Where to Stay in San Diego without a car: 10 Best areas

Wondering where to stay in San Diego without a car? In this post, I will help you to find the best areas to stay in San Diego without a car along with a helpful map and the best hotels to stay in San Diego without a car for all budget travelers.

San Diego is a major tourist destination located in the southern part of California, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, close to the border with Mexico. It is known for its beautiful beaches, parks, museums, mild climate, and diverse culture. 

You can definitely enjoy a vacation in San Diego without a car. The city has a decent public transportation system and plenty of walkable areas, making it possible to explore the city using alternative transportation methods. 

San Diego has a trolley system and buses operated by the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). The trolley system connects many popular areas, including downtown, Old Town, and Mission Valley. You can use the MTS website or apps to plan your routes and get real-time information.

San Diego has become more bike-friendly in recent years, with bike lanes and paths in various parts of the city. Many neighborhoods, like Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, are easily navigable by bike. You can rent bikes from bike-sharing services available throughout the city.

Some areas in San Diego are very pedestrian-friendly, especially the downtown and waterfront areas. You can explore places like the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park, and Little Italy on foot.

You can use ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, which is a convenient way to get around, especially if you’re traveling a short distance or with a group of friends.

The Coaster is a commuter train that connects San Diego to nearby cities like Oceanside. Amtrak also has a station in downtown San Diego, for connections to other destinations along the coast.

There are various guided tours available in San Diego, including bus tours, trolley tours, and walking tours, which can be a great way to explore the city’s attractions.

Additionally, San Diego Bay has ferry services that can take you between downtown, Coronado Island, and other nearby areas.

When choosing accommodation, opt for places in walkable neighborhoods with easy access to public transportation hubs.

While it’s possible to have a fulfilling vacation in San Diego without a car, keep in mind that some attractions, like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or areas outside the city center, might be more challenging to reach without a vehicle. 

Where to stay in San Diego without a car?

The best areas to stay in San Diego without a car are Downtown, Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, Embarcadero, Old Town, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla, and Coronado. 

These areas are well-connected by public transportation, within walking distance of attractions, and have amenities nearby. 

Downtown is the overall best place to stay in San Diego without the car due to its central location, walkability, and excellent connection to public transportation. Downtown encompassess the neighborhoods of Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and the Embarcadero.

The beach areas and other neighborhoods might require a bit more planning if you’re relying solely on public transportation, but they are still manageable without a car.

Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, and La Jolla are the best locations for travelers without a car wanting to stay right on the beach and have easy access to tourist amenities on foot. You can rely on rideshares or public transportation to get around.

If you’re interested in history and culture, Old Town is a great choice. It’s a historic area with preserved buildings, museums, and cultural sites. You’ll find charming shops and restaurants here, and it’s also well-connected by public transportation.

Coronado is accessible by a bridge or ferry from downtown. It’s a charming island with a relaxed vibe and beautiful beaches. Once on the island, you can explore on foot, by bike, or using local transportation.

During my trip to San Diego, I stayed at the 4-star mid-range Manchester Grand Hyatt. It has a prime location in the heart of the Downtown, close to everything. Walking distance to many attractions, easy access to the town trolley stop, shops and restaurants.

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

Map of Best areas to Stay in San Diego without a car
Map of Best areas to Stay in San Diego without a car

10 Best areas to stay in San Diego without a car:

1. Downtown San Diego

Downtown is often considered one of the best areas to stay in San Diego without a car. It’s a highly walkable and accessible area with plenty of amenities, attractions, and public transportation options. 

Downtown is designed with pedestrians in mind. Many attractions, restaurants, shops, and entertainment options are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to explore the area on foot.

The area is well-served by public transportation, including buses and trolleys operated by MTS. These options can take you to various parts of the city, including popular neighborhoods and attractions beyond downtown.

Downtown has bike lanes and bike-sharing programs, making it a bike-friendly destination. You can easily rent a bike and explore the waterfront and nearby areas.

