovanesian is one of the original staff writers for Hotel Jules. Having backpacked the world as a young man, Aaron now prefers to travel the world in luxury, proudly staying in the world's most amazing hotels and properties. When Aaron is not traveling he lives in Western Colorado he can be found brewing his own beer (probably an IPA) or spending time with his two amazing golden retrievers.