How Safe Is San Diego for Travel?

San Diego, United States
Safety Index:
67

San Diego, California, is known for its beaches, but there’s so much more to this city in the southernmost part of Southern California.

The city is actually quite large and brings a wonderful blend of mountains and canyons with beautiful beaches and cliffside views.

It’s also a major port and military location for the country’s defense and its watery borders.

The largest naval base in the Western U.S. is here, with 26,000 people – military and civilians – supporting the cause.

If you saw the original Top Gun, you got a glimpse of the military presence here, as it was the original Top Gun training location for the best pilots in the world.

Look on the tourism website for the blog “Top Gun Filming Sites” to see what locations you can still visit.

(In 1996, the Top Gun program moved to NAS Fallon just east of Reno, Nevada.)

History lives in many neighborhoods here, from Old Town with its Spanish influence to Coronado on the peninsula and the globally recognized Hotel del Coronado.

You are one of 35 million people who visit San Diego each year, and many major attractions, like SeaWorld and two major zoos, keep people coming back.

The Gaslamp Quarter is another big draw for daytime shoppers and nightlife lovers.

Whether you want to visit an underground speakeasy or dine at a rooftop bar, this city provides many opportunities with pleasant weather throughout the year.

San Diego is one of my favorite cities to visit, and each time it’s a whole new experience with growth happening and numerous things to see and do.

Warnings & Dangers in San Diego

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK : LOW

There's a low risk here, with crime rates bucking the national trend of surging violence. In 2021, all major crime categories were slightly below the national average. That's no small feat in a city of nearly 1.4 million people.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW

San Diego has really mastered the art of getting around. There are trolleys in the downtown area to get tourists to the popular districts. Old Town has a trolley too. The "Coaster" train takes people from the busy city areas to the coastal communities, and the sprinter gets you on an east-west route through the nearby cities and back to San Diego. Taxis and rideshares are available and rental cars are plentiful. There is also a ferry that can take tourists to Coronado. You really can't go wrong with any option.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW

With nearly 17,000 thefts in San Diego, just 148 of them were pickpockets or purse snatchings in 2021. That's a low risk, but it's still worth the extra attention to limit your risk. Carry small purses and put wallets in front pockets. The bigger risk is your car being "pickpocketed," with 50% of those thefts being related to car break-ins or burglaries.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW

Ready San Diego shows the biggest risks are wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and flooding. SoCal wildfires have been increasing in intensity over the past decade, so you must take those seriously. Earthquakes can happen anytime, but you won't get advance warning, so you should know basic safety before you go. Tsunami risks will come with alerts, and it's critical to heed those warnings.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK : LOW

About 1/3 of robberies happen on public streets, but the average robbery rate is at the national average. Use extra caution at night because the popular bar scene might make robbers search for crimes of opportunity.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK : LOW

It's not just the Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense located here. Several major defense contractors have their headquarters in San Diego. The deepwater port is used for shipbuilding and submarines. All that makes San Diego a sweet target for a potential terrorist attack. It also means there's a lot of security to prevent any attacks. You'll see that level of security if you accidentally enter a military area while walking the piers. Ready San Diego has a whole section about terrorism preparation and prevention.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK : LOW

You might feel like you're being scammed when visiting San Diego because of the high prices in some popular areas. That can make actually being scammed a lot harder to spot. Here's the best advice. o Hotels and restaurants near the beach are going to cost more. Period. You are paying for the view and the ambiance. Any deal that seems too good to be true - is. o Don't use third-party websites, like Craigslist, to get discount tickets or rentals. Scammers prey on people who use these sites, and you won't always be able to easily distinguish a scammer until you've lost money. o A day of walking can make a Pedi-Cab seem like a lifesaver, but know the price before you get on board. If you don't agree with the price ahead of time, you could face a steep charge just for going a few blocks.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW

Women are statistically less likely to be a victim of violent crime, according to 2021 data. The sexual assault rate is also lower than the national average. I would recommend traveling with a group or a friend while walking around, but solo exploring isn't too risky during the day. At night, the environment can be a little rowdier.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK : LOW

The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report for San Diego shows full compliance and no violations. It's worth reviewing the conservation information so you can help prevent water overuse. You can also email the water quality department if you have additional questions. That email is drinkingwaterquality@sandiego.gov.

