Main Arteries & Streets
It's not hard to find your way around downtown San Diego. Most streets run one-way, in a grid pattern. First through Eleventh avenues run north and south -- odd-number avenues are northbound, even numbers run south; A through K streets alternate running east and west. Broadway (the equivalent of D St.) runs both directions, as do Market Street and Harbor Drive. North of A Street, the east-west streets bear the names of trees, in alphabetical order: Ash, Beech, Cedar, Date, and so on. Harbor Drive runs past the airport and along the waterfront, which is known as the Embarcadero. Ash Street and Broadway are the downtown arteries that connect with Harbor Drive.
The Coronado Bay Bridge leading to Coronado is accessible from I-5, south of downtown, and I-5 N. leads to Old Town, Mission Bay, La Jolla, and North County coastal areas. Balboa Park (home of the San Diego Zoo), Hillcrest, and Uptown areas lie north of downtown San Diego. The park and zoo are easily reached by way of Park Boulevard (which would otherwise be 12th Ave.), which leads to the parking lots. Fifth Avenue leads to Hillcrest. Hwy. 163, which heads north from 11th Avenue, leads into Mission Valley.
Coronado -- The main streets are Orange Avenue, where most of the hotels and restaurants are clustered, and Ocean Drive, which follows Coronado Beach.
Downtown -- The major thoroughfares are Broadway (a major bus artery), Fourth and Fifth avenues (which run south and north, respectively), C Street (the trolley line), and Harbor Drive, which curls along the waterfront and passes the Maritime Museum, Seaport Village, the Convention Center, and PETCO Park.
Hillcrest -- The main streets are University Avenue and Washington Street (both two-way, running east and west), and Fourth and Fifth avenues (both one-way, running south and north, respectively).
La Jolla -- The principal streets are Prospect Street and Girard Avenue, which are perpendicular to each other. The main routes in and out of La Jolla are La Jolla Boulevard (running south to Mission Beach) and Torrey Pines Road (leading to I-5).
Mission Valley -- I-8 runs east-west along the valley's southern perimeter; Hwy. 163, I-805, and I-15 run north-south through the valley. Hotel Circle is an elongated loop road that parallels either side of I-8 to the west of Hwy. 163; Friars Road is the major artery on the north side of the valley.
Pacific Beach -- Mission Boulevard is the main drag, parallel to and 1 block in from the beach, and perpendicular to it are Grand and Garnet avenues. East and West Mission Bay drives encircle most of the bay, and Ingraham Street cuts through the middle of it.
The Convention & Visitors Bureau's International Visitor Information Center, 1040 1/3 W. Broadway, along the downtown Embarcadero (tel. 619/236-1212; www.sandiego.org), provides an illustrated pocket map. Also available are maps of the 59-mile scenic drive around San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter, Tijuana, San Diego's public transportation, and a "Campgrounds and Recreation" map for the county.
The Automobile Club of Southern California has 10 San Diego offices (tel. 619/233-1000; www.aaa-calif.com). It distributes great maps, which are free to AAA members and to members of many international auto clubs, and it sells auto insurance for those driving within Mexico.
Car-rental outfits usually offer maps of the city that show the freeways and major streets, and hotels often provide complimentary maps of the downtown area. The Transit Store, 102 Broadway, at First Avenue (tel. 619/234-1060), is a storehouse of bus and trolley maps, with a friendly staff on duty to answer specific questions.
If you're moving to San Diego or plan an extended stay, the Thomas Guide (www.thomasmaps.com), available at bookstores, drugstores, and large supermarkets for $25, is recommended. This all-encompassing book of maps deciphers San Diego County street by street.
San Diego's express rail commuter service, the Coaster, travels between the downtown Santa Fe Depot station and the Oceanside Transit Center, with stops at Old Town, Sorrento Valley, Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Carlsbad. Fares range from $5 to $6.50 each way, depending on how far you go, and can be paid by credit card at vending machines at each station. Eligible seniors and riders with disabilities pay $2.50 to $3.25; ages 5 and under are free. The scenic trip between downtown San Diego and Oceanside takes 1 hour. Trains run Monday through Friday from about 6:30am (5:30am heading south from Oceanside) to 7pm, with four trains in each direction on Saturday (there's no Sunday service); call tel. 800/262-7837 or 511 (TTY/TDD 888/722-4889) for the current schedule, or log on to www.transit.511sd.com.
Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) trains head north to Los Angeles about 12 times daily each way. Stops include Solana Beach, Oceanside, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, and Anaheim (Disneyland). Two trains per day also stop in San Clemente. A one-way ticket to Solana Beach is $11; to Oceanside, $14; to San Clemente, $17; to San Juan Capistrano, $18; and to Anaheim, $23.
