A Travel Price Comparison for California Big Sur vs. San Diego for Beaches, Families, Couples, and Hiking

Should you visit Big Sur or San Diego?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Which city is more affordable and which is best for your travel style? If you're trying to figure out where to go next, comparing the travel costs between Big Sur and San Diego can help you decide which place is right for you.

Big Sur

Big Sur is a scenic, remote, and breathtaking natural area. Many visitors also come because of it's amazing beauty. Visitors also love the beaches, hiking, and food.

San Diego

San Diego is a fun-filled, hip, and dynamic coastal city. Because this is such a big city, visitors will find many sights and attractions around town. It offers plenty of beauty for visitors. As this is a very quaint destination, you'll find it has a special atmosphere. It's also popular because of the scuba diving and snorkeling, beaches, and hiking.

Big Sur and San Diego: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Impressive beauty
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less popular for shopping
  • Less family-friendly
  • Less walkable
Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Good music scene
  • Nice resorts
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Fun shopping
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Good for students
  • Very walkable


Is there more to do in Big Sur or San Diego?

Tourists will generally find more to do in San Diego. Although Big Sur and San Diego are both popular with visitors, San Diego has more sights, activities, and attractions for travelers. San Diego is more popular for its museums, nightlife, music, resorts, scuba diving & snorkeling, beaches, shopping, big city activities, and quaint atmosphere, while Big Sur is known for its impressive beauty. San Diego is more touristy than Big Sur and is known for its relaxed coastal atmosphere, its many kid-friendly sights, and its beautiful beaches with critter-filled tidal pools. It is also home to The San Diego Zoo. Big Sur is popular for its beautiful state parks, dramatic coastal cliffs, and world class views.

How is Big Sur different from San Diego?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between San Diego and Big Sur. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Big Sur or San Diego?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is great for its historical sights. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its sights and museums.

Many visitors head to San Diego specifically to visit some of its top-rated museums and other sights. While the city is famous for it's beaches, zoos, and aquariums, don't overlook the museums and other landmarks. Popular options include the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, the Old Town State Historic Park, and Point Loma and Cabrillo Monument.

Big Sur offers a few options for museum-goers. Nature is what brings visitors to the area, so most people don't prioritize museums or manmade landmarks.


Is the Food Better in Big Sur or San Diego? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Big Sur
San Diego

Dining out at restaurants in both Big Sur and San Diego can be an enjoyable experience.

Big Sur is becoming an appealing option for foodies. Most of the restaurants offer a breathtaking view. Many use locally-sourced ingredients and they range in style from fine dining to casual eateries.

San Diego offers number of good local restaurants to choose from. The city has great seafood and a diversity of cuisines. There are many casual dining options that serve informal foods like burgers or salads, but there are also award-winning fine dining restaurants with elegant atmospheres. Popular local dishes include fish tacos and California burritos.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Nightlife?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is great for its evening party scene. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for nightlife.

Many people head to San Diego for the nightlife scene. The heart of the city's nightlife scene is in the Gaslamp District, which is filled with bars, clubs, and music venues. There's a young student population that keeps the nightlife scene casual and fun.

People don't go to Big Sur for the nightlife. There's a taphouse and lounge, but the area is mostly undeveloped with no real nightlife.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Music?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is great for its music scene. However, Big Sur is not a live music destination.

The music scene in San Diego draws a good crowd. Popular venues include the House of Blues, The Belly Up, and The Shout House.

Big Sur is not a live music destination.


Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Resorts?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is very good for its luxury resorts. However, Big Sur is not a resort destination.

San Diego has a few great resort options. Most people prefer to stay in hotels or VRBOs, but several popular resorts include Fairmont Grand Del Mar, Paradise Point, and the famous Hotel del Coronado.

Big Sur is not a resort destination.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is very good for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, Big Sur is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

It's worth going snorkeling or scuba diving in San Diego. Popular snorkeling and diving spots include La Jolla Cove, Mission Bay, and Turtle Town. The water's a bit chili, but it's still worth going for a dive or popping on a mask and snorkeling around for a bit.