Many of San Diego’s top attractions are located in or near Downtown, including the Seaport Village, USS Midway Museum, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the waterfront area. This means you won’t have to travel far to experience the city’s highlights.

Downtown offers a wide range of dining, shopping, and entertainment options, from upscale restaurants to casual eateries, theaters, and music venues. The Gaslamp Quarter is known for its lively nightlife scene.

The waterfront area is a major draw, offering scenic views, parks, and waterfront activities. You can take harbor cruises, visit the Maritime Museum, or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll along the water.

If you’re attending an event at the San Diego Convention Center, staying in Downtown is especially convenient as it’s located adjacent to the center.

Downtown offers a variety of accommodation options, including hotels, boutique inns, and vacation rentals, making it easy to find a place that suits your preferences and budget.

While Downtown is a great option for car-free travelers, it’s worth noting that if you plan to explore areas outside of downtown, such as the beaches in La Jolla, you might need to rely on public transportation, rideshare services, or tours to get there. 

Best places to stay in Downtown San Diego without a car:

Luxury ($$$): Pendry San Diego, 5-star hotel, in the heart of downtown in the Gaslamp quarter, ideal base for first-timers and travelers with no car. Located close to lots of shops and restaurants as well as a quick uber to Coronado island and airport.

Mid-range ($$): Moxy San Diego, 4-star hotel, attractively located in the center of San Diego, within walking distance from San Diego – Santa Fe Depot Amtrak Station and  USS Midway Museum. It has 24-hour front desk, and a private parking for those traveling with a car.

Budget ($): Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, 3-star hotel, located adjacent to San Diego Symphony Hall, within a short distance to the Gaslamp District, trolley, and bus lines, offering easy access to Balboa Park, Old Town,  the zoo, and Coronado Landing without rental cars.

Hostel ($): Gaslamp Hostel, great hostel, ideally set in Downtown San Diego, one of the best places to stay in San Diego without a car for backpackers and budget travelers. It offers air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge and free WiFi.  


2. Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is a historic neighborhood located in downtown San Diego and one of the best areas to stay in San Diego without a car. It is known for its vibrant nightlife, historic architecture, and diverse array of shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.

The Gaslamp Quarter is known for its pedestrian-friendly layout. Most of the area’s attractions, restaurants, and shops are within walking distance of each other. This makes it convenient to explore the neighborhood on foot.

The Gaslamp Quarter is well-connected to San Diego’s public transportation system, including buses and trolleys. The Fifth Avenue trolley station is located nearby, providing access to various parts of the city.

If you’re interested in nightlife, dining, and entertainment, the Gaslamp Quarter has a plethora of options that you can easily access on foot. This can be particularly appealing for those who want to enjoy the city’s vibrant scene without the hassle of driving or finding parking.

Staying in the Gaslamp Quarter immerses you in the historic and cultural ambiance of downtown San Diego. The neighborhood’s architecture, events, and diverse offerings provide a unique and engaging experience.

Best places to stay in Gaslamp Quarter without a car:

Luxury ($$$): Andaz San Diego, 5-star hotel, located in the Gaslamp District, featuring a rooftop pool and restaurant with city views. Its central location offers easy access to most things including the Petco Park, and Seaport Village. 

Mid-range ($$): Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, great-4-star hotel, ideal place to stay in San Diego without a car, located within San Diego’s Gaslamp district. It is located close to everything, within a short stroll from  Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center.

Budget ($): Staypineapple, Hotel Z, 3-star family-friendly and pet-friendly accommodation, located in central San Diego, 4 km from San Diego International Airport. It offers free use of bicycles and the area is popular for cycling.


3. Little Italy

Little Italy is a convenient choice for visitors who prefer not to rent a car or rely on personal transportation due to its central location, walkability, and access to public transportation.

Little Italy is located just north of the downtown core, near the waterfront of San Diego Bay and Interstate 5. It is known for its vibrant atmosphere, Italian cultural influence, and a wide range of restaurants, cafes, shops, and events.  