Safest Places to Visit in San Diego

SanDiego.org is run by the San Diego Tourism Authority and should be your starting point for research.

This site provides a secured platform, verified attractions, and links to purchase tickets.

If you’re traveling internationally, there’s a section where you can choose your home country and get a website catered to tourists from that area.

Since San Diego is so large, let’s go through the different places you might want to visit.

COASTAL AREAS:

San Diego has an extensive array of beachfront regions.

Some are more crowded, while others are remote.

Some bring history and entertainment districts, while others are more wilderness based.

Coronado, La Jolla, Mission Bay, and Point Loma Peninsula are some of the most popular for tourists.

DOWNTOWN:

The districts downtown are a lot of fun (I’ve been there and can vouch for this).

  • Downtown is home to the popular Gaslamp Quarter, with charming streets bustling with live music and open-air bars.
  • Little Italy is a food lover’s dream, with traditional Italian offerings mixed with high-end cuisine.
  • North Park is the neighborhood for beer drinkers, and South Park is a hipster and indie neighborhood with locally owned and farm-to-table offerings.
  • This is the most inclusive community in San Diego and is popular with the LGTBQ+ crowd. This is also near the expansive Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.

INLAND: Off the shore, you’ll find Mission Valley and Old Town, where the city’s center was originally located. East County and North County Inland offer mountain and desert adventures with hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and star gazing as main attractions.

With so many major attractions in San Diego, we aren’t going to be able to cover them all.

I would recommend every traveler take the time to visit the USS Midway Museum to step aboard a navy carrier that has been serving the country for more than 60 years.

From climbing into a cockpit to doing a flight simulator, you can truly channel your inner “Maverick.”

Audio tours are available for kids and adults for a more customized experience.

It’s worth noting that the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are two different places and are 30 minutes apart.

San Diego Zoo is in the popular Balboa Park.

Other attractions in Balboa Park include:

  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum
  • Comic-Con Museum
  • The Haunted Trail at Balboa Park

Packages are available through the tourism website to get discounts on the Balboa Park attractions or a price break for those who want to see the zoo and safari park.

If you want to visit Old Town, grab an “Old Town San Diego” guide at the tourism center or download it online.

This area is big enough to have its own strategy session to make the most of your visit.

You can also explore Shelter Island if you want the trip to feel more like a beach getaway while still having the city close by.

It’s touted as a “Polynesian Getaway.”

Places to Avoid in San Diego

The city’s southeast section has higher crime rates, but there’s a very little risk you’ll end up in a part of town that is too dangerous.

The real risk here is based on your own behavior.

It’s easy in a beach city that’s so beautiful and laid back to relax your personal safety behaviors.

Especially when you’re walking around at night, try to stick with friends or take a rideshare instead of walking back to the hotel.

As a young female, I was there with a group of friends, and two of us wanted to go home.

The third wanted to stay and said she’d walk back by herself.

We didn’t let that happen, but it was more because we are ultra-protective and less because of the risks we saw.

Just because the city is safer than many American cities doesn’t mean there’s no crime.

At night, avoid the marina and pier areas as they are darker, with fewer people around if someone needs help.

Tijuana is just 20 miles from San Diego.

There’s an outlet mall on the American side of the border.

If you want to go to Mexico, you should read the travel warnings from the U.S. State Department, as some parts of Mexico are way too dangerous for tourists.

As of late 2022, the State Department recommends you “Reconsider Travel” to Baja, Mexico, where Tijuana is located.

This is the verbatim reason:

“Transnational criminal organizations compete in the border area to establish narco-trafficking and human smuggling routes.

Violent crime and gang activity are common.

Travelers should remain on main highways and avoid remote locations.

Of particular concern is the high number of homicides in the non-tourist areas of Tijuana.

