When you plan a vacation in San Diego, you should keep in mind that it is a huge city with many tourist attractions that are rather far from each other. So, you may need to use transportation from Legoland to Mission Beach and from your hotel to Balboa Park. There are various public transport systems that you may use, but most people prefer renting a car when they travel with a big family. A 15 passenger van rental can be in handy for travelers from a family with many kids.
Should You Use a Car in San Diego?
It is quite easy to get around San Diego Downtown. That is why, if you rent a hotel downtown, you can access everything by foot, or by a Lyft or Uber ride, trolley and bus system, or a short taxi ride. Anyway, if you want to move to some sights outside downtown, like historic sites, surfing places and shops, beautiful beaches, trendy restaurants, and bard, you may need a rental van. If you plan to visit deserts and mountains, you will also need something more than public transportation.
However, if you stay within city limits. The public transport system is pretty good. So if you travel on a budget or alone, it is an option for you. “America’s Finest City’’ cares about the tourists and here is our guide to follow.
Renting a Car in San Diego
San Diego is a very spread out city, so if you have a desire to explore everything that San Diego can offer to a tourist, you will save time and money if you take a van rental in San Diego. You have to be over 21 years old to rent a car and do not forget safety seats if you travel with kids. U.S. Border Police control the major highways since the Mexican border is just around the corner. So, it is recommended to carry your driver’s license at all times, and a passport, if you are a foreigner.
Parking Costs in San Diego
If you decide to rent a van on your trip to San Diego, you have to care about parking places. Parking meters cost $1 to $2.50 downtown per hour from 10 am to 8 pm. At other times parking is usually free, still, you have to be careful with NO PARKING zones. The fee is $45, so better be attentive than pay more missing the signs.
Balboa Park with its numerous attractions, museums, and the San Diego Zoo, will surprise you with free parking. It is hard to park downtown during special events and in the evenings. When you stay at the hotel, you will probably have to pay between $10-$50 depending on the index of the popularity of your street. If you stay outside downtown, the parking fees are usually lower. La Jolla and Coronado beaches have suitable parking fees with parking meters everywhere. Mission Bay beach will surprise you with many free parking spots.
If you decide to travel without a van rental, the bright red trolleys are the best option you may choose. They transport people all over the city on 3 different lines and cover almost 50 miles of the city from 5 am till midnight. The Blue Line goes from the Old Town Transit Center to the San Ysidro Transit Center on the Mexican border. The Green Line takes people from The Old Town Transit Center to Santee Town Center. The Orange Line moves from Gillespie Field to the San Diego Downtown. The popular stops are the following:
- American Plaza;
- Seaport Village;
- Civic Center;
- Convention Center;
- Gaslamp Quarter;
- Qualcomm Stadium;
- Santa Fe Depot;
A trolley ticket costs $2.50 for a one-direction trip and it is valid for 2 hours only. However, you can get a day pass for $5 with unlimited trolley rides and it also includes some regional buses. The tickets and day passes are available at vending machines, on Albertson’s markets, and at the Downtown Transit Store.
Buses in San Diego
Another way to travel without renting a car is to take city buses. Tourists can take San Diego Transit buses from any bus stop. You can pay at the bus by cash if vending machines are not available at the stop. Though the driver will not give you a change, so you need to have the exact sum of money for the drive. Most routes cost $2.25, some are longer for $5. A day pass for a bus is also $5.
Trains in San Diego
There are “coaster” commuter trains every day that take people from the center of the city to the best beaches in Oceanside, Solana Beach, and Carlsbad, with numerous other stops on the way. A ticket costs $4-$5 in a one-way direction, depending on the trip distance. The trains go every 30 minutes, and there are 4 trains on Saturday. If you plan to visit Los Angeles for a day, you can use Metrolink for $17 to come to Union Station in LA by high-speed train from Oceanside Transit Center.
San Diego’s FRED
FRED is a unique transportation vehicle in San Diego. It means “free ride everywhere downtown”. FRED is an electric blue all-open cruiser from any corner in downtown to the other. You can stop it on the street waving a hand and drive to any place at the center and it is totally free. Tips are welcomed by the drivers but are not obligatory. FRED has a mobile application with a function to request a ride for up to 5 people.