The Little Italy Mercato is a popular weekly farmers’ market that takes place every Saturday. It features local produce, artisanal products, food vendors, live music, and more. It’s one of the largest farmer’s markets in San Diego.

Best places to stay in Little Italy without a car:

Mid-range ($$): Homewood Suites by Hilton, 4-star daily-friendly hotel, conveniently located in the Little Italy area in Downtown San Diego, close to lots of affordable restaurants. It has a year-round outdoor pool, restaurant and continental breakfast.

Budget ($): La Pensione Hotel, great 3-star hotel, one of the best places to stay in San Diego’s Little Italy district without a car. It is a short stroll from the Maritime Museum of San Diego. 

Budget ($): Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, 3-star hotel, centrally located in Downtown neighborhood, offering easy access to  Restaurants and cafes in San Diego’s Little Italy, as well as numerous attractions without the need of having a car.


4. The Embarcadero

The Embarcadero is a great place to stay without a car as it offers a mix of attractions, dining options, and waterfront views that are easily accessible by walking or using public transportation. 

The Embarcadero is a waterfront area located in downtown San Diego, along the eastern shore of San Diego Bay. It is a popular destination due to its scenic views, recreational activities, and various attractions. 

This area is within walking distance of many attractions like the USS Midway Museum, Maritime Museum, and Seaport Village. Public transportation options are available.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Embarcadero without a car:

  • Mid-range ($$): Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, 4-star luxury resort hotel in Downtown San Diego, 10 minute drive away from San Diego International Airport,  Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.
  • Mid-range ($$):  InterContinental San Diego, an IHG Hotel, 4-star hotel, situated on the San Diego waterfront, offering rooms with San Diego Bay views as well as a 4th floor rooftop bar.  Easy access to major attractions, and Santa Fe Depot Amtrak Station.
  • Budget ($): SpringHill Suites by Marriott, 3-star hotel, set in a very convenient location close to the bay and downtown area.

5. Mission Beach 

Mission Beach is a convenient and enjoyable area to stay in San Diego without a car. It is a popular coastal neighborhood that offers a variety of attractions, beautiful beaches, and a lively atmosphere.  

It is well-connected by local buses from Old Town San Diego and is about a 20-30 minute Uber ride from downtown San Diego, depending on traffic conditions.

Mission Beach offers a long stretch of sandy shoreline along the Pacific Ocean. The beach is a hotspot for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, beach volleyball, and building sandcastles. If you love spending time at the beach, this area will be ideal for you.

Mission Beach is relatively walkable, with many shops, restaurants, and entertainment options within walking distance. You can easily explore the boardwalk, bike paths, and nearby attractions without needing a car.

The boardwalk, known as the Ocean Front Walk or the Mission Beach Boardwalk, runs parallel to the beach and is lined with shops, restaurants, and rental places for bikes, rollerblades, and other recreational equipment.

It is home to Belmont Park, a historic amusement park, where you can find the famous Giant Dipper roller coaster, which dates back to the 1920s. It has a variety of other rides, games, and attractions, making it a fun destination for families and visitors of all ages.

While Mission Beach has its own attractions, it’s not as centrally located as some other neighborhoods. Getting to certain popular attractions like Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, or downtown San Diego might require more time and effort.

Overall, if you prioritize beach access, walkability, and a vibrant atmosphere, Mission Beach could be a great choice. But, if you plan to visit a wide range of attractions around the city, you might want to stay in downtown San Diego, Little Italy, or the Gaslamp Quarter.

Best places to stay in Mission Beach without a car:


6. Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach is one of the more desirable areas to stay in San Diego, especially for travelers who don’t plan on having a car during their stay. It’s a popular beach community located along the coastline and offers a vibrant atmosphere with a variety of restaurants, bars, shops, and recreational activities.

Pacific Beach is known for its pedestrian-friendly streets, making it easy to explore the area on foot. The beach, boardwalk, and many attractions are within walking distance of each other.

Pacific Beach is located approximately a 30 minute bus ride from Old Town Transit Center to Ocean Boulevard in Pacific Beach. Additionally, you can use rideshare services like Uber and Lyft for convenient transportation to nearby areas.

