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San Diego Public Transportation Guide | 🚌 Getting Around San Diego Like a Pro

Are you considering moving to San Diego but want to know if you can live car-free? Would you prefer to walk, bike, or use the public transit system as much as possible? While it can’t compare to San Francisco or Boston, the San Diego public transportation system is great for getting around downtown San Diego and surrounding neighborhoods. You can even take advantage of Rapid and commuter routes to neighboring cities!

For those wondering if San Diego even has public transportation, this complete guide to public transportation in San Diego covers everything you want to know to get around the city.

San Diego Trolley – Light Rail System | San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS)

The primary form of public transportation in San Diego is the San Diego Trolley, operated by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System or the San Diego MTS. It has the 5th highest ridership of all light rail systems in the U.S. with an average of 117,000 daily riders every weekday.

The Trolley connects downtown San Diego to south and east county communities with service to destinations like Old Town, El Cajon, Mission Valley, the Gaslamp Quarter, the convention center, La Jolla, and San Ysidro on the Mexican border. Major medical centers, shopping centers, and universities can also be reached on the San Diego Trolley like the VA Medical Center, UC San Diego, San Diego State University, and Westfield UTC.

There are 62 stations served by the MTS San Diego Trolley over 53.5 miles of track. The train runs on 3 main lines.

  • Blue Line: 32 stations running north-south from UTC to San Ysidro. The new UC San Diego Blue Line extension to UTC just opened in November 2022.
  • Green Line: 27 stations running east-west from 12th & Imperial Transit Center to Santee Town Center.
  • Orange Line: 19 stations running east-west from Courthouse to Arnele Avenue.

There is also a heritage Silver streetcar line that operates with limited service in a loop around downtown San Diego. The Silver Line trolley service, suspended until spring 2022, uses three restored vintage trolleys. You can see the vintage San Diego trolley map here.

37 of the Trolley Stations are within the San Diego city limits and serve San Diego neighborhoods and downtown. There are 16 stations in adjacent cities like Chula Vista, Lemon Grove, and El Cajon. Most stations offer connecting service to MTS bus routes.

San Diego Trolley Map

You can see the San Diego public transportation map below with Trolley stops as well as connecting bus, Amtrak, and COASTER stops.

Getting Around San Diego by Bus | San Diego MTS Bus Routes & How to Ride

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System also operates a bus system as the San Diego Transit Corporation (SDTC), a subsidiary. MTS Bus operates over a 716-square-mile area with 1,350 route-miles. San Diego MTS Bus service covers San Diego proper as well as South Bay and East County. MTS Bus routes connect with North County Transit District (NCTD) bus and rail routes. The North County area is served by the BREEZE bus system.

Need help getting around San Diego without a car? Use the MTS San Diego trip planner tool to see the best route or choose a trip with the fewest transfers or least amount of walking.

MTS San Diego Bus Routes

There are 97 bus routes serving San Diego and southern San Diego County. This includes 85 fixed-route MTS San Diego bus routes, 9 Rapid routes, and the MTS Access paratransit service. These routes are divided into several divisions or districts:

  • Imperial Avenue Division with 27 bus routes out of downtown San Diego
  • South Bay Division with bus routes based in Chula Vista
  • East County Division with bus routes based in El Cajon

The Rapid bus service is a high-frequency and limited-stop bus service with routes to downtown and major destinations. The MTS Rapid bus service includes the following routes:

  • SuperLoop Rapid 201/202 connects the UTC Transit Center with UCSD, La Jolla, and Scripps Medical Hospital.
  • SuperLoop Rapid 204 connects the UTC Transit Center with the Nobel Athletic Area and UTC area.
  • Rapid 215 connects downtown San Diego and SDSU.
  • Rapid 225 connects Otay Mesa Transit Center and downtown San Diego with service to east Chula Vista.
  • Rapid 235 offers service from downtown San Diego to Escondido.
  • Rapid 237 travels between the Miramar College Transit Station and UCSD.
  • Rapid Express 280 travels between Escondido and downtown San Diego on weekdays.
  • Rapid Express 290 travels between Rancho Bernardo and downtown San Diego on weekdays.

