Everything You Need To Know About Driving in San Diego

Driving in San Diego is easier compared to other cities in California, but it’s not immune to issues.
Written by Cassandra Hamilton
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
San Diego, California is known for its miles of pristine beaches and amazing attractions, like the San Diego Zoo. San Diego’s traffic can get fairly congested, but it’s far from being the worst in the country.
In addition to the San Diego Zoo, this charming
city is home to Legoland and SeaWorld. These attractions can draw a lot of tourists, which can add congestion to otherwise manageable traffic patterns.
Get ready for San Diego’s roads with this helpful one-stop guide. We’ve got the scoop on driving conditions, road layouts, driving laws, and where to find parking in America’s Finest City.
rating reverse-full
"I’m earning
awesome rewards
every week, just for driving safe!”

What is driving in San Diego like?

While it’s not immune to traffic congestion, driving in San Diego typically isn’t quite as nightmarish as driving in
Los Angeles
San Francisco
. Most San Diegans opt to travel by car, but the city is easy to navigate and avoids common traffic pitfalls found in other major cities.
Still, you’ll regret not planning your next drive in San Diego if you go out unprepared. Here are some key facts to know before driving in San Diego.


San Diego is lucky to have six north-south freeways and six east-west freeways serving its population. Although traffic congestion is sometimes an issue like in any major city, the number of freeways definitely contributes to keeping the traffic flowing, especially as metropolitan San Diego continues to grow.
It’s also easy to navigate downtown when driving in San Diego. The city is laid out on a grid and its streets follow a numbering and lettering system that helps you figure out where you are and what direction you need to go in.
Downtown San Diego uses three grid schemes for naming its streets: north-south streets are numbered from west to east, and east-west streets are split between a lettered series going south from A to L, and a series of streets going northward named after plants alphabetically from Ash to Walnut.
Streets are ordered and have clearly marked signage, making it easy to follow along with your navigation system.


Because San Diegans love to travel by car, it can be difficult to find parking, especially near popular attractions and the many miles of beaches.
If you want to park downtown, you’ll find that parking meters rule the streets. Parking meters are enforced from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., but remember that certain districts like the Hospitality Zone and the Hillcrest Commercial Zone enforce parking meters until 8:00 p.m. Double-check which zone you’re parked in before letting your meter expire.
San Diego's downtown parking meters are free of charge on Sundays. If you don’t feel great about street parking, you can always reserve a spot in a lot or garage but beware—these can get costly per hour, and most have a two-hour minimum.


It’s probably not surprising that the weather is mild and enjoyable in southern
. That being said, there are exceptions to the rules, and sometimes motorists face weather hazards on the road.
This is what you can expect in each season:
  • Summer: Summers are short and warm in San Diego. The hazard of summer driving is the influx of tourists and visitors the city sees every year. There is also an increased number of cyclists and motorcyclists, as well as more frequent road construction during the summer months.
  • Winter: Driving in San Diego can get dangerous during and after a rainstorm. Wet roadways are the most dangerous roadways, and 70% of all weather-related accidents in the U.S. are due to wet pavement. Reduce your speed and increase your following distance during rainy weather.
MORE: How to find a parking spot in a city
Make safe driving pay
Get rewarded for safe driving. Earn points and unlock benefits. Totally free.
Start earning now

Traffic and transportation options in San Diego 

The worst time to drive in San Diego is during rush hour, which definitely lasts more than an hour:
  • Morning: 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
  • Evening:4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The best times to drive in San Diego are early in the morning or in the middle of the day. These times are either before commuters wake up or after everyone has reached their daily destination.
You can stay current on traffic updates by listening to
Newsradio 600 KOGO
KPBS 89.5 FM

Should I rent a car in San Diego?

If you’re visiting San Diego, renting a car is definitely your best option for getting around. Since most San Diegans drive, you’ll fit right in with the locals when traveling to your destination. San Diego is a sprawling city and the public transit systems don’t always line up well, so it’s easier to control your trip with a car.
While San Diego does offer public transportation, it’s not particularly advanced. San Diego’s many attractions are spread out, so while you could theoretically take the bus, you’d spend a long time in transit and transferring between lines. The trolley running through downtown San Diego is a great option if you’re staying in the area, but it doesn’t extend into adjacent neighborhoods.
MORE: 7 ways to save money on car rentals

Local driving laws in San Diego

Getting a traffic
could really put a damper on your day in San Diego, whether you’re visiting or just heading home from work. Make sure you know what the traffic laws are in the city before getting behind the wheel.
  • California is a hands-free state when it comes to operating handheld electronic devices like cell phones. Make sure you have Bluetooth or another hands-free option enabled because
    texting and driving in California
    is a primary offense.
  • Drivers must use headlights 30 minutes after sunset and keep them on until 30 minutes before sunrise.

Crime rate in San Diego

The crime rate is one of the biggest factors affecting both your driving experience and your
car insurance
rates in San Diego.
Thankfully San Diego’s crime rate is lower than similarly sized cities in the U.S. Its property crime rate was lower than the national average in 2020, but the violent crime rate was slightly higher. San Diego’s crime rate is 22 per 1,000 residents each year, according to NeighborhoodScout. 
San Diego also has one of the highest rates of
car theft
in the nation according to FBI crime statistics. Residents face a 1 in 275 chance of having their car stolen.

How to find car insurance in San Diego

Finding great car insurance in San Diego is as easy as navigating the city’s grid system when you use the
Jerry not only finds you multiple competitive quotes, but our
trustworthy super app
also handles the paperwork and helps cancel your old policy. Jerry does all this with a dedicated team of friendly insurance experts who are all excited to help you save on your insurance premium.
Check Jerry out today to see how you can save an average of $800+ per year on your car insurance.
“I was struggling because I wanted great insurance for my new car.
was so helpful, and the team answered all of my questions. Now I have the policy type I was looking for!” —Avery W.
Are you overpaying for car insurance?
Compare quotes and find out in 45 seconds.
Try Jerry

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings