Tips & Guides / Apartment Life

5 Best Places to Stay in San Diego for Military Retirees in 2024

By Landing | Feb 29, 2024
Photo of San Diego's Sunset

With endless summers, beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, and people as warm as the weather, living in San Diego feels like winning the lottery. This SoCal gem enjoys an enviable climate that typically allows residents and visitors to lounge on the beach in the middle of December while large portions of the country shovel snow.

San Diego also has an extensive military history stretching back centuries. It’s home to the nation’s second-largest naval base and the infamous Top Gun program, and the city’s coastline also houses operations for the Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard. 

Whether you’re single, partnered, or raising a family, San Diego is an idyllic setting for active adventure-seekers and people who prefer to relax by the waves. If you’re visiting San Diego for training or weighing the best places to stay in San Diego for an extended assignment, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite places to visit and stay. 

Best Places to Visit in San Diego

From the historic decks of the USS Midway Museum to the serene greenery of Balboa Park, San Diego is a coastal city with just the right mix of culture, adventure, and history. Here are nine of our favorite places to get lost: 

1. Balboa Park

Balboa Park is more than just a park. It’s San Diego’s cultural heart. The vast, green expanse is home to an eclectic mix of museums and theaters. And while it doesn’t make up the San Diego skyline, the California Tower is a local architectural icon with prime views of the surrounding Balboa Park. With details that span Baroque, Rococo, and Gothic styles, climbing or touring the California Tower is a must. 

In addition to cultural happenings, the park also houses several sports complexes, including a golf course, public swimming pool, tennis courts, and disc golf field. 

2. San Diego Zoo

Although it’s within Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo deserves its own mention. It’s home to one of the world’s most diverse collections of animal species. You could easily spend an entire weekend learning about lions, elephants, and lizards. 

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3. Downtown San Diego 

Locals might argue that Downtown San Diego is for the tourists, but first-timers are bound to enjoy the Gaslamp Quarter’s weekend street market, the glamorous Pendry San Diego Hotel, or a Padres game at Petco Park. 

For a little history, visit the USS Midway Museum in nearby Embarcadero. Military personnel and civilians can enjoy stepping onto the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, now an interactive museum alongside dozens of exhibits and restored aircraft. 

After ticking off all your sightseeing boxes, eat where the locals eat in food neighborhoods on Downtown’s periphery. Choose from trattorias in Little Italy or hop around dozens of taquerias in Barrio Logan.

4. La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Tide Pools

Snorkelers, scuba divers, and kayakers flock to La Jolla Cove, where the crystal-clear waters let you see diverse marine life up close. Surrounded by sandstone cliffs that keep away powerful surfs, the water is calm enough for novices to test their scuba skills. For land dwellers, a five-minute bike ride takes you to the La Jolla Tide Pools, home to anemones, crabs, and small fish. 

5. Old Town San Diego 

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Old Town San Diego is safe for families to explore and offers something for everyone to enjoy.

Strolling through this central San Diego neighborhood is like walking through a living museum. The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park maintains several 19th-century adobe ranch homes and buildings that glimpse San Diego’s colonial era, including the haunted Whaley House Museum.

If you’re looking for souvenirs or want to connect with local artisans, Old Town’s Harney Street Market hosts dozens of crafts artists every weekend. 

6. La Valencia Hotel

There’s a reason La Jolla translates to “the jewel” of San Diego. Its prime oceanfront property, wide beaches, and gorgeous sea cliffs make it one of the most sought-after — and expensive — neighborhoods in San Diego

La Jolla is the best area to stay in San Diego for couples looking for a romantic staycation. To taste the neighborhood’s unique blend of luxury and laid-back SoCal vibes, rent an oceanfront room at La Valencia Hotel, a historic getaway for the jet-set crowd.

7. Cabrillo National Monument

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew of European explorers first docked in San Diego in 1542 during the first West Coast exploration. Today, you can visit the Cabrillo National Monument and see exactly where they first anchored after their lengthy journey from Central Mexico. Enjoy the ocean views — and if you happen to be in town during the Cabrillo Festival, catch the city’s annual reenactment of Cabrillo’s arrival.

