Skip to Content

Do You Need a Car in San Diego? 5 Things to Know

Do You Need a Car in San Diego? 5 Things to Know

So, do you need a car in San Diego CA? This is probably the first question that comes to your mind when visiting the city. Check out our article for a detailed answer.

Known for its parks, beaches, dining, nightlife venues, and world-class attractions, San Diego has earned the name of California’s Beach City. Located on the Pacific Ocean coast, San Diego is the second most populous city in California and the eighth-most populous city in the United States.

Whether you want to build sandcastles, engage with animals, enjoy thrilling rides, or stroll through museums, the city offers variety for every tourist. But what is the best way to explore the city?

san diego night skyline

Do you need a car in San Diego? How about San Diego’s public transportation?

Find out more about getting around this awesome city where friendly locals and blue skies create the most welcoming vibe!

Do You Need a Car in San Diego?

Old Town San Diego

With an amazing coastline, mountains, wildlife, and hiking trails, San Diego can be a fun place to live in. But do you need a car in San Diego?

People often wonder if they need a car rental to get around the city. Exploring San Diego with a car is a convenient way to see the city in a short period. Further, if you’re traveling with a couple of friends, family, or small children, a car rental will definitely come in handy.

Nevertheless, if you want to save fuel, save money, free yourself from parking woes, and believe traveling in your rental car would add to the tour’s expenses, you have other options – thanks to San Diego’s public transportation.

Additionally, if you want to avoid the hassle of public transportation and you’re alone in the city, you can still make your way around without a rental car. Therefore, living in San Diego without a car is totally possible. But, ultimately, the decision rests with you: do you take a car rental or not on your Southern California San Diego vacation?

How is San Diego’s Public Transportation?

You might be wondering, is San Diego public transportation good? Either it’s the food, view, or environment, San Diego will not let you down. Simply put, a city with many amenities to attract visitors is also likely to have a convenient public transportation system – which it does!

Another plus is that there isn’t just one mode of public transportation, but several. So, how you choose to get around depends on you!

Light Rail

Red Trolley Blue Line San Diego

Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is the San Diego Light Rail System. It has three lines (Blue, Green, Orange) that serve many famous attractions and areas like Old Town, Mission Valley, South Bay, East County, Downtown San Diego, and the U.S Border.

Also known as the San Diego Trolley System, it began in 1981, making it the oldest second-generation Light Rail System in the U.S. – a tourist attraction in its own right!

The Green Line moves from the Old Town Transit Center to Santee Town and Gillespie Field. The Blue Line makes endless stops at the Old Town Transit Center, and San Ysidro Center on the U.S. Mexico Border.

Lastly, the Orange Line provides access to San Diego Downtown with stops at Civic Center, Convention Center, Gaslamp Quarter, American Plaza, Seaport village, and several other spots.

If you want to take a short trip of about 2 hours, it’ll only cost around $2. However, if you plan to spend a whole day exploring the city, you can buy a day pass for $5.

If you have just landed, you may be wondering about San Diego public transportation from airport. Fortunately, the MTS extends all the way to the airport. So, you can easily get onto the trolley and reach your desired location.

Bus

MTS also offers bus routes throughout the city, and there are thousands of stops across the city. Also, there are ticket vending machines at each bus stop, so you can pay the fare right at the stop before boarding.

Nevertheless, there’s always the option of paying the driver for a ticket when you board the bus.

San Diego Bus

Be warned, like most buses in the U.S. you’ll need to have the exact amount with you; bus drivers don’t have change, and some companies will ONLY accept exact change for a ticket. A short trip would cost you as low as $2.25, while longer trips cost up to $5. But, just like the trolley system, you can purchase a $5 all-day pass for carefree travel.

Plus, the bus system offers public transportation from the airport. You can get to and from the airport on the 992 Route.

You’ll find a bus stop right outside the baggage claim at all terminals, so it’ll only take you 10-15 minutes to reach Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego.

Taxi

If you wish to avoid the crowds, you can get into a cab and visit your desired destinations. All you need to do is stand at the side of the road, and as you see a taxi approaching, flag it down by lifting your hand in the air and making eye contact (or as best as you can) with the driver.

If the cab is looking for a fare, the taxi should stop, and take you to your desired location. Keep in mind; most cabs also display a light at their top to show whether or not they are available. On means it’s available, off means it’s busy or off the clock.

Carriage Rides

Need a novel way to move around the city? Forget about the buses and trolleys and book a carriage ride! If you want to cruise the city in a more unique way, carriage rides are the way to go! While they are not as common as other means of transportation, they’re the perfect way to discover the city’s vibe!

Wanna know what else is good? There isn’t just one type of carriage ride in the city. Bob Sleigh, Medium Surrey, Vis a Vis, Wagonette, and Cinderella carriage are all available for a ride!

So, whether you want to hop onto the carriage alone like a big shot or with your family, you can choose the ride per your preferences.

Do You Need to Rent a Car in San Diego?

Park San Diego

Owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, many people avoid traveling by the public transport systems of San Diego. If you’re also concerned about your safety, you can rent a car, from Kayak or Rentalcars.com for example.