Most homicides appeared to be targeted; however, criminal organization assassinations and territorial disputes can result in bystanders being injured or killed. U.S. citizens and LPRs have been victims of kidnapping.”

Safety Tips for Traveling to San Diego

  1. San Diego Police offer crime statistics for the whole city and break down the data by neighborhood. This gives you a much better idea of which sections of town have higher crime rates. You can also use the Crime Mapping function to search certain neighborhoods for types of crime. For example, if you want to know how many assaults have happened within 2 miles of your preferred hotel, you can do that. Plus, you can set up crime alerts to be notified if a certain type of crime happens.
  2. You can store these numbers in your contact list now, as they are the non-emergency numbers for the police department – (619)531 2000 or (858)484-3154. In an emergency, you can always call 911.
  3. An average of 18 cars are stolen daily, and half of all thefts are related to car burglaries. Lock your car when you park and roll up the windows. Leave nothing in plain sight. Car thefts are one crime category that shot up during 2021, following a nationwide trend. Being this close to Mexico, there’s a chance your car will cross the border and never be seen again.
  4. The best thing a tourist can do in the name of safety is report suspicious activity or crimes in progress. If you have information about a crime or suspected drug activity, you can call Crime Stoppers at (888)580-8477 and report information anonymously. Never think you’re being “too cautious” regarding safety concerns.
  5. There are two great safety apps you might want to download. First, there’s AlertSanDiego, which will send weather, wildfire, or other critical information to your email or mobile device. The other is SD Emergency, which is a planning tool to prepare for the worst and know what to do in case of a disaster or attack.
  6. 211 San Diego is a tool for residents and tourists to ask about city services. Maybe you want to know about COVID numbers closer to your visit, or you have questions about visiting military locations – this is a great tool. You can call 211 or email 211help@211sandiego.org.
  7. When you’re looking for hotels, you can add the “My Hazards” website to your safety checklist. This website from the California governor’s office allows you to put in your address and then a list of the most likely disaster or risks will show up. You’ll be able to see if you’re in a flood or tsunami zone or where you are located on an evacuation route.
  8. The Park Smarter app will be your best friend for paying for parking without having to pull out cash in a public place. You’ll also be able to find available parking through the interactive map feature. You’ll even be able to get a notification if you get a ticket.
  9. San Diego’s Get it Done city app is great for reporting issues like flooding or broken streetlights. This is also a tool for contacting different city departments, like the water quality office.
  10. You can use the official city website at SanDiego.gov for information about beach safety, but you’ll search for the Lifeguard section. Skip past the actual lifeguard information and go to the different beaches or the downloadable safety guides to learn about rip currents, beach flags, water safety, and scuba guidance.

So... How Safe Is San Diego Really?

While San Diego leaders and law enforcement are doing a good job keeping crime at lower-than-average levels, the drug problem here is growing.

About half of the violent crime that happens here is against strangers, which is a little higher than in other major cities in America.

30% of violent crimes happen in public streets, sidewalks, and parking areas.

Being so close to the border, San Diego is considered “Ground Zero” for the drug trade.

While record seizures and arrests are happening in 2022, the overdose numbers eclipsed 2021 in the first six months of 2022.

While illegal drugs are a problem in any capacity, the growing problem in America is that drugs are being cut with cheap Fentanyl – an opioid exponentially more dangerous than heroin.

Fentanyl can’t be seen, tasted, or smelled when cut into other opioids, marijuana, or meth – and a lethal dose is just a few grains of salt-sized material.

I saw all of that for a reason.

Some of these drugs are made to look like candy and seem harmless at first glance.

Some people want to go on vacation and “let loose, ” which might mean experimenting with drugs.

This isn’t a warning about illegal drug use – you know that’s wrong – this is a warning that you might be taking a lethal dose of a drug without even knowing it.

You could think someone is selling you a Xanax, which, in turn, could kill you.

You should also use all that caution we talked about with your vehicle.

Even if you go to the beach, don’t leave a bunch of stuff in the car.

If you are going to store things in the trunk, load it up before you get to the beach so a thief can’t see you stashing the goods.

