getting around San Diego

Getting Around San Diego Without a Car: A Guide to the City’s Public Transportation System

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If you’re planning a California itinerary, and San Diego is one of your stops, as well as wondering what’s interesting to see in this city, it may be helpful to figure out how to get around to make the most of your time, which is very useful if you only have a day or so to visit the city. Let’s take a look at the main means of transportation to get around the city.

San Diego Red Trolley

San Diego public transportationSan Diego is one of the few big cities in America that doesn’t have a metro. In its place, we find a light rail system. It is a very convenient way to travel because it allows you to avoid the constant traffic delays that plague all medium-large cities. In the peak hours of the day, the trolley passes every 15 minutes.

These are the three lines with their respective terminuses:

  • Green Line (Sycuan): 12th & Imperial Transit Center – Santee Town Center
  • Blue Line (UC San Diego): America Plaza – San Ysidro Transit Center
  • Orange Line: Courthouse station- Arnele Avenue

All these lines will allow you to reach downtown from the outskirts of the city, but if you are looking for a means of transport exclusively in downtown San Diego, you’re best bet is to take the Silver Line:

getting around san diego without a car

  • Silver Line also called Vintage Trolley: this is perhaps the service that you will use the most as a tourist because it makes a complete loop of downtown. The end of the line is at 12th and Imperial Station where, every 30 minutes, a vintage-looking trolley will depart, allowing you to move comfortably and reach different attractions, including the famous Gaslamp Quarter.


One ticket costs $2.50. If you plan to make more than two trips per day when visiting San Diego, you may want to buy a day pass. Keep in mind that if your route plans to change lines, you’ll need to buy two different tickets. Therefore, if you are not staying overnight downtown, it’s very likely that a day pass will be convenient for you.

The day pass costs $6. To use it, you need to buy a Compass Card at a cost of $2 in which you can load both normal tickets (but can also be purchased individually, without a Compass Card) and the day pass.

To find the updated prices, please check the official website.


San Diego bus

San Diego County is served by 89 bus lines that allow you to easily reach locations outside of the trolley’s range. It is very unlikely that tourists (unless there are special situations) will need to use a bus. However, if you need to use other means of transportation other than the trolley, I advise you to go directly to the official website to see which bus line you should use.

The cost of the ticket is $2.50. If you pay the driver, make sure you have the exact amount because you will not get the change back. You can also use your Compass Card if you have already activated one.

Old Town Trolley Tour

San Diego old town trolleyThis should not be confused with the San Diego Trolley, which we talked about at the beginning, this is a private bus service with vintage features. It’s very convenient both for the route (practically all the main tourist destinations of the city are touched, and clearly the Old Town of San Diego), and because it offers the possibility to get on and off at will since it’s a Hop-On and Hop-Off service. You can visit the historic Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy the picturesque Hotel del Coronado, and other places.

Here are the stops:

  • Old Town Market
  • Embarcadero Marina
  • Seaport Village
  • Marriott Marquis and Marina
  • Horton Plaza Park
  • Gaslamp Quarter
  • Petco Park and Hilton Bayfront
  • Coronado Hotel
  • Balboa Park
  • Little Italy

If you would like to use the Old Town Trolley Tour, you can choose either a one-day pass (about $35) or a two-day pass (about $69). The link below has more information about prices and booking the Old Town Trolley Tour.

Information about tickets and reservations

Waterfront Shuttle

san diego means of transportationThis is a seasonal service active from Memorial Day (last Monday in May) to Labor Day (first Monday in September) which makes eight stops from Harbor Island to Embarcadero. The day pass is $3.00 per person and can be purchased at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel, Maritime Museum, Urban Beach House, Manchester Grand Hyatt, and Marriott Springhill Suites/Residence Inn Bayfront, as well as when you board the Waterfront Shuttle. The duration of the entire journey is approximately 20 minutes. The schedule of the Waterfront Shuttle is as follows:

  • Sunday to Thursday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
  • Friday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm

How to Get to the San Diego International Airport

How to Get to the San Diego International Airport

San Diego Airport is the only one of California’s major cities that is very close to downtown. If you want to reach it by public transport you can opt for the 992 bus that also runs through downtown and will take you directly to the airport. Check here for the bus schedule. The other solution is to use both the trolley and bus.

In this case, if you travel on the Orange and Blue line, you will have to get off at “Courthouse” and “America Plaza” respectively to reach the stop for Bus 992 at Broadway and Kettner Blvd. If you use the Green Line you can get off in Middletown and walk to the terminal shuttle bus stop located on Palm Street.

If, on the other hand, you would like to use a private shuttle service to and from San Diego International Airport, which will take you to your hotel or pick you up from there, you can have a look at the link below.

San Diego International Airport Shuttle Service

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

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Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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