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San Diego Rental Car Advice for Tourists

San Diego is one of the easiest cities to visit in the world. Why? The San Diego Airport is only one mile away from the hotels and attractions in Downtown San Diego.

Yes, you fly right over Balboa Park and through Downtown as you come in for landing. This makes it very convenient and quick for you to get started on enjoying your vacation in San Diego.

Do You Need a Rental Car in San Diego?

The answer to whether you need a car rental in San Diego depends on where your hotel is located and what attractions you want to see.

San Diego Hotels

If you are staying in Downtown San Diego, San Diego Hotelsincluding the Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and the hotels surrounding the Convention Center, or in the areas of Old Town, Hotel Circle, or Mission Valley, you can easily visit most of San Diego’s top attractions without renting a car in San Diego. You will start with Bus #992, which takes airport visitors to the trolley station a mile away and makes stops near downtown hotels on Broadway. All of these areas are served by the San Diego Trolley with the exception of some hotels in Hotel Circle, where guests will want to take a short ride on Bus #88 to reach a nearby trolley station. A public transit Day Pass for using buses and trolleys only costs $5. All of these areas are also served by the Old Town Trolley hop-on and hop-off tour.

If you are staying at hotels on Shelter Island, Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, or father north along the beaches of San Diego, you will want to consider getting a rental car to more readily get around to the attractions in San Diego. However, one alternative to a car rental if staying in these areas is using Gray Line Tours, which provides hotel pick-up to give you access to their city tours, tours to Mexico, and transportation to main attractions including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and LEGOLAND.

For more information on the different areas where you will find hotels in San Diego and the public transit options for each, read this introduction to San Diego hotels.

San Diego Attractions

Most attractions in San Diego Panda at the San Diego Zooare served by some form of transit. (If you use this online travel guide by TourGuideTim, you will find the descriptions provided for over 200 attractions includes the transit options that are available at each destination.)

However, it can be appreciated most tourists shy away from transit, especially if it is not easy to use or takes too long to reach an attraction. To make it simple, if you are staying at a hotel that is readily accessible to the San Diego Trolley as described above, you can avoid using a car rental in San Diego to see the major attractions unless you plan to visit SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (this is different from the San Diego Zoo), and LEGOLAND. You can get transportation to these attractions from your hotel using Gray Line Tours but if you want a flexible schedule, it is best to get a rental car for these visits.

In addition, if you want to visit the San Diego Zoo or the Hotel del Coronado, both require short rides on a city bus. However, a good alternative is to sign up for Old Town Trolley Tours mentioned earlier, which has stops within short walks of both attractions. Also, if you want to visit La Jolla, I’d recommend my highly rated tour which takes guests from downtown San Diego to all of the top sites in La Jolla and Torrey Pines, most of which are not accessible by transit and which almost all visitors and many locals do not find on their own.

Advice for those who get a Car Rental in San Diego

Here are some things to keep in mind if you get a rental car:

  • Downtown San Diego has numerous one-way streets.
  • Many local streets north of downtown San Diego start and stop several times because San Diego is full of hills and valleys (called mesas and canyons by the locals). These streets do not have bridges to connect you from one side of a canyon to the other so you end up at dead ends and have to figure out what streets will get you to the other side.
  • Motorcyclists are allowed to pass in between cars so be careful when you go to change lanes during a traffic jam, which is when motorcyclists take advantage of the opportunity to squeeze between cars.
  • Bicyclists are allowed on to the interstate highways on some stretches, especially in the La Jolla area, so keep an eye out for them as well.
  • Check to see how much your hotel charges for overnight parking.