Pacific Beach is bike-friendly, with dedicated bike lanes and rental shops where you can easily rent bicycles. Biking is a great way to get around and enjoy the coastal scenery.

The main attraction of Pacific Beach is its stunning beaches with opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and beach volleyball. If you’re interested in spending time at the beach, Pacific Beach offers easy access to sandy shores and ocean activities.

Pacific Beach has a wide range of dining options, from casual beachfront eateries to trendy restaurants. It’s also known for its nightlife, with many bars and clubs in the area.

However, keep in mind that parking can be limited in Pacific Beach, and during peak tourist seasons, finding parking might be a challenge. If you’re not planning to use a car, this may not be a concern for you.

Overall, Pacific Beach can be a great choice for travelers without a car who want to enjoy the beach, vibrant nightlife, and a walkable neighborhood in San Diego.

Best places to stay in Pacific Beach without a car:

Mid-range ($$): Pacific Terrace Hotel, 4-star beach resort located on Pacific Beach Park that has a beachfront outdoor pool and hot tub. Short drive from Gaslamp Quarter and San Diego Zoo.

Budget ($): Ocean Park Inn, 3-star hotel, in an ideal location just steps from the Pacific Beach Boardwalk, 5 minute Uber ride from Historic oceanfront amusement park Belmont Park, 12 minute drive from the seaside village of La Jolla, a short stroll from Crystal Pier.

Budget ($): The Beach Cottages, 3-star beachfront hotel, easy access to the beach and restaurants.


7. Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is a great area to stay in San Diego without a car if you prioritize a beach-centered, walkable, and local experience. 

Ocean Beach is a popular neighborhood known for its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful coastline, and vibrant community. It offers a mix of shops, restaurants, bars, and outdoor activities.

The main street that runs through Ocean Beach is Newport Avenue, which is known for its shops, restaurants, and the local beach culture. 

The iconic Ocean Beach Municipal Pier extends from the end of Newport Avenue into the ocean, offering stunning views and fishing opportunities.

Ocean Beach is relatively walkable, with many amenities and attractions within walking distance. You’ll find grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, and the beach itself easily accessible on foot.

The neighborhood is known for its beach, which is a major draw for tourists. If spending time at the beach is a priority for you, staying in Ocean Beach can be convenient.

Ocean Beach has a distinct local atmosphere that many visitors find appealing. It’s known for its eclectic mix of shops, its weekly farmer’s market, and its vibrant community events.

While San Diego’s public transportation system isn’t as extensive as in some larger cities, there are bus routes that serve the Ocean Beach area, making it possible to travel to other parts of San Diego without a car.

Best places to stay in Ocean Beach without a car:

Budget ($): Samesun Ocean Beach, great accommodation, located right in the middle of Ocean Beach, easy access to beach, restaurants, bars, and shops. Featuring private rooms and dormitory rooms.

Budget ($): The Inn at Sunset Cliffs, 3-star hotel, ideally set in historical Point Loma directly on the Pacific Ocean, just steps away from Ocean Beach. Its location provides easy access to many area dining options, entertainment, shopping, and much more!

Budget ($): Ocean Beach Hotel, 2-star hotel, Located directly on Ocean Beach, short stroll to Shopping, dining and beach activities. It has luggage storage and laundry services.


8. La Jolla

La Jolla is one of the best places to stay in San Diego without a car. It is a picturesque coastal community, offering a variety of attractions, dining options, shopping, and beautiful beaches, making it an appealing destination for travelers.

La Jolla is approximately 12 miles north of downtown San Diego and can be easily reached by car, public transportation, or even biking along the coastline.

La Jolla’s downtown area is relatively compact and pedestrian-friendly. Many attractions, restaurants, shops, and beaches are within walking distance of each other.

La Jolla boasts stunning beaches like La Jolla Cove and Windansea Beach. These areas are perfect for relaxing, swimming, snorkeling, or simply enjoying the ocean views.

