Are you looking for a Pacific Coast cruise starting in Southern California?
Welcome to the sun-drenched coastal paradise of San Diego, where your cruise adventure begins.
This vibrant city perfectly blends natural beauty, cultural richness, and coastal charm.
In this guide, we’ll look at everything you need to know about starting a cruise from San Diego, from where to stay before your voyage to exciting ways to explore the city and nearby attractions.
San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods – a visitor’s guide
San Diego’s geographical makeup offers a diverse range of neighborhoods, each with its own unique charm.
For first-time visitors, the city’s layout can be a bit bewildering, but fear not – we’ll simplify it for you. Most visitors choose to stay either downtown or close to a beach.
The heart of San Diego is downtown, where you’ll find the lively Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, and the Embarcedero.
If you’re seeking coastal vibes, head to beachside neighborhoods like Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and Ocean Beach, known for their sandy shores and surf culture.
For a taste of art and culture, explore the trendy North Park and the Spanish-inspired architecture of Balboa Park.
Those looking for a quieter, upscale stay might opt for the coastal towns of La Jolla or Coronado Island.
So, while the city’s layout may initially seem complex, understanding these key neighborhoods will help you choose the perfect base for your San Diego adventure. We recommend cruise guests stay in Downtown San Diego. It’s a bustling area with plenty going on, full of restaurants and good transportation if you want to go further afield or visit other neighborhoods.
Also, it is close to the cruise port, so you will quickly and easily find your way there on embarkation day.
San Diego cruise port
San Deigo has two cruise ship terminals located close to one another along the Embarcedero. You will find plenty of dining and shopping options while waiting to check in for your cruise.
- B-Street Pier & Cruise Ship Terminal
- Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier
Check your cruise ticket to ensure you get to the correct terminal. Most major cruise lines will use the larger B-Street Pier & Cruise Ship Terminal.
How to get from San Diego International Airport (SAN) to your downtown hotel
Upon arriving at San Diego International Airport, getting to downtown San Diego is very straightforward.
The airport is located just a few kilometers from the city center, ensuring a smooth transition from your flight to your downtown destination. The journey time is around 10 to 15 minutes.
- From the arrivals lounge, follow the signs for the transportation plaza. There are plenty of official taxis outside the airport.
- Your hotel may be able to offer a shuttle bus pickup, usually for a fee. Check with them when you make your booking. Shuttle services depart from the Transportation Plazas across from Terminals 1 and 2. If you arrive at Terminal 1, cross the Skybridge and take the escalators or the elevators to street level. From Terminal 2, use the pedestrian crosswalk outside the Baggage Claim Area to access the Transportation Plaza.
- The San Diego Flyer is a free shuttle bus between the airport and the Old Town Transit Center. However, we think this is located too far from Downtown to be convenient for visitors.
Where to Stay Before You Cruise from San Diego
Before setting sail, you’ll want to ensure a comfortable and convenient stay in San Diego. Here are five hotels located in downtown San Diego that have earned rave reviews:
- Hilton San Diego Bayfront – our choice for our family stay in San Diego
- Located just across the road from the start of the Gaslamp Quarter, right by the Convention Center
- Luxurious amenities and dining options
- Excellent breakfast
- Bike rental available nearby
- Great pool area and views over the bay to Coronado
- Very close to the ferry terminal to go over to Coronado Island
- If you aren’t already, become a Hiltons Honors Member for freebies such as cookies and bottled water when you check in
- Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
- Great location in Gaslamp Quarter
- Rooftop bar with panoramic marina views
- Surrounded by restaurants and cafes
- San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter
- Friendly hotels with good front-desk service
- Fantastic views from the sky lounge
- Good restaurant serving excellent California wines
- Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, an IHG Hotel
- Eco-friendly hotel with stylish décor
- Rooftop lounge with fire pits
- Walking distance to the marina
- Kimpton Alma
- Boutique hotel between Gaslamp district and Little Italy
- Outdoor pool and kid’s club
- Proximity to the San Diego Zoo
The best hotels close to San Diego cruise port
If you prefer to be even closer to the cruise port, consider these four hotels:
- The Guild Hotel San Diego, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
- Located within walking distance of the cruise terminal
- Stunning views of the harbor
- Shuttle service to the airport and cruise terminal
- The Westin San Diego Bayview
- Overlooking the Embarcadero
- Spacious suites with kitchenettes
- Complimentary breakfast and evening socials
- Wyndham San Diego Bayside
- 3-star Waterfront hotel close to the cruise port
- Relaxing outdoor pool and spa
- Easy access to the USS Midway Museum
- Embassy Suites by Hilton San Diego Bay Downtown
- Overlooking the Embarcadero
- Quaint courtyard and cozy rooms
- Steps away from the cruise departure point
The San Diego Trolley
While we walked all over downtown, it is not for everyone. A great way to get around is using the San Diego Trolley. A single journey costs just $2.50 per person, and there are three lines to choose between blue, yellow, and green. Download a map of all the stops here.