As far as big cities in America, San Diego is among the safest while still having an insane number of things to do.

How Does San Diego Compare?

CitySafety Index
San Diego67
New Orleans57
Baltimore56
Washington DC56
Boston67
Phnom Penh (Cambodia)61
Niagara Falls (Canada)87
Calgary (Canada)82

Useful Information

  • Visas - Whether you're crossing the border or flying into San Diego, you'll need a U.S. Visa and Passport. The State Department handles the Visa process but offers a simple Visa Wizard module so you can get the right Visa for your trip. Start planning this process months ahead of time because it can be arduous.
  • Currency - Even though it's close to Mexico, you can still only use the U.S. Dollar here. Don't use public ATMs, and try to keep all purchases on a credit card. Even the pedicabs and vendors have mobile card payment options.
  • Weather - San Diego will have the same temperatures throughout the year, and it doesn't get overly hot or chillingly cold. Bring a mix of clothing, as the evening breeze can be cool. You'll want comfortable walking shoes and plenty of sunscreen.
  • Airports - San Diego International Airport is right on the water near the heart of downtown. You might see this referred to as Lindberg Field, but that's an old name. This airport is large and has enough direct flights that you won't need to consider any other options.
  • Travel Insurance - You should seriously consider travel insurance for your flights and also make sure you have health coverage. Whether a hiking accident or jellyfish sting happens, you'll pay a lot out of pocket at a local urgent care center if you don't have insurance.
Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

San Diego Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 15° C
Feb 15° C
Mar 16° C
Apr 17° C
May 18° C
Jun 20° C
Jul 22° C
Aug 23° C
Sep 22° C
Oct 20° C
Nov 17° C
Dec 15° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
191919202122242525232119
Low
°C
101112141517192019161210
High
°F
666666687072757777737066
Low
°F
505254575963666866615450

Where to Next?

11 Reviews on San Diego

  1. Not safe in Mexico

    The city of San Diego is safe. The beaches are safe. The only area where we questioned our safety was near the Mexico Border. There were a few unsavory characters near the border. We will not go back to Mexico.

    1. I am never going back!

      San Diego is a DUMP that is overrun by crime and poverty. The only place that I would say is worse in the state is San Fran or LA. All these city areas are loaded with homeless people. I went here to visit a friend last month and holy crap, I am never going back. I told her she has to get out of there. Even the safest parts of San Diego have high rates of crime. She said she has witnessed people walking into the stores this past year and just walking out, not paying for anything on a weekly basis. The last day I had a homeless man following me around the corner when I was walking to get coffee and he was grabbing himself! It was disgusting and no one did ANYTHING!!

      1. I’m sorry you had a negative experience in San Diego, Carly. I’m visiting from Michigan currently and have experienced only positive interactions with the people who live here. I had a conversation about the homeless with a police officer just yesterday. He was telling me about the difficulty of helping these unfortunate people.

        Like any city, there are missions, hotels, and government agencies that reach out with offers of help. However, in America, we have the freedom of choice and that applies to the homeless. They cannot be forced by local, state, or federal governments to seek assistance, nor can they be forced to work, go to school, or live in ways they do not choose. Additionally, they cannot be arrested nor incarcerated unless they are caught breaking the law.

        While San Diego has its share of the homeless, I have found it comparable to the cities of Florida, Illinois, and Texas.

        I’ve been to San Diego & several cities in California and have been overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the state and the friendliness of residents and visitors, alike. I hope you’ll give it another chance, and keep an open mind about the plight of the homeless & the difficulties they, & those who are trying to help, face.

  2. I
    I live in San Diego says:

    San Diego is AWESOME!

    San Diego is AWESOME!
    I am a bit biased because I live here, but seriously, it’s a good city to live in. Quality of life here is superb and there many things to do.

    Many people come here and travel to Mexico and to theme parks as well such as Disney.

    There are bad areas but every place does, most of it is clean and people are doing ok.

    Come visit, it’s safe to travel to San Diego!