You can see San Diego MTS bus schedules here.

Getting Around San Diego by Bike | Is San Diego Bike Friendly?

If you live in the urban core, you can get around San Diego by bike! San Diego is one of the top 10 cities for bicyclists thanks to high ridership and efforts to make cycling safer.

San Diego has hundreds of miles of bike lanes and bike share companies that make it easy to get around the city. The Mission Bay Bike Path is a 12-mile circuit and you can reach Ocean Beach via a bike path along the San Diego River. The Bayshore Bikeway is an impressive 24-mile bicycle route around the southern end of San Diego Bay.

The best way to get around by bike is to use this interactive San Diego bike map that helps you plan safe routes.

 

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San Diego COASTER Commuter Rail | North County Transit District

The COASTER commuter rail connects Old Town and downtown San Diego with coastal cities in San Diego County including Carlsbad, Oceanside, Encinitas, and Solana Beach. There are about 20 trains running on weekdays with additional service on weekends.

It takes about an hour to reach Oceanside from the Santa Fe Depot station in downtown San Diego.

San Diego Public Transportation to the Airport

Need to use San Diego public transportation from the airport? There are two easy options.

MTS Route 992 stops at the airport. It’s a 15-minute ride on the San Diego Trolley from the airport to downtown San Diego where you can connect to 3 Rapid bus lines, all 3 Trolley lines, the COASTER, and Amtrak at the Santa Fe Depot. Route 992 has service every 15 minutes.

You can also use the free San Diego airport shuttle from the Old Town Transit Center. The shuttle, called the San Diego Flyer, runs every 20-30 minutes.

Public Transportation to the San Diego Zoo

You can use public transportation to San Diego Zoo by taking Rapid 215 or Route 7. You can connect to these MTS bus routes from COASTER or Amtrak at the Santa Fe Depot, from the Blue, Green, or Orange Trolley lines, or from other MTS bus routes.

Public Transportation from San Diego to Other SoCal Destinations

You can use San Diego public transportation to reach other cities in the region! Here’s an easy overview.

San Diego Trolley & Bus Routes

The San Diego Trolley and MTS Bus connects to several cities in the San Diego area, some of which are served by Rapid bus routes. Here are some destinations that are served.

Escondido. MTS Rapid Bus offers affordable public transportation from Escondido to San Diego on Rapid 235 and Rapid Express 280.

Rancho Bernardo. The Rapid Express 290 offers a weekday bus service from the master-planned community in North Country.

La Jolla. The Trolley Blue Line has been extended to downtown La Jolla.

COASTER Commuter Rail

The COASTER commuter train operated by the North County Transit District (NCTD) runs north to south through San Diego County and connects downtown San Diego with Oceanside and other coastal cities. Here are cities served by the COASTER train:

  • Carlsbad
  • Oceanside
  • Solana Beach
  • Encinitas

See the full COASTER train schedule here.

SPRINTER Light Rail System

The east-west SPRINTER hybrid rail train operated by NCTD connects several cities:

To reach these cities, you can take public transportation from San Diego to Escondido on a Rapid bus or connect in Oceanside using the COASTER train. You can also take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to Oceanside to connect to the SPRINTER line.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner

The Pacific Surfliner operates 13 daily round-trip services between Los Angeles and San Diego and San Diego and Santa Barbara. This is the best form of public transportation from San Diego to Los Angeles.

The Pacific Surfliner travels along the Southern California coastline with stops in:

  • San Diego (Santa Fe Depot)
  • Solana Beach
  • Oceanside
  • San Juan Capistrano
  • Santa Ana
  • Anaheim
  • Los Angeles
  • Ventura
  • Santa Barbara
  • San Luis Obispo

Coronado Ferry

You can travel to Coronado Island from San Diego on public transportation. The Coronado Ferry is America’s oldest working wood ferry and transports you to the Coronado Ferry Landing.