3 Ways to see the best of San Diego before your cruise from San Diego Cruise Port
We always recommend arriving in your cruise departure city a few days before embarkation day. That way, you will not miss getting to your cruise ship on time.
Plus, you get to explore your departure city before your cruise begins. Here are our top tips on spending time in San Deigo before your cruise.
Day 1: Explore downtown San Diego
Start your journey by exploring downtown San Diego:
- Morning: Visit the historic Gaslamp Quarter for breakfast and shopping.
- Afternoon: Head to Balboa Park, home to museums, gardens, and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo.
- The hop-on/hop-off trolley tour is well worth it and a great way to see the sights of San Diego easily.
- Evening: Enjoy dinner at a waterfront restaurant in Seaport Village.
Visit the OB Farmer's Market at Ocean Beach if you are visiting on a Wednesday. It's open all day. Here you can find high-quality, fresh produce in a bustline market place with plenty to shop, see and do.
Day 2: Discover Coronado – golden beaches and small-town charm
Take a day trip to Coronado Island:
- Morning: Cross the iconic Coronado Bridge if you are driving, or hop on a ferry for the 15-minute ride from the San Diego Convention Center (close to the Gaslamp district at 5th Avenue – 600 Convention Way) or Broadway Pier (located downtown at 990 N. Harbor Drive), and visit the Hotel del Coronado. The ferry costs $16 per person for a round trip and takes you to the Coronado ferry landing.
- Afternoon: Relax on Coronado Beach, often voted one of the best in the U.S.
- Evening: Enjoy a seafood dinner at a local Coronado eatery.
Day 3: Coastal excursion – San Deigos at its best
Explore San Diego’s coastline:
- Morning: Visit Mission Bay. One of the best-organized tours we joined was booked through Viator, their Whale Watching Tour from the marina at Mission Bay. The boat tour lasted about 3 hours, and best of all, we had a marine biologist on board to help us spot the whales and dolphins – a fantastic morning!
- Afternoon: Stop at La Jolla Cove to watch seals and enjoy water sports.
- Evening: Dine in La Jolla Village with ocean-view restaurants.
How to get from downtown San Diego to San Diego cruise port
Getting from downtown to the cruise port is a breeze, with several options available. Check these out before booking expensive bus transfers with your cruise company.
- Taxi: The quickest and most convenient option, taking around 10 minutes and costing approximately $15-20.
- Shuttle Service: Many hotels offer complimentary shuttle service to the cruise port for their guests. Ask when you make your hotel booking.
- Public Transportation: The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) operates a 992 bus to the cruise port. The cost is budget-friendly, around $3 per person, but travel time may be longer. The stop’s name for the cruise ship terminal is N. Harbor Drive and 1140. The route goes all the way to the airport, too. Click for the route map and timetables.
Which cruise lines offer cruises from the Port of San Diego
San Diego’s cruise terminal hosts various cruise lines, each offering exciting itineraries to different destinations. Here are some of the cruise lines that sail from or into the San Diego cruise port:
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
- Princess Cruises
- Celebrity Cruise Line
- Holland America
- Carnival Cruise Line
- Disney Cruise Line
- Viking Cruises
- Regent Seven Seas
Cruise destinations from cruise port San Diego:
- Hawaii & the South Pacific
- Mexican Riviera
- South America
- Panama Canal
- California Pacific Coast
Please note that cruise itineraries and ship availability vary by season. For the latest information, start your search for your perfect cruise from San Diego with our travel partner, CruiseDirect.
Exploring California beyond San Diego
If you’re extending your California adventure beyond San Diego, consider renting a car or hopping on a train and exploring these exciting destinations either after or before your cruise from San Diego.
- Los Angeles: Explore Hollywood, visit Universal Studios, and relax on the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica and Venice.
- Santa Barbara: Enjoy the picturesque wine country, stroll along State Street, and enjoy the stunning architecture.
- Grand Canyon: Embark on an unforgettable road trip to witness one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders.
- Palm Springs: Experience luxury resorts, desert landscapes, and outdoor activities in this desert oasis.
If you plan to continue your vacation by train, the historic Santa Fe train station is just a few blocks from the cruise terminal. From here, Amtrak trains will take you onwards to new destinations after your cruise.
With San Diego as your cruise embarkation point, you can explore as much or as little of Southern California as you like before you start your cruise. Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant culture or bask in the coastal beauty, your cruise from San Diego promises to be a memorable experience.