California’s second largest city with better weather (imagine that) is home to approximately 1.4 million residents and miles of pristine beaches. A visit to the great city of San Diego offers much more than beaches though as, visitors can hike the East San Diego County Mountains, explore the urban neighborhoods of downtown San Diego, or visit the charming towns of Coronado and La Jolla. Below are brief descriptions of the city’s various regions and communities.

San Diego Neighborhoods: Where to Stay and Explore in San Diego


Located just across the Big Bay from downtown San Diego, this neighborhood is most famous for its Hotel Coronado (built in 1888 and is a National Historic Landmark) as well as the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Visitors can spend their days in Coronado laying out at the beach, shopping its boutiques, dining at its fine beachfront restaurants, or renting a bike and touring the beautiful boardwalk. Highlights of Coronado include the Coronado Museum of History & Art, Coronado’s Ferry Landing, and Seaport Village. Coronado’s Beach is consistently named one of the top ten beaches of the United States.

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego is where all the action is as it is houses the city’s premier accommodations, dining and cultural attractions and is the city’s most walkable area. Downtown is filled with activities for the entire family including The New Children’s Museum, Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres), Coronado, and the San Diego Zoo. In the evening, Downtown has an array of night clubs, fine dining restaurants, and music venues for visitors to enjoy. In its Embarcadero district, visitors can visit the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

East County

In contrast to its more serene coastal neighbors, East County San Diego is filled with diverse wilderness and has hills, mountains, lakes, and canyons for visitors to enjoy. Visitors can head to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to get a taste of the region’s wildlife and outdoors. The city offers hiking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, and camping. Visitors can spend an entire day through Mission Trails Region Park and fishing on El Capitan Reservoir.


Characterized by its Victorian-era buildings and modern skyscrapers, the Gaslamp Quarter houses many of San Diego's finest dining establishments and retail shops. Visitors can spend their entire day shopping in the neighborhood’s Horton Plaza or can visit more cultural institutions such as the Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House and the New Children’s Museum.


Hillcrest is only a few miles north of Downtown and it is San Diego's LGBT hub. Known for its walkable streets and the large Pride Flag, Hillcrest offers a variety of bars, coffee houses, boutiques, and thrift stores. Hillcrest is home to Balboa Park which is North America’s largest urban cultural park and is home to 16 museums and various cultural institutions housed in Spanish-Renaissance architecture. Balboa Park is also home to the San Diego Zoo and the Old Globe Theatre.

La Jolla

One of the most popular beach destinations in California, La Jolla is reminiscent of the Mediterranean with its laid back lifestyle. Nicknamed “the jewel” of San Diego it offers upscale and luxurious hotels as well as museums and art galleries. Visitors can play golf on the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course or visit the various cultural attractions such as Birch Aquarium at Scripps, La Jolla Playhouse, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. La Jolla’s biggest draw is of course its beach and visitors spend their days sun bathing and enjoying the ocean.


Characterized by its tranquil waters and soft sand beaches, Mission Bay attracts visitors all year round. Mission Bay Park is a 4,600 acre aquatic playground that is surrounded by 27 miles of shoreline with a variety of waterways, inlets, and isles. Visitors can enjoy an array of water activities such as kite surfing. Mission Bay is also home to the world famous SeaWorld San Diego.


Mission Valley is a center of dining, shopping, and entertainment located close to the San Diego Zoo and the SeaWorld San Diego. Visitors can visit the 27 hole Riverwalk Golf Club, Qualcomm Stadium (stadium of the San Diego Chargers), and the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala.

Known as the birthplace of California, Old Town houses 17 museums and historical sites including the Whaley House (haunted house). Old Town also boasts the most authentic Mexican cuisine in San Diego as well as Old Town Trolley Tours which offer an excellent sightseeing tour of San Diego.

North County Coastal

San Diego’s North County is a large region characterized by beautiful beaches, nature preserves, and miles of open spaces. Starting in Del Mar and ending at Oceanside, North County is comprised of a series of picturesque beach villages. Visitors can go hiking and horseback riding in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, kayaking in Carslbad Lagoon, or biking along Highway 101. This region is home to LEGOLAND California Sealife Aquarium and Legoland Water Park, the San Diego Botanic Garden, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

North County Inland

North County Inland is comprised of a collection of unique communities ranging from the mountains of Escondido and Temecula to Rancho Bernardo. Visitors can hike up Palomar Mountain or golf at one of the over 40 courses nestled in this region of California.

Point Loma Peninsula

The Point Loma Peninsula is divided into three areas: Point Loma, Harbor Island, and Shelter Island. Point Loma is known as an excellent location for tide pooling as well as the Cabrillo National Monument, which is the home of the Point Loma Lighthouse. Harbor Island is a thin strip of land which houses large hotels, restaurants, and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse. Shelter Island is home to Concerts by the Bay, which is an annual summer concert that attracts musicians and comedians. Shelter Island is one of San Diego’s principal boating centers.


South Bay is located south of downtown San Diego and is just north of the Mexican Border and the gateway to Baja California. South Bay is home to the Aquatic SeaWorld Waterpark, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Las Americas Premium outlets, and countless dining establishments and golf courses. South Bay also has a strong military presence as it houses the Naval Base of San Diego, the largest U.S. Naval base on the west coast.

San Diego Visitor Resources:

What to do With Kids in San Diego

San Diego Urban Wineries

San Diego's Best Breweries

This article was written by Walter Godinez.