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San Diego Transportation Tips For Cruisers Looking To Get Around Town

Transportation tips for cruises from San Diego

One of the things that makes San Diego such a perfect port to start your cruise as well as a great destination to visit on a cruise is that it is extremely easy to get around. There are tons of options from public transportation to rideshare and it is also very walkable to attractions located along the embarcadero such as the USS Midway, Seaport Village and the Maritime Museum. However, if you want to get out and explore on your own you'll want to grab an Lyft or Uber to get there fast, or use San Diego's public bus and trolly system if you want a slower and cheaper way to explore the area.

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Getting To The Cruise Port

Getting to the port from the main methods of transportation to San Diego is extremely easy. In fact, the airport and Amtrak's Santa Fe Station are less than a 10 minute ride. Most people, however, will choose to walk from the train though. Similarly, there's ample parking in several downtown parking garages just a few steps from the port and for those folks from Mexico and Latin America who might be flying into the San Diego Tijuana Airport and using the CBX / Cross Border Express, a ride from there to the port is only a 30 min ride.

One important note is that if you are taking a taxi or rideshare, you will want to tell the driver which pier your ship is scheduled to be at. Chances are that the driver will already know what ships are in port that day, but just in case, check with your travel advisor to see if you will be departing from the B Street Pier or Broadway Pier. They are located right next to each other but this can save some time and stress if you know where to go before getting there.

Cruise Ship Parking

Long-term parking is available at several locations near the San Diego cruise port. However, unlike some other ports that you might have visited, there eisn't one big central parking facility. Instead, the Port of San Diego has prepared this resource to help guests find a solution that fits their needs. This includes parking at hotels and parking garages managed by ACE Parking (Wyndham, BRIC North and BRIC South are directly across from B Street Pier and Broadway Pier at the San Diego Cruise Terminal).

Alternatively, there are options for parking at the airport and off-site garages such as San Diego's Park, Shuttle & Fly (located about 3 miles away) but unlike the airport parking lots, they do offer a free courtesy shuttle and the daily rate is currently $20.95. 

Best Way To Get To The Ship From The Aiport

If you are flying into San Diego for your cruise, the best way to get to the port is to take a taxi. Yes, ride shares may be easier to reserve, but taxi rates in San Diego are competitive, and you can avoid waiting in a queue for your driver to show up. Plus, with all your bags, it is a lot easier to tell the taxi marshall that you need an SUV or Van than to pay extra for UberXL or something like that.

Plus, the ride from the airport to the cruise terminal is less than 2 miles, so any fare will be pretty close in price anyway. 

Now, lets take a look at how to get around San Diego if you are wanting to explore America's Finest City!

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To get around San Diego to several of the city’s top destinations from the cruise ship terminal, there are many choices. Within minutes, you can be in the Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, Old Town, La Jolla Cove, and Balboa Park. There’s even a ferry to Coronado Island.

embaradero san diego cruise port pedicab

Private Transportation For Getting Around San Diego

The easiest - though not cheapest - way for cruisers to explore San Diego is by hiring a rideshare driver from Uber or Lyft. Watch out for surge pricing during peak times, though; while there are many drivers roaming downtown waiting for customers ... peak times can add heavy surcharges when going to the Gaslamp, Coronado, Ocean Beach, La Jolla, or Pacific Beach.

Rideshares

(Uber/Lyft) are a given at just about any port these days, and other than a possible wait time or surge pricing, they are a quick and convenient way to see all parts of San Diego. 

Taxis

In the parking lot in front of the cruise ship, you will also notice an old transportation friend, taxis. They are back on the streets of San Diego and some are even part of the rideshare apps.

Pedicabs

Pedicabs ($20+ per person, plus tip) are another option that cruise visitors love to try for getting around downtown. With their open-air and music-filled rides, pedicabs are a very fun way to get to and from the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy. These pedicabs are a fantastic way to explore the downtown area and maybe even get a mini tour depending on your driver. A word of caution though, make sure to negotiate your fare before you leave. As of last year, pedicab drivers are now regulated by the Port of San Diego and are required to display the rates ... but you should still confirm those details before getting in since many of our friends who have visited San Diego and tried a pedicab ride were shocked when they got to their destination and discovered the rate was far greater than expected.