Big Sur is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Beaches?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is an unbeatable place for the beach. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its beaches.

With world-famous beaches, San Diego is a very popular vacation destination. The city has great beaches with tidal pools and interesting sea life at low tide. Adults and kids alike will enjoy hitting the beach when the tides are out and looking for local critters in the tidal pools. Popular beaches in the area include La Jolla Cove Beach, Coronado Beach, and Pacific Beach.

You'll have a great beach vacation in Big Sur. The coastline and beaches are dramatic and beautiful, particularly Pfeiffer Beach, which has a dramatic waterfall. The water is filled with rip tides and strong currents, so swimming isn't advisable in most places.


Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Hiking?

Big Sur
San Diego

You'll find high quality hiking in both Big Sur and San Diego.

Many visitors go to Big Sur for the hiking trails. The dramatic hikes take you along the coastline, to beautiful beaches and through Redwood forests. There are a number of state parks along the route and some of the best hikes include Salmon Creek Trail, Pacific Valley Bluff Trail, and Ragged Point Cliffside Trail.

San Diego is a popular spot for hiking. The city is filled with parks and has tons of natural beauty. There is plenty of urban hiking in town, or you can visit more natural areas just out of town. Head to Torrey Pines State Park or Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail for some nice hikes.

Is the Shopping Better in Big Sur or San Diego?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is very good for its shopping areas. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for shopping.

San Diego has a variety of shopping areas worth visiting. Head to Fashion Valley or Westfield UTC for some fun shopping. There are suburban shopping malls in the area as well as souvenir shops in the more touristy areas.

Big Sur has some shopping areas for those that seek them out. There are some galleries and gift shops, but most visitors aren't in the area to go shopping.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Families?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is an unbeatable place for its kid-friendly activities. Also, Big Sur is not as popular, but is still a nice natural area for its family-friendly activities.

San Diego is one of the most popular family destinations. The city is filled with kid-friendly activities that everyone can enjoy. There's the world-class zoo, several amusement parks, the beaches, aquariums, and more. The year-round warm weather makes it easy to spend plenty of time outdoors in parks, playgrounds, and beaches where kids can stretch their legs and run around.

Big Sur is a family-friendly place to visit. Kids will enjoy the hiking and beaches, particularly the Carmel Lagoon at Carmel River State Beach. There are a number of state parks where kids can run around and stretch their legs.


Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Couples?

Big Sur
San Diego

Both Big Sur and San Diego are first-rate destinations to visit as a couple.

For those traveling as a couple, Big Sur has plenty to offer. Stunning viewpoints and breathtaking coastline make this a wonderful destination for couples. There are romantic inns and impressive hikes along the water's edge or through the dramatic Redwoods.

San Diego has so much to offer for a romantic couple's vacation. For adventurous couples, there are many outdoor activities that you can enjoy together. The beaches offer a great playground for adults who enjoy the water and warm weather. There are also restaurants and a great nightlife in San Diego.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Big Sur
San Diego

For backpackers, both Big Sur and San Diego are good places to visit.

Big Sur is popular with backpackers and budget travelers. There are a couple of hostels in the area, but budget travelers often prefer vacation rentals, which are more common.

It's common for backpackers to visit San Diego. Backpackers will enjoy the young vibe of the city. There are a few great hostels near the beach or in town.

Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Students?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is an unbeatable place for its student-friendly activities. However, Big Sur is not popular with students.

Students come from all over the world to visit San Diego. With its young population and many universities, international students will feel right at home in San Diego. There are also many great outdoor activities for the adventurous.

Big Sur is not popular with students.


Is Big Sur or San Diego Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is adequate for times when you don't have a car. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its public transit.

Public transit is mostly limited in San Diego. The city has a trolley (light rail system) as well as a bus system. Most people depend on cars to get around, and you'll likely enjoy your trip a bit more if you have your own vehicle.

Public transit is limited or non-existant in Big Sur. There is no real public transportation in the area.

