San Diego is a Californian city well known for its miles of beautiful beaches and its great climate that make it an amazing travel destination for anyone who wants to relax in the sun and take a few days off. It is sometimes called "America's Finest City" and once you step foot off of the plane at the San Diego International Airport you will see why. Some of the best attractions and key locations in the city include Petco Park, which is where the city's baseball team plays, as well as Balboa Park which hosts most of the outdoor activities and events that are popular for citizens and vacationers.
As the eighth largest city in the United States of America and the second largest in California, there is lots to see and do in San Diego and you will need to travel around the city a lot to get the full San Diego experience. If you want to find great nightlife you can go to the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego, make your way to La Jolla for some of the best beaches or visit the Old Town for museums and historic attractions.
It can be hard to navigate your way around a city that is new to you, which is why we made this guide to explain the basics of the city's public transportation options and how you can use them to get around. Make sure to find the nearest suitcase storage facility in San Diego to keep your bags and extra gear safe while you are enjoying the sunshine on the beaches.
How to get around San Diego by train
Enjoy the San Diego Trolley
If you find yourself in Downtown San Diego you will no doubt notice the trolley trains driving around. They are colored bright red so they are hard to miss and will be one of your main ways of getting around San Diego. In total there are three trolley routes that you can take and they span for over 50 miles around the city altogether. The trolley passes by fairly often and you can usually catch one every half hour, although during rush hours the trolley passes by about every 15 minutes.
The three main lines are the Blue Line, the Green Line and the Orange Line. The Blue Line runs between the Old Town, Downtown and the Mexican border, whereas the Green Line runs from Old Town to Santee, San Diego State University and Mission Valley. If you want to get from Downtown to the eastern part of the city you can take the Orange Line, which goes through Lemon Grove and El Cajon. They usually stop at some of the popular locations around town along the way including the Gaslamp Quarter, the Santa Fe Depot, the Qualcomm Stadium, the San Diego Convention Center or the Little Italy and County Center area.
If you are looking to stay downtown you can ride on the Silver Line which is sometimes called the Vintage Trolley. It circulates in a loop around Downtown San Diego and is your best bet for getting around that part of the city. If you want to see all of the city's top attractions while hearing an educative commentary, you might want to try the Old Town Trolley Tours. This is something completely different from the Silver Line of the San Diego trolley and gives you a different experience; the trolley tours offer a hop-on hop-off system so you can see all that the city has to offer at your own pace.
San Diego Trolley passes
Prices for the trolley passes can change depending on how far you go and where you are, but usually the tickets are somewhere between $2.25 and $5. Keep in mind that you will need specific passes depending on which line you are riding on, so make sure to buy the right one. If you think that you will be riding the trolley system a lot then you might want to invest in a day pass which will let you ride as many times as you want and can be used on all of the different lines. Another bonus is that day passes are usually interchangeable with the bus routes so you can use the same ticket for both.
San Diego's light rail system is also a viable option for getting around the coastal areas of the city. This train is called COASTER and connects the Old Town and Downtown to most of the city's beaches as well as the northern part of town. This is a great way to get to places like Solana Beach or other spots on the sandy coast.
How to get around San Diego by bus
Have fun on the San Diego Bus
San Diego has an impressive bus system that can take you everywhere else that the trolleys cannot. You can reach basically all of the top attractions using the city buses, although many locals admit that they are not always reliable. If you are on a tight schedule or need to get somewhere by a specific time it can be a good idea to take an earlier bus or have a backup plan in case your bus doesn't arrive when it is supposed to.
In total there are over 85 different bus routes, so as you can imagine they can get you almost anywhere in the city. Chances are that you won't need to use the buses as most of the popular tourist attractions are located within the confines of the trolley routes, but either way, if you need them they are there.
San Diego bus tickets
A ticket for most bus routes will cost $2.25 for each ride, and you can grab a ticket from an MTS Ticket Vending Machine or buy one on the bus. If you want to buy a ticket directly from the driver you will need to have exact change, so make sure that you are prepared. If you invest in a day pass you can take advantage of unlimited rides for the whole time that the pass is active, which can be great if you think that you will be using the buses a lot.
