La Jolla vs Gaslamp Quarter Neighborhoods

From surfing & swimming to history & culture, our guide will help you decide whether La Jolla or the Gaslamp Quarter is best for your next vacation.
Jess Tucker
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
La Jolla vs Gaslamp Quarter Neighborhoods
Comparison Guide
Historic Fun Attractions
Save on Gear
Stores and Eateries
Keeping Busy
Events & Culture
Getting Around
Our Overall Winner

Highlights

Attractions & Landmarks
Dining & Shopping
Leisure & Recreation
Final Verdict
Attractions & Landmarks
Dining & Shopping
Leisure & Recreation
Final Verdict

Where You Should Spend Your Time: La Jolla vs Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

The Unconditional Surrender Statue with the USS Midway in the BackgroundPeople Having Fun at the La Jolla Cove

If you’re planning a San Diego vacation, chances are you’ve heard a lot about the neighborhoods in La Jolla and the Gaslamp Quarter in the Downtown San Diego area.

Surfer Carving a Wave at Windansea
Surfer Carving a Wave at Windansea

These two neighborhood areas are very different, with La Jolla characterized by its beaches and especially its surfing culture, while the Gaslamp Quarter downtown is in the hub of the city with plenty of historic sites and ways to stay busy. Despite their differences, they’re the two most visited parts in San Diego!

If you’re short on time and can’t visit both neighborhoods, you’re in luck! Our team worked together to develop a complete comparison guide which will help you recognize the best aspects of each so you can plan your trip with confidence.

The Pendry San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter
The Pendry San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter

The Best Hotels in Both Neighborhoods

There are countless incredible hotels in Downtown San Diego, and the Gaslamp Quarter has some of the best.

Experience top-class elegance with a boutique feel at Pendry San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is one of our personal favorites.

La Jolla is also full of great hotel options for your next trip!

Quite a few of the accommodations mentioned in our team’s Best Hotels on the Beach in San Diego article are located in La Jolla and we also have a Best Hotels in La Jolla article that’s worth a read.

One standout we’d recommend right away is La Valencia Hotel, an oceanfront hotel with a Spanish-style building that’s also a historic landmark.

Local Tips
Family-Friendly Attractions
Downtown is excellent for families, especially around the Balboa Park area. La Jolla, in the other hand, is perfect is you're looking for some quality time on the beach!

La Jolla is one of the most popular family-friendly beach communities in San Diego for surfing, snorkeling, sunbathing, & exploring tide pools. Get acquainted with its unique atmosphere as Todd takes you on a tour of the beaches, shops, & more!

Looking for discounted beach gear & Attraction Tickets to places like Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the San Diego Zoo and more? The Go City San Diego pass will get you in with one discount pass.

Buy a Go City San Diego pass

No Shortage of History & Fun

Though La Jolla and Downtown attract different crowds, there are endless ways to spend the day in either of its many neighborhoods.

Sea Lions on the Rocky Point at the La Jolla Cove
Sea Lions on the Rocky Point at the La Jolla Cove

La Jolla’s Best Attractions

In La Jolla, the beaches are the main event, with La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores being two of the most popular!

Take a La Jolla surfing lesson at popular spots such as Scripps and Bird Rock Beach, kayak to the seven sea caves of La Jolla Caves Beach, and look for seals and sea lions at The Children's Pool. For more ideas, see our team’s 20 Best Things to Do in La Jolla.

Don’t forget to swing by the Birch Aquarium at Scripps to see the marine life!

La Jolla has its history too, as its beaches have played a key role in popularizing surfing in San Diego. I personally love surfing, the beach and any type of history so La Jolla is very interesting to me.

Visit Windansea Beach to see the local icon that is the Surf Shack, a hut that dates back to the 1940s, long before surfing drew crowds to Southern California.

The Star of India in Downtown San Diego
The Star of India in Downtown San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter and Beyond

The Gaslamp Quarter is a historic district that’s home to the San Diego Padres ballpark Petco Park, where you can take a tour or see a concert.

Many of the buildings date back to the Spanish colonial period. The Gaslamp Quarter is teeming with history, and some of San Diego’s best tours highlight these points of interest! I recommend the Brothels, Bites and Booze: San Diego Gaslamp Walking Tour, which is featured in our article 10 Best Food & Beer Tours in San Diego.

Both The Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House and The New Children's Museum can be found here as well.

You’re never far from Downtown’s best attractions either. Downtown has the highest density of things to do anywhere in San Diego, many of which are among our picks for the 30 Best Things to Do in Downtown San Diego.

Downtown encompasses Little Italy, famous for its authentic Italian restaurants, and Balboa Park, which has many museums and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. I also don’t want to forget to mention the Embarcadero, an area bordering the San Diego Bay that has the USS Midway Museum.

