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San Diego vs Los Angeles: What’s the Difference?

Are you planning your next vacation to a full-of-life US city with exotic beaches and thriving nightlife? What about San Diego or Los Angeles? In this San Diego vs Los Angeles comparison, I have listed everything you need to decide the best option.

It already requires planning and effort to take a trip to California. After that, you have to wrestle vacationing between the two gorgeous cities: San Diego vs Los Angeles. Both cities are hot destinations from nearby locations like Phoenix, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas.

While the white beaches of LA are a massive attraction for many, the endless activities in San Diego make it ideal for families.

San Diego vs Los Angeles

Even though both the cities have vibrant cultures, savory food, and beautiful beaches, there is a distinct difference in vibes and experiences. Every beach feels different, and every dish has distinct flavors in either of the cities.

So, where are you going to spend your next vacation? Keep reading to find out.

San Diego

With its sun-soaked atmosphere, buzzing city life, and good food, San Diego is an exciting place to spend your vacation. The San Diego population is recorded to be over 1.5 million, and it’s only expected to rise in the coming years.

San Diego

Despite the large population, you will find laid-back neighborhoods and several places to relax in the city. With rich San Diego culture and entertainment on every corner, it’s hard to resist the awesomeness of the city, especially if you are obsessed with travel.

This graphic will highlight some of the key aspects of our comparison between the two cities.

San Diego vs Los Angeles Comparison


Whether you want a luxurious resort or an affordable hostel to lay your head on, San Diego has ideal accommodations. The city has a wide diversity of hotels and resorts, ranging from award-winning resorts to house-hold name motels.

Do you want your hotel to be downtown or right beside the beach? Whatever it is, you will find the perfect accommodation without much trouble.

san diego resorts

For bachelors or students traveling on a budget, San Diego offers affordable hostels with basic amenities and plenty of international fellowships. You can find a place to rest your head anywhere from beachside bungalows to iconic historical buildings.

The best part is that you will always be in reach of everything San Diego has to offer, no matter which place you choose. 

See Related: Best Tourist Destinations in the World


In San Diego, you will find California’s top attractions with plenty of options for adventure lovers. From bird-watching to whale-watching and everything in between, San Diego has perfect adventures for families.

Take a 90-Minute Sea Cave Kayaking Tour to explore La Jolla’s Seven Sea Caves and thriving ecosystem. La Jolla’s marine system boasts the highest number of sea creatures in California.

La Jolla's Seven Sea Caves

If you are vacationing with your partner, a romantic Dinner Cruise will be a good experience. Enjoy your meal in the sparkling waves of San Diego’s waters filled with sea lions.

You can also view the Coronado Bridge and Cabrillo National Monument on the journey. For kids, the perfect adventure remains a magical trip to Disneyland. Get ready to have high-adrenaline fun with your kids.

See Related: Do You Need a Car in San Diego?


The beaches of San Diego are a big attraction to tourists and locals alike. It’s like they could not imagine a life without water nearby. Going to the beach is a must when you visit the city, and each one has a different vibe to it.

Some beaches are ideal for kayaking and surfing while others are for snorkeling. Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, and La Jolla Shores are a few famous names.

San Diego Beaches

You might recall seeing Coronado Beach in Marilyn Monroe’s movie ‘Some Like It Hot’. The beach is family-friendly, but it gets crowded, so you might not always find a private spot. It is close to the Hotel del Coronado, a popular hotel for celebrities and royalty.

We also have La Jolla Shores Beach lying in front of Kellogg Park, which has two grassy spots for picnics. The beach is located between rocky points, boasting dramatic scenery.

You can spend a whole day at the beautiful location and stay at a rental on the beach or Avenida de la Playa.

For a more peaceful experience, head to Ocean Beach, a vast stretch of sandy land south of the San Diego River. The beach offers stunning views and enjoyable activities such as surfing and swimming.

See Related: Best Vacation Rentals in California


At night, the city pulsates with music, and the nightclubs have the most buzzing atmospheres. With world-famous DJs, stage shows, real cocktails, and bright dance floors, the nightclubs are drenched in the vibes of San Diego till sunrise.

San Diego Nightlife

The heart of San Diego’s nightlife action lies in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is packed with hip restaurants, rooftop bars, and buzzing nightclubs. The best time to be here is from sunset to sunrise when the party’s at its peak.

Like what you are hearing? Check out these other fun things to do in San Diego.


Nothing makes up for a long day at the beach than a glass of California wine, paired with fabulous food. And San Diego serves all that, thanks to its top-class chefs and an exceptional local wine region.

The food in San Diego is very close to the original tastes of Mexico. In fact, San Diego invented fish tacos, and every restaurant in the city has them. You also have other top cuisines such as Italian and Asian.


San Diego doesn’t make an affordable vacation for tourists, especially if you wish to have the best experiences in the city.

However, there are many ways you can limit your expenses and make your vacation a bit more affordable.

For accommodation, choose an Airbnb instead of a high-end resort.

The rent is much lower in San Diego than in Los Angeles, and an Airbnb rental is cheaper than other accommodation options.

You can also cut down your food expenses and travel costs, but San Diego will not get any less expensive than Los Angeles.

See Related: Best Things to do in Palm Springs, California

Los Angeles

The City of Angels and home to “Hollywood”, Los Angeles is the second-most populous city in the US. Los Angeles culture is bold and creative and has a lot more to offer than just “Hollywood.”

