Car rental San Diego
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Why rent a car in San Diego?
Located in Southern California which has long had an unending love for the automobile, San Diego is a sprawling, large city that travelers most of explore by rental car. For families coming for a fun-filled vacation, a car is the best way to get between the beaches and theme parks. Those seeking to party in the Gaslamp District would also be best served by having a car to take to the areas beaches during the days. Finally, those seeking an upscale vacation would definitely want to be able to explore the areas surrounding vineyards via their own vehicle.
Top ways to enter San Diego
Most travelers will enter the city through the San Diego International Airport (SAN) located only a few miles northwest of downtown. Due to its close location, arriving planes descend remarkably close to the high towers of downtown. From the terminals, passengers seeking to find the desk of their rental agency should look for the shuttle to the Consolidated Rental Car Center.
Tijuana Gen. Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport just across the Mexican border in Tijuana is, maybe surprisingly, also a way to get to San Diego. With its Cross Border Xpress, a traveler can land in Tijuana and go through U.S. customs and immigration at the terminal on the American side of the border. At the American terminal, there are rental cars available.
Some travelers may also arrive at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, from where it takes an hour and a half to drive to San Diego. It is also possible for travelers to pick up a rental car in this airport.
Finally, some travelers may arrive in San Diego on a train. The main arrival point of trains is the historic Santa Fe Depot, located downtown near the bay. The station is within an easy walk or short, affordable taxi ride of car rental offices located downtown.
Useful city facts
San Diego, which means Saint Didacus in Spanish, was originally named San Miguel upon its discovery in 1542. The are was colonized in 1769 with the construction of a fort and mission, the latter of which still exists and is located in the Mission Valley area of the city. Another very popular area with tourists is the nearby Old Town which contains many of the original buildings from the 18th century Spanish settlers.
San Diego has what is most likely the best beach weather in America. Warm, dry summers combined with mild winters make the city a year-round tourist destination. Most of the rain falls between December and March, though visitors from rainer places will still deem it to be an improvement over their home'’s weather.
The city does have microclimates, similar to Los Angeles, due to the mountains. One neighborhood of the city can have a completely different weather pattern than another, particularly the coast, at the same time. Along the same lines, the further inland one travels, the larger the swings in temperatures become.
San Diego, for a city of its size, is unfortunately bereft of sports glory. No team from any of the major sports, nor any university team in popular sports, in the city has won a championship. In recent years, sports fans have fallen on even harder times with the Charges of the NFL leaving for Los Angeles. The city still retains the Padres in baseball, a game of whose at Petco Park would make a good day’s outing in the spring or summer.
Top destinations and activities
- Gaslamp District - A historical district in Downtown San Diego, the Gaslamp District is so named due the gas lamps installed to light the streets after the neighborhood’s building in the 1800s. Long a blighted area of the city, it has now been redeveloped and is the hotspot of the city for dining, shopping, and nightlife. Visitors will find the area particularly busy on weekend nights as city residents come for the lounges, bars, clubs, and restaurants.
- La Jolla - Located in the northern part of the city, some 12 miles from Downtown, LA Jolla is an upscale beach neighborhood that is extremely popular with travelers. If you aren’t going to stay in the neighborhood, you surely will visit at some point during your vacation. Prospect Place and Gillard Street are full of art galleries and high-end shopping. The beaches are, of course, not to be missed. Fans of brutalist architecture will not want to skip seeing the Geisel Library on the campus of the University of California San Diego.
- Craft Beer Scene - San Diego has long been a haven for beer lovers and is now home to a plethora of microbreweries. Some have associated restaurants, but most breweries are micro/nano operations. Even so, most offer tasting rooms or even tours of their breweries. The West Coast IPA is an example of a type of beer made in the local style.
- SeaWorld - The original SeaWorld park is located in Orlando that was once famous for its killer whale shows. Due to public backlash, the park has now phased out these shows and stopped its orca breeding program. It now focuses on rides and other animal experiences.
