Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: The Guide to Transportation and Parking in Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

It’s Saturday night, and your plans are set. It’s time for an exciting night out in Downtown San Diego. Reservations have been made, and you will make it just in time. Oh wait, what about parking? One drawback of going Downtown is the parking. We all have trouble finding parking, especially parking that won’t force us to dip into our 401K. Here is a guide to help all who are wondering where to park in Downtown San Diego.

The Many Options for Downtown San Diego Parking

As you search for parking in Downtown San Diego, it may seem like there are only about 20 parking spots for the entire city. In reality, Downtown San Diego actually has more than 55,000 parking spaces to choose from. The trick is to know your options.

  • Meter Parking: For meter parking, Downtown SD offers three choices:
  • Coin meters.
  • Meter parking pay stations, which accept coins and debit/credit cards.
  • Pre-paid meter cards, which are accepted at both the coin meters and meter parking stations.

For paid parking stations, keep an eye out for the parking time limit. Most have a 2-hour parking limit, but some allow you to park for up to 9 hours (Downtown parking jackpot!). Meter parking runs from 8am-8pm. Check for street sweeping signs.


Surface Lots and Parking Structures:In addition to the street parking, Downtown SD has surface lots and parking structures to choose from.  Click HERE for a detailed map of Downtown’s parking structures and surface lots. Rates vary according to the time of day, as well as for special events. The key to parking stuctures is to look for the flat/maximum rate.

Curb Appeal:If you know your curb colors, then you can go a long way in the Downtown parking world.

Yellow: It’s ok to park in the yellow between the hours of 6PM-6AM. During the day, yellow is for commercial loading and you are not allowed to park there at all.

Green: The green curb is designated for short-term time limit parking. Short-term time limit parking zones are in effect from 8AM-6PM, Sundays and city holidays excepted, unless otherwise posted.

Red, White and Blue: Stay away from these curbs altogether. Blue is safe, of course, if you have a handicap pass, but other than that it is not worth risking a ticket EVEN if you are only going to be one minute. The parking officials are on their game and will get you.

Parking in San DiegoThings to look out for:  Most of the parking downtown is 2hr parking from 8am-6pm, Monday through Saturday. Sunday’s are typically exempt; however watch out for special event no parking signs, which is a common occurrence.

Horton Plaza: One of the best deals is Horton Plaza IF you know exactly what you are doing. If you miss a step while parking at Horton Plaza, you will get burned. There are three entrance locations: 1) 4th and F Street 2)3rd and G Street 3) 2nd & G

Validation: They offer 3 hours free with validation. It is $2 for every 15 minutes over the 3 hours. Validation is offered between 9:30am and 9:00 pm, Monday through Saturday and from 10:30am – 7:00 pm Sundays. Validation stations are located in front of Macy’s on the 3rd and 5th level, as well as next to the Westfield Concierge desks throughout the mall. Make sure that there is a red mark on your parking ticket to show that it has been validated. If you do not have the mark, they will charge you full price. DO NOT lose your ticket. The cost for losing a ticket is $60.00. If you have a receipt from a purchase inside the mall, you can try to get out of paying the horrendous fee.

Parking: The parking structure, like the mall, was built with half levels. Make sure to remember what level you parked on AND if it is a fruit or vegetable. This will be very important when you return to look for your car.

If you don’t have time to scope out your parking options beforehand, then download one of the many parking apps available. Our top two picks include San Diego Parking and Best Parking. San Diego Parking ($1.99) helps you find the cheapest parking rates anywhere in San Diego and helps save you from a parking ticket with the built in parking timer.  The Best Parking app is FREE and steers drivers towards the cheapest and most convenient parking garages and lots. This app covers 43 cities and 79 airports, including San Diego.

If you want to skip the driving altogether and show your green side, then you can turn to the various different public modes of transportation ranging from the trolley to the bus system.

Here is a list of some of the available transportation options in and out of Downtown:

1) The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System offers a full menu of mass transit options to and from Downtown San Diego.

2) The Coaster Commuter Train links San Diego’s North County to Downtown, with stops regularly at Santa Fe Depot.

3) Express bus lines also link points North, East and South to Downtown San Diego.

4) The trolley line runs from east county and south county into Downtown.

5) Then of course we have our international airport, which is conveniently located just a few minutes from Downtown San Diego. Click HERE for more information and for recommendations on parking.


Cab: Cab fare in San Diego varies. Check HERE for fares.

Here is a list of local taxi companies:

Yellow Cab: (619) 444-4444

Orange Cab (619) 223-5555

Silver Cab: (619) 280-5555

Trolley: A one-way pass is $2.50. A day pass is $5. Senior/Disabled/Medicare pass is $1.25. Click HERE for a list of trolley stations and parking information.

Coaster: Single Ride: Adults (6+) $4, Kids (5 and under) Free, Seniors $2.

Roundtrip: Adults (6+) $8, Kids (5 and under) Free, Seniors $4.

Distances from destination to Downtown:

Old Town: 8 min, 3.9 miles

Hotel Circle: 8 min, 4.7 miles      

Ocean Beach: 14 min, 7.97 miles

Pacific Beach: 16 min, 10.09 miles

La Jolla: 19 min, 13.16 miles

Oceanside: 44 min, 38.92 miles