Where to stay in San Diego for first time: 8 Safe areas

Hi guys, on my blog, I already wrote articles about staying in San Diego without a car and for families (I will put the links to them at the end of this article). In today’s post, I will help you to find the safest places to stay in San Diego for first-time visitors.

I will share with you what I believe are the best and safe areas to stay in San Diego for first-timers and tourists, along with a helpful map and areas to avoid. I’ll also share where I stayed in San Diego on my first visit and recommend some of the best hotels for all budgets.

San Diego is a major city located in the southern part of California, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It shares a border with Mexico to the south and is around 190 km south of Los Angeles.

The city is a popular tourist destination, known for its San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Balboa Park, and beautiful beaches like La Jolla and Coronado. It also has a thriving nightlife and culinary scene.

San Diego has a significant military presence, with several naval and marine bases in the area. They include the Naval Base San Diego and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

San Diego is known for its diverse population, with a mix of ethnicities and cultures. It has a strong Hispanic influence due to its proximity to the Mexican border.

Is San Diego safe to visit?

Yes, San Diego is generally a safe city for tourists with low crime rate and well-policed tourist areas. But, like any urban area, it’s important to exercise common-sense precautions. Stick to well-lit, populated areas at night, secure your belongings, and be aware of your surroundings. 

While violent crime is relatively rare, petty theft and car break-ins can occur, so locking your vehicle and keeping valuables out of sight is advisable. Overall, San Diego offers a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors, but sensible precautions are key to a trouble-free trip.

Where to stay in San Diego for the first time?

The best and safe areas to stay in San Diego for first-timers and tourists are Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, Coronado, Shelter Island, Mission Beach/Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar, and Carlsbad. 

It’s important to keep in mind that safety can vary from block to block, so it’s always wise to stay aware of your surroundings and take basic safety precautions no matter where you stay.

The safest areas in San Diego are the areas north of Downtown San Diego include La Jolla, Del Mar, and Carlsbad. Downtown San Diego which includes Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy are relatively safe during the day but you should take common precautions at night.

You should avoid areas that have a high crime rate in San Diego include East Village, Horton Plaza, Marina district, City Heights, and Kearny Mesa. East Village is an area in Downtown San Diego that has a  high number of homeless population.

On my trip to San Diego, I stayed at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. It is centrally located in the Downtown area, within easy walking distance from Gaslamp Quarter and Seaport Village. It has a great view of the bay.

Below is a map of the popular areas in San Diego for first-time travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the safe areas to stay in San Diego first time
Map of the safe areas to stay in San Diego first time

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in San Diego, especially for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in San Diego have been carefully selected by me, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

8 Safe areas to stay in San Diego for first-timers and tourists:

1. Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is an excellent base if you’re looking for a lively, urban experience with easy access to nightlife and downtown attractions. Just be prepared for some noise and and consider booking accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.

The Gaslamp Quarter is known for its lively nightlife scene, with numerous bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. It’s a great choice if you enjoy going out in the evenings.

There are plenty of dining options, from casual eateries to upscale restaurants, offering a wide range of cuisines to satisfy your taste buds. You’ll also  find boutique shops and stores, making it convenient for shopping enthusiasts.

Staying in the Gaslamp Quarter puts you within a short walk/ Uber ride of many attractions, including the Convention Center, Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres), and the historic USS Midway Museum, as well as Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, and New Children’s Museum.

The Gaslamp Quarter is well-connected to public transportation, making it easy to explore other parts of San Diego via trolleys and buses.

Gaslamp Quarter is generally a safe area for tourists during the day and evenings. There are homeless  people but none bother you. To ensure your safety, use common street smart sense, avoid dark alleys, avoid walking alone at 2 am, and don’t get too intoxicated.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Gaslamp Quarter for first-timers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Pendry San Diego, 5-star hotel, centrally located in the heart of downtown San Diego, close to many restaurants and a short Uber ride to the airport and Coronado island.
  • Mid-range ($$): Horton Grand Hotel, popular 4-star hotel located in the middle of Gaslamp Quarter, short walk from San Diego Convention Center and PETCO Park.
  • Budget ($): Staypineapple, Hotel Z, Gaslamp San Diego, great 3-star accommodation located on 6th Ave, Downtown San Diego, a short walk from Horton Plaza Shopping Center, featuring 24-hour front desk. Close to the train station and easy access to major attractions.

2. Little Italy

Little Italy is a great area to stay in San Diego if you’re a food enthusiast who appreciates a laid-back, cultural ambiance. It’s also relatively close to downtown San Diego, so you can easily access other attractions in the area.

