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Car Hire | San Diego

Car Hire in San Diego | Compare the rates of all major car hire providers in San Diego

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  • Nas - North Island Airport [NZY]
  • San - Diego Airport [SAN]
  • San - Diego

    Car Hire & Travel Information

    San Diego is a large and pleasant coastal city right on the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It's home to 1.3 million citizens and the second-largest city in the state with many universities and good swimming beaches. It's also known for its ideal climate, bio and communications technologies, long history, nightlife, outdoor culture and ethnic diversity.

    The city sits just north of the Mexican border, across from Tijuana. Though a large city, San Diego has a somewhat slower paced atmosphere and, when visiting, some may find it provides a soothing break from the typical hustle-bustle of a city of its size.


    San Diego is seamlessly divided into districts comprising each of charming individual neighborhoods.

    This list of districts is by no means an official breakdown of the city, but one that is meant to make sense from the standpoint of a visitor, based on the number of attractions the average visitor will find in each area.

    Situated on the bay, downtown is a hub of business and nightlife. It also has many tourist attractions amongst its gleaming office and hotel towers.

    Balboa Park-Hillcrest 
    Located in the heart of the city, Balboa Park is the second largest urban park in the world. It is home to many amazing museums and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Next door is Hillcrest, a happening urban neighborhood. Or for a quieter experience there are cute cafés and some renown drinking establishments in South Park.

    Old Town-Mission Valley 
    The site of the first Spanish settlement in California, Old Town today is a historic district popular with tourists and locals for sampling the Mexican culture.

    Point Loma-Ocean Beach 
    Located on a scenic peninsula curving around the bay, this area offers gorgeous views of San Diego, and its beautiful coastline. Ocean Beach is a quiet, laid-back beach neighborhood. Its hippie roots show on its beaches, organic food market and reggae clubs.

    Mission Beach-Pacific Beach 
    Two extremely popular beach communities with plenty of shops, restaurants, and nightlife, alongside a man-made inlet known as Mission Bay with its variety of water sports including kayaking, sailing, kite surfing. It is home to Sea World.


    The San Diego area can be an incredible place to visit almost any time of the year, with its mild Mediterranean climate. With coastal temperatures around 75 degrees (24°C) most of the time, the weather is ideal, with very low humidity. The climate of Southern California is rather complex, however, and temperatures change rapidly as one travels from the coast eastward. In the summer during the day, the temperature might increase as much as one degree Fahrenheit for each mile going east. In the winter, especially at night, eastern areas are usually relatively cooler. Some valleys and other areas have significantly different weather due to terrain and other factors. These are often referred to as "micro-climates".

    If you're coming to San Diego expecting sunny weather, avoid coming in May or June, when San Diego is covered in clouds most days, a phenomenon referred to by the locals as "May Grey" or "June Gloom". September is usually the hottest month of the year in the daytime. Mid-September through October are labeled as the most at-risk months for wildfires, because of the long absence of any substantial rainfall. Along the beach during the warmer half of the year, it can get surprisingly cool after dark, even when it's not too cold a short distance inland. The months of March and April typically see the strongest winds. Along the coast, fog is most common September through April; it is not uncommon to experience 3-7 foggy days per month.

    During the late summer and fall there is a reversal of the usual climate conditions, when hot, dry air blows from the desert to the coast. These winds are called the Santa Ana winds. Milder Santa Ana winds can result in excellent dry air conditions, but powerful ones can last days on end, significantly raising temperatures, creating tremendous fire danger, and making the outdoors unpleasant.

    Get in

    By plane

    San Diego International Airport, better known as Lindbergh Field, (SAN) is 2.5-3 miles (4-4.8km) NW of downtown San Diego and is less than 10 minutes drive (or taxi ride) along Harbor Dr to get to downtown. The descent into the airport from the east is remarkably close to downtown buildings, which can be a bit alarming for first-time visitors.

    To get into downtown San Diego from the airport locally:

    A taxi from the airport will cost around $14 + 15% tip to get to the downtown Santa Fe Depot from the airport.
    The Airport Flyer Bus Rt#992, costs $2.25 for a single ride or $5 for day ticket/pass if requiring to transfer to the trolley or another bus, and takes 20-22 minutes to travel from the airport to downtown (depending on traffic). The last bus leaves the airport at 11:25PM Monday through Friday and 10:59PM on weekends. There are two stops in front of Terminals 1 and 2 and one stop at the commuter terminal. 

