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.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: *San Diego Tourist Information* |

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