How long is the ferry from San Diego to Coronado? Just 15 minutes! The ferry departs from two locations: the Convention Center and Broadway Pier.

Cost of Public Transportation in San Diego | MTS Trolley and Bus Fare & More

MTS bus and trolley fare is $2.50 one-way. This is the price for a single ride on one Trolley line or bus route. Discounted $1.25 fare is available to seniors, disabled persons, and Medicare recipients. There is a higher fare for rural, Rapid Express, and COASTER service. You can see all MTS fares and passes here.

 

San Diego MTS Fare
MTS Trolley Fare $2.50
MTS Bus Fare $2.50
MTS Rapid Fare $2.50
MTS Rapid Express (Routes 280 & 290) $5
MTS Rural $8
MTS Sorrento Valley COASTER Connection

(Routes 972, 973, 978 & 979)

FREE
1-Day Pass $6 ($12 Premium Regional)
Regional Monthly Pass $72 ($100 Premium Regional)
Regional Senior/Disabled/Medicare/Youth Monthly Pass $23 ($32 Premium Regional)
COASTER 1-Day Pass $15
COASTER Monthly Pass $140/1 zone, $161/2 zones,

$182/3 zones

COASTER Senior/Disabled/Medicare/Youth Monthly Pass $58

 

Which San Diego MTS pass do you need? Regional day and month passes are valid on MTS Trolley & bus and NCTD SPRINTER and BREEZE routes. Premium Regional passes are also valid on Rapid Express routes and the COASTER (day pass only). COASTER monthly passes can be used on MTS Bus, Trolley, Rapid Express, NCTD SPRINTER, and BREEZE routes.

Along with cash fare, you can use a PRONTO card to ride the Trolley or bus in San Diego. A reloadable PRONTO card is $2 and can be purchased at retail outlets, the Transit Store, or from a Trolley ticket machine. An alternative is using the PRONTO app to store and reload your card. Scan a mobile QR code or scan your PRONTO card at purple validators every time to ride – you will never pay more than a Monthly Pass each month or a Day Pass in a single day.

San Diego Public Transportation FAQ

Does San Diego, CA have good public transportation?

While a car-dependent city, San Diego has good public transportation, especially in the core downtown area. There is limited service to surrounding suburbs and cities.

How much is a monthly MTS pass in San Diego?

 

San Diego MTS Month Pass Prices
Adult Regional $72
Adult Premium Regional $100
Senior/Disabled/Medicare Regional $23
Senior/Disabled/Medicare Premium Regional $32
Youth Regional $23
Youth Premium Regional $32
COASTER Adult $140/1 zone, $161/2 zones,

$182/3 zones

COASTER Senior/Disabled/Medicare $58

 

Do you need a car to get around San Diego?

San Diego is a mostly car-dependent city. However, getting around San Diego without a car is possible, but it works best if you live around the downtown area.

When does the trolley run in San Diego?

The Trolley runs from 5 am to midnight, seven days a week. There is limited service before 5 am and after midnight. Blue Line trains run every 15 minutes, every 7.5 minutes during weekday rush-hour, and every 30 minutes with late-night service. The Orange and Green Lines usually run every 30 minutes with service every 15 minutes during the mid-day rush Monday to Saturday.

What Is the San Diego Old Town Trolley?

The Old Town Trolley is a hop-on, hop-off trolley with 11 stops in San Diego’s Old Town. Popular with tourists, the trolley offers a 25-mile sightseeing tour of San Diego with stops in Coronado, the Gaslamp Quarter, and more. See the San Diego Old Town Trolley map here.

Thinking about living car-free in San Diego or just interested in using public transit more often to reduce your impact on the environment and save money? San Diego public transportation is better than many cities and you can definitely make it work for you, especially if you live in a more walkable neighborhood near downtown.

Are you exploring public transportation in San Diego ahead of a move? If you’re relocating to San Diego, give us a call at Republic Moving & Storage. We’ll give you a free estimate and help you settle into your new neighborhood without the hassle!

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