Key Tips for Getting to and Around San Diego

Zack Garhart
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By plane, train, or car, there are plenty of ways to get to San Diego for a vacation! We’ve highlighted a few key tips for getting to and around the city!

Few things beat a drive up or down Pacific Coast Highway 1 – famous for its coastal stretches and sweeping views, this is one of our favorite ways to arrive to San Diego. There are some awesome nearby beach towns that you’ll see on your way, especially Solana Beach. If you’re traveling by car, consider spending some extra time along the coastal highway for some spectacular views and scenic outlooks!

Tips to driving in the city:

Once you get into San Diego by car, use one of the many highways and interstates for getting around more efficiently. Traffic in San Diego is subjective to peak travel hours like any big city, so try to avoid the highways in the morning and around dinner time! San Diego itself is pretty spread out, with many of its beach destinations being outside of the downtown center, so you’ll want to do a little research on which part of the city you want to see before setting out. We love Ocean Beach for its chill vibes, while Pacific Beach offers a more vibrant social scene. Of course, both Mission and Pacific Beach are great destinations, and feature two of our hostels!

As for the downtown area, San Diego is not especially large and relatively condensed. Downtown features Petco Park, where the San Diego Padres play, plus plenty of restaurants and other cool destinations like Balboa Park that make for a great day-trip into the city. I-5 and I-805 will be your major highways for getting in and out of the city, while State Route 94 is another main throughway that is useful for getting around quickly. Remember, both can get backed up during rush hour, so plan your trip accordingly! Otherwise, the city runs mostly on a grid and is pretty easy to follow with its use of letters and numbers for labeling many of the streets. Also, once you find parking, consider walking instead of driving all over the city! San Diego is pretty walkable as far as cities go.

Do remember: it’s best to travel in groups if you’re out at night. Walking alone in any city at night is not recommended, so be selective for when you decide to walk to your bar or restaurant of choice. If you’re feeling social, find someone at the hostel who might want to tag along and try to travel in groups! We always recommend using Uber or Lyft, as these are often inexpensive ways to access the city – and quicker than riding a bus or trolley!

Interested in getting another look at the public transit options in San Diego?Watch this video!

What about parking?

Parking in any big city can be a pain, especially when it comes to finding free parking! We suggest doing a search around your destination, as sometimes you can get lucky, but otherwise we recommend looking near residential areas in San Diego for free parking. These are often used by people living in the area, so you’re more likely to find an open spot that does not have any restrictions or fees. San Diego has a number of lots where you can pay to park, otherwise there is plenty of meter-parking peppered around the city. Pay attention to the signs! There are many streets that enforce restrictions on parking during certain hours of the day. The parking attendants will ticket you – or worse, you could get towed! 

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Some bus and trolley routes to know:

If you’re not coming by car, and plan to arrive at either the airport or train station, there’s plenty of ways to get around the city once you’re here. We like the trolley system, as it offers a few different lines that will get you to places like the US-Mexico border, as well as near the Padres Stadium. Otherwise, the city features a handful of useful bus lines that offer transportation to and from places like Downtown, Pacific Beach, Fashion Valley, SDSU and more! Check out this website for a list of routes and schedules, as well as fare information. One-way rides are $2.50 on both the trolley and bus.

Also, a good resource for planning transportation to and from the airport is this website!

If you’re hanging out downtown, San Diego also offers vintage trolleys that have been restored and put to use for smaller circuits throughout downtown. Also just $2.50 per ride, this is a fun way to get around. Note: these run every 30 minutes, so check the schedule before planning your ride!

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For those coming by plane, there is the 992 bus that will get you into downtown San Diego. A ride from the airport on the 992 to Santa Fe Depot, in downtown San Diego, should take around 15 minutes, depending on traffic. Once you’re downtown, it’s easy to get to some of the beaches and other destinations around the city!

With this list of options for getting around San Diego, you should be set up for your next trip! We hope you can use our key tips for getting to and around San Diego!

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