- Aquatica - Located on the south side of the city near the Mexican border, Aquatica is Seaworld’s associated waterpark. The park is open from the end of May to the end of October. The park has typical water park attractions like exhilarating water slides, a lazy river, a beach, loungers, and pools. It also has animal habitats, such as one with flamingos.
- Legoland California - Originally built at lego headquarters in Denmark, this theme park chain now has multiple locations across the world. In California it is located in the town of Carlsbad in northern San Diego County. Rides, shows and activities are based on Legos, of course. The park also has an associated water park and aquarium with addition entry fees.
- Whale Watching - If you happen to be visiting when the California whales migrate southward in February, you’re in for a treat. You can either view the migration from the shore at places like point loma or join a boat tour that will bring you closer to the whales.
- Golf - Unsurprisingly given its weather, the San Diego area is loaded with golf courses. The most famous among these is Torey Pines, where Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open. Iti will again be hosting the U.S. Open in 2021. The course is owned by the city and it is possible to make reservations for tee times through it. If you are not able to make a reservation though, don’t fret, as there are many other wonderful courses in the area to play a round at.
Traffic and parking tips
San Diego see traffic congestion, particularly during rush hour. However, if coming from the Los Angeles area, it will seem like a walk in the park.
Parking is becoming ever more difficult to deal with in San Diego. The closer you get to the dense core of the city, the more likely you will have to pay for parking and the higher the price of it will be. Be sure to follow the parking requirements, as nothing would ruin your vacation more than finding your rental car towed and then seeing the bill for such.
On-street Parking is available in many areas of the city, though for a limited period of time. Meters have gradually changed to pay stations, so if you do not see a meter, do not assume that parking is free, but instead look for the station. Meters accept credit cards in addition to coins, but note that the minimum charge is $1.25 for credit cards.
Parking garages are also readily available, though at a higher price. Since many meters have a low time limit of how long you can occupy a spot, garages are more useful for longer-term parking. For going out to the clubs and bars, one can find many lots in and near the Gaslamp District with special evening rates, though they tend to fill up on Saturday nights.
Travelers should also be aware that many hotels, especially those in La Jolla and Downtown, charge for parking. Luckily, these rates are significantly lower than in Los Angeles.
There are only two types of tolls to be aware of in San Diego County. The South Bay Expressway on the east side of the city is a toll road. Tolls can be paid with a FastTrek transponder, cash (but only with exact change) or credit card. If planning to use this expressway, it is probably best to plan to pay with cash or credit card and avoid the rental company’s fees for using a FastTrak transponder, if it is available.
Additionally, I-15 contains express lanes, called I-15 express While these lanes which are free to use if traveling in a vehicle with two or more passengers. Single occupant vehicles may also use the lanes by paying a toll with a FastTrak transponder. Some rental agencies have cars equipped with these; however, if your rental does not have one, avoid entering these lanes if alone.
Orange County, located north of San Diego, has about five toll roads. Unlike the express lanes, these can be used without FastTrak. Cash is not accepted on these roads, but you can pre-register your rental here and have the toll charged to your credit card. Alternatively, your rental agreement likely will include a way to be charged afterward with an added convenience fee. If you plan on using these toll-roads, be sure to ask your rental agency in advance.
Ideas for a day-trip
- Tijuana - Sitting just south of the border, Tijuania is the second largest city in Mexico. It is a great day trip from San Diego. It may be possible to take your rental car to Mexico, though this would be highly unlikely if you are not a U.S. resident. In either case, the government fees and insurance make taking your rental car unattractive. With Downtown Tijuana lying just a few hundred yards (or meters) from the border crossing, it is extremely popular to drive to the border and cross on foot. It is also possible to leave your rental car at your hotel and take a trolley to the border.
- Catalina - Reachable by ferry from the port in Dana Point, Catilna is one of the Channel Islands located about 22 miles off the coast of California. Snorkeling and diving are the most popular activities on the island. But for those that don’t want to go in the water but still see the aquatic life, glass bottom boat tours are available. Hiking is also another popular activity, though permits are required for the backcountry.