FRED

FRED (Free Ride Everywhere Downtown) is an electric buggy that holds five passengers and as the name suggests ...  is a free service. However, just like with pedicabs be sure and tip the driver if they offer friendly service and help with suggestions on where to go and what to see downtown. FRED goes to Little Italy, Seaport Village, and the Gaslamp Quarter. You access it through an app called Ride Circuit, which you can downtown in advance and request a pickup. Be aware though, it’s kind of like those shared airport vans so it can zig-zag its way through the downtown area before dropping you off at your destination. So, if you have somewhere to go quickly it might not be the best choice. However, you can bypass this if you have five people in your group and thus fill up the vehicle but it might take longer to pick you up.

 ferry between embaradero and coronado

Public Transportation For Getting Around San Diego

San Diego, has a very good and reliable public transportation system. The cost is just $2.50 each way or you can buy an all-day pass for $6 either at a trolley station or from a bus driver. While rideshare or taxi is probably the most convenient way to get somewhere quick, public transportation can be a fun way to see more of the city and surrounding towns.

The Trolleys

The trolley stop is about four blocks from the cruise ship terminal; simply cross Harbor Drive, go up Broadway and turn left into Sante Fe Depot. Trolleys run approximately every 15 minutes.

The Green Line goes south to Seaport Village and the Gaslamp Quarter (the board says 12 & Imperial) which takes just a couple of minutes, and north to Little Italy in about two minutes and to Old Town in less than 10 (the board says Santee).

The Blue Line to San Ysidro goes south to the U.S.-Mexico border, where you go through customs into Tijuana; from there you take a cab or Uber to Avenida Revolucion, which is about 10 minutes. Be sure and have your passport. The Blue Line to the north (UTC) also goes to Little Italy and Old Town. Tip: Some people may tell you the Blue Line goes to La Jolla but it does not go anywhere near La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Village. For that, take any trolley to Old Town then transfer to the #30 bus to Silverado & Herschel; this takes approximately one hour.

San Diego's Bus System

The 992 bus, with a pickup point close to the Cruise Ship location, goes both to the airport and to downtown. To the airport, catch it on the opposite side of the cruise ship terminal; there is a stop on Harbor Drive at Broadway. The trip time is about 15 minutes. To get to downtown/the Gaslamp, the 992 picks up on Harbor Drive just north of Portside Pier and goes along Broadway Street. Get off at Fifth Ave., turn right and within a couple blocks you’ll be in the Gaslamp Quarter. 

The Ferry To Coronado

This is a very easy and scenic trip. A block south of the cruise ship terminal is a ferry to Coronado. The price is $8 each way and it takes you across San Diego Bay, past the USS Midway Museum and to the landing dock on Coronado. There you will find shops and restaurants that look across the bay. To get to the famous Hotel del Coronado, you will either need to take a city bus or get an Uber/Lyft (it’s a short ride of only about two miles).

From Memorial Day to Labor Day there is a free shuttle from the ferry landing to the Del and the restaurants on Orange Ave.

 balboa park at dusk

How To Get To Key Areas In San Diego

As we mentioned, getting around San Diego is super easy as well as quick and typically inexpensive. While rideshare is your best option when traveling beyond downtown, public transportation options are available. Here are some of the popular destinations that cruisers like to visit and how to best get there.

Balboa Park & The San Diego Zoo

There is no direct public transportation from the cruise ship terminal to Balboa Park, the Crown Jewel of San Diego. You’re better off using Uber or Lyft, which can get you there in 10 minutes. The public transportation option is to take the #992 bus to Fifth Ave., then transfer to the #7 bus, which goes adjacent to the park on Park Ave. 

Old Town San Diego

Old Town is the birthplace of not just San Diego but all of California. It reflects both its past when it was a part of Mexico and also its “Wild West” days when it became a part of the USA. Getting there is easy; simply take either the Green Line or Blue Line trolley from Santa Fe Depot. This is only about 10 minutes from the cruise ships, and you'll head north to San Diego - Old Town. To be sure you are headed in the correct direction, it’s the Green Line toward Santee and the Blue Line toward UTC (on the way back, it’s toward 12th & Imperial or San Ysidro). 

There is also a free airport shuttle you can catch in Old Town.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter

Take the Green Line trolley toward 12th & Imperial from the Santa Fe Depot and get off at the Gaslamp Quarter station. This takes only about 2-3 minutes and puts you at the Gaslamp Quarter sign on Fifth Ave., the main street of the Gaslamp Quarter. There is also a Seaport Village stop. For this one, you must cross Harbor Drive and walk approximately five minutes. 

cabrillo national monument

Cabrillo National Monument And Tidepools

The beautiful areas of Cabrillo National Monument and the tide pools are best accessed by shared ride services. While some say that Lyft and Uber drivers can not access this area since it is inside of a National Park and requires a fee to enter, this is not true anymore. However, additional concerns do apply. Specifically, the area along the Pacific Ocean where the tidepools are located, as well as some of the trails along the top of the bluff, do not have any mobile phone service. As such, you should make sure to set a time and place for your return ride back to the ship and allow for plenty of time to get back to the port or you might risk getting left behind. This is an important consideration since it is a LONG hike back up to the visitor center and on popular days it can take 10-20 minutes just for drivers to pass through the line entering the park.

