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The Best of San Diego on the Cheap (1-3 days)

Budget Guide to San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Here’s the scoop on visiting San Diego, and doing it on the cheap.  I lived in San Diego for 5 years until last September, so take it from me!  How to get around, where to stay, where to meet folks, what to do, and what to eat!
You’re off to San Diego.  The self-described, “America’s Finest City!”


Best of all, the best weather of the year is September!

Earlier this week, JetBlue announced the All You Can Jet (#AYCJ)promotion. 30 days.  $499.  Fly anywhere JetBlue goes.

San Diego is one of their destinations – maybe the best one!  Flights are direct from either Boston or NYC.  Land around noon, or 8pm.  I recommend getting in about noon.

See here for my (upcoming) post on Must-See-San Diego-Attractions.

There’s a few ways around town:  Car Rental, Public Transit, and “Manpower.”

Cheap Car Rental
Rental cars can be cheap and are a great way to get around.  I had a tiny Miata and would rent a bigger car on occassion for a road trip, or when friends visited.  I nearly always ended up renting from Fox Rent A Car.  Cars are good and nearly new.  They’re no-nonsense.  Easy Airport Pickup.  You can even take their cars to Mexico (tho insurance for that is $$).  Best of all, rentals are as low as $10.  Whatever you do, DON’T rent from ACE.  They might be a bit cheaper, but they want to see proof of insurance and are just a bunch of jerks with shitty cars that have 30,000 miles on them.  If you need insurance, head to TravelGuard for $10/day insurance, as all rental companies charge ~$30/day.

A tip on parking in SD.  You can usually park overnight anywhere except downtown.  But SD has street cleaning all the time, so be sure to check the signs and make sure it isn’t street-cleaning night, as the signs usually say something like, “First and Third Tuesdays, 2am.”  In this case, that’s Monday Night/Tues morning!  The ticket dude follows the street-cleaners so don’t tempt fate!

Check out our Discount Coupons

Public Transit

San Diego has a bus and a “trolley” (aka streetcar) system.  It isn’t the fastest way around, but gets you to Mexico, Downtown, and the Beaches.  And ya don’t have to worry about parking.  Google maps will give directions with public transit, use it!

Transit to downtown and Pacific Beach(click for bus route):  Public transit isn’t  setup awesome from the San Diego airport, so if you have 2 or more people, it is probably better to grab a cab, unless you’re going to Ocean Beach.  From the airport to most places, you take the “Flyer Route No 922” feeder-bus ($2.25, grab a transfer)to the trolley stop downtown.  You can take a trolley from there to the transit hub, or hop on downtown buses, which I did this once and it took forever. The stop is close enough to walk to the Gaslamp (1.0 miles / 20 minutes) for downtown hostels/hotels.

Transit to Ocean Beach: This is easy, just hop on bus 923 going to Ocean Beach!  It stops at the Point Loma hostel as well as getting you to the beach proper.  Easy!

Cab Fares (including tip):
$20-$25 to Ocean Beach or Mission Beach
$10-$15 Downtown

Where to Stay


San Diegos Communities

San Diego's Communities

There’s really only two options for staying in San Diego.  Downtown or on the Beach.  And really, did you come all the way out to San Diego to just see another downtown?

There’s three beaches I know well, and a fourth is nice if you’ve got the cash.

Ocean Beach (click for Wikitravel)

Closest to the airport.  OB is the hippy beach, with Newport Avenue stretching down to the beach, full of great restaurants, bars, and a pretty famous hostel.  Cool long pier to walk down.  Stay at the Ocean Beach International Hostel (Book at Hostelworld, passport proof of international travel  or HI membercard req’d) eat the world’s best fish tacos looking over the ocean (kinda) at South Beach (5059 Newport, Get the Mahi and Wahoo, happy hour in the afternoon is cheaper for food and drink).  Wander over to the new Pizza Port (1956 Bacon) for awesome pizza and award winning microbrews.  Make new local friends and drink the cheapest cocktails in town at the divey-kitch Pac Shores (4927 Newport).  Go fishing off the pier.  Catch a show at Winston’s (1921 Bacon) .  Sometimes voted the best burger in San Diego, Hodad’s is almost next door’s, and does have the best shakes in town.  Hop a bus downtown.  Want a great meal with some nice wine, head north on 3rd and eat the the 3rd Corner Restaurant (2265 Bacon).  Its a wine store and eatery in one.  Relax in leather chairs eating California cuisine.  The best place in town for the money.

