We usually rely on public transportation when we travel, but the best advice I could give to anyone traveling to San Diego for the first time would be to rent a car. The city is pretty spread out and there are several attractions that can only be reached by car. Driving in the city is fairly easy since traffic is relatively light and there is plenty of free parking available (SeaWorld is the only place where we had to pay for parking). There are plenty of car rental companies located near the airport, and we got the best deal from Enterprise.
On a business trip or vacation without a car sometimes it's necessary to use transportation to get from one area to another. While San Diego offers excellent public transit, a Taxi is sometimes the most direct route to your destination.
The cost might be a bit more especially during heavy traffic (AKA commuter hours) times but it's more convenient than bus or trolley at times.
Cost depends on distance and traffic but the current rates in 2013 are:
$2.80 first 1/10 mile
$3.00 per mile
$$24/hr wait time (so you don't want to be waiting during heavy traffic times)
Taxi was the best option for us on our last visit to SD. We arrived late on a Friday night with a decent amount of luggage so a Taxi was the best way to get to the hotel. After we arrived back in SD from our Hawaiian cruise we again opted for a Taxi as we had added more belongings from our Hawaiian adventure that we didn't want to lugg on public transport.
If you're driving down to San Diego on the 5, just a word of warning - the area around Del Mar is a traffic nightmare. Leave a little room in your timetable for the day because if you're going anywhere near Del Mar you are going to get slowed down.
There's a race track in town that generates an unbelievable amount of traffic. The streets around it are basically a parking lot and that gridlock spills out onto the 5. There's really not much you can do about it except be aware that it'll probably take you longer than you'd think to get to San Diego so plan your time accordingly.
Ferni doesn't usually like to travel on shuttle buses or other transportation when we are arriving or leaving a city, so we always hop on a taxi. The ride to and from the airport takes about 10-15 minutes and prices are very reasonable.
At the airport there is a taxi stand where you can grab your taxi to the hotel. On our return to the airport the taxi stand is right outside the hotel which was quite convenient as well.
I want to say that the price of the taxi was about $17.
If you are the type of person who likes to put on a great image, this is not the car rental place for you. If you are the type of person who wants to save on the cost of a vacation, then this may be an answer for you.
State law requires that you carry car insurance and Car rental companies hold you responsible for any damage done to their cars so car insurance is a must. This company Bargin Auto Rentals is about the least expensive in the county of San Diego and the price of renting the car and being fully insured is about the same as, or in some cases less than just renting a car from one of the major companies before paying the insurance premiums. In other words, you car rental expenses are cut in half. Another advantage is that this company allows you to take their cars in to Mexico and they offer Mexican Insurance as well. Also, they offer free local pick up, so no matter where in San Diego City you're staying, even at the airport, they'll pick you up to rent the car.
Their cars are older and show signs of wear, but are basically reliable and not so expensive.
511 is a free service that was launched in San Diego County this year (2007) that provides up to date information on traffic accidents and conditions on the major highways. If you find yourself stuck in traffic, you can just call 511 from your cell phone and tell the voice activated system what freeway you want information for, and the up to date recording will tell you if there's an accident up ahead. The system can also estimate driving times based on the current traffic conditions between major points in the County. If you can't get the voice activated system to work (which happens if it can't understand what you're saying), the system also uses a touch tone system to access the same information.
Unfortunately, much of San Diego's traffic congestion is due to construction on some of our major freeways, plus, drivers tend to slow down to see the non-accidents (like a driver with a flat tire)on the side of the road.
I've rented a car each of the three times I've headed to San Diego from Los Angeles, it's the easiest and most direct way to get there and should you time it right, it takes only about 2 hours by taking the major highways, the 405 and 5. But should you find that you want to take a more leisurely scenic drive along the coast, you can take highway 1 most of the way from LA to San Diego (I think it turns into historic highway 101 at some point).