The Sprinter rail service runs west to east alongside Hwy. 78, from Oceanside to Escondido. The Sprinter operates Monday through Friday from about 4am to 9pm daily, with service every 30 minutes in both directions. On weekends, trains run every half-hour from 9:30am to 5:30pm (westbound) and 10:30am to 6:30pm (eastbound). There is hourly service before and after those times. Basic one-way fare is $2; $1 for seniors and travelers with disabilities.
By Public Transportation
Money-Saving Bus & Trolley Passes -- Day Passes allow unlimited rides on MTS (bus) and trolley routes. Passes are good for 2, 3, and 4 consecutive days, and cost $9, $12, and $15, respectively. Multiday passes are for sale at the Transit Store and all trolley station automated ticket vending machines (bus drivers sell 1-day passes only). Call tel. 619/234-1060 or visit www.transit.511sd.com for more information.
By Bus -- The MTS Transit Store, 102 Broadway at First Avenue (tel. 619/234-1060), dispenses passes, tokens, timetables, maps, brochures, and lost-and-found information. It issues ID cards for seniors 60 and older, as well as for travelers with disabilities -- all of whom pay $1.10 per ride. Request a copy of the useful brochure Fun Places by Bus & Trolley, which details the city's most popular tourist attractions and the public transportation that will take you to them. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.
San Diego has an adequate bus system that will get you to where you're going -- eventually. Most drivers are friendly and helpful; on local routes, bus stops are marked by rectangular red, white, and black signs every other block or so, farther apart on express routes. Most bus fares are $2.25. Buses accept dollar bills and coins, but drivers can't give change. Transfers are no longer issued, so if you need to make a connection with another bus or trolley, purchase a $5 day pass from the driver, at the Transit Store, or from the trolley station ticket vending machine. It gives you unlimited use of most bus and trolley routes for the rest of the service day.
For assistance with route information from a living, breathing entity, call MTS at tel. 619/233-3004. You can also view timetables, maps, and fares online -- and learn how the public transit system accommodates travelers with disabilities -- at www.transit.511sd.com. If you know your route and just need schedule information -- or automated answers to FAQs -- call Info Express (tel. 619/685-4900) from any touch-tone phone, 24 hours a day.
Some of the most popular tourist attractions served by bus and rail routes are:
- Balboa Park west entrance: Routes 1, 3, and 120
- Balboa Park east entrances and San Diego Zoo: Route 7
- SeaWorld: Route 9
- Cabrillo National Monument: Route 84
- Seaport Village: San Diego Trolley Orange Line
- Qualcomm Stadium: San Diego Trolley Green line (plus special event Red Line service from downtown)
- Tijuana: San Diego Trolley Blue Line
- San Diego International Airport: Route 992
- Wild Animal Park: Route 386 (Mon-Fri only)
- Convention Center: San Diego Trolley Orange Line
- PETCO Park: Routes 3, 4, 5, 11, 901, 929; San Diego Trolley Orange and Blue lines (plus special event Red Line service from Qualcomm Stadium)
- Coronado: Route 901 or Bay Ferry
- Gaslamp Quarter and Horton Plaza: most downtown bus routes and San Diego Trolley Blue and Orange lines
- Old Town: Routes 8, 9, 10, 28, 30, 35, 44, 88, 105, 150; San Diego Trolley Blue and Green lines; and the Coaster
The Coronado Shuttle, bus no. 904, runs between the Marriott Coronado Island Resort and the Old Ferry Landing, and then continues along Orange Avenue to the Hotel del Coronado, Glorietta Bay, and back again. No. 901 goes all the way to Coronado from San Diego.
When planning your route, note that schedules vary and most buses do not run all night. Some stop at 6pm, while other lines continue to 9pm, midnight, or 2am; budget cuts have also reduced Sunday service -- ask your bus driver for more specific information.
The privately owned bus tours operated by Old Town Trolley Tours and Vizit Tours are also an excellent way to get around much of the city during a short visit. Both are narrated sightseeing tours, but you can disembark at various points and join up later with the next passing group.
By Trolley -- Although the system is too limited for most San Diegans to use for work commutes, the San Diego Trolley is great for visitors, particularly if you're staying downtown or plan to visit Tijuana. There are three routes. The Blue Line is the one that is the handiest for most visitors: It travels from the Mexican border (San Ysidro) north through downtown and Old Town. The Orange Line runs from downtown east through Lemon Grove and El Cajon. The Green Line runs from Old Town through Mission Valley to Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego State University, and on to Santee. The trip to the border crossing takes about 50 minutes from downtown; from downtown to Old Town takes 10 to 15 minutes. For a route map, see the inside front cover of this guide. Note: The trolley system is being upgraded with new vehicles that require construction of different platforms; some stations may be closed on weekends (shuttle buses will service shuttered stations). When the upgrades are completed in 2015, the Green Line will be extended to downtown.
