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Best Area to Stay in San Diego Without a Car (And Things to Do)

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If you’re planning on visiting San Diego without a car you’re in luck.

This particularly walking and bicycle-friendly city, with a well-connected public transportation system, makes it easy to do without.

With that said, since the best areas in San Diego offer so much to do, it’s not even guaranteed that you’ll need any of these options either.

To make it easy for you to pick which no-car-friendly area to stay in, I’ve broken down the main takeaways of each area.

I’ll explain a bit about what makes each area unique, the things to see and do, and recommend accommodations for every budget in each area.

Table of Contents

Where To Stay in San Diego Without a Car

Now let’s go through each of the three main no-car-friendly areas; Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown, Pacific Beach, and Ocean Beach.

1. Gaslamp Quarter (Downtown): The More Lively Part of Town

If you are looking for the center of the center – here you have it.

Also known as the (historical) heart of downtown San Diego.

Here you’ll find all kinds of eateries, shops, and entertainment.

Ranging from street food to fine dining, bars, clubs, rooftop lounges, live music, or comedy shows.

Gaslamp Quarter
The gates of excitement

From here most are within walking distance.

This also means you don’t have to walk far to reach many of the most popular things to see and do.

And if you need a break from the busy downtown, you can always grab the ferry to Coronado Island and relax on a white beach with enough space for everyone.

Best Accommodation in Gaslamp Quarter Without a Car

Quick overview of the best places to stay in Gaslamp Quarter without a car based on price and previous guests:

● πŸ›Œ Hostel: Gaslamp Hostel
● 🏨 Hotel: Hotel Z - Staypineapple
● πŸ€‘ Luxury: Pendry Hotel San Diego
Best Hostel in Gaslamp Quarter Without a Car

🀩 Gaslamp Hostel (9.3 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Hostelworld

Best Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter Without a Car

🀩 Hotel Z – Staypineapple (9.0 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Booking.com

Best Luxury Hotel in Gaslamp Quarter Without a Car

🀩 Pendry Hotel San Diego (8.8 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Booking.com

Top 16 Things to Do Around Downtown San Diego

Go for a Ride With a Trolley

Besides the vintage Trolley in Old Town, the MTS trolley is found all over town.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drive a mix between a bus on a train, this is probably your best option to figure it out.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Here you can explore one of the largest collections of vessels in the United States.

Including the world’s oldest active ship which was built in 1863 (Star of India).

Balboa Theater

This fully operational historical theater was built in 1924.

Here you’ll find a total capacity of exactly 1,339 chairs, all renovated for today’s comfort standards.

Museum of Contemporary Arts (Downtown)

Experience contemporary art in a historic setting.

This is a good place to reflect on life, communities, and the world we live in that’s changing faster than ever before.

Petco Park

A spectacular baseball stadium and home to the San Diego Padres.

Whether you’ve watched a baseball game before or not, this is not a bad first place to do so.

The β€œkissing sailor” statue
The true definition of a big kiss (“The Kiss” in Tuna Harbor Park)
New Children’s Museum

A museum for kids where they can think, play and create through interactive installations.

This is a great and constructive place to let your kids invest some energy while having fun at the same time.

USS Midway Museum

Explore this enormous historic naval aircraft carrier, which also houses a wide collection of aircraft – many built in Southern California.

Waterfront Park

A nice little park with arched jets and a playground. This is a perfect place to cool off a bit during the warmer days without having to go all the way to the beachside.

Portside Pier

This newly built pier from 2020 offers an iconic waterfront full of food options, and a great 360-degree (free) view.

Authentic Mexican food and fresh seafood among others are to be found here.

Little Italy

A little piece of Italy in downtown San Diego.

As the name suggests, you’ll find plenty of options to satisfy your cravings for Italian food, including Gelato (Italian ice cream).

One of the better ways to ingest your daily fruit
Chinese Historical Museum

A smaller museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the Chinese community in The Californias.

Their collection consists of beautiful photos and artifacts among others.


Here you can walk the designated paved walkway along the waterfront of the International Cruise Ship Terminal.

Besides the sightseeing-friendly views and public art, you’ll also find a good amount of eateries, shops, and areas to play outdoors.

The Davis-Horton House

Visit the oldest house in Gaslamp Quarter built in 1850.

Also known as one of the most haunted places in San Diego, so only go if you dare.

Seaport Village

A waterfront shopping and dining complex with over 70 shops, galleries, and eateries.

With a car-free environment consisting of 4 miles (6 km) of paths, it’s one of the more active yet relaxed outdoor shopping options in town.

Japanese Friendship Garden (Sankei-en)

This beautiful and worth-a-visit garden is located within the popular Balboa Park.

Some refer to this place as being like walking into a charming 3D painting.

Various Water Activities

From everything between renting a kayak, paddleboard, boat, or even going flyboarding if you fancy the lack of gravity.

