As a San Diego local who has used public transport to commute, I’m pretty familiar with how it all works. Since this is a travel blog and many of you dear readers might not necessarily be local to my area, I thought it might be helpful to write a blog on getting the most out of our public transportation here in San Diego County.
Unfortunately, Southern California isn’t exactly known for it’s great public transportation. For many of you, pictures of horrific traffic jams may come to mind. Sadly, this isn’t far from the truth. Luckily, if you’re visiting San Diego, you do have options. I must warn you that there are some locations that will not be accessible by public transit, so if there is somewhere you really want to go that isn’t along the route, your best bet may be to rent a car (or take an Uber).
That being said, here are some tips on where to stay, and how to get around town using nothing but public transportation.
Where to Stay
First of all, if you’re visiting San Diego, you are probably presented with a number of options on different places to stay. People on the internet will have all sorts of differing opinions, and I must say that each one does have it’s merits. Where you choose to stay should be based on what you want out of your trip, and how easily you want to be able to get around without a car. You have a few options:
Downtown- This is a very urban area. If you stay here, you’ll be in the center of it all. Stay in either the Gaslamp District or Little Italy for a place with walkable streets, tons of restaurants, and easy access to public transportation all around the city and beyond.
La Jolla, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and Pacific Beach- These areas, while popular, are not easily accessible by public transportation, so be careful if you want to stay here without a car. If you want to visit these areas, I suggest renting a car for the day, taking a taxi, or an Uber.
North County- If you stay in the beach cities of Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, or Oceanside, make sure to stay somewhere close to a Coaster stop. This will give you both access to some of the county’s most beautiful beaches, but you can also take the Coaster commuter train to downtown, where you can connect with the trolley and beyond.
Explaining San Diego’s Public Transit Options
The Pacific Surfliner
The Pacific Surfliner is an AMTRAK train that runs all along the coast from San Diego all the way up to San Luis Obispo. This train is generally a little more expensive than the other options on this list, but is a great resource if you want to get out of San Diego County for the day. This train has stops in Orange County, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, making it a convenient option to get around the region. If you’re visiting the area and want to pop up to Disneyland for the day, you can take this train to get there.
The Coaster is a great commuter train running along the coast through San Diego County. This train connects Oceanside, two stops in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Sorrento Valley, Old Town, and Downtown San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot stations. A regional day pass will cost you $12 and will grant you access not only to the Coaster train, but also to connecting trolley and bus stops downtown. The best part about riding the Coaster is the stretch between Sorrento Valley and Carlsbad where you will be awarded with absolutely spectacular ocean views. Make sure to sit on the top level of the train, on the side that faces the ocean.
If you’re a tourist in the area, you probably won’t be riding the Sprinter since it is a commuter train to some residential areas, but if you have need to get out to inland North County, this may be a good option for you.
The Trolley is a great way to get around if you’re staying in or near downtown. It’s a convenient option to get around downtown, as well as to places like the Fashion Valley Mall and Little Italy as well as the border with Mexico in San Ysidro if you would like to visit Tijuana for the day. Tickets are cheap and it’s pretty easy to navigate.
I don’t recommend buses in San Diego if you have a better option, as the schedules are confusingly complicated and they take forever to get you where you’re going. However, if you need to connect with a bus route to get where you’re going, you can view bus information for San Diego proper here and for North County here. A couple tips: the NCTD 101 bus runs along highway 101 for stops at a lot of great beachfront locations, and the MTS bus route 992 is a direct line to the airport, stopping near Santa Fe Depot and America Plaza (which are right across the street from one another). Check fares for these individual bus routes ahead of time. It’s always best to have exact change.
If you would like to travel outside of San Diego County, LA and Orange County’s Metrolink lines connect in Oceanside. You can take the Coaster to get to Oceanside. The Metrolink will take you to many OC and LA destinations, and if you’re feeling really brave, you can even take LA’s Metro from there. Seriously though, if you’re going to LA, it’s best to rent a car. But…if you insist, you can always take the Metro and the Metrolink.
The Ferry to Coronado
One last thing I would like to mention is that from Downtown San Diego you can go behind the convention center to the harbor and board the ferry to Coronado Island. From there, you can explore Coronado and visit the world famous Hotel Del Coronado, all without a car!
Hopefully this information is useful to you. If you are planning to visit the area, please do feel free to ask me any questions you might have. I would be happy to help you out. Enjoy your time in America’s Finest City!