First, it creates a private comfort zone on wheels for you. Second, cars give you independent freedom of movement. And with these folks, all you need to do is book a ride online, and the driver will be at your doorstep within a couple of minutes.

You just need to enter your location, date, and time you’d like the car, and you’re all set. While renting a car can get a little expensive, you have plenty of options to compare the car deals and choose the right one.

What are the Other Options to Get Around San Diego Without a Car?

San Diego Beech and Rail

If you’re not a car person and prefer to take your time to feel the city, there are other ways to explore. Read on to find out.

Scooter

Looking for a low-cost yet fun way of commute? How about a scooter? Yes, in San Diego, scooters are an environmentally friendly and easy way to roam around the city. You can scoot to your favorite restaurant, park, or any other attraction in style.

Additionally, leisurely riding down the street will refresh you and make for a pleasant experience.

You can rent a scooter, but renting it does come with its downsides. For instance, the renting company doesn’t allow you to leave the service area. However, if you buy a scooter for yourself, you’re good to go wherever your feet lead!

Bike

The roads, paths, and trails in San Diego are perfect for exploration on a bike. It’s a pretty bike-friendly city, especially around many of the more popular tourist spots, like Downtown San Diego, meaning bike rentals are a great way of getting around.

So, if you decide against cars, throw on your helmet, get on a bike, and roam around the city! You’ll come across beautiful scenery and breathtaking views on your bike ride. Nevertheless, you have to make sure that you know the trails or paths you set out to. Otherwise, it won’t be quite a fun experience.

San Diego Bay, Mission Bay and Beaches, East County San Diego, and Pacific Coast Highway has a few paths and trails perfect for biking.

By Foot

The blue skies and captivating beaches of San Diego would appeal to any nature lover. You really do not need a car to spend some quality time near the waves.

Sunset Cliff San Diego

Besides beaches, San Diego has plenty of parks, zoos, and museums to please your senses. So break out the walking shoes, get a waterbottle or camelback and start strolling. When out and about, make sure you are on the right path; you don’t want to forget your way back home.

For this purpose, you should keep an eye on Google maps on your phone if you’re new to the area.

Exploring San Diego Without a Car: Is It Possible?

If you don’t have a rental car, know that exploring San Diego without a car is possible. The city has great sites that amaze its visitors; it’s just not just the beaches, but a lot more!

We compiled a list of some of the top places to visit in San Diego without a car.

Beaches

San Diego Beech

South Mission Beach, La Jolla Cave, Ocean Palms, and Mission Beach are some of the most popular beaches in San Diego.

So no matter where you stay in the city, you’ll have the option to visit a nearby beach, which is a great, free activity. Build sandcastles, play volleyball, or enjoy a smores over a bonfire at night with your loved ones.

See Related: Best Things to do in Northern California

San Diego Zoo

The San Diego zoo is a spot for animal lovers in Balboa Park. It contains over 12000 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies.

San Diego Zoo

If you have children or you adore animals, San Diego Zoo is the place to go. The zoo has a wide range of animals to see; whether you like leopards, apes, elephants, or even capybaras, you’ll find each one of your favorite animals there.

Further, you can visit their website to know about the zoo’s hours of operation.

SeaWorld San Diego

San Diego’s SeaWorld theme park is one of the most popular attractions in the area (and one of the most popular SeaWorld’s on Earth), and all for the right reasons. The park isn’t limited to one or two activities but offers a whole lot of fun!

Martina Harbor San Diego

You can enjoy rides, attend Halloween events, watch the whale shows, and visit an outside aquarium.

SeaWorld San Diego has also rescued aquatic animals, which makes this park even more amazing. Interestingly, they have rescued more than 38,000 animals.

You can roam around the park and get the best out of your San Diego tour. So, what are you waiting for? Experience the sea life, and have nautical fun like never before!

The San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art will bring your imagination to life! Anyone with an artistic soul and love for aesthetics will adore the museum’s diverse and rich exhibits.

The San Diego Museum is committed to educating people, inspiring them, and cultivating their curiosity through art. With a vast catalogue of works on display, the museum features exhibitions now and then, showcasing new artwork alongside pieces that are centuries old.

Further, it offers Teen Summer Studios, Family-Drop in Days, summer camps for young artists and Film in the Garden, Culture and Cocktails, and Art After Hours programs for adults. You can plan your trip around an upcoming event and get the most out of your tour.

Cabrillo National Monument

Located at the southern tip of Point Loma Peninsula, Callibro National Monument is a popular tourist attraction in the city.

You can take a look at the superb skyline and harbor of San Diego. There is also the Old Point Loma Lighthouse within the Cabrillo National Monument, a landmark of San Diego since 1854. In winter, you can witness gray whales off the coast. The place is perfect for spending time with a couple of friends and making endless memories.

Other Car Guides

Related Posts

Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
My favorite travel companion is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives me lounge access, Uber credits, upgrades, and plenty of other travel perks. If you want to find out the best travel rewards credit card for you, consider using CardMatch to instantly get matched to a travel rewards credit card that meets your travel needs.
Booking Flights

Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.

You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It's a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Use World Nomads to find the best policy for your travel schedule.
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!