Where to Stay in San Diego’s 5 Coolest Neighborhoods
Whether you want to party in the Gaslamp or swim through serene sea caves, here’s where to book your stay in San Diego.
San Diego is the quintessential California beach city—and as such, the perfect place to consider for your summer travel plans, whether you’re a local in search of a staycation or an out-of-towner hoping to catch some surf and sun. But our sprawling metropolis encompasses a vibrant, bustling downtown and a collection of charming beach locales, each with its own distinct personality, which makes deciding where to stay nearly impossible. Post-pandemic, the city’s hospitality industry is flourishing too, with sparkling, new hotels—from luxury resorts to boutique getaways—sprouting up to host those seeking 70-degree weather any time of year.
To help, we’ve compiled our favorite hotels and activities in five of San Diego’s coolest neighborhoods (although no one will blink an eye if all you want to do is sunbathe).
This tony enclave is San Diego’s crown jewel, which is fitting since it may have gotten its name from the Spanish word “la joya,” or “the jewel.” Another story goes that the name is derived from the Kumeyaay word “woholle”—referring to La Jolla’s many sea caves, which are worth exploring while you’re here. In addition to its postcard-perfect coastlines, this seaside village is brimming with high-end boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, and restaurants. Although it’s one of the most affluent neighborhoods in San Diego, everyone still shows up in T-shirts and flip-flops, ensuring the area retains its relaxed beach town charm.
Where to stay: La Valencia Hotel (known by locals as “The Pink Lady of La Jolla”) is one of the neighborhood’s most recognizable—claiming old Hollywood royalty, like Ginger Rogers and Gregory Peck, as past guests. You’ll feel like a celebrity yourself while sunbathing at this Mediterranean-style pink stucco palace with an ocean-view pool and easy beach access. (The hotel even welcomes furry friends with a custom dog menu at its restaurant.) Meanwhile, the Cormorant Boutique Hotel is a refreshing, new addition to the area. Formerly an inn, the property underwent a top-to-bottom renovation to reveal sleek, contemporary guest rooms with panoramic ocean vistas. Named after the black bird that’s native to La Jolla Cove, it also boasts a stunning rooftop bar and lounge called Birdseye with a globally inspired menu.
Things to do: Kayak out to the aforementioned sea caves with an Everyday California guide, who will take you through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve (a Marine Protected Area that brags one of the highest concentrations of sea life in California). In addition to kayaking, they offer top-rated whale-watching and snorkeling tours, surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons, and equipment rentals. La Jolla Cove and the Children’s Pool are prime for marine life sightings too. Wild seals and sea lions are almost always lounging or splashing about the shoreline, and the tide pools are swimming with hermit crabs, sea anemones, barnacles, urchins, and more. You’ll encounter even more aquatic creatures at the famous Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which promotes ocean conservation with more than 60 habitats, tanks, and hands-on exhibits.
For aerial adventures, look no further than the Torrey Pines Gliderport, where you can paraglide or hang glide off of the cliffs above Black’s Beach (better known as San Diego’s nude beach). If you don’t feel like being in the air, the Pacific views from here are breathtaking—and best enjoyed from the gliderport’s charming café. Even the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s location in La Jolla, which recently underwent a $105 million renovation and expansion, boasts ocean views alongside its excellent art collection.
Surrounded by 27 miles of sandy shoreline lined with parks and beaches, Mission Bay is a hotbed for water sports and all kinds of outdoor recreational activities. As the largest, human-made aquatic park in the U.S. (the more you know!), it attracts a diverse range of visitors: families, honeymooners, and weekenders who want to kite surf by day and knock back a few craft brews by night. On land, you’ll find five-star resorts, theme parks, restaurants—ranging from fine dining to casual—that add to the allure of this breezy, palm-tree-lined oasis.
Where to stay: Situated on a 44-acre island tucked away in Mission Bay, Paradise Point Resort and Spa’s bungalow-style rooms, set against lush gardens, lagoons, and waterfalls, instantly transport you to the tropics—so you wake up feeling like you’re in Hawaii instead of San Diego. Stroll around the vast property to explore its private beach, five swimming pools, and 18-hole golf putting course. For a luxurious yet laid-back vibe, check into San Diego Mission Bay Resort—which recently underwent a $21 million renovation and boasts four restaurants, a luxury spa with Swedish massages and Himalayan halotherapy, and a waterfront pool. Bahia Resort Hotel keeps you occupied with an arcade, shuffleboard courts, beachfront cabanas, and sightseeing cruises around Mission Bay on a turn-of-the-century sternwheeler called the Bahia Belle.
Bringing along little ones? Beach bonfires (s’mores included), self-guided scavenger hunts, and resident parrots (who demonstrate their talents during shows throughout the day) await at the Polynesian-inspired Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa. If your furry friends are tagging along, The Dana on Mission Bay has dog-friendly accommodations—in addition to Dive-In Movie Nights at the pool and a marina with guest slips for visiting boaters. Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina is a water wonderland with three pools and water slides, as well as a stunning waterfront restaurant called Red Marlin.