  3. SD was a great adventure for us

    The vibrant nightlife, wonderful beaches or the laid back attitude of most people living here makes San Diego a great place to visit. It’s generally safe here but you do have to take precautions during the night and also not leave your goods unguarded.

    1. A
      Anonymous says:

      Hey sorry but I’ve been looking for an apartment relentlessly.. pet friendly. My bf and I r moving there next month and I kinda wanna have a place before we get there…. do u have any suggestions of anywhere in a decent neighborhood for under 2 grand?

  4. M
    Mission Valley resident says:

    In general, the neighborhoods and areas north of Interstate 8 are good, and the areas south of Interstate 8 are bad.

    There are many homeless in San Diego.

    Overall, San Diego is safer than Los Angeles, but that’s not saying much.

  5. HOMELESS EVERWHERE- DO NOT VISIT

    Horrible! Homeless everywhere. Felt unsafe.

  6. Safe and a great family destination

    I’ve been to San Diego for a lot of business trips only to fall in love with the place and book a two-week getaway there. I would rate it safer than LA IMHO.

    So yes, it’s safe but this doesn’t mean that you should explore it alone at night, even more so if you’re a tourist. Have common sense, don’t explore areas you’re unfamiliar with and make sure to let someone know where you’re going.

    Some of the areas you must check:

    The all-so-popular La Jolla, which is San Diego’s tourist Hotspot with 5 star hotels and fine dining. Its gorgeous coastline will provide lots of activities and if you’re big on hiking this is a must visit spot.

    Black Mountain Ranch is your classic suburb with a high diversity rating and the place you would book if you’re like me and tend to avoid crowds when you’re on holiday. It’s more secluded and quiet despite it being a famous family destination.

    East Village, Horton Plaza and The Marina. These places have higher crime rates and in general don’t offer enough rewards to add them to your list. I would also add Downtown SD to these three, just the same as with any other big cities. Pickpockets or scammers are attracted to tourist hotspots as usual so beware of any elbow rubbing or deals that sound too good to be true.

    My own concern would be regarding hate crimes, which are less and less frequent but still present. No, I’m not referring to people attacking you in crowds but isolated events do happen.

    Homeless people are a problem but if you’re from the US you might have gotten used to them by now, unfortunately. Don’t engage, if you see a fight and want to help, just call the police, it’s best not to get involved.

    1. S
      San Diego resident says:

      Smaller version of L.A.

      “Will’s” posting is a disservice to this forum. Downtown San Diego is downright dangerous, with drug addicts, criminals, and thugs preying on unsuspecting tourists. Balboa Park is nice during the day, but I avoid it at night, again because of the criminal elements. San Diego zoo is pleasant to visit, although most of the locals consider it overpriced if one doesn’t get a season pass.

      You’ve really got to be careful going into the ocean, as Tijuana sends it sewage into the San Diego River, which empties into the Pacific.

      Also try to avoid east San Diego (such as the areas of City Heights). That area is very dangerous, as the gangs run that part of town.

      We used to in the city limits of San Diego, but moved into a nearby inland mountain town to avoid the gangs, predators, and drug dealers.

  7. Need to be careful in SD

    Answer: Not as safe as it used to be. Avoid all of Balboa Park after dusk. Also, panhandlers, homeless and drug addicts are in every part of San Diego; they are usually (but not always) harmless, but they create uncomfortable situations. For that reason, downtown San Diego is not recommended, particularly with a family. Be careful in parking lots and watch out for thieves, carjackers, hustlers, etc. Like many big cities, the police force has been decimated, and you’ll rarely see a police car on patrol. Never leave anything of value in your car where it can be seen.

    I tell visitors to stay in the North County or anywhere on the coast, from LaJolla on north. Those are the nicer areas, and they do a better job of keeping riff-raff out.

    And in general, try to avoid areas south of Interstate 8, as that is the lower-income and lower class area of the San Diego area.

    San Diego’s weather can’t be beat. But it was a much nicer place when I moved here in the early 1980s.

Rated 3.18 / 5 based on 11 user reviews.

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