This is Southern California. Most people drive here whether they need to or not. Happily, this is not the Los Angeles Basin, so traffic sometimes relaxes into a bearable state and the people who named the freeways weren’t actually insane.
Parking is the hardest at the beaches in the summertime. Everyone else in the state seems to be trying to find a parking spot close to the sand between June and September. If you possibly can, find another way to get from your accommodations to the beach, be it bicycle, public transit, or your own two feet.
If you must drive, check out the parking situation ahead of time (most beaches’ websites offer parking information) and plan ahead. Bring cash for pay parking, come early in the morning, and be prepared to walk up to a mile from your parking spot down to the beach itself.
In the various downtown areas, you’ll find fairly average city parking issues. Happily, San Diego’s major attractions and event venues tend to be accompanied by large parking structures. Just be prepared to pay a premium if you’re doing something popular.
Bus and Trolley
In downtown San Diego, Coronado, and La Jolla, the MTS (www.sdcommute.com) operates both an extensive bus system and trolley routes. The North County is served by the North County Transit District, or NCTD. Trolley tickets cost $1.25–6. Bus fares range $1–5, depending on where you’re headed. If you plan to make serious use of the trolleys and buses, use the vending machines at trolley stations to get a day pass—a regular day pass is a bargain at $5, and two-, three-, and four-day passes can save you even more money. Day passes work on NCTD Breeze buses as well as most MTS routes.
See the website for more information about schedules, routes, and fares for both the MTS and NCTD services. If you plan to pay your fare for buses or trolleys on-board, have exact change available. The vending machines are more forgiving, as many take $1 and $5 bills and make change.
If you don’t have a car with you, or just want to avoid driving for a while, hop onto the Old Town Trolley (www.trolleytours.com/ san-diego, adults $30, children $15) for a great look at the highlights of San Diego without the headaches of parking and traffic. The trolley can take you in a loop through downtown (including the Gaslamp Quarter), Old Town, out over the bridge to the Del on Coronado, and around the San Diego Bay Harbor.
You can get on and off the trolley at any time to visit a museum, go shopping, or grab a bite to eat. Another trolley will appear to take you on your way. As long as you stay onboard, the driver will narrate, pointing out the sights as you pass them and make stops at the biggest and most important. While the Old Town Trolley is way too expensive to use in place of public transportation, it’s a great way to get out and see the highlights of the city in a day.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition