San Diego is an underrated and overlooked city. It has a rich history, a thriving food scene, and some of the best beaches in the state of California.
But San Diego is a big city and not all of its neighborhoods are of interest to travellers. Which is exactly why we wrote this insider’s guide for where to stay in San Diego.
This guide was written by travelers, for travelers. It lists the five best neighborhoods in San Diego and breaks them down by interest.
So no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find an area that suits your needs.
Whether you want to party all night long, visit the top tourist spots, or simply lounge on the beach – you’ve come to the right place!
Here is our guide for where to stay in San Diego, California.
Quick Tips – Where to Stay in San Diego
- Where to stay in San Diego first time – Old Town
- Where to stay in San Diego on a budget – Gaslamp Quarter
- Best area to stay in San Diego for nightlife – Downtown
- Coolest place to stay in San Diego – North Park
- Best neighbourhood in San Diego for families – Ocean Beach
In a hurry? Here’s my top neighborhood for first timers:
- See the San Diego Courthouse, which dates back to the early-19th-century
- Catch an American football game at Qualcomm Stadium
- Watch a live performance at the Theatre in Old Town
Table of Contents
- Where to Stay in San Diego
- San Diego Neighborhood Guide
- 5 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in San Diego
- 1. Old Town – Best Place to Stay in San Diego for First-Timers
- 2. Gaslamp Quarter – Best Place to Stay in San Diego on a Budget
- 3. Downtown – Best Place to Stay in San Diego for Nightlife
- 4. North Park – Coolest neighborhood in San Diego
- 5. Ocean Beach – Best Place to Stay in San Diego for Families
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: USA Hostels San Diego
USA Hostels San Diego is the best hostel in San Diego. It boasts a fun environment with privacy pods and brand new bathrooms. Each pod has its own reading light, shelf and power outlet.
At this hostel, guests can enjoy a variety of group activities, free breakfast and discounted bike rentals.
Best Hotel in San Diego: The Inn at Sunset Cliffs
The Inn at Sunset Cliffs is our pick for the best hotel in San Diego. It has an outdoor heated pool, spacious rooms and an on-site golf course. Every room has its own kitchenette, a luxurious bathroom, and a myriad of modern amenities.
San Diego Neighborhood Guide
Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in San Diego
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Located in southern California, San Diego is a busy and bustling city that sits right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It has a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere, and a reputation for sun, surf and sand.
San Diego has a rich history, diverse culture, and plenty of activities and attractions to entertain curious travellers.
This massive city is home to approximately 1.4 million people who are spread out over 965 square kilometres. It is divided into more than 100 neighbourhoods, each catering to different interests, ages, styles and budgets.
The Gaslamp Quarter and Downtown sit at the centre of San Diego. These two vibrant districts are where you’ll find a great variety of bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. They are well connected, close to the water, and boast a great selection of budget hostels.
Travel north and you’ll arrive in trendy North Park. One of the hippest neighbourhoods in the city, North Park has bright street art, quirky cafes, and chic local boutiques.
Head west and you’ll pass through historic Old Town before arriving in fun and funky Ocean Beach. A short drive to famous tourist attractions, both of these neighbourhoods have unique vibes, great restaurants, and plenty to see and do.
Still not sure where to stay in San Diego? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
5 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in San Diego
Let’s take a look, in more detail, at the five best neighbourhoods in San Diego. Each is a little different than the last, so be sure to pick the neighbourhood that’s right for you.
Old Town is an area of San Diego that marks the birthplace of the state of California. It is the site of the first Spanish settlement in the early-1800s and today still retains much of its historic charms and architecture.
San Diego’s Old Town is packed with tourist attractions and activities. It is well connected to other parts of San Diego and is our pick for where to stay if you’re visiting for the first time.
One of the neighbourhood’s top attractions is Old Town San Diego Historic Park. Not only is it a stunning expanse of verdant land, but within its borders, you’ll find a myriad of historic structures.
Things to See and Do in Old Town
– Visit the Junipero Serra Museum to see exhibits and displays on the life in Old Town.
– Wander throughout San Diego Historic Park.
– See the San Diego Courthouse, which dates back to the early-19th-century.
– Catch an American football game at Qualcomm Stadium.
– Watch a live performance at the Theatre in Old Town.
– Enjoy incredible Mexican fare at Casa De Reyes.
– Pack a picnic and enjoy a relaxing day in Presidio Park.
– Visit the Whaley House Museum, which is rumoured to be the most haunted house in America.
Best Hostel in Old Town: ITH Zoo Hostel San Diego
A hop, skips and a jump from Old Town is the ITH Zoo Hostel. This great property is close to San Diego attractions, including San Diego Zoo, as well as bars, restaurants and shops. It has colourful rooms and bright décor. Guests can enjoy breakfast and pizza almost every day of the week!
