Straddling the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is a vibrant city in Southern California. Often a stopover for people travelling between the United States and Mexico, San Diego has plenty of attractions worth visiting in their own right. Diverse, warm and culturally interesting, San Diego is well worth its own dedicated trip.
As a fairly large American city, figuring out where to stay can be difficult. Neighborhoods are sprawling, and the street system can make navigation difficult if you don’t have your own vehicle.
That’s why we’ve created this guide! We’ve figured out the seven best neighborhoods in San Diego and categorised them by what they are best for.
So let’s dive right in!
Quick Tips – Where to Stay in San Diego
- Old Town – Best neighborhood in San Diego for your first time
- Downtown – Where to stay in San Diego close to everything
- Gaslamp Quarter – Where to stay in San Diego for nightlife
- Ocean Beach – Best neighborhood in San Diego for families
- North Park – Where to stay in San Diego on a budget
- Coronado – Best neighborhood in San Diego for couples
- Hillcrest – Best neighborhood in San Diego for alternative culture
Where to Stay in San Diego
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in San Diego.
Best Hostel in San Diego
As with many American cities, Hostelling International have managed to gather the best reviews of any hostel in San Diego! This is thanks to their fantastic facilities, as well as their regular events and city tours. This is the perfect choice for backpackers looking to mingle with other travellers.
Best Budget Hotel in San Diego
Despite only being a two star hotel, the Old Town Inn has some fantastic facilities that make it more than worth the price! It has a heated outdoor pool, and the rooms are spacious. The WiFi access is well rated, with many guests saying it is incredibly fast and efficient.
Best Luxury Hotel in San Diego
This luxurious hotel is truly the pinnacle of elegance in the heart of San Diego! Located right in the heart of Downtown, guests at this five star gem have instant access to all of the main attractions in the city. It comes with impeccable levels of service, and unbeatable facilities.
San Diego 7 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in
Let’s take a look, in more detail, at the seven best neighbourhoods in San Diego. Each caters to different interests, so be sure to pick the neighbourhood that’s right for you.
(Best neighborhood in San Diego for your first time!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Old Town – hop on board the Old Town Trolley, a fun way to take a guided tour of the city
- BEST place to visit in Old Town – Junipero Serra Museum details the history of the neighborhood
Old Town is not only the oldest part of San Diego – but the oldest part of California as a whole! This historic neighborhood features architecture dating back to the Spanish colonial era and has still managed to retain some of its Latin flavour. It is also one of the best places to try out Mexican food in the city.
For first time visitors, Old Town is a great introduction to the city and its unique culture! Whilst it is a little further out from the city centre than other neighborhoods, it is still well connected by public transport and retains a vibrant atmosphere.
- Head to Fiesta de Reyes in the evening and set off on their daily ghost tours – detailing the paranormal and macabre history of the area
- The Old Town Market stretches through the area every morning and offers local treats and souvenirs
- Visit the Old Town Mine and learn about the long-standing industries that supported the city – as well as try your hand at gold panning
- Casa de Reyes is an authentic Mexican restaurant with live performers roaming around the tables throughout the evenings
- The Cosmopolitan Restaurant and Hotel is another excellent dining establishment, situated in a historic building with a varied menu
Best Hotel for Backpackers Old Town
Whilst there aren’t any hostels in the Old Town, this small inn is popular with backpackers choosing to stay in the area! Rooms come with basic amenities and high-speed WiFi, and there is a car rental service on-site if you want to explore further afield in Southern California.
Best Budget Hotel in Old Town
Only a short walk away from the Old Town, this inn is a great budget option with some fantastic facilities! It comes with an outdoor pool on-site, as well as a complimentary breakfast every morning. Rooms are pretty basic, but there are options with kitchens available if you want to self-cater.
Best Luxury Hotel in Old Town
The Cosmopolitan Hotel is housed within a historic building from the Victorian era, meaning you get to stay in an authentic piece of California history! Rooms are elegantly designed in a classic style and feature antique furniture. A complimentary breakfast is provided every morning, and high speed WiFi is available.
Planning to visit Lax? Some of the best hostels are near Lax Airport!
(Where to stay in San Diego close to everything!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Downtown – head to the top of the Hyatt and admire the gorgeous views across the city and the coast
- BEST place to visit in Downtown – wander around the Maritime Museum of San Diego and learn about the city’s seafaring history
It goes without saying that Downtown is the most central neighborhood in the city, and this is the best area if you want to stay close to everything! It is also where the Amtrak and Greyhound stations are based, keeping you well connected with other destinations further afield in California and even Mexico.