Little Italy is a charming neighborhood with a strong Italian heritage. You’ll find beautiful streets, colorful buildings, and a welcoming atmosphere.

You can explore a wide range of Italian restaurants, cafes, and bakeries. It’s a food lover’s paradise, and you can enjoy fresh pasta, authentic gelato, and more.

The Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market takes place every Saturday. It’s one of the largest and most vibrant farmers’ markets in San Diego, featuring local produce, artisanal products, and international cuisine.

The neighborhood is located near the waterfront, providing opportunities for scenic walks and enjoying beautiful views of San Diego Bay.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Little Italy for first-timers:

  • Mid-range ($$): Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, great 3-star hotel, located within walking distance from restaurants and cafes in Little Italy, and Maritime Museum of San Diego.
  • Mid-range ($$): La Pensione Hotel, 3-star accommodation, located in the middle of Little Italy, easy distance from many restaurants, bars, and the farmer’s market.
  • Budget ($): International Travelers House Adventure Hostel, popular good value for money backpacker hostels located within a short walk from Little Italy. It offers a daily pancake breakfast and 24-hour front desk.

3. Coronado Island

Located on an island across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado is known for its historic charm, beautiful beaches, and luxury hotels. It’s a very safe and family-friendly area.

The island is easily accessible from Downtown San Diego by car or ferry. It is home to Coronado Beach, which is often ranked among the best in the United States. It’s perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing.

The Hotel del Coronado, often called “The Del,” is an iconic historic hotel located on the island. Even if you’re not staying there, it’s worth a visit for its grand architecture and beautiful beachfront location.

Coronado offers a relaxed, resort-like atmosphere. It’s an ideal place to unwind, take leisurely strolls, and enjoy the ocean views.

The island is home to the Coronado Municipal Golf Course, which provides golf enthusiasts with beautiful scenery while playing a round of golf.

Coronado is a bike-friendly community with plenty of paths and rentals available. You can also explore the island on foot, taking in the lovely streets and gardens.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Coronado for first-time visitors:

  • Mid-range ($$): Hotel Marisol Coronado, great 3-star good value for money, boutique hotel located on Coronado Island, within a 5 mins walk from Coronado Beach.
  • Mid-range ($$): El Cordova, 3-star good value for money accommodation located on Orange Avenue, located within walking distance from Coronado Beach and the Hotel Del Coronado. It features a nice courtyard, and Outdoor swimming pool and family rooms.
  • Budget ($): Hotel Marisol Coronado, 2-star good value for money hotel, in safe neighborhoods, easy access to Coronado Beach and shops and restaurants in Downtown San Diego.

4. Shelter Island

Shelter Island is a scenic peninsula located in Point Loma and is a great area to book a hotel if you’re seeking a tranquil waterfront getaway with a focus on relaxation and scenic beauty. It’s a favorite spot for those who appreciate boating, waterfront dining, and leisurely walks by the bay. 

Shelter Island is known for its stunning waterfront views, with panoramic vistas of San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline. It’s a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the scenery.

The island is home to several marinas, making it a popular destination for boating and water enthusiasts. You can rent boats, go sailing, or simply stroll along the harbor.

While Shelter Island is beautiful and peaceful, it’s somewhat removed from downtown San Diego and other major attractions. You’ll need a car or rely on rideshares to explore the wider San Diego area.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Shelter Island:

5. Mission Beach/Pacific Beach

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are two adjacent beach areas in San Diego, and they are often considered together due to their proximity and similar vibes. 

Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are ideal for visitors who enjoy a beach-centric vacation, water sports, a lively atmosphere, and nightlife. 

Mission Beach has a famous boardwalk known as Belmont Park, featuring an amusement park with a historic roller coaster, carnival games, and more. It’s great for families and those looking for fun activities.

Both areas have a thriving nightlife scene, with numerous bars, clubs, and live music venues for those who enjoy going out in the evenings.

Best places to stay in Mission Beach/Pacific Beach for first-timers:

  • Mid-range ($$): Paradise Point Resort & Spa, 4-star beautiful resort just a few mins drive from SeaWorld San Diego and San Diego Zoo.
  • Mid-range ($$): The Wayfarer San Diego, popular 4-star Beachfront hotel located on Mission Beach, offering an oceanfront pool, bike rental services. You can enjoy many water sports activities such as bicycling, surfing, tennis and shopping in its surrounding area.
  • Budget ($): Ocean Park Inn, great 3-star good value for money seafront hotel located in Pacific Beach, offering secure parking for those who drive.