There is cell phone service at the visitor center though it might be weak and on occasion your phone might try to connect to a tower across the border in Mexico so be careful if you do not have international roaming enabled.

San Diego Beaches

While San Diego's beaches are popular with cruisers, public transit is not a good option for getting there. Once again, a ridesharing service is your best option. The ride will take 20-30 minutes from the cruise terminal and will take you to various beach spots and or fun bars, restaurants, and shops in these iconic Southern California beach towns.

La Jolla Shores

While it is an iconic beach area, it is the farthest of the easily reachable beaches for cruise guests visiting San Diego. While the other beaches are closer though, this is undoubtedly one of the finest beaches in the world and unlike Coronado the walk from the parking lot to the water is easy and bathroom facilities are excellent as well. Additionally, in terms of water quality La Jolla Shores is one of the better choices since it is far enough away from the Tijuana river to avoid contamination issues that plague beaches from Coronado south and result in the water being closed for swimming during certain times of the year.

Additionally, La Jolla Shores is perfectly situated so that you can enjoy playing in the water, then head over to La Jolla Cove and try snorkeling, kayaking, or SUP before grabbing a bite to eat and heading back to the ship.

Pacific Beach

If you are looking for a beach vibe with fun bars and plenty of opportunities to watch surfers and some of San Diego's best eye candy, this is the place to go. There are a few spots here that are good for being dropped off, including Tourmaline Surf Park, Pacific Beach Lifeguard Station next to Crystal Pier, and Tower 23 by The Wayfarer San Diego. All three of those spots have bathrooms and a parking lot that makes it easy for your driver to pick you up. These spots are also surrounded by places to grab a drink or a bite to eat.

Mission Beach

Heading south, you'll enter Mission Beach. The best place to go here is Ventura Plaza, where the Belmont Park Dipper roller coaster is located. One of the unique elements here is that Mission Beach Park (a quick walk south of Belmont Park) has a big grassy area with picnic tables. If you have your driver swing by a burrito shop before getting to the beach, this makes for a great picnic option. 

South Mission Beach Park is another great spot if you are looking for a beach break but it is too far from shops, restaurants, and bars to walk easily.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is a awesome hippy enclave and while the beach here isn't one of our favorites, the combination of shops, restaurants and beach bars makes it high on our list of recommended spots to go. Unfortunately the number one attraction - Mission Beach Pier - is currently closed and scheduled for demolition following a series of storms that left it damaged beyond repair. They will be building a new one but it will take several years for that to be completed.

Coronado

This is a very easy and scenic trip that deserves it's own section sine it is more than just a beach that you'll want to visit here.

It is also the only major beach that you can get to easily using public transportation from the cruise port. A block south of the cruise ship terminal is a ferry to Coronadoferry to Coronado. The price is $8 each way and it takes you across San Diego Bay, past the USS Midway Museum and to the landing dock on Coronado. There you will find shops and restaurants that look across the bay. To get to the famous Hotel del Coronado, you will either need to take a city bus or get an Uber/Lyft (it’s a short ride of only about two miles). From Memorial Day to Labor Day there is a free shuttle from the ferry landing to the Del and the restaurants on Orange Ave.

One of the more interesting spots to visit on the beach here is the wreck of the SS Monte Carlo, a prohibition-era "Pleasure Ship" that is buried in the sand by Stan's Beach (located on the beach in front of Coronado Shores Condominiums. You can access the beach through the public parking lot between the condo towers and walk south ... at very low tide, parts of the ship might be exposed (depending on erosion, tide levels, and various other weather-related patterns).

Silver Strand State Park

 As a San Diego local, this was my favorite beach since it is mostly free from tourists and there was PLENTY of open space for walking and enjoying a more natural beach experience. 

Imperial

Imperial Beach is probably a bit far for most cruise ship visitors to consider visiting, but the beach is great here and there's more of a local, laid back vibe including some nice bars and restaurants including the Hess Brewing Beer Garden, so we'll include it. However, make sure to check the water quality reports before you set out to visit here since the water might be closed due to contamination there's been rain recently.