- North County Beaches - If the beaches in the city proper are too crowded for your liking, then venture to the towns in northern San Diego. Try the D Street or Swami’s Beach in Encinitas orFletcher Cove in Solana Beach for less-crowds, though not desolation. Venturing to Imperial Beach in the southern part of the city is also a good idea.
- Wine Tasting Tour - San Diego County has more than a hundred wineries In addition, the nearby Temecula Valley, located in Riverside County, has at least 40 more wineries and tasting rooms. With all of the micro and boutique wineries, connoisseurs will be able to occupy themselves for a lifetime.
Most popular rental types and cars
The most popular class of rental car is economy, such as the Hyundai Accent. Travelers also prefer to use intermediate cars, such as the Nissan Sentra, and compact cars, such as the Nissan Versa. All of these choices are perfect for a family traveling in warm southern California for a weekend or week.
- Los Angeles - The City of Angels lies roughly 120 miles north of San Diego and can be reached via I-5. One of the largest tourist destinations in the country, L.A. gives visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of cinema, see world-class artworks, hang out with the locals along the Santa Monica pier and visit hip areas like Venice Beach for out-of-this-world culinary experiences. From tapings of your favorite show to the possibility of sighting your favorite movie star, L.A. is a must for any film and television buff.
- Orange County - It only takes an hour or two from San Diego to reach the rich county made famous by multiple television shows. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are the largest attraction. Splendid beaches and a wonderfully diverse restaurant scene also bring in tourists.
- Phoenix - Take a six-hour drive through the desert along I-8 to the capital of Arizona and fifth most populated city in the United States. The city has many resorts, primarily for vacationers to enjoy the warm weather during winter. And with over 200 golf courses to choose from in the area, the city is popular with golfers. Green fees are high during the high season, but can be a real bargain out of season, just be sure to tee-off early to avoid the sweltering heat.
- Tucson - Also in the state of Arizona, and an hours drive south Phoenix, is Tuscon. This city sit slightly higher in elevation and is therefore slightly cooler. Flanked on either side by national and state parks, Tucson is the perfect place to visit the desert without getting lost in it. Old Tucson Studios, where many Hollywood westerns were filmed, is open to visitors with tours and shows. One also shouldn’t miss the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium all in one.
- Death Valley National Park - A four hour drive out of Las Angeles brings travelers to the national park with the lowest point in the United States. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States. It is located a mere 85 miles from Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48.
- Baja California - Spanish for Lower California, Baja California is a peninsula extending south from California. Much of the region is sparsely populated, though the peninsula doesn’t see a deficit of travelers due to the immense opportunities for hiking, camping, surfing, diving, and deep sea fishing. As taking your rental car from the U.S. to Mexico may be unattractive financially if even possible, it would be very easy to walk across the border and rent another car in Tijuana for the journey. Do note that the roads may be narrow and twisty along with being remote and desolate in parts. Be sure to stock up on gas and water when possible.
- Joshua Tree National Park - A short two hour drive down I-10 from Downtown L.A. brings travelers to this desert national park named after Joshua trees, which are abundant within the park. The park’s ecosystem consists of two deserts primarily distinguished by altitude. With over half the park designated as wilderness, travelers flock to the park for backcountry hiking and camping.
- Sequoia National Park - Located in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada and about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, the Sequoia National Park contains the Giant Forest, a forest of large sequoia trees that includes General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume. The park also offers wilderness, mountains, and backcountry hiking and camping. In this backcountry is the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney. If you intend to climb it, be sure to register for the permit lottery between February 1 and March 15 every year.
- Kings Canyon National Park - Bordering Sequoia National Park to the north is Kings Canyon National Park. The canyon from which it takes its name is a valley shaped by glaciers that is around a mile deep. The park also hosts multiple 14ers (peaks of 14,00ft or 4,300 meters). With limited roads, backpacking is the only way to visit most of the park. It is necessary to obtain a backcountry permit beforehand. Kings Canyon is also a prime destination for rock climbing and canyoneer.
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