Best Hotel in Old Town: The Pearl Hotel San Diego
The Pearl Hotel is a charming and modern three-star hotel. It is conveniently located in San Diego and is close to many of the city’s top tourist attractions. This hotel has a fantastic bar, wonderful dining room, and a fabulous outdoor swimming pool. It has 23 comfortable and well-equipped rooms.
Best Hotel in Old Town: The Dana on Mission Bay
Modern and luxurious, The Dana on Mission Bay is a stunning place to stay in San Diego. This three-star hotel is ideally situated near the Mission Bay and Old Town neighbourhoods. It has comfortable and spacious rooms, contemporary amenities and a myriad of wellness features, including a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and gym.
The Gaslamp Quarter is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in central San Diego. It was once home to the red light district as well as seedy casinos and untamed saloons.
In the 1970s and 80s, the area underwent a redevelopment, and today, it is one of the most exciting parts of the city. And, thanks to the 100 restored Victorian-era buildings, it still retains much of its original charm.
The Gaslamp Quarter is also where you’ll find a great selection of affordable accommodations. With everything from backpacker hostels to boutique hotels, this area of the city is packed with options for every budget.
Things to See and Do in Gaslamp Quarter
– Visit the U.S.S. Midway, an aircraft carrier-turned-museum that offers tours hosted by veterans.
– Enjoy a few drinks at Karl Strauss.
– Sip a glass of wine at Vin de Syrah.
– Catch a Padres baseball game at Petco Park.
– Sink your teeth into a succulent burger at Searsucker.
– Browse the stacks at the San Diego Central Library.
– Enjoy a relaxing afternoon of people watching in Gaslamp Quarter Park, a small square with good views.
– Dine on delicious and filling dishes at barleymash.
Best Hostel in Gaslamp Quarter: USA Hostels San Diego
USA Hostels San Diego is located at the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter. It boasts a fun environment with privacy pods and brand new bathrooms. At this hostel, guests can enjoy a variety of group activities, free breakfast and discounted bike rentals. This is our choice for where to stay in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Best Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter: Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
A great location, stylish décor, and a lavish rooftop pool are just a few of the reasons we love this hotel. Located in the heart of downtown, this hotel is close to popular tourist attractions, bars and restaurants. It has large rooms, modern amenities, and an on-site sauna and Jacuzzi.
Best Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter: Ramada Gaslamp/Convention Center
Classic and comfortable, the Ramada Gaslamp/Convention Centre is a great base for your time in the city. It is close to iconic landmarks and tourist attractions as well as shopping, restaurants and bars. This hotel has 99 unique rooms, each outfitted with cable/satellite TVs and private bathrooms. There is also an on-site lounge and restaurant.
For an incredible night on the town, there’s no better neighbourhood than Downtown San Diego. The heart, soul and centre of the city, Downtown San Diego is packed with great restaurants, lively bars, thriving clubs and cosy cafes. No matter your style, budget or taste in music, there’s a great nightlife option for every traveller Downtown.
For an unforgettable night out, head to the Onyx Room. This club plays good music, pours great drinks and has a vibrant dancefloor and atmosphere.
If you’re looking for something a little bit quieter, visit Waterfront. One of the oldest drinking holes in San Diego, this is where you can enjoy a night of good drinks and great conversation.
Things to See and Do in Downtown
– Climb to the top of the Hyatt and enjoy spectacular sights as you sip delicious cocktails.
– Enjoy great cocktails in an urbane setting at The Noble Experiment.
– Choose from a wide selection of local and international beers at Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery.
– Sip cocktails at Prohibition San Diego, a super-secret speakeasy.
– Down a pint at the Dubliner, an authentic Irish pub at the heart of San Diego.
– Marvel at the incredible views from the Nolan, a stunning rooftop bar and lounge.
– Have a drink and enjoy the atmosphere at Cuban Cigar Factory.
– Dance the night away at the Onyx Room.
Best Hostel in Downtown: HI San Diego – Downtown
Free breakfast, a great location and comfortable rooms are just a few of the reasons we love this hostel. It is centrally located in Downtown San Diego and is just steps away from the city’s best bars, shops and restaurants. It has a full kitchen, free linens, and a game room with billiards and arcade games.
Best Hotel in Downtown: Best Western Cabrillo Garden Inn
The Best Western Cabrillo Garden is ideally located at the heart of San Diego. It is close to popular tourist attractions and is within walking distance of San Diego’s best pubs, clubs and eateries. This hotel boasts a sun deck, free wifi and a large terrace. The rooms have coffee machines, refrigerators and air-conditioning.
Best Hotel in Downtown: Best Western Plus Bayside Inn
Located in Little Italy, the Best Western Plus Bayside Inn is our pick for where to stay in Downtown San Diego. Not only is it close to the city’s most popular eateries, cafes, bars and shops, but it has amazing views of the harbour. This hotel boasts a relaxing Jacuzzi, a fitness centre and a stunning swimming pool.
