Getting around San Diego can be fun and entertaining all on its own. If you plan to explore a good part of the region, a rental car might be your best option. But, if you plan to stay in the city center, or just relax along the coast, then public transportation might be the call. Here are a few things to consider:
Exploring San Diego by car is the most convenient way of getting around to all corners of the region. The freeway system is easy to navigate and the traffic is manageable other than typical work-day morning and evening rush hours.
Travel to San Diego just got a lot easier. The Rental Car Center at San Diego International Airport opened in January 2016 and provides visitors to the destination an easy, reliable, and comfortable experience for renting a vehicle.
The Rental Car Center is home to most of the rental car companies including national brands, local companies, and independent businesses in one central location. At a cost of $316 million, the facility dramatically reduces the number of shuttle buses and lessens the impact of cars on North Harbor Drive. The building can accommodate more than 5,400 vehicles in the parking structure’s 2-million square foot design.
Continuing San Diego Intentional Airport’s commitment to a long-term sustainability plan, the facility was designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Code.
If you're looking to rent a car while in San Diego, the centrally-located airport is served by all major car rental agencies, and reservation boards with courtesy phones are located near the baggage claim areas of Terminals 1 and 2. Shuttles regularly circle in and out of the airport to car rental outposts spotted near and around the airport, many of them on Harbor Drive and near the Commuter Terminal.
Many of the car rental companies also provide convenient pick-up services at many of the San Diego hotels. Just be sure to make reservations and arrangements ahead of time. Many hotel concierge services can also offer these services, so check with your hotel on what they can provide for you.
Parking laws are strictly enforced in San Diego including meters, no parking hours/days and permit required. There are numerous pay-to-park lots around the city, here is a handy apps that will show you what's available by neighborhood or nearby.
Looking to explore San Diego in style? There are plenty of limousine or town car services that can take you around town like a diplomat. Be it a special occasion like a wedding, bachelor/bachelorette party, anniversary or just because, there are plenty of luxury transport companies that can get you where you need to go.
There are also party bus tours that can take you around on wine tours and brewery tours, so you can enjoy the spirits of the region without the need to get behind the wheel. For more information on tour operators, click here.
Conveniently located just ten minutes from downtown San Diego and serviced by 22 major and commuter airlines including non-stop flights from Japan and the UK, San Diego International Airport, managed by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, receives more than 16 million passengers a year.
Flying into San Diego, passengers get a bird's eye view of Balboa Park, downtown and the San Diego Bay on their descent down to San Diego International Airport, aka Lindbergh Field. The airport terminals are easy to navigate and rarely crowded. Disembarking the plane, collecting luggage and getting out to the street often only takes a few minutes.
A taxi or shuttle is a quick and easy way to get to your destination and they can be found at the island outposts outside of each terminal. For car rentals, the airport is served by all major car rental agencies. Courtesy phones are located near the baggage claim areas of Terminals 1 and 2.
Airport parking is located outside of all three airport terminals, with valet parking service at Terminals 1 and 2. To save time when you leave, take your parking ticket with you and pre-pay at automated express parking pay stations. With these pre-paid tickets, you can then use the express pay exit lane when leaving the terminal. Otherwise, there are staffed payment booths at the exit gates of each parking lot where you can pay.
When picking up arriving travelers, curbside parking in front of the terminals is not permitted. If you don't need to meet your group inside and want to avoid circling and wasting gas, the best option is to wait in the airport's convenient cell phone wait lot. Parking in this lot is free for up to 60 minutes, 24 hours a day and vehicles must be turned off and attended at all times. Once contact is made with the incoming passenger, proceed to the terminals. The lot features food and drink vending machines, flight information displays and portable restrooms. Enter the wait lot west-bound on North Harbor Drive at Rent-a-Car Access Road, just east of the Commuter Terminal.
Created to aid travelers in situations when time, convenience and parking availability are a concern, the valet parking service is available at curbside drop-off locations at Terminals 1 and 2, as well as designated locations within the Terminal 1 parking lot. Look for the SAN Park Valet signs.
Travelers from along the West Coast and beyond can book a seat or berth on an Amtrak train and relax while they enjoy great views of the Pacific Ocean. While in San Diego, visitors can also use the region's San Diego Trolley and Coaster trains to explore the region by rail.
If you're staying in and around downtown San Diego, Mission Valley or just east of the city, the iconic bright red trolley is a great choice. The San Diego Trolley provides convenient services from key locations including the Santa Fe Depot and the San Diego Convention Center, crisscrossing through downtown and out to Old Town, Mission Valley, El Cajon and Santee.
There are three trolley lines (Blue, Orange and Green) that service the downtown San Diego communities and beyond, covering 51 miles of track, and 53 stations total. Fares run from $1.50 to $3 one-way and trolleys run an average of every 15 minutes, 7 minutes during peak and 30 minutes during off-peak hours.
For current information on Bus and Trolley Service, visit the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.