Aside from its central location, Downtown San Diego is a major entertainment hub in the city! Whether you want to check out an exhibit at a museum, catch a live theatre performance or simply kick back with a few beers and mingle with locals, Downtown is a vibrant area to stay in during your stay.
- San Diego Repertory Theatre is a great venue if you want to discover some local, up and coming talent
- Children’s Museum of San Diego is a surprisingly popular attraction showcasing interesting aspects of childhood in the city
- Seaport Village is the major shopping district in Downtown, with a seaside atmosphere and a great selection of stores and restaurants
- Prohibition San Diego is a speakeasy-style bar selling some classic cocktails as well as contemporary concoctions
- The Mission is a popular restaurant chain across the city – and surprisingly, their Downtown location has the smallest queues!
Best Hostel Downtown
The International Travellers’ House comes with fantastic guest reviews thanks to the great facilities and friendly reception staff! Right in the heart of Little Italy, this is well located in one of the cheapest neighborhoods in Downtown. A complimentary breakfast is provided, as well as regular city tours.
Best Budget Hotel in Downtown
Located right on the waterfront, guests at this hotel are treated to marvellous views across San Diego Bay! It also comes with some great facilities, despite being a budget hotel, including an outdoor pool and a well-equipped fitness centre. A complimentary American style breakfast is provided every morning.
Want to see more than just San Diego? Take a day trip from San Diego to get to know California!
Best Luxury Hotel in Downtown
This elegant hotel is one of the best rated five star picks in the entire city! From the second you enter the door you are pampered and treated like a VIP. Housed within a historic building, the rooms are well decorated to create a calm and welcoming atmosphere. In-room massages are provided.
(Where to stay in San Diego for nightlife!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Gaslamp Quarter – dance the night away at FLUXX, one of the most popular nightlife venues in the area
- BEST place to visit in Gaslamp Quarter – head to Petco Park to catch an authentic American baseball game
Though technically part of the Downtown area, the Gaslamp Quarter is often regarded as a neighborhood in its own right. It is known as a vibrant hub of cuisine, culture and nightlife right in the heart of the city! This makes it the perfect choice for party-goers and those wanting to discover the most exciting venues in San Diego.
Once one of the most run-down neighborhoods in the city, the Gaslamp Quarter underwent major renovations in the 80s and 90s. Despite the success of this work, it still retains some of its historic buildings – allowing you to enjoy traditional San Diego charm and gain an insight into the city’s past!
- Horton Plaza is a large mall right in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter – a major monument to the city’s regeneration, it has plenty of great stores and restaurants
- The Cuban Cigar Factory is one of the coolest things to do in San Diego; even for those that don’t smoke – you can watch master cigar rollers work through the perspex windows
- Gaslamp is famously home to some interesting restaurants that also function as nightclubs – grab a meal at Parq before heading up to their dancefloor
- If you want something a little more laid-back in terms of nightlife, grab a glass of wine at Vin de Syrah Spirit & Wine Parlor
Best Hostel Gaslamp Quarter
A popular hostel brand across North America and other parts of the world, Hostelling International are known for their sociable accommodations! Their San Diego offering is right in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, keeping you well connected to all of the action. They also offer regular tours and a free breakfast.
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Best Budget Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter
Staypineapple are a relatively new hotel company, but they already have a great reputation across America for their quirky, budget-friendly comfort! Despite being budget-friendly, rooms come with luxury finishes including high-quality furnishings and complimentary toiletries. They also provide breakfast and complimentary bicycle hire.
Best Luxury Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter
This five star hotel is truly the pinnacle of luxury in the Gaslamp Quarter! There is a large pool terrace with views across the city and plenty of sun loungers – as well as a hot tub. There is also a fitness centre on-site, and 24 hour room service available for all guests.
Why are you visiting Long Beach? Find out where to stay in Long Beach based on what you want to do there!
(Best neighborhood in San Diego for families!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Ocean Beach – take a dip in the Ocean Beach Tidepools and look out for the crustaceans
- BEST place to visit in Ocean Beach – head down to Point Loma to discover some of America’s military history in the area
Located northwest of the city centre, Ocean Beach is the perfect neighborhood for families spending some time in San Diego! This calm and breezy neighborhood is packed with family-friendly activities – including one of the longest boardwalks in the country, and of course the nearby SeaWorld theme park.