North Park is far and away one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city. Famous for its laid-back atmosphere and vibrant street art, North Park is packed with hip hangouts and quirky cafes.
A haven for foodies, North Park is home to a wide range of incredible restaurants. Whether you’re craving tacos, sushi, American fare or seafood, your taste buds are sure to be pleased in this part of the city.
Are you a culture vulture? Look no further. North Park is located within walking distance of the North Park Theatre, Balboa Park, and the Ray Street Arts District.
Things to See and Do in North Park
– Eat fresh and delicious tacos at City Tacos.
– Satisfy your sweet tooth at Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream.
– See your favourite animals up close at the massive San Diego Zoo.
– Wander through Balboa Park, where you’ll find more than 16 museums, performing arts venues, gardens, trails and beyond.
– Take a self-guided pub and food crawl along 30th Street.
– See incredible works of art by local artists and creatives in the Ray Street Art District.
– Enjoy a night of craft beer and old arcade games at Coin-Op Game Room,
– Down a pint at the hip and casual True North Tavern.
– Sample a variety of different dishes at Chop Suey.
Best Budget Accommodations in North Park: Berkshire Motor Hotel
The Berkshire Motel Hotel is your best option for budget accommodations in trendy North Park. This comfortable and quaint three-star motel hotel is centrally located. It is close to boutiques, bars and San Diego’s best nightlife. This motel hotel has clean rooms, comfortable beds and free wifi throughout.
Best Hotel in North Park: The Lafayette Hotel Swim Club & Bungalows
A central location, relaxed rooms, and plenty of features – it’s no wonder the Lafayette Hotel is our pick for where to stay in North Park. This great three-star hotel has a wide selection of wellness features, including a swimming pool, a fitness centre, and an outdoor terrace.
Best Hotel in North Park: Two-Bedroom in North Park
This comfortable and charming two-bedroom home in North Park is a fantastic base for your time in San Diego. Not only is it close to the zoo, but it has easy access to parks, SeaWorld and plenty of restaurants and bars. Enjoy comfortable beds, a large living room and a full kitchen.
Ocean Beach is a fun and funky neighbourhood located outside the city centre. This casual borough boasts a retro flair and is where you can find a great selection of unique shops, restaurants, cafes and crowds. With vibrant street art and quirky characters, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Ocean Beach.
Our pick for where to stay for families, Ocean Beach is well-connected to some of San Diego’s most famous attractions. It is located just a short drive from SeaWorld, as well as Belmont Park, Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach Pier.
Fancy a little sun, surf and sand on your vacation? Ocean Beach is home to a number of seaside locales perfect for relaxing, swimming and playing in the sand.
Things to See and Do in Ocean Beach
– Shop for fruits, vegetables, sweets and treats at the Ocean Beach Farmers Market.
– See our favourite sea creatures and aquatic animals at SeaWorld.
– Take a walk along the more than 600 meters long OB Pier, one of the most visited landmarks in San Diego County.
– Spot crustaceans and sea anemones in the Ocean Beach Tidepools.
– Visit Newport Avenue Beach where you can paddle out into the waves and try to hang ten.
– Take a walk along the Sunset Cliffs and watch the sun dip below the horizon.
– Build sandcastles and play in the sand at Voltaire Street Beach.
Best Hostel in Ocean Beach: USA Hostels Ocean Beach
Located at the heart of Ocean Beach, this hostel is surrounded by restaurants, bars and shops. It is a short walk from the beach and is very close to top tourist attractions. This hostel hosts a number of fun group activities each week, including yoga classes, bonfires and pub-crawls. It also offers a free breakfast every morning.
Best Hotel in Ocean Beach: Ocean Villa Inn
The Ocean Villa Inn is a fantastic three-star hotel in Ocean Beach. It is conveniently located for exploring the neighbourhood and is close to top San Diego attractions. This hotel has 46 air-conditioned rooms, a fitness club, an outdoor swimming pool, and a number of other great features.
Best Hotel in Ocean Beach: The Inn at Sunset Cliffs
The Inn at Sunset Cliffs is a wonderful three-star hotel – and our recommendation for where to stay in Ocean Beach. It has an outdoor heated pool, spacious rooms and even a golf course. Every room has its own kitchenette, a luxurious bathroom, and a myriad of modern amenities.
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in San Diego
San Diego is a great city with so much to offer travellers. From a rich and storied history to a diverse culture and exciting food scene, it is certainly worth your time and hard-earned travel dollars!
If you’re still not sure where to stay in San Diego, we’ll quickly recap our top picks.
For cost-conscious travellers, we recommend USA Hostels San Diego. Not only is it located at the centre of the city, but it has modern amenities and free breakfast. It’s also an incredibly social hostel which hosts planned outings and fun activities each day.
The Inn at Sunset Cliffs is also a great choice for your time in San Diego. It’s comfortable and contemporary and well-situated for visiting San Diego’s top attractions.
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below.
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
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