If you are planning transportation to and around San Diego and its surrounding areas, you are in luck. San Diego is easy to get to by airport, freeway and train. The city has a trolley system, which makes it one of the easier cities to get around using public transportation in the Southern California area. That being said, Southern Californians rely on their cars for freedom and some of San Diego’s best family attractions are spread out, so you’ll most likely want to bring a car or rent one to get around San Diego.
Transportation to San Diego
Whether you drive or fly depends largely, of course, on where you're coming from and how many passengers you will have with you. You can fly right into the city of San Diego directly from many major cities. If you will be visiting Los Angeles or Orange County before or after (or during!) your trip, you can easily take the I-5 freeway to or from these destinations. Larger families who live within driving distance may find it's more economical to drive, but you should always factor in the additional cost of gas and food while on the road. Despite having good public transportation within the city itself, you’ll want to have a car when visiting Southern California, especially if you will be venturing out to LEGOLAND or the San Diego Zoo, which are in northern and eastern San Diego county, respectively. If you do decide to drive, be sure to check out our helpful tips for a smooth car ride.
The Santa Fe Depot in downtown is a hub for Amtrak, which has stations in northern San Diego (Oceanside) and connects to Orange County (including a station near Disneyland) and into downtown Los Angeles. So if you really want to take a relaxing, traffic-free, scenic coastal route when traveling between San Diego and Orange County or Los Angles, hop on a train!
San Diego International Airport is ideally situated three miles northwest of downtown San Diego, roughly a 10-minute drive. It is served by many domestic carriers, with over 60 non-stop markets and almost 500 daily fights. There are only a handful of international flights. Visitors from other countries are likely to be routed through the Los Angeles or San Francisco-area airports rather than direct.
Transportation Around San Diego
Although not as large and sprawling as Los Angeles, San Diego is the second largest city in California that is best traversed by car. Popular tourist attractions are spread throughout the city, and visitors will likely find renting a car the easiest way to navigate. We have partnered with five top-name brands to bring you the very best rates on car rental rates. All of the car rental companies operate at the airport. None are directly in terminal and will require a shuttle ride to their locations behind the terminal and runway, so be sure to factor that into your travel time to and from the airport.
With three major interstate roadways, it's fairly easy to get around, although visitors should expect a fairly good amount of congestion if you are traveling during commuting times.
There is no central bus service, although there are several operators that offer different stops and stations around the city.
The only public transit available from the airport is the Flyer Route No. 992, a Metropolitan Transit System bus that travels between the airport and downtown. The bus service, which stops between Terminals 1 & 2 and the Commuter Terminal, connects downtown with trolley, COASTER and Amtrak stations.
You might want to explore coastal San Diego by train. The COASTER light rail train connects downtown San Diego and Old Town with great San Diego beach towns along the coast to the north of the city. The most northern stop in San Diego County is Oceanside, where you can end your journey or switch trains to Amtrak or Metrolink to continue further north into Orange County.
San Diego has several affordable trolley lines that extend to nearby areas and beaches. For fun, you can take the inexpensive vintage streetcar that makes a Downtown loop. It passes by the Santa Fe Depot, the Civic Center, the 12 & Imperial Transit Center, PETCO Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village and more every 30 minutes.
The major car rental companies operate at the airport, although all will require a shuttle ride behind the terminal and runway, so be sure to factor that into your travel time to and from the airport. If you are going to leave the San Diego city area to visit Legoland or the San Diego Zoo, you’ll definitely want a car.
Traveling Between Los Angeles and San Diego
For visitors planning to visit both San Diego and Los Angeles (about 120 miles away) — or Orange County and Disneyland, in the middle of the two cities — it is usually much cheaper and faster to rent a car or take Amtrak rather than fly between the two cities. Amtrak operates from the historic Santa Fe Depot, and there is a city bus line to it from San Diego International Airport. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner takes about two and a half hours to get to Los Angeles' Union Station, stopping in several Orange County cities, including Anaheim. There is an additional commuter rail service, COASTER, that runs to Oceanside and then could connect to Orange County's Metrolink if you are traveling during regular commuting hours; weekend service is limited.
In the downtown and beach areas, there is metered parking Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or as marked). Meters accept coin, credit card, Near Field Communication payment (like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay) or payment through the Parkmobile app, which will remind you 15 minutes before your meter expires. It also has a “find my car” feature in case you get lost or forget where you parked. (Hey, it happens!)
Popular San Diego Transportation Addresses
Popular addresses are listed below if you would like to plug them into your favorite mapping system.
San Diego International Airport
3225 N Harbor Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
Amtrak (Santa Fe Depot)
1050 Kettner Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101
1 Legoland Dr.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
SeaWorld San Diego
500 Sea World Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
The San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Dr.
San Diego, CA 92101
San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Escondido, CA 92027
We hope you've found this overview of Transportation to and around San Diego helpful in planning a visit to San Diego. You'll find more resources and tips inside our San Diego Planning Guide.