While you’re in the area, you can also enjoy local marine life in nearby tide pools, take a tour of the historic Point Loma lighthouse, and enjoy views of San Diego Bay. If you have time, stick around for sunset at the aptly named Sunset Cliffs. 

8. Crystal Pier

Although the Ocean Beach Pier was famed for being the longest concrete pier in the world, the 2023 winter storms destroyed the San Diego attraction. While the ruined pier awaits repairs, locals and visitors can enjoy the Crystal Pier on nearby Pacific Beach. Once home to an amusement park and grand ballroom, Crystal Pier is now home to a laid-back boardwalk and seaside restaurants ideal for a sunset meal. 

9. Torrey Pines, Scripps Ranch, and more

Although a trip to the beach is never a bad idea, there’s a lot more to San Diego’s nature than surf and tide pools. Admittedly, Sunset Cliffs is a beach, but it has one thing you won’t find at Mission Beach, Del Mar, or La Jolla Shore: a gorgeous two-mile beach trail over the bluffs. 

Wedged between La Jolla and Del Mar, you can explore nearly 2000 acres of the Torrey Pines National Reserve, a park dedicated to preserving the eponymous tree. A little further inland, Scripps Ranch has several kids and dog-friendly trails, like the Giant Grove Trail with its spectacular eucalyptus forest. 

Best Military Housing in San Diego

With military personnel and family representing nearly 8% of San Diego County’s population, it’s a welcoming atmosphere for active duty and veterans alike. Landing works hand-in-hand with the local military, ensuring you’ll find a property near one of the city’s seven bases. Here’s a quick rundown of where to stay in San Diego. 

  1. Carmel Valley: From this location, it’s a thirty-minute commute to Camp Pendleton and a forty-minute commute to Point Loma and Coronado Island. What you lose in the car, you get back in reputable childcare, education, and a family-friendly atmosphere. 
  2. Mira Mesa: If you’re stationed inland in Miramar, Mira Mesa is a beautiful neighborhood to consider. It’s full of great schools, top-notch healthcare, and vibrant Asian communities — plus, there’s easy access to natural reserves like Scripps Ranch and Torrey Pines. 
  3. Mission Valley: For single dwellers and couples who enjoy city life, Mission Valley offers a distinctly urban feel. It’s home to a lively food scene and is well connected to the rest of the city via the 805, 15, and 8. The latter also takes you directly to nearby Mission Bay and Mission Beach. 
  4. Little Italy: Foodies and urbanites love the mix of modern amenities and familial dining in this area. Plus, it’s just a 15-minute drive to Point Loma and Coronado Island. 
  5. Chula Vista: While finding a bad taco in San Diego is hard, locals head to Chula Vista for the real deal. And despite having a reputation for urban sprawl, it’s bookended by the San Diego Bay and several nature and wildlife reserves. 

3 Tips for Visiting San Diego

San Diego is a decidedly relaxed big city compared with Los Angeles or San Francisco. That means it takes a little more effort to scratch beneath the surface. Now that you know where to stay in San Diego, here are three tips to truly enjoy it: 

  1. There’s more than Mexican food: You could easily live off fish tacos. But, there are equally vibrant East Asian communities, particularly in Mira Mesa and Kearny Mesa, filled with great restaurants, bars, and supermarkets. 
  2. Don’t stress the weather: Summers are glorious in San Diego, with great weather practically guaranteed between May and October. But, the rest of the year enjoys temperatures in the 60s and can be spent tanning on the warm beaches. 
  3. Travel by car: Like most cities on the West Coast, San Diego suffers from a slow and underdeveloped public transport system. To get around efficiently, you need a car. 

Thinking About Moving to San Diego? 

San Diego is your perfect home if you’ve been seduced by permanent summers on the beach. Consider renting with Landing, which offers fully furnished apartments in San Diego with flexible stays that make it easy to move on your terms.