Whilst relatively far out from the city centre, it is well connected by public transport – perfect for taking trips to the main attractions! It is also a very creative neighborhood, with interesting street art and independent galleries dotting the streets. Laid-back and cooler than the humid city centre, Ocean Beach is perfect for those that want a more relaxed experience.
- Wander down the Ocean Beach Pier – it is one of the longest in the country and is a hugely popular attraction with visitors and locals alike
- Aside from the Military History Centre, Point Loma also has great boating facilities for those that want to venture into the Pacific
- Newport Avenue Beach has some more laid-back coastal activities, with stand up paddleboard and kayak hire facilities
- SeaWorld is one of the biggest attractions in the entire city and is only a short walk away from Ocean Beach
- Grab some contemporary Mexican cuisine with a California twist at Ranchos Cocina – perfect for vegetarians
Best Hostel Ocean Beach
Decorated in bright colours and featuring an easy-going party atmosphere, USA Hostels perfectly encapsulates the vibrant Ocean Beach atmosphere! For backpackers, this is a great spot for socialising with other guests to explore the city with. They run regular social events and bar crawls, and have a large patio area with a barbecue.
Best Budget Hotel in Ocean Beach
Though Ocean Villa Inn is only a two star hotel, it boasts some fantastic facilities – perfect for families visiting the city on a budget! There is a large outdoor heated pool with plenty of space for sunbathing and unwinding. They also offer pet-friendly suites – perfect if you want to bring the dog.
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Best Luxury Hotel in Ocean Beach
This sprawling four star hotel oozes luxury – and its location right on the coast ensures guests have mesmerising views across the Pacific! Rooms are spacious and come with modern technology that ensures you have a comfortable and convenient stay. There is also a fitness centre, spa and water sports hire facilities.
(Where to stay in San Diego on a budget!)
- COOLEST thing to do in North Park – head down to Ray Street on the second weekend of the month for the city’s largest art walk
- BEST place to visit in North Park – the San Diego Zoo is a major attraction in the heart of North Park with over 3,700 animals on display
North Park is San Diego’s main hipster neighborhood, and as such is a major hub for street art, creative boutiques and independent restaurants! North Park has a youthful atmosphere and is well connected to the city centre by public transport. It also borders one of the city’s largest parks, giving you a great place to unwind and escape the busy city centre.
Whilst it is one of the hippest neighborhoods in San Diego, it is also one of the cheapest thanks to its past reputation. It has mostly been gentrified now, making it the perfect choice for budget-conscious travellers wanting to experience an alternative side of San Diego!
- City Tacos is a great spot to try some of the excellent Mexican cuisine San Diego is known for without breaking the bank
- 30th Street is the main bar district in North Park, with a great selection of dive bars and more upscale offerings
- Wander through Balboa Park to get away from the busy crowds of the city centre, and enjoy the many museums available in the grounds
- Caffe Calabria is the best spot in town for authentic Italian coffee – they also have some great cocktails in the evenings
- Live music lovers should head to the Observatory to catch international and local performances
Best Hotel for Backpackers North Park
Whilst there aren’t any hostels in North Park, this motel is the perfect choice for those sticking to a strict budget! Rooms are pretty basic but have WiFi access and basic amenities to ensure you have a comfortable stay. There are also free parking facilities on-site – perfect if you are visiting with a car.
Best Budget Hotel in North Park
This magnificent hotel is a great example of how much further your money can take you in North Park! There is a large pool area in the heart of the hotel, surrounded by plenty of sun loungers and small tables to enjoy meals and drinks from the on-site restaurant.
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Best Luxury Hotel in North Park
As a fairly cheap area, there aren’t any luxury hotels in North Park. If you want to splash out, we suggest opting for a private house or apartment! Casa California is one of the best, and with capacity for nine people is perfect for large groups and families. It also has a private patio.
(Best neighborhood in San Diego for couples!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Coronado – enjoy the white sands and top-class facilities on the mile-long Central Beach
- BEST place to visit in Coronado – check out Coronado Museum of History & Art to learn about the city
Though technically a separate city, Coronado is easily accessible from San Diego and makes the perfect coastal getaway! For couples, the white sands and crystal clear waters of the main beach make this an attractive prospect for a romantic getaway – especially for those that still want to enjoy the entertainment facilities in San Diego.