On my 2nd visit I headed north on highway 1 or 101, starting at Solana Beach and taking it up to Carlsbad and then reconnecting with the 5, it's a pretty drive with some interesting beach towns along the way. On our 3rd visit we took 1 or 101 all the way up to Long Beach before heading back over to the 405. With all the towns and stop lights, it obviously takes a lot longer to drive this route than the freeways. Lonely Planet's Los Angeles and Southern California has a decent section on what to see on San Diego's North Coast from Del Mar up to Oceanside.
You could even make this a couple day drive with stops at some of the beach towns, San Juan Capistrano and Long Beach.
The best way to get around would be to rent a car if you're not driving into the city. Many of the things to do in San Diego are spread out, and there's no way you'd be able to walk from.. lets say the Zoo to Sea World. The only place you'll run into any problems with parking would be downtown (there are pay lots, but it can get pricey), or by the beach.
It isn't too complicated to drive in SD - the streets are mostly laid out in rough grid fashion (no round abouts or anything like that) and you have left turn arrows at stoplights (not left turn yields like in LA - those always stress me out when I'm up there!). There are 4 way stops in many communities - just make sure you fully stop and don't do a "California Rolling Stop" lest a police officer sees you and gives you a ticket for failing to stop. The freeways are also close to everything you would want to visit.
Parking in Downtown San Diego can be difficult and expensive. However, there are some tricks.
The meters do not run 6pm-8am on the weekdays or all day on Sunday. This means that you can park your car on any street in a legal space overnight without paying the ridiculous nightly rates that hotels and lots (surface or garage) charge.
Most of the time, you'll be able to find a good space close to your hotel. The exception to this is the Gaslamp, where parking will be much more difficult. Little Italy, with its surgence of condos, is also harder to find a space in. Generally you'll have to get out to the fringes, especially where Little Italy runs into Downtown and the residential development drops off. Unless you're lucky. There will also be problems around Petco Park on days when there is a Padres game. People attending the games will try to avoid paying for the lots and will fill up the street spaces.
One worry is theft and vandalism. There is a sketchy area of Downtown SD on the eastern side that should be outright avoided. Basically, if you're parking at night and there are plenty of open spaces, it's probably a bad section of town. Always park near other cars.
Parking in the Gaslamp tends to be overpriced. If there is a Padres game in town - plan your visit to the Gaslamp for a different night! Otherwise, the best deal is to park at Horton Plaza. It is a large, secure parking garage. TAKE YOUR TICKET WITH YOU. Enjoy the Gaslamp, then buy something really cheap in any store (even just a pack of gum - I prefer a cup of coffee.) Ask the store to "validate" your ticket and parking is free for 2 or 3 hours.
For directions, see the website. There are a lot of reviews under "Things to do" for Horton Plaza itself.
I don't know anything about these taxi's, except that they are extremely unusual, and very cute! They didn't look particularly safe, being open like that, but I suppose they'd be fine for a lark!
If this isn't your ideal way of getting around, you could choose to travel in a pedi-cab, or in a horse-drawn carriage, or take the trolley.
We decided that we all wanted to drink so none of us wanted to drive. I suggest taking a taxi if you are within six miles of your destination. We were staying in old town and wanted to travel to pacific beach, it was six miles away. There was five of us and it cost us $15 one way.
Hi i did a road trip to san diego from tuscon the scenery was nothing short of breath taking from desert to the mountains coming into california is awsome , id have to recomend hiring or buying a car for most american travelling, ill doing that when i go back and petrols very cheap,about $1.40a gallon u.s. very reasonable.
Do you need a car in San Diego? NO, public transportation is efficient.
I finally rented Buick Century in Budget rent a car agency not to drive around San Diego but... over 11,500 miles around the West and the Southwest of the USA.
Why just at Budget? Hmmm... Linda's son helped me a lot. He called to many rent a car agencies and I finally chose Budget because of the best price (they gave me a good discount). I was looking for a comfortable midsize car with unlimited mileage with possible driving to Canada (I was going to drive at least to Vancouver).