Advice for those not getting a Rental Car in San Diego

Here are some resources to help you visit San Diego without a car rental: San Diego Trolley

  • San Diego’s transit system earns many awards for its innovation. It’s latest endeavor to stay at the forefront of technology is a collaboration with Google Maps, which will show you on your computer, smartphone, or via text message real-time data on when the next bus will arrive at your stop. You can learn more about this service, try out the transit planner that provides information on what transit can be used to get from point A to point B, and access San Diego public transit maps on TourGuideTim’s page about San Diego Transit Information for Tourists.
  • San Diego’s tour companies provide an excellent alternative to renting a car in San Diego. Not only do you get to avoid the hassles of driving around a new (and challenging) area on your vacation but you will also learn a lot of fascinating history about the area. You can learn more about the Old Town Trolley, Gray Line Tours, and my own La Jolla Tours on TourGuideTim’s page about San Diego Tours.

Information for Foreign Visitors in San Diego

There are many resources for foreign visitors in San Diego.  While traveling far from home, take comfort that there are many people from your country who now live in San Diego.  They host cultural events and provide San Diego resources for fellow emigrants and visitors to San Diego.

You can find San Diego resources from the internet links below to help make you feel at home or find assistance if you need help.  Come visit San Diego.  It is a great international city where you will feel welcome and experience travel that you will remember for a lifetime.


Converting Currency in San Diego

There are several locations where foreign visitors can convert currency in San Diego.  The main currency exchange company in San Diego is Travelex, the world’s largest retail operator.  There are two locations at the San Diego Airport and several more throughout San Diego County.  Their details and a currency converter are provided below.


Smoke Free Attractions in San Diego

Smoke Free advocates have been successful at encouraging most attractions in San Diego to go Smoke Free. Maintained by the American Lung Association, the Smoke Free San Diego web site lists all of the Smoke Free zones in San Diego. They also note the number, and sometimes the location, of designated smoking areas. Below, you will find an overview of what to expect in San Diego for smokers and non-smokers.


San Diego Radio Stations

Find your favorite radio station sorted by music format, news station, talk show, sports team, or Spanish language broadcast. Print it out and take it along for your drive through San Diego. Also, help keep this up-to-date by submitting changes using the form below.


Television in San Diego

It takes a little while for visitors from other time zones to get familiar with the San Diego TV times for their favorite shows and programs. I will describe some of the TV broadcast times below for network news, cable talk shows, sports, and prime time programming.


San Diego Newspapers

Stay current on the latest happenings in San Diego with our Daily Newspapers, Business Periodicals, Weeklies, and Monthlies. Most are available in print and online with the links below.


San Diego Magazines

San Diego Magazine was the first city-focused lifestyle magazine in the country. Since its start in 1948, the magazine has continued to prosper as the most popular San Diego lifestyle magazine. However, there are now several San Diego lifestyle magazines published on a monthly basis. Each has a different focus which is described below.


General Aviation Airports

San Diego offers a number of airports for private plane travel. Below, you will find general location information, Google Maps, and web site links for each of the airports.


San Diego Greyhound Stations

Greyhound offers five full service stations throughout San Diego County, including access to the beaches, international border, and major tourist attractions. Details on the Greyhound Stations, including Google Maps, other transit services, and nearby attractions are noted below.


Taxi Cabs in San Diego

Yellow Cab of San Diego – 1-619-234-6161 – Picks up in the City of San Diego, La Jolla, El Cajon, and nearby areas, but not Coronado.

Yellow Cab of North County – 1-760-722-4214 – Picks up in the North County area of San Diego including Oceanside, Carlsbad and Escondido.

Yellow Cab of Coronado – 1-619-542-1926 – Picks up on Coronado.

Orange Cab of San Diego – 1-619-223-5555 – Picks up in the City of San Diego, El Cajon, and other nearby areas, but not Coronado.


Coronado Ferry

The Coronado Ferry is a great way to visit Coronado while enjoying San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline views. The Ferry is operated by Flagship Cruises (formerly San Diego Harbor Excursions) and runs hourly from the Broadway Pier and generally every two hours from the Fifth Avenue Landing behind the Convention Center to the Coronado Ferry Landing Marketplace. It takes only 15 minutes to cross the bay. The Hotel del Coronado is 1.5 miles from the Coronado Ferry Landing and can be reached by foot, bus, pedicab, or taxi.