Get a Discount on the Best Attractions

Whether you’re planning to join a tour, rent a surfboard, or visit a museum, both the Gaslamp Quarter and La Jolla are best experienced with the savings offered by the Go City San Diego pass.

We have a special discount code GVSD5OFF, for our loyal readers. When you pre-purchase your pass, you can skip the lines on arrival and save!

Sidewalk in the Gaslamp
Sidewalk in the Gaslamp

Our Favorite Neighborhood to Explore: It’s a Tie

Since there are so many things to do in both neighborhoods with something for everyone to enjoy, this comparison is a draw.

Go Biking with Go Pass!
La Jolla - Full Day Bike Rental
La Jolla - Full Day Bike Rental
When visiting beautiful La Jolla, one of the best ways to explore the area is with a bike tour. Using your Go Pass, head over and rent a bike and check out the most popular areas of town like La Jolla Cove, the boardwalk and Mission Bay.
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Local Tips
What is the cheapest way to buy a Go City San Diego pass?

The cheapest way to purchase a Go City San Diego pass is to combine Go Visit San Diego’s exclusive 5% discount with the Go San Diego passes already great deals!

Simply follow our link & use code GVSD5OFF to purchase your pass and begin saving!

A Look at Stores and Eateries in La Jolla and the Gaslamp Quarter

Let’s look at how the shopping and restaurant scene compares between these two neighborhood areas.

Sunset at the Koi Pond at Westfield UTC Mall
Sunset at the Koi Pond at Westfield UTC Mall

Shopping and Eating in La Jolla

In La Jolla, there are many beach-themed souvenir shops, surf shops, and businesses selling breezy bohemian wares, especially along Prospect Street.

There’s also The Shops at La Jolla Village, an outdoor mall with stores and restaurants, and the Westfield UTC Mall, our founder Todd’s favorite mall in all of San Diego as featured in the top spot on our article covering the Best Malls in San Diego.

Since La Jolla is right by the ocean, there are many tasty seafood restaurants. For a truly special experience, look for restaurants serving up local catches, which is some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever enjoyed.

There are also many places serving grab-and-go lunches so you can enjoy a picnic on the beach, plus plenty of outdoor dining spots and sidewalk cafes.

Seaport Village in the Embarcadero of San Diego
Seaport Village in the Embarcadero of San Diego

The Gaslamp Quarter’s Shops and Dining

Like any city center, Downtown has plenty of stores. I love the walkable Gaslamp Quarter, which is filled with clothing stores, boutiques, and shops where you can buy unique goods.

The waterfront shopping center Seaport Village at the Embarcadero is another good choice and that shopping area also allows you to enjoy the warm, sunny weather while you browse!

Where the Gaslamp Quarter really excels is in its restaurant scene.

Not only do you have access to tons of incredible restaurants, but you’ll also be just a short trip away from the authentic Italian fare of Little Italy and unbeatable Mexican taco stands in Old Town San Diego, and even a champagne brunch or dinner cruise in the San Diego Bay. For a little of everything, consider taking one of the tours mentioned in our list of the 10 Best Food & Beer Tours in San Diego.

The Gaslamp Quarter also has an excellent nightlife scene with many bars and breweries that I love.

Bayside Boardwalk at Seaport Village in the Embarcadero near the Gaslamp Quarter
Bayside Boardwalk at Seaport Village in the Embarcadero near the Gaslamp Quarter

Choosing a Winner: The Gaslamp Quarter

Thanks to its abundance of restaurants and shopping opportunities, the Gaslamp Quarter is my choice when looking at its stores and eateries, though La Jolla has plenty of great places too.

Keeping Busy in La Jolla vs Gaslamp

Now let’s look at the entertainment options at the beach and in the heart of the city.

Mother and Child Snorkeling at La Jolla Cove
Mother and Child Snorkeling at La Jolla Cove

Recreation in La Jolla

La Jolla is the best place to make the most of San Diego’s sunny weather. Alongside sunbathing and surfing, the La Jolla Underwater Park is one of the best snorkeling and scuba diving spots in the area.

Many of the 11 Best Water Activities to Do with Kids in San Diego can be found in La Jolla. Some of our picks include paddleboarding, taking surfing lessons, and snorkeling at La Jolla Cove. Kids will also love the famous tide pools at Casa Beach and La Jolla Tide Pools.

Aside from the beach, a hiking expedition is fun too. In La Jolla, see the endangered torrey pine at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Cerveza Jacks in the Gaslamp Quarter San Diego
Cerveza Jacks in the Gaslamp Quarter San Diego

Things to Do in the Gaslamp Quarter

While La Jolla has more family-friendly activities, the Gaslamp Quarter is often the choice for adults who want to experience its famous nightlife scene. There are plenty of bars, clubs, and comedy venues, with no shortage of things to do once the sun goes down.