Being a waterfront city, some parts of San Diego can actually be reached by ferry. You can use them to get from either downtown's Broadway Pier or the San Diego Convention Center to the Coronado Ferry landing across the bay. This is the only way to get to the island other than crossing the Coronado Bay Bridge and tickets will cost you $4.75. During its running times, the ferry will leave on the hour so make sure to be there on time if you want to grab a ride across. This can also be a fun activity for anyone visiting the city as you can get some nice views of the skyline from San Diego Bay.
How to get around San Diego by car
As the second largest Californian city, San Diego is big and using a car to get around can be a good idea. The city has three major interstate roadways that can make driving around quick and simple but be aware that San Diego can get congested during rush hours, especially in the downtown area.
If you want to have a car in San Diego then you should make your way to the Rental Car Center which is where all of the major car rental companies are set up. You can get here pretty easily from the San Diego International Airport using a shuttle bus so that should be your first stop after getting off of the airplane. Keep in mind that you will have to be at least 25 years old to be able to get a rental car.
Once you have a car you will need to get used to driving around the city streets. From 8 am to 6 pm on Mondays to Saturdays there will be metered parking spots in the main downtown and beach areas, so make sure you are prepared to pay for your time in the city. Most meters accept cash in the form of coins as well as credit cards and other forms of payment like Android Pay or Apple Pay.
If you want to get somewhere specific without driving yourself you can always hail a taxi. Taxi cars can get expensive but they are a reliable and efficient way of getting around San Diego. You will begin with a base fare and the cost will increase with the distance that you are traveling.
They are pretty easy to find and are often set up at busy locations like the airport, popular tourist attractions and hotels. Other ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber are present in San Diego so if you have the app you can use them here.
Can I get around San Diego by foot?
It is always nice to explore cities by foot, especially places like San Diego that are blessed with pleasant weather and are not often cold or rainy. Although it can be hard to get between different areas by foot you should always try to walk around the city when you can.
Some of the neighborhoods, like Downtown and Old Town, might need to be reached using public transportation but once you get there you can walk around the area without any problems. Depending on where the hotel is located in the city, you might be able to walk to most places and not even have to take a bus or trolley during your trip.
San Diego is also a great place to go biking and many areas in the city have designated bike lanes. If you didn't bring your own bike you can rent from one of the several bike rental companies scattered around town, like the San Diego County Bike Coalition. Walking or biking is always a great way to enjoy the sunshine and see the city up close as opposed to through the windows of a car or bus.
As always it is important to be safe when walking or biking around a city, especially large ones like San Diego. Always stick to the dedicated bike paths and stay off of the road as much as possible, and stop to check for cars before you step off of the sidewalk. It might be a good idea to download a comprehensive map or have a GPS on your phone in case you get lost, since this city is big and it can be difficult to navigate if you don't know the streets well.
Exploring the City Outside of Your Hotel Room
San Diego offers lots of activities and attractions that you can enjoy during your vacation, and with an extensive public transportation system, you will have several options on how to get around.
Trolleys are a fun and effective way to get to and from the downtown area whereas buses can get you basically everywhere else in San Diego. If you are trying to get someplace fast then you can grab a ride in a taxi, although they can be expensive. Driving around the city is efficient but parking can be a challenge, so if you are able to walk or rent a bike that should always be your top choice.
While you are in the city make sure to spend time at the San Diego Zoo, visit the historic Hotel Del Coronado and stop by the Maritime Museum. Be sure to get to know the neighborhoods by reading our helpful guide on where to stay. You will no doubt want to spend most of your time at a gorgeous seaport village and we recommend making your way to one of San Diego's best beaches, like Mission Bay and the Pacific Beach. Now that you are up to date on how you can get around this city in Southern California, make the most of your time in San Diego!