Coronado is quite an expensive area – but with unbeatable facilities, laid-back bars and delectable culinary offerings, it is worth every cent! Grab a cocktail, put your feet up and inhale that fresh ocean air to truly enjoy what makes Coronado a great destination.
- Hotel del Coronado is a must-visit in the area to admire the historic architecture and discover why it is so popular with American celebrities
- If you want to try out surfing, head to the north end of Central Beach where there are plenty of hire shops and safe zones
- The Ferry Landing Marketplace offers a wide range of stalls where you can pick up souvenirs and local food
- For the best date night restaurant, we suggest Coronado Boathouse – it has magnificent views across the bay towards San Diego
- Finish off date night with a trip to Coronado Brewing Company, a popular craft beer pub in the neighborhood
Best Hotel for Backpackers Coronado
Coronado is another area that lacks in hostels, but Cherokee Lodge is a great compromise for backpackers that still want to enjoy the gorgeous beaches! It is also perfect for young couples on a tight budget that wants to benefit from having a social atmosphere. A continental breakfast is included in the rate.
Best Budget Hotel in Coronado
This inn is a little bit of an upgrade, and gives you some more privacy than you would expect from the cheaper lodges in the area! An American style buffet breakfast is provided every morning, and free private parking is available. Rooms come well equipped with modern technology and fast WiFi.
Best Luxury Hotel in Coronado
This gorgeous five star hotel by Hilton’s Curio Collection is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire city! Located right on the coast, it also benefits from historically interesting architecture and is the perfect choice for those wanting to splurge on luxury. It comes with great facilities.
(Best neighborhood in San Diego for!)
- COOLEST thing to do in Hillcrest – catch a live performance at 6th @ Penn Theatre, they’re often some of the most controversial in the city
- BEST place to visit in Hillcrest – visit University Avenue to check out trendy boutiques, hip thrift stores and quirky independent book shops
Neighbouring North Park, Hillcrest is up and coming as one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city! Often considered together with Balboa Park, it is close to both Downtown and Old Town – giving you ideal access to both neighborhoods. Bustling and diverse, it is somewhat gentrified these days but still has enough grit to keep it interesting.
It is also a popular area with the LGBTQ+ community, and the starting point for Pride festivities every June. The diversity of this neighborhood has created an eclectic selection of bars and restaurants waiting to be discovered.
- The Loft is the oldest dive bar in the neighborhood, and a real crowd-pleaser with well-priced drinks and a vibrant atmosphere
- Beat the hangover after a long night of drinking at Snooze An AM Eatery – they offer a great selection of breakfast and brunch classics
- Martinis Above Fourth is another popular nightlife venue, offering regular cabaret and live music performances throughout the week
- Spruce Street Bridge might seem like an unassuming piece of infrastructure, but it comes with magnificent views across the valley and is great for Instagram shots
Best Hostel Hillcrest
CoLive is a relatively new hostel but already comes with fantastic reviews! It is mostly aimed at backpackers looking for a more peaceful experience, so is a little lacking on the social front compared to others in the city. Nevertheless, they have great facilities and provide a complimentary breakfast.
Best Budget Hotel in Hillcrest
This adorable bed and breakfast is contained within a converted house, giving you a super local experience! They offer both continental and buffet breakfasts to suit your preference, and vegetarian options are available. There are also some rooms that come with a kitchen for those that are self-catering.
Best Luxury Hotel in Hillcrest
Like neighboring North Park, Hillcrest doesn’t have any splurge option – meaning that a private apartment is your best choice if you want to splash the cash! This gorgeous apartment sleeps up to 12 people and comes with a private hot-tub with unbeatable views across the city and the harbour.
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in San Diego?
Often skipped on people’s itineraries to California, San Diego is well worth visiting whenever you are in the state! It is one of the most diverse cities in the country, creating an eclectic atmosphere with excellent cuisine and vibrant cultural attractions.
For the best area, we have to go with Gaslamp District! Right in the heart of Downtown, this is the focal point of life in San Diego and the perfect place to discover the city’s unique vibe.
That being said, this exciting city has many great areas worth visiting that showcase different aspects of what makes it a great destination. We hope this guide has helped you narrow your choices down.
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!
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