    By car. Driving out of the airport can be a little confusing. Unless you're headed to Point Loma or Harbor Island, you want to go east towards downtown. The first left turn after the airport is Laurel Street to Balboa Park. The second one is Grape Street, and this has access to the I-5 freeway. For the I-5 north freeway, stay in the left lane of Grape St., or the right lane for I-5 south. The 163 north and 94 east freeways are via I-5 south (remain in the right freeway lanes for the 163 and 94 as these exits will come very quickly). If going downtown, just stay on Harbor Drive from the airport.

    Beware that even discounted coach airfares between San Diego and Los Angeles (about 120 miles/190 km) can cost nearly as much as a trip to the east coast. Flying will usually be greatly discounted or even free for connecting flights if it's part of the overall routing, but you must leave LAX within four hours for domestic flights or 24 hours for international. Direct fixed point ground transportation between LAX and San Diego is extremely limited and taxi/van service is more costly than flying (except for groups of about six or more).

    If arriving into Los Angeles (LAX) here are a couple of options to get to San Diego without flying and without a car:

    Take the LAX Fly-Away bus to the downtown unnion Station and transfer to the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train which goes to the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego with some stops in Orange and N San Diego Counties. Likewise one can also take the Metrolink Orange County Line to Oceanside and transfer to the the NCTD Coaster Train the rest of the way. The fare in the latter option may be a few dollars cheaper than Amtrak but the Metrolink and Coaster trains make more stops and the timing for one to arrive and the other leaving in Oceanside is NOT coherent thus leaving the traveler somewhat stranded in Oceanside.

    From the downtown unnion Station (in Los Angeles), after getting off the LAX Fly Away bus, take a taxi to the nearby Greyhound station and take the bus the rest of the way. They make fewer or NO stops in comparison to Amtrak but are subject traffic conditions along I-5. In San Diego the bus arrives into downtown at 120 W Broadway, a few blocks east of the Santa Fe Depot (train station). If going straight to Tijuana take the InterCalifornias bus from downtown Los Angeles (@ 655 Maple Ave) instead. The area between downtown L.A. and the industrial areas where the bus stations are located at in Los Angeles is sketchy, especially at night, so take a taxi. Greyhound and InterCalifronias do NOT make stops at either airports.

    McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad (CLD) is just north of the city of San Diego and provides the other commercial passenger airport in the county. Commercial operations are limited to one commuter airline, United Express, which provide service to Los Angeles. The airport is in the city of Carlsbad, located about 35 miles north of downtown San Diego. Exiting the airport by car, turn right onto Palomar Airport Road and proceed onto Interstate 5 southbound to reach San Diego proper. There is an AVIS car rental facility on-site.

    Tijuana Gen. Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport (TIJ) in Mexico is in the vicinity of San Diego, and may be an option as it offers numerous flights and recently added long-haul service from Shanghai and Tokyo. This allows many tourists from the Pacific Rim the option of bypassing the Los Angeles or San Francisco airports and putting them closer to San Diego or to transit from the Pacific Rim to Latin America to avoid the extra bureaucratic hassles associated with entering the US (which is required to even transit). However, closer is not necessarily easier. As this airport is not in the United States, travellers need to make sure that they have the proper documentation such as passports or visas for their respective nationality to traverse through Mexico into the United States. Also, one should be aware that border crossing by private vehicle from Tijuana to the United States involves very lengthy waiting lines. As such, changing planes in Los Angeles or San Francisco then continuing on to San Diego is the easier option for travel. Likewise travel from Mexico City (and/or other Mexican cities further south) to Tijuana may be a cheaper option as a domestic flight then as an international flight to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego.

    By car

    San Diego is easily accessible by car using any one of the three major interstate roadways, the 5, 8, and 15 Freeways.

    I-5 begins in San Ysidro, at the US-Mexico border crossing, and continues northward through Los Angeles and Central California to Oregon and Washington, terminating in Blaine, Washington at the US-Canadian border crossing. Continues north as BC Hwy 99 into Vancouver.

    I-8 begins near the coast in Ocean Beach and continues eastward through eastern San Diego and Imperial Counties into Arizona, where it connects with Interstate 10 about half way between Phoenix and Tucson. From the Phoenix area, AZ Hwy 85 to I-8 at Gila Bend is often faster, except from the eastern suburbs (Chandler, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa & Queen Creek). There is a mountain pass of about 4,200 ft. between the desert and coastal area. Closures or restrictions due to snow happen on rare occasion.

    I-15 begins, from along I-5 at Exit #13A as CA-Hwy 15 just south of downtown. I-15 officially begins at the I-8/15 junction and continues northward into the California deserts, through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana and eventually terminating at the US-Canadian border in northern Montana. Continues north to Lethbridge, Alberta as AB Hwy 4.