A great way to get around many of the main tourist areas of San Diego is the Old Town Trolley Tours. The Trolley stops at 11 places including Old Town, Seaport Village, Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado, Little Italy and Balboa Park. They also offer a La Jolla and Mission Bay route. You can either ride on the full two-hour narrated historic tour, or hop on and off at different stops throughout the day. They also offer two-day passes and combination options with SEAL Tours.
The Santa Fe Depot, located in downtown San Diego on Kettner Blvd and Broadway, is the main hub for Amtrak, providing various coastal train services from downtown San Diego to Oceanside and beyond.
There are plenty of connecting services from the Oceanside station, including the Sprinter inland rail that can take you out east to Escondido. You may also ride the Pacific Surfliner train from San Diego to Solana Beach and Oceanside plus Anaheim, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and many places in between.
Monday through Sunday, the North County Transit District's Coaster trains connect downtown San Diego and Old Town with coastal communities throughout the county including Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside. These trains offer visitors car-free access to some of the most charming beach communities in the region as well as a relaxing ride with breathtaking coastal scenery. There are more than 20 trains that run on weekdays with additional service on weekends. The entire coaster route from Oceanside to the Santa Fe Depot downtown takes about an hour. An adult round-trip fare from downtown San Diego to Oceanside is $11, and children aged 5 and under ride free.
From early June through early July, the Coaster offers later connections so visitors can enjoy all the nightlife San Diego has to offer including the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego County Fair, 4th of July celebrations, Summer Concerts and more.
Schedules subject to change.
The newest option is the east-west SPRINTER light rail train system that connects Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido. The 22-mile long rail system runs along the Highway 78 corridor, serving 15 stations, and running every 30 minutes. Adult one-way fares are $2, and children aged 5 and under ride free. A regional day pass, valid on the Sprinter, Trolley and buses throughout the county, is $5 for adults and children 5 years and under ride for free.
Contrary to the popular perception that motor coach tours are for senior citizens or school groups headed for a field trip, motor coach tour operations of today offer exciting options for every age, a variety of interests and the convenience of exploring the city with knowledgeable guides.
If you want to explore San Diego by motor coach, there are several tours that are available to choose from. There are typically two types of vacations you can enjoy on a motor coach. The first is a destination trip, which takes you from another city to your destination with minimal stops. The second option is an escorted vacation trip, which takes you from place to place within the destination you are exploring.
To book a motor coach tour in San Diego explore the companies below that offer everything from exploring the San Diego's wine country, to party bus tours, ski charters and trips that even go into Mexico.
San Diego offers many modes of public transportation providing travelers with economical and eco-friendly options to explore the region.
There are plenty of lines and routes that are serviced throughout San Diego. Be sure to check timetables and schedules, and plan your routes in advance.
Between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, for only $3, visitors can hop aboard the Big Bay Shuttle for a eight-stop ride along San Diego's bayfront from Harbor Island to the South Embarcadero, near the San Diego Convention Center. The $3 ticket price allows riders on and off privileges for the entire day. Shuttles arrive at each stop every 15 to 20 minutes from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM on Sunday - Thursday and 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM on Friday and Saturday.
San Diego shuttle services are a convenient way to navigate the city and are ideal for airport pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as going to and from the convention center and cruise ship terminal. There are also local shuttle companies that offer sightseeing tours, daily excursions, and transportation for weddings and private parties.
Shuttle service from the airport is available at the transportation plazas across from the San Diego Airport Terminals 1 and 2, and curbside from the Commuter Terminal.
Taxicab stands are located at the airport, most hotels, attractions and shopping centers. Base fare and rates are displayed on the meter and include a flag drop charge plus a per-mile and/or a per-hour charge. If you are traveling from the airport, they will also add $1.50 to your final total. Follow this link for more information on taxi rates in San Diego. Uber is also well established in San Diego and now has access to service San Diego's airport.
Pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages are popular forms of transportation along downtown's waterfront and in the Gaslamp Quarter. There are tours available as well, providing a unique way to explore San Diego's downtown communities.
This passenger ferry, owned and operated by Flagship Cruises & Events, runs regularly across San Diego Bay, between the Broadway Pier and the Convention Center in downtown San Diego and the Coronado Ferry Landing. A 15 minute ride takes you one way, and is one of the most efficient modes of transportation while providing gorgeous views of the downtown skyline and the Coronado Bridge.
San Diego Water Taxi offers on-call transportation services in San Diego Bay Friday through Sunday. Service runs between Downtown and Coronado, where you can relax and enjoy the scenery and beautiful downtown skylines from the water. Hop serenely from place to place conveniently from your hotel to nearby shopping centers and restaurants.
Other options for getting around San Diego include renting a bike, Segway or GoCar (GPS-guided storytelling car) and taking your time to explore. Or for quick trips around downtown or adjacent communities, try Car2Go's electric Smart Car rentals. It's fun to drive and you can park the cars almost anywhere.
DecoBike is San Diego's only citywide bike share, operated in partnership with the City of San Diego, with over 170 solar-powered bike sharing stations and more than 1,700 bicycles. There are two ways to rent a DecoBike bicycle. You can sign up for an annual or monthly membership online or rent a bike at the station for a short term casual ride.
However you choose to explore San Diego, we invite you to relax and enjoy the ride!