Trolleys operate on a self-service fare-collection system; riders buy tickets from machines in stations before boarding (some machines require exact change). It's a flat fare of $2.50 for travel between any two stations; a $5 day pass is also available, good for all trolley trips and most bus routes. Fare inspectors board trains at random to check tickets.
The lines run every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes at night; during peak weekday rush hours the Blue Line runs every 10 minutes. There is also expanded service to accommodate events at PETCO Park and Qualcomm Stadium. Trolleys stop at each station for only 30 seconds. To open the door for boarding, push the lighted green button; to open the door to exit the trolley, push the lighted white button.
For recorded transit information, call tel. 619/685-4900. To speak with a customer service representative, call tel. 619/233-3004 (TTY/TDD 619/234-5005) daily from 5:30am to 8:30pm. For wheelchair lift info, call tel. 619/595-4960. The trolley generally operates daily from 4 or 5am to about midnight; the Blue Line provides service until 1am; check the website at www.transit.511sd.com for details.
By Taxi -- Half a dozen taxi companies serve the area. Rates are based on mileage and can add up quickly in sprawling San Diego -- a trip from downtown to La Jolla will cost about $30 to $35. Other than in the Gaslamp Quarter after dark, taxis don't cruise the streets as they do in other cities, so you have to call ahead for quick pickup; there are also cab stands at Horton Plaza (on Broadway Circle, in front of the Lyceum Theatre) and the zoo. If you're at a hotel or restaurant, the front-desk attendant or concierge will call one for you. Among the local companies are Orange Cab (tel. 619/291-3333), San Diego Cab (tel. 619/226-8294), and Yellow Cab (tel. 619/444-4444). The Coronado Cab Company (tel. 619/435-6211) serves Coronado. You can also just dial tel. 511 and say "taxi" and you will be connected to a dispatcher. There is no pick-up from Coronado or at the airport with this service (but you can be dropped off at those locations).
By Ferry -- There's regularly scheduled ferry service between San Diego and Coronado (tel. 800/442-7847 or 619/234-4111; www.flagshipsd.com). Ferries leave from the Broadway Pier (1050 N. Harbor Dr., at the intersection with Broadway) and the Fifth Avenue Landing (600 Convention Way, located behind the Convention Center). Broadway Pier departures are scheduled daily on the hour from 9am to 9pm, and Friday and Saturday until 10pm. They return from the Ferry Landing in Coronado to the Broadway Pier Sunday through Thursday every hour on the half-hour from 9:30am to 9:30pm and Friday and Saturday until 10:30pm. Trips from the Convention Center depart about every 2 hours beginning at 9:25am, with the final departure at 8:25pm (10:25pm Fri and Sat); return trips begin at 9:17am, then run about every 2 hours thereafter until 8:17pm (10:17pm Fri and Sat). Commuter ferries depart from the Broadway Pier hourly from 5:15am to 8:10am. The ride takes 15 minutes. The fare is $4.25 each way; buy tickets at the Flagship (formerly known as San Diego Harbor Excursion) kiosk on Broadway Pier, the Fifth Avenue Landing, or at the Ferry Landing in Coronado (vending machines take cash or credit cards). The ferries do not accommodate cars.
By Water Taxi -- Water taxis (tel. 619/235-8294; www.flaghsipsd.com) will pick you up from any dock around San Diego Bay and operate Sunday through Thursday from 9am to 9pm, and Friday and Saturday 9am to 11pm. If you're staying in a downtown hotel, this is a great way to get to Coronado. Boats are sometimes available at the spur of the moment, but reservations are advised. Fares are $7 per person to most locations.
San Diego is ideal for exploration by bicycle, and many roads have designated bike lanes. Bikes are available for rent in most areas.
San Diego iCommute publishes a comprehensive map of the county detailing bike paths (for exclusive use by bicyclists), bike lanes (alongside motor vehicle ways), and bike routes (shared ways designated only by bike-symbol signs). The free San Diego Regional Bike Map is available online at www.511sd.com, or by calling tel. 511 or 619/699-1900; it can also be found at visitor centers. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition (tel. 858/487-6063; www.sdcbc.org) is also a great resource. For more in-depth information, track down Cycling San Diego by Nelson Copp and Jerry Schad.
It's possible to take your two-wheeler on the city's public transportation. For buses, let the driver know you want to stow your bike on the front of the bus, then board and pay the regular fare. The trolley also lets you bring your bike on the trolley for free. Bikers can board at any entrance except the first set of doors behind the driver; the bike-storage area is at the back of each car. The cars carry two bikes except during weekday rush hours, when the limit is one bike per car. For more information, call the Transit Information Line (tel. 619/233-3004). Bikes are also permitted on the ferry connecting San Diego and Coronado, which has 15 miles of dedicated bike paths.