Walk the amazing Sunset Cliffs (best at, well, ya know), head to Dog Beach for puppy-love, check out the tide-pools, watch the surfers, check out the ecletic bums,

As for transport:  It’s easy enough to walk around.  Bus 35 goes to Old Town for connections to the rest of town.  OB is lucky to have the 923 route to the Airport, but plan go early as it might take an hour.  Cabs are all over the place and can take ya downtown or to the airport for ~$20.  You can park on the streets overnight.

Pacific and Mission Beach (click for good Wikitravel article):

Welcome to the beach!  This is a 5 mile long stretch of sand, nestled between the Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

This is the California you’ve seen on TV.

Walk or bike down the boardwalk and take in the sights.  Take a surf lesson.  Rent a kayak and cruise around the bay.  Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Pacific Beach (Known to everyone as “PB”)is the hot-spot for local twenty-somethings to live while they’re in college, so its party-central.  Garnet is the main-drag and it’s chok-a-blok with bars, pubs, sushi joints, restaurants, tattoo parlors, clothing stores, etc.

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If you want to watch college football or NFL, this is THE spot, and its a great way to pass a beautifully sunny afternoon.  Moondoggies (Garnet, two blocks from the beach)  is the OSU bar, while right next door is the Pacific Beach Bar & Grill, home to the Michigan fans.  Doubtless your team has an adopted pub in town.  At night this area is packed with bars and small’ish clubs (the big ones are downtown).

Watch sunset at Lahaina’s Bar on the boardwalk south of Garnet.  Check out the Cass Street Pub (4612 Cass, just north of Garnet) for great pub-food.  My favorite sushi in the world is  Surfside Sushi (4527 Mission, next to Denny’s), a block from the beach.  Happy Hour is a great deal if you can make it.  Monday night’s is 50% off, as is Friday Happy Hour.

PB has two hostels, including the somewhat notorious Banana Bungalow (book via Hostelworld, San Diego.  Passport w/international travel or out of state ID req’d).  Right on the water.  Not the cleanest.  Not HI.  But the location is the best.  There’s another hostel up the road.

Mission Beach is just south of Pacific Beach.  I lived in Mission Beach for 5 years.

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There’s a roller coaster right on the beach ($7) and the Rogers Hostel (858-488-7873, corner of Mission and Venture Pl) just next to it.  Grab a surf lesson here.  Party at night at the Sandbar (718 Venture Place, also watch your football there), and if you’re here on a weekend, hop on the very very cool Bahia Bell cruises ($5 admission, most drinks $5-$7) at the Bahia Hotel which go back and forth between PB, hop-on-hop-off style.  Fireworks are at 9pm every night on the bay (Courtesy of Seaworld just a firework’s throw from PB/MB/OB), so be sure to be on top of the boat then!

Go south down Mission Blvd and check out the Pennant and the Beachcomber (both 2901 Mission Blvd) for real-live San Diego dive bars.  These places are institutions, lol, for whatever it’s worth.  Check out Luigi’s (3210 Mission) for pizza slices bigger than your head and for some 30 beers on tap (why a place this tiny has so much beer, I’ll never know).

Breakfast your thing?  Head to the Mission (3795 Mission Blvd), conveniently half-way between PB and MB, for the best California style breakfast anywhere, but be prepared for a line at its a local weekend classic.

La Jolla and Beaches Further North

La Jolla is the pricey part of town.  Great food.  Beautiful location.  It’s where the rich and beautiful live in San Diego.  Check it out.  The Cove is great.  But as a place to stay?  On the cheap?  Sorry, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.

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One Response

  1. To get to Long Beach from San Diego, follow these directions in Reverse (this is mostly a note to self to add this info to another post)

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