There are several attractions that you can easily reach on foot, such as the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the La Jolla Playhouse, and the historic La Jolla Recreation Center.

La Jolla is also a bike-friendly area, with designated bike lanes and paths. Renting a bike can be a great way to explore the community and nearby areas.

The area offers a range of dining options, from casual cafes to upscale restaurants, as well as boutique shops and art galleries that you can easily explore on foot.

The coastal views in La Jolla are spectacular. You can take leisurely strolls along the shoreline or cliffs to soak in the natural beauty of the area.

Keep in mind that while La Jolla itself offers a lot to see and do without a car, if you’re interested in exploring other parts of San Diego, such as downtown or attractions like Balboa Park, you might need to rely on public transportation, rideshare services, or organized tours.

Best places to stay in La Jolla without a car:


9. Old Town

Old Town is a popular and historic area in San Diego, located about 3 miles northeast of downtown. It is known for its charming atmosphere and cultural significance as the birthplace of California. It’s home to various historic sites, museums, and a vibrant Mexican marketplace

Many of San Diego’s attractions are within walking distance or a short public transit ride from Old Town, such as the USS Midway Museum, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo.

Old Town is well-connected by public transportation, including the San Diego Trolley and buses, which can take you to various parts of the city.

Staying in Old Town offers a chance to immerse yourself in the historical and cultural aspects of San Diego, with its preserved historic buildings and museums.

If you’re interested in spending a lot of time at the beach, you can rely on public transportation or rideshare services to reach the coastal areas.

In summary, Old Town is a good area to stay in San Diego without a car, especially if you’re interested in exploring the historic and cultural aspects of the city. But, if beach access or vibrant nightlife are top priorities, you might also consider downtown San Diego or beachside areas.

Best places to stay in San Diego in Old Town without a car:

Mid-range ($$): Cosmopolitan Hotel, 4-star hotel, located in central San Diego Old Town, adjacent to Old Town State Park, 100 yards away from the San Diego Trolley, offering easy access to nearby attractions and beaches.

Budget ($): Courtyard San Diego Old Town, 3-star hotel set in a great location, short walk from Old Town shops and restaurants.

Budget ($): Old Town Inn, 2-star hotel, situated  in the light industrial Midway area, within a short distance from Old Town and the train station, offering easy access to other parts of the city.


10. Coronado

Coronado is a good choice for car-free travelers. It’s a beautiful island situated just across the San Diego Bay from downtown San Diego. The compact size of Coronado makes it relatively easy to get around on foot, by bike, or using local transportation options.

Coronado is known for its pedestrian-friendly layout. Most of the popular attractions, including the Coronado Beach, restaurants, shops, and parks, are within walking distance of each other.

Biking is a popular mode of transportation on the island. You can rent bikes locally and explore the scenic coastline, visit the Coronado Ferry Landing, or simply enjoy the charming streets.

If you want to visit downtown San Diego, you can take the Coronado Ferry, which offers beautiful views of the bay and skyline. The ferry drops you off near the Convention Center and other downtown attractions.

Coronado offers a relaxed and slower-paced environment compared to downtown San Diego, making it a great place to unwind and enjoy the beach.

The island itself offers stunning views of the bay, downtown San Diego, and the Pacific Ocean. You can enjoy these views without needing a car.

It’s important to note that while Coronado is a great option for car-free travel, it might not be as well-connected as staying in certain parts of downtown San Diego. If you plan to explore some of the inland attractions, you might find that having a car could be more convenient.

Best places to stay in SAn Diego in Coronado without a car:


Summary – Where is the best place to stay in San Diego without a car?

In conclusion, Downtown, Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, Old Town, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla, and Coronado are the best places to stay in San Diego without a car. They are walkable areas with easy access to amenities, public transportation, Uber and Lifts.

Downtown is the best overall area to stay in San Diego without a car. It is the heart and the transport hub of the city, encompassing smaller neighborhoods of Little Italy, the Embarcadero, and the Gaslamp Quarter. Staying here puts you in the middle of the action, close to everything!

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

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.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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