6. La Jolla

This upscale coastal neighborhood is known for its beautiful beaches, upscale shopping, and fine dining. It’s a safe and picturesque area with a relaxed atmosphere. 

It is an ideal for couples seeking a romantic getaway, art enthusiasts, and those who enjoy outdoor activities and exploring natural beauty.

La Jolla boasts some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in San Diego. You can enjoy breathtaking ocean views, rugged cliffs, and pristine beaches. Be sure to visit La Jolla Cove, a favorite spot for snorkeling and admiring marine life.

The area has an upscale and elegant ambiance, with boutique shops, art galleries, and fine dining restaurants. It’s a great place for a luxurious getaway.

In addition to La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Shores offers a wide, sandy beach perfect for swimming, kayaking, and sunbathing.

La Jolla offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and water sports. You can also explore the scenic Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve nearby.

You can visit cultural attractions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the La Jolla Historical Society.

Best places to stay in San Diego in La Jolla:

  • Luxury ($$$): Pantai Inn, 5-star accommodation located on Coast Boulevard, short walk/ Uber ride from La Jolla Cove Beach, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and SeaWorld San Diego.
  • Mid-range ($$): Sands Of La Jolla, 4-star good value for money beach hotel located in a safe area on la jolla blvd, short distance from Calumet Park Beach and Tourmaline Surfing Park Beach, offering free parking. 
  • Budget ($): Inn by the Sea, La Jolla, popular 3-star accommodation located on Fay Avenue, La Jolla, featuring an outdoor swimming pool, 24-hour front desk, and family rooms. Easy access to the beach, restaurants, and cafes.

7. Del Mar

Del Mar is an affluent coastal community known for its stunning beaches and upscale resorts. It’s a quiet and safe area with a charming village feel.

Del Mar offers some of San Diego’s most pristine beaches. You can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and water sports in a picturesque setting.

Del Mar is famous for its horse racing at the Del Mar Racetrack, which is a major attraction during the summer racing season.

Del Mar offers opportunities for hiking, golfing, and enjoying the outdoors at places like Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Del Mar:

  • Budget ($): Del Mar Beach Hotel, great 2-star good value for money beachfront safe motel, located near the lifeguard headquarters, within walking distance to many restaurants and bars.
  • Mid-range ($$): Les Artistes Inn, 3-star boutique hotel located on Camino Del Mar, 15 mins walk to Del Mar City Beach, featuring an outdoor fireplace. 
  • Mid-range ($$): Best Western Premier Hotel Del Mar, great 3-star hotel, featuring an outdoor pool and hot tub, short ride from the entertainment venue The Belly Up Tavern.

8. Carlsbad

Located a bit north of San Diego, Carlsbad is a family-friendly beach town with a safe and welcoming atmosphere. It’s known for its Legoland theme park and beautiful coastline.

Carlsbad is home to attractions like Legoland California, which is a popular destination for families with young children.

Carlsbad has some lovely beaches, including Carlsbad State Beach and Tamarack Beach, where you can enjoy swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.

The Carlsbad Village area offers a charming downtown atmosphere with boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, and a weekly farmers’ market.

You can explore outdoor activities like hiking in the nearby Agua Hedionda Lagoon, golfing at local courses, and enjoying the outdoors at places like Batiquitos Lagoon.

The city has cultural attractions, including the Museum of Making Music and the Flower Fields, which bloom with vibrant colors in the spring.

Carlsbad is conveniently located near other San Diego County attractions, such as Del Mar, Encinitas, and San Diego proper.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Carlsbad:

  • Luxury ($$$): LEGOLAND California Hotel and Castle Hotel, 4-star family-friendly hotel, located within a short drive from Carlsbad Village and The Carlsbad Flower Fields, home to SEA LIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND Water Park.
  • Mid-range ($$): Beachwalk Villas, 4-star beachfront villa, located Carlsbad, a short walk from Tamarack State Beach, featuring barbecue facilities, an outdoor swimming pool and free parking.
  • Budget ($): Tamarack Beach Hotel, great 3-star seafront hotel, offering Free parking, outdoor swimming pool and family rooms.

In conclusion, Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, Coronado, Shelter Island, Mission/Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar, and Carlsbad are the best places to stay in San Diego for first-timers and tourists. These are generally safe areas for visitors to book hotels during their visit in the city.

You can continue reading about San Diego and other popular cities in California in these articles:

There you have it, my recommendations for the most popular and safest neighborhoods that you can stay during your first trip to San Diego. I hope you found my article helpful and enjoy your holiday!

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality travel guides.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

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