    Additionally, there are numerous other freeways that crisscross the county, making access to most places in San Diego relatively easy. However, be advised that traffic is frequently congested during the weekday morning and evening commuting hours.

    Get around

    Although alternatives are being created, San Diego is Southern California, so renting or having a car available will increase your enjoyment to this city if you really want to cover some distance. If you would like to use public transportation, it can be done. Some buses run late into the evening, but this doesn't apply to all routes! Trip planning is advised; read the Bus section below. Taking the bus will also increase the amount of time you spend traveling from place to place however you will be able to get a great feel of this remarkable city by traveling with the locals.

    By car

    The San Diego metropolitan area is sprawling. Car travel is the most efficient way of getting around the metro area. Throughout the downtown and beach communities, on-street parking is metered. Parking meters accept coins, pre-paid Parking Meter Cards, and some newer meters accept credit cards. Gas/petrol prices tend to be higher than much of the U.S. The outlying communities of El Cajon, Santee, Lemon Grove, Poway, and Chula Vista are the least expensive in the area for filling your tank.

    All the major rental car companies operate at the San Diego Airport, though most require you to take a shuttle which goes behind the terminal and runway (about 2.5 miles). To get to the I-5 freeway, turn right at Sassafras Street, then cross the railroad tracks. Do not mistake the railroad crossing for Kettner Blvd./I-5 south as a few visitors have done (mostly after dark) over the years. These tracks are heavily used by Amtrak and other rail services, and there's a good chance of being hit by a train if you make a wrong turn.

    By public transit


    The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) operates bus service to large portions of the county, although service in many areas is sparse and infrequent. The weakest points in the transit system are suburb-to-suburb travel and poor links between some of the individual coastal communities, both of which often require long trips to one of the transit hubs, then back out. If you will be mainly in the areas around downtown, the bus may be suitable, but service generally gets weaker the farther you are from the central area.

    There is bus service every 15 to 30 minutes or so (at least on weekdays) between downtown San Diego and a number of tourist-oriented destinations. These include the airport, the zoo, and neighborhoods such as Hillcrest, North Park, and La Jolla, check a routing website for timetables. There is adequate service to Sea World from the Old Town Transit Center, where the trolley stops. Service from downtown to Coronado and Ocean Beach is about once every 30 minutes.


    Like much of California and the Southwestern United States, English is the predominant language with Spanish the second most widely spoken. Store signs are written in English or both languages, and many businesses have bilingual employees that speak both English and Spanish.

    What to see

    See San Diego with children for travelers with children.

    A couple of discount passes offer admission to a number of places:

    Go San Diego Card – This enables free admission and express entry to over 40 attractions, including Sea World, Legoland, San Diego Zoo, Universal, and all Balboa Park museums.
    Southern California CityPass – Gives you one day each at SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo, another day at Universal Studios Hollywood, and a 3 day park hopper ticket for Disneyland.

    From historic landmarks to world-class zoos and parks, San Diego has a lot to see.

    Parks and Beaches

    Cabrillo Park and National Monument — Here visitors can stand on a piece of history. In September of 1542, Juan Cabrillo and his crew landed at San Diego Bay. This was the first time a European expedition had set foot on the United States' west coast. Cabrillo National Monument memorializes this moment. The park also offers gorgeous views of San Diego’s harbor and skyline. Migrating whales can be spotted in winter.

    Balboa Park — Home to the famous San Diego Zoo, the park also encompasses myriad botanical gardens, over a dozen museums and several family-friendly attractions.

    Ocean Beach and Mission Beach — Ocean Beach still sports a laid-back hippie vibe. Mission Beach in Mission Bay, is a popular place for young people. It's a great place to spot sea life amongst the throngs of rollerbladers and cyclists.

    Old Town State Historic Park — This “birthplace” of California features original Spanish establishments, beautifully restored Victorian homes and Whaley House.

    Zoos and Aquariums

    San Diego Zoo — Located in Balboa Park, No visit to San Diego would be complete without seeing its famous zoo. The 100-acre zoo houses over 3,700 rare and endangered animals and boasts a botanical collection of over 700,000 exotic plants.

    San Diego Zoo Safari Park — This 1,800-acre park allows visitors to see animals like giraffes, rhinos, condors and more. These animals are not behind bars but are free to roam.

    Sea World — Visitors can ride a roller coaster, swim with dolphins, see a show and go underwater at Explorer’s Reef while they learn about the world’s waters and their creatures.

    Birch Aquarium — This La Jolla attraction lets visitors see where the ocean comes alive. Visit a massive kelp tank, see tropical fishes and learn about the important role oceans play in everyone’s lives.

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