Best Things to Do Around Downtown San Diego (Map)

2. Pacific Beach: A Surfers Paradise

This is another lively part of town, making it particularly walking-friendly as well.

Here you’ll find one of San Diego’s more developed nightlife scenes.

You don’t have to look far for bars, eateries, or stores – especially at Garnet Avenue and Mission Boulevard.

The great variety will increase the chance of you never getting bored or feeling like you’re missing something in this part of town.

And if you feel like a change of scene, you’re only a short trip from Mission Beach, which you can reach simply by following the boardwalk on the beach.

Pacific beach in San Diego
No filter needed

Best Accommodation in Pacific Beach Without a Car

Quick overview of the best places to stay in Pacific Beach without a car based on price and previous guests:

● πŸ›Œ Hostel: ITH Beach Bungalow Surf Hostel
● 🏨 Hotel: Ocean Park Inn
● πŸ€‘ Luxury: Tower 23 Hotel
Best Hostel in Pacific Beach Without a Car

🀩 ITH Beach Bungalow Surf Hostel (8.8 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Hostelworld

Best Hotel in Pacific Beach Without a Car

🀩 Ocean Park Inn (8.9 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Booking.com

Best Luxury Hotel in Pacific Beach Without a Car

🀩 Tower 23 Hotel (9.0 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Booking.com

Top 10 Things to Do Around Pacific Beach

Tourmaline Beach and Surf Park

Also known as the surfing mecca of San Diego, there’s no better place to do so if you consider yourself a beginner or intermediate.

If you’re looking into taking some classes, you’ll find San Deigo Surf School strategically located 15 min. away on foot.

Crystal Pier

A historic charming pier from 1927. Join the club of millions that have enjoyed the sunset here throughout time.

Oceanfront Boardwalk

This 3.2-mile (5 km) long boardwalk is the perfect place to walk, run, or take a ride on your wheels of choice.

Free Beach Yoga at Palisades Park

These donation-based classes are for every level, and take place from 10 – 11:30 am on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

You can check the schedule on Meetup. And remember to bring a yoga mat.

PB Shore Club Rooftop Bar

Join the locals for the best ocean views and drinks. Here you’ll find two bars, 21 TVs showing sports, and 20 tap beers.

And if you’re hungry you can try their famous fish tacos or a fresh ceviche.

Yoga on the beach
There’s a 97% chance this one is called the Flamingo
The Catamaran Spa

This full-service spa is found at the Catamaran Resort Hotel, with treatments inspired by Asia and South Pacific traditions.

Here you can have a soothing massage, or dive into their outdoor jacuzzi, among other relaxing things.

Escape Rooms

At Quicksand Escape Games you’ll get 60 minutes to escape by finding clues and solving puzzles.

There are four different rooms to choose from, each with its theme and difficulty. But be warned, it can be challenging at times.

Throwing axes at Bad Axe Throwing

Odds are this was not the first activity that came to your mind when thinking of things to do at Pacific Beach.

Here you not only get to participate in the fine and stress-relieving art of axe throwing – you’ll also get the opportunity to learn how to do so from experts themself.

Pangaea Outpost

If you want to browse everything except what you would find in your nearest Walmart, this is the place to go.

Over 70 local artisans are selling exotic goods and vares from across the globe. The stock you find here makes it worth your while even if you’re just browsing.

Break Point Bowling

If a bar and a restaurant aren’t enough for you, why not try one with a bowling alley where you can sip your favorite drink?

Best Things to Do Around Pacific Beach San Diego (Map)

3. Ocean Beach: The Relaxing Area

This is the smallest and most quiet area on the list.

If you’re planning on spending a lot of time on the beach, and prefer something a bit quieter, this is might the best area for you.

Sometimes referred to as having a hippie- and laid-back vibe.

But don’t worry, you’ll still find a lot of eateries and nightlife, and similar activities to what you’ll find on Pacific Beach. Including a cruise-friendly beach road, shops, surfing spots, and other water activities.

And don’t forget you can only be at one place at a time anyway.

Ocean Beach San Diego

Best Accommodation in Ocean Beach Without a Car

Quick overview of the best places to stay in Ocean Beach without a car based on price and previous guests:

● πŸ›Œ Hostel: Samesun Ocean Beach Hostel
● 🏨 Hotel: Ocean Beach Hotel
● πŸ€‘ Luxury: New Beach House
Best Hostel in Ocean Beach Without a Car

🀩 Samesun Ocean Beach Hostel (9.5 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Hostelworld

Best Hotel in Ocean Beach Without a Car

🀩 Ocean Beach (7.8 out of 10)

Source: Facebook

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Booking.com

Best Luxury Holiday Home in Ocean Beach Without a Car

🀩 New Beach House (8.7 out of 10)

βœ… Book now and secure the best price with Booking.com

Top 9 Things to Do Around Ocean Beach

Dog Beach

Have you wondered what’s better than a beach? The answer is a beach full of doggos (dogs).