Things to do: Mission Bay is the ultimate playground for water sports enthusiasts. Whether you’re planning on sailing, kayaking, jet skiing, or stand-up paddleboarding, Action Sport Rentals is a one-stop shop for all your aquatic equipment. Families with children will enjoy the surrey bikes and electric-powered, easy-to-drive funcats, while adventure seekers can go wakeboarding or charter a fishing boat. Malarky Charters offers luxury catamaran rentals for up to 12 people (and if you’re lucky, dolphin or whale sightings!).
If you feel like staying dry, try an electric bike tour around the paved 12-mile path that winds around the bay with Fit City Adventures. Just be sure one of your pit stops is Mission Bay Beach Club, a coffee/juice bar with excellent ice cream sandwiches (and a soon-to-open restaurant!), housed in a former visitor’s information center. Belmont Park, a legendary amusement park on the beach boardwalk, has restaurants, carnival games, and rides—including a famous roller coaster built in 1925 (don’t worry, it was restored for $2 million in 1990). A short drive away is Ballast Point’s Home Brew Mart, a local, award-winning brewery where you can learn how to make your own craft beer. Of course, you can’t miss nearby SeaWorld with its rides and animal attractions; several hotels offer convenient shuttle services to the park.
Dozens of restaurants, bars, lounges, music venues, and shops are all tightly packed into the 16.5 pedestrian-friendly blocks that make up the Gaslamp Quarter. Named after the lanterns that once lit the streets, this energetic, eclectic neighborhood is best known for its fine dining and trendy nightlife. But standing next to the towering skyscrapers and modern buildings are preserved Victorian-era landmarks and other historic buildings (nearly 100 of them!) that lend architectural charm to this bustling urban stretch. Staying here also gives you easy access to the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
Where to stay: True to the Pendry hotel brand, its San Diego location is a polished, design-centric space that attracts in-the-know travelers. The hotel partners with Adventure IO to curate day trips and activities hosted by pro athletes and local experts (think: visiting the best surf spots with prolific pro surfboard shaper Chris Clark). Although the surrounding streets are brimming with bars and clubs, you don’t even have to leave the property to enjoy the best nightlife: Fifth & Rose mixes craft libations, Nason’s Beer Hall serves craft beer and vintage bar games, and on the rooftop, The Pool House hosts live DJs and a Sunday pool party.
Andaz San Diego is also a winner with a chic, contemporary feel, housed in a historic building that originally opened in 1913 for the World’s Fair. As one of the oldest hotels in SD, the opulent US Grant is another historic landmark; its Art Deco-inspired restaurant, Grant Grill, was once a power lunch spot in the ‘50s and ‘60s among lawyers, bankers, and newspaper editors. Finally, although it’s just outside of the Gaslamp Quarter’s borders, The Guild Hotel provides a luxury boutique experience in a 1924-era building. Bonus: It’s only a short walk away from the Sante Fe train depot.
Things to do: When you’re not busy drinking, dining, and dancing, take a walking culinary tour called Brothels, Bites, and Booze to learn about the district during the post-Gold Rush era (with stops at popular restaurants along the way) or catch a show at the Balboa Theatre, built in 1924 as a vaudeville and movie palace. Fun fact: The Gaslamp Quarter was the original red light district of San Diego, once a hub for brothels, saloons, and gambling halls. Take the Old Town Trolley Tour, which stops at Seaport Village, Barrio Logan, Coronado, and more.
The Gaslamp Quarter’s location makes it the perfect launching pad to visit some of the city’s best family-friendly attractions and cultural offerings. For starters, Balboa Park is an eight-minute drive away—a 1,200-acre urban park that includes lush gardens, playgrounds, 17 museums covering everything from dinosaurs to space travel, and the San Diego Zoo. Nine minutes away, climb aboard the USS Midway Museum, the nation’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century with flight simulators, climb-in aircraft, and self-guided audio tours. And 11 minutes away, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park offers a glimpse into how the city transitioned from Mexican to American rule—with preserved 19th-century buildings, museums, and more (in addition to Bazaar del Mundo’s vibrant restaurants and folk art shops).
Despite its name, Coronado Island isn’t really an island, but a thin peninsula connected to the mainland. Still, it feels like a world away from the rest of the city—a place where the surf is gentle, the sandy beaches shimmer with mica mineral (in fact, it’s the only white sand beach in San Diego!), and stately mansions line the shore. While opportunities to sunbathe, swim, and stroll along the ocean’s edge abound, Coronado has also evolved into a sophisticated dining and shopping mecca for both locals and tourists.