While you won’t find beaches or hiking trails, taking a tour is a good way to explore the neighborhood, and the layout of the neighborhood makes it easy to experience on foot.

Gray Whale Statues at Birch Aquarium
Gray Whale Statues at Birch Aquarium

The Winner for Rec and Leisure: La Jolla

La Jolla is practically synonymous with its beaches, and it’s no surprise why. There are endless activities to do!

Featured Hotel
Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
Exterior view, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
Boutique
Boutique
Near Bay
Near Bay
Pool
Pool
4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
Dining at MaryJane’s, viewing famous rock memorabilia, and visiting Old Town San Diego are some of our favorite reasons to stay at the iconic Hard Rock Hotel.
Prices Starting at $189
Check Availability

Community Events and Cultural Atmosphere

From surfing to settlements, see how culture and community shine in La Jolla and the Gaslamp Quarter.

Surfer Walking at Scripps La Jolla
Surfer Walking at Scripps La Jolla

Surfing Reigns Supreme in La Jolla

Surfing culture is dominant in La Jolla, and many beaches hold annual surfing competitions, such as the Luau and Legends of Surfing Invitational at Scripps. There’s even a Surf Film Festival every year in August.

Lots of Decorations in Old Town for Dia De Los Muertos
Lots of Decorations in Old Town for Dia De Los Muertos

Experience Culture in the Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter holds a massive celebration every year for Mardi Gras which is always energetic and fun to attend. For other holiday celebrations in the area, there’s also Dia de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego.

There’s a big variety of cultural activities and events, ranging from concerts and performances to a variety of museums and art showcases. Some of the biggest events in the Downtown area nearby include the summer Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park and, of course, Comic-Con San Diego.

People Love the Fiesta De Reyes During Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town
People Love the Fiesta De Reyes During Dia De Los Muertos in Old Town

The Best Cultural Celebrations: The Gaslamp Quarter

It’s easy to experience the unique history and culture of the Gaslamp Quarter simply by walking down the street and taking it all in. With a diverse population and a great atmosphere, it’s our top pick.

How to Get Around Both Neighborhoods

MTS Bus Getting Passengers on Way to Sdsu
MTS Bus Getting Passengers on Way to Sdsu

San Diego’s public transit makes traveling without a car a breeze, but some neighborhoods have more options for getting around than others.

Uber Dropping off in Downtown San Diego
Uber Dropping off in Downtown San Diego

Transport in La Jolla

La Jolla is close to other oceanfront neighborhoods in San Diego, making it easy to visit nearby spots like Mission Bay, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and Coronado Island.

In La Jolla, you may need to rely a little more on rideshare apps compared to traveling Downtown, though there are still bus routes that will get you close to the beach if you’re not already staying at an oceanfront hotel.

San Diego Trolley at the Gaslamp Quarter Station
San Diego Trolley at the Gaslamp Quarter Station

Getting Around the Gaslamp Quarter

With a variety of public transit options, you don’t need a car to get around Downtown. These include trolley lines as well as the FRED Shuttle, both of which serve the Gaslamp Quarter.

The GPS Talking Tour Cars offer another way to get around and enjoy a tour at the same time.

Fred Shuttle in the Embarcadero
Fred Shuttle in the Embarcadero

Our Choice for Transportation Ease: The Gaslamp Quarter

Though both neighborhoods are fairly easy to get around on foot or via bike, the FRED shuttle and trolley stop in the Gaslamp Quarter gives it the edge.

Some Final Tips in this Ultimate Comparison

Let’s go over some additional things to know when making your decision on which neighborhood to prioritize.

What to Know Before Going to La Jolla

For most, La Jolla is best experienced in either late summer or early fall, when waters are calmer and more seasonal events are held.

Surfing conditions peak in the late fall and winter, making this an ideal time to go for experienced surfers.

La Jolla is on the more expensive side of San Diego’s neighborhoods, but there are still many free and cheap things to do.

Some Tips About the Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is great to visit year-round with no true off-season, but events like Comic-Con and games at Padres Park may influence your decision.

Though many businesses are daytime-only in La Jolla, especially outside of the summer months, the Gaslamp Quarter is ideal for night owls.

Which Neighborhood Is Our Overall Winner?

Hard Rock Hotel with the Gaslamp Quarter Entrance Sign
Hard Rock Hotel with the Gaslamp Quarter Entrance Sign

There’s lots to love about both La Jolla and the Gaslamp Quarter. If you’re seeking a beach vacation, La Jolla is the place to be, but for our team, the Gaslamp Quarter is our overall winner!

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Gaslamp Brothels, Bites & Booze Tour
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