Be aware that it’s allowed to have your dog lose here, though this only makes it easier to meet and greet a new four-legged friend.

Municipal Pier

This pier from 1996 will make your journey no less than 0.5 miles (0,8 km) into the ocean much less complicated.

And with its T-shape design, it’s easier to get a good spot to watch the sunset.

Ocean Beach Tide Pools

Placing this here on the list is not a coincidence. Right under Municipal Pier is a place to find tide pools housing different marine life, along with plants and shells, etc.

Though as the name suggests, do notice it’s only possible at certain times when the water is shallow enough.

Ocean Beach Murals

Let me introduce to you some of the best spots to pose for a picture in town.

Originating back in 1999, you’ll find beautiful and colorful art from different times – each of them reflecting different stops in our common timeline.

Dog on a beach
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

This is the place for you to immerse yourself in some beautiful nature and views, but without having to go too far from the city.

With almost 70 acres in size (0.28 square kilometers), you’ll have plenty of space to explore for a good trip.

Farmer’s Market

Though this market is only happening on Wednesdays between 4-8 pm chances are you’ll still be able to go here if you’re staying for at least a week.

And you don’t necessarily have to bring a grill to taste any of the goods since you’ll also find cooked food for you to enjoy.

Newport Avenue

If you’re looking for the most lively street in Ocean Beach this is it.

Also referred to as the main street, you’ll find plenty of eateries, bars, and shops along a stroll here.

The Hidden Spa

Though this spa is not as hidden as it could be now it’s included on this list, it doesn’t change the fact of it is a proper place to treat yourself to what most spas have to offer.

Such as everything from massage to facial and waxing treatments.

Claytime Ceramics

Working with your hands in mindful and creative settings can do wonders for our stress levels and mental health.

Here you can try out clay building and ceramic painting in professional settings.

And when you’re ready to take it to the next level, you can also do henna tattoos and other creative activities.

Best Things to Do Around Ocean Beach San Diego (Map)

Best Way To Get Around San Diego Without a Car

I don’t doubt you’re already aware of the options of grabbing a Uber or taxi, so I won’t waste your time explaining how that works πŸ˜‰

Rent a Bike

If the thought of fresh air combined with some exercise sounds appealing, you might want to consider renting a bike from a nearby shop.

You’ll find the largest concentration of options around Mission Beach and Downtown.

There are several different options to choose from. Manual, electric, and even multi-bikes big enough for your whole group or family.

Bicycle on the beach
Converting them calories into jet fuel

Grab a Scooter

There are several options in terms of downloadable apps that let you unlock the public scooters around town.

The best overall app is Spin according to San Diego Onewheel Rentals.

But if you’re considering renting one for an extended period – or going on longer trips, consider finding a local shop to rent from instead.

This way you’ll most likely get a higher quality scooter at a better price, often including extras such as safety gear.

Public Transport

Thanks to The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System you have a highly developed and well-connected public transport system to go with.

It’s an easy and economical way of getting around town without a car.

This includes buses, trains, and what could be considered a mix of the two – the trolleys.

The best way to plan your route and look up departures is with Google Maps using their public transport feature.

Popular Day-Hikes in San Diego (With No Car Required)

If you’re traveling without a car, I guess there’s a chance you’ve been hiking once or twice before.

There are several tested and rated routes to be found around the city.

San Diego beach

AllTrails have over 100 trails across San Diego rated by 1000s of people.

And many of these are located in the center where no car is needed to reach them.

TIP: In case you're new to hiking, I suggest sticking to the most popular trails, not too far from civilization, together with someone else.

And remember to pack enough sun protection, water, and snacks - preferably the salty kind if the weather is hot.

There's also a risk of encountering rattlesnakes in San Diego, especially from April through September, so following the normal precautions is a good idea.

Is It Safe to Walk in San Diego?

Statistically, San Diego is one of the safest large cities in the United States.

It’s rated to have an overall low risk of crimes by a report from SANDAG.org.

Violent crimes per 1000 residents (2021):

  • San Diego: 3.88
  • National: 4
  • California: 4.4

So yes, walking around San Diego is generally safe.

San Diego at Night

But like with all other big cities, be extra aware at night, when the risk of these crimes statistically increases.

Especially if you’re walking away from the main roads, in unknown areas, are intoxicated, or are alone.

In this case, taking a Uber or taxi is often a wise investment. This applies to both men and women.

TIP: No matter what area you decide to stay in, chances are you'll go to the beach at least once during your visit.

I've previously written a blog post on the best time of day to go to the beach in California (and worst), in case you want to give that a read as well.

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Global Dane

I'm the guy behind Global Dane. Everything I create is purely motivated by a passion for traveling (preferably on a lower-end budget). Join me on my authentic travels on YouTube or here on the website. And if you have something on your mind, don’t hesitate to send me a so-called electronic mail. I’m always up for a chat.

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