Los Angeles

You will find rich natural scenery at the southern end of the city, everything from mountains to valleys and beaches.

The Los Angeles population is just over 4 million, and the city welcomes tourists all year round. That’s the reason why it has a vibrant culture, big money, and even bigger traffic jams.


With over 1,000 hotels, Los Angeles has plenty of options for accommodation. It ranges from independent properties to large resorts that fit nearly all budgets.

If your living space is a crucial part of your vacation, only Los Angeles offers famous hotels amidst Hollywood’s glitz and glamour. They include Chateau Marmont and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Make your stay more memorable by spending your time at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where the movie ‘Pretty Woman’ was filmed. Or, make your stay cooler at the 4-star Freehand Hotel, which gives an artsy vibe from every corner.

Some miles south of downtown Los Angeles, you will find the Terranea Resort, which is situated in the city’s backyard.

It has rooms that face the Pacific Ocean, relaxing spas, and several eateries for a comfortable stay.


In a city of sun-drenched beaches, glitzy bars, and posh neighborhoods, you can never be out of an adventure. Visit Hollywood Boulevard, a major street in Los Angeles with museums, landmarks, and Hollywood attractions.

Enjoy the street performers and Walk of Fame down the path of stars. You never know who you might run into.

For more thrill, take a Hollywood & Celebrity Homes Tour and hang out at West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where you can see the homes of top celebrities. You will also get stunning views of Los Angeles from the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood Sign

If that is not your cup of tea, what about the Beverly Hills and Hollywood Helicopter Tour? Check out the living spaces of celebrities from high above and enjoy some of the most stunning views of Los Angeles.

Apart from the thrilling celeb hunt, you can visit the Getty Museum, which has an impressive art collection and dramatic architecture. The collection is so vast that it takes four exhibit pavilions to show a part of it.

Or, take a trip to Pioneertown, a peaceful region in the Yucca Valley. This makes the perfect adventure for adventure-lovers.

See Related: Do You Need a Car in Los Angeles?


One of the best things about Los Angeles is its magnificent beaches that make you forget all about the heavy traffic and bustling city life.

Whether you want to go surfing, snorkeling, or just lounge in the sun, Los Angeles has a beach to fit all your moods.

Venice Beach is a mile and a-half stretch of silky smooth sand. Here, you can relax and view the Pacific. Besides the sparkling waves, it also has street performers, surfers, and basketball games.

Los Angeles Beach

The beach is dotted with restaurants as well, so you can grab a snack, take a seat, and enjoy the activities around you. If you are looking for more private space, Carbon Beach is the one for you. It feels like a private beach with a long stretch of secluded shore.

The water is ideal for swimming, and the sand is soft to relax all day. You can even take a walk here without running into people. As you can see, you can enjoy your me-time to the fullest.

A more happening beach in Los Angeles is Santa Monica, always filled with people and activities. Due to its carnival-like atmosphere, the beach is excellent for a walk, roller coaster rides, and pancakes.

See Related: When is the Best Time to Travel to Puerto Rico? (Ranked)


The nightlife in Los Angeles is vibrant, with extravagant decor and hot themes. The exciting venues paired with international DJs make Los Angeles the go-to place for party-lovers.

Los Angeles Nightlife

For an open-air venue, head to The Hollywood Bowl in the Hollywood Hills, known for its concentric arch band shell. It is a place for live music and hosts hundreds of musical events every year.

Once you get in, enjoy a few bottles of wine and catch a live music performance under the LA sky.


When it comes to food, Los Angeles has everything from taco trucks offering original Mexican taste to incredibly expensive dining options.

With the diversity in population, the food scene is also diverse, making Los Angeles a fantastic place for food-lovers.

At every corner, you will find inventive chefs as well as cooks making their traditional delicacies. You will also come across cool food trucks with some of the best crepes and tacos in the city.


Like San Diego, Los Angeles is not an affordable city either, and you should expect a dent in your wallet after a long vacation. Nearly everything in Los Angeles is expensive, be it tours, food, or travel.

Again, it is possible to save a few bucks or get more for your buck by prioritizing free or less expensive activities.

Saving on accommodation is also possible if you choose to stay at a local Airbnb rental in the suburb rather than in Hollywood.

You can save on food by eating from the countless food trucks on the streets. They are quite affordable as compared to the expensive sit-down restaurants in the city.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the World

San Diego vs Los Angeles: Which is Better?

The important question is, ‘Should I travel to San Diego or Los Angeles?’ We will make the decision easier for you. As both the cities are remarkably different from one another, we will put each one in a few words.

Los Angeles Winter

San Diego is a fun and family-friendly setting where you have many things to do with your partner or kids. The city is a little hassle and more enjoyable, making it a good option if you are traveling with family or a group of friends.

Los Angeles is for those who want to enjoy Hollywood movie stars or are interested in the cuisines of the most diverse city in the US (or both). San Diego vs Los Angeles, whichever city wins for you, you will surely fall in love with the cultures, beaches, and lifestyle of the people of California.

Once you realize the difference between San Diego and Los Angeles, it will be easier to pick one that best fits your vacation ideals.

See Related: Things to do in Northern California

Final Thoughts

What is better San Diego or Los Angeles, will depend on your definition of a vacation. Despite the closeness on the map, the air is different in both cities.

It’s a tough match between San Diego vs Los Angeles, but one thing is for sure: both cities have equally beautiful beaches and exhilarating nightlife.

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