Where to stay: Featured in Marilyn Monroe’s 1958 film Some Like It Hot, the legendary Hotel del Coronado is one of San Diego’s most recognizable architectural gems and worth a visit to Coronado on its own. It’s so steeped in history that it even offers group or self-guided tours around the property (including one that may introduce you to the hotel’s legendary ghosts). The resort compiles such a jam-packed itinerary that you’d never have to leave if you didn’t want to: sign up for paddleboard yoga or beach spin, lounge poolside or in a private cabana on the beach, pamper yourself at the Spa & Salon, or book a table at Serẽa, which offers sustainable cooking and a seafood-heavy menu. Let the kids do their own thing for the day with the Ocean Explorers program—designed to teach them about preserving the ocean and its marine life. For an even more luxurious experience, stay at Beach Village at the Del—a private community of beautifully outfitted beachfront cottages and villas with access to the seasonal Windsor Beach Club and five-star concierge services.
For a cozier retreat, look into 1906 Lodge, which was built in 1906 as a boarding house. No two of its 17 rooms are exactly alike, and while there’s no restaurant or fitness center on-site, your rate includes breakfast with mimosas, daily happy hour with wine and small bites, and freshly baked cookies in your room—all on the house.
Things to do: Often voted one of the finest beaches in the U.S., Coronado's shoreline is naturally where you’ll spend the majority of your time. If you’re lucky, you might stumble upon a three-dimensional sand masterpiece by The Sandcastle Man, who typically works in front of the Hotel del Coronado and offers lessons for groups of up to 40 people. For more romantic pursuits, take a Venetian gondola cruise through the canals and waterways of the cays (for an extra fee, you can even hire a professional mandolin or violin player to perform on board). Or take Flagship Cruises’ ferry across the bay to arrive at Seaport Village, a scenic, waterfront complex with cobblestone paths and tons of boutiques and eateries.
When you’re not relaxing on the beach or biking down Coronado’s beachfront boardwalk (perhaps on one of Wheel Fun Rentals’ e-bikes or four-wheel surreys, which seat up to six adults), meander down Orange Avenue. Lined with shops, restaurants, and galleries, this main drag channels serious small-town charm with a focus on indie businesses (meaning you’ll rarely find any chain stores here). Located on the same street, the Coronado Historical Association & Museum offers historical walking tours.
Oceanside, or O’side as it’s affectionately nicknamed, is rooted in surf and skate history—with multiple skateparks and a southwest-facing shoreline that attracts pros from around the world for its consistent conditions. After flying under the radar for years, it’s finally earning a reputation as more than just an easygoing San Diego beach town with world-class surf. Its culinary landscape has welcomed a slate of exciting, new dining venues—many of which take advantage of its agricultural bounty with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients—while its arts and culture scene is booming with must-visit museums and galleries.
Where to stay: Perched right across the street from each other, Mission Pacific Hotel and The Seabird Resort are sparkling beachfront properties that bring a sophisticated aesthetic to Oceanside’s mellow energy. Slick and stylish without a hint of pretension, the former has an expansive rooftop pool and jacuzzi; a fine-dining restaurant, Valle, that pays homage to Baja Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley; and The Ozone, a thoughtfully curated boutique highlighting local designers and artists. Meanwhile, the latter hotel has its own appealing pool with private cabanas, along with a wood-paneled library, a rotating gallery that serves as an extension of the Oceanside Museum of Art, and Sunny’s Spa, which offers facials, massages, and full-service treatments. The sister properties conveniently allow guests to access amenities at both—sharing a restored vintage beach Rambler with beach chair, sunscreen, and surfboard rentals that make it easy to enjoy a day of surf and sand. They’re also a short walk away to the Oceanside Pier—the longest over-water wooden pier on the West Coast.
If you prefer more intimate digs, book The Green Room Hotel in South O, a colorful, funky business district dotted with murals, artisanal coffee shops, and a retro bowling alley. Originally a motel built in the ‘50s, the hotel’s now been reimagined as 12 bungalow-style rooms with a communal area that includes picnic tables and a cedar-style hot tub. Grab-and-go surfboards and beach cruisers are available for guests, and the hotel provides complimentary coffee and pastries (from local bakeries, naturally) on weekends.
Things to do: Explore Oceanside’s over 3.5 miles of beaches, perfectly primed for experiencing every kind of water sport under the sun. Catch some gnarly waves with professional surfer and third-generation Oceanside resident Duran Barr at North County Surf Academy. Oceanside Adventures Luxury Cruises offers rides on its 50-foot catamaran to spot whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions with a certified naturalist who narrates the trip. Thrill-seekers can sky-dive and enjoy awe-inspiring ocean views from a very different vantage point with Go Jump Oceanside. Hailed as one of San Diego’s oldest golf courses, Goat Hill Park is a coastal short course with ocean views.
For a dose of ‘80s nostalgia, visit the iconic Graves House featured in the original Top Gun; newly restored, it now houses a hand-held pie shop called The High-Pie with a replica of Maverick’s motorcycle parked out front (and yes, it’s the perfect photo op). The California Surf Museum documents surf lifestyle throughout the decades with an impressive display of memorabilia, including surf icon Bethany Hamilton’s shark-bitten board. The arts are alive and well in Oceanside too; everything from neon sculptures to contemporary paintings are exhibited at the Oceanside Museum of Art, which spotlights stories of Southern California artists.