Is Big Sur or San Diego a more walkable city?

Big Sur
San Diego

San Diego is very good for its ease of walking around. However, Big Sur is not a good destination for its walkability.

San Diego is a somewhat walkable coastal city. The downtown area is walkable, but if you want to travel further, you'll need to find a different form of transportation.

Big Sur is not a walkable natural area. While there are hiking trails, Big Sur is a stretch of road that runs along the coast and requires a car to fully access.

For even more information, also check out Is Big Sur Worth Visiting? and Is San Diego Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in San Diego or Big Sur?

How long in Big Sur or San Diego?

In either Big Sur or San Diego, you'll find plenty of activities to fill your time. Most visitors tend to spend more time in San Diego than Big Sur because of the overall number of sights and activities. Usually, 1-3 days is a good amount of time for Big Sur, and 3-5 days is enough time in San Diego.

Families should spend more time in San Diego than Big Sur. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in San Diego, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in San Diego than Big Sur. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in San Diego that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in San Diego than Big Sur if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in San Diego.


  • How many days in Big Sur or San Diego? Ideal Length of Stay
    Big Sur 1-3 
    San Diego 3-5

One day in Big Sur or San Diego?

You'll find food around the natural area of Big Sur. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. One day is a great amount of time to relax and see the many things that Big Sur has to offer. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.

In San Diego, you'll find food and scuba diving and snorkeling. You'll find plenty of activities on the beach. One reason most visitors come is for the beaches. This coastal city offers something for everyone. One day is usually not enough time for a trip here as there is plenty to do.


A weekend in Big Sur or San Diego?

You'll find food around the remote destination of Big Sur. Hikers are also drawn to this area. This is a popular place to visit for a weekend.A weekend should give you a good understanding of everything this natural area has to offer. This natural area offers a variety of activities to choose from.

In San Diego, you'll find scuba diving and snorkeling and shopping. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel. Hiking can easily take up a good amount of your time here, too. One reason most visitors come is for the beaches. Since there is so much to do in the area, a weekend is probably not enough for all of it.

Five days in Big Sur or San Diego?

Travelers enjoy the food when visiting the remote natural area of Big Sur. The length of your ideal trip is an individual decision. It's also a great beach destination, too. Five days is plenty of time to see everything, even with extra days to spare.

San Diego is a great place to explore. It is common to spend five days here. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. Five days is a great amount of time to relax and see the many things that San Diego has to offer. Anyone can find something fun to do here.

A week in Big Sur or San Diego?

Big Sur is a popular choice for travelers. It's a great spot for a beach vacation. One week is usually plenty of time to spend here with extra days to spare. With this much time, visitors often visit nearby destinations or take day trips. It will give you the chance to have new experiences.

It's hard to know how much time to spend in San Diego. Many people enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting San Diego. One reason most visitors come is for the beaches. People usually spend lots of time at the beach. One week may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best Cultural Tours in United States of America, The Best Photography Tours in United States of America, The Best Camping Tours in United States of America, and The Best Romantic Tours for Couples in United States of America.


Which place is cheaper, San Diego or Big Sur?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Big Sur is $0.00, while the average daily cost in San Diego is $202. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Big Sur and San Diego in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Big Sur $165
    San Diego $115
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Big Sur $330
    San Diego $230
Compare Hotels in Big Sur and San Diego

Looking for a hotel in Big Sur or San Diego? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Big Sur


Hotels in San Diego


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: San Diego Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Big Sur -
    San Diego $24

Hired Cars and Shuttles in San Diego

Also for San Diego, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Tijuana Intl Airport (TIJ) to Playas de Rosarito -Round-Trip Private Transfer: $241
  • San Diego Airport (SAN): Private Transfer to San Diego: $191
  • Private Transfer Airport Tijuana/Valle de Guadalupe (Ensenada) or back.: $180
  • RoundTrip transfer in private minivan from-to Airport(SAN) in San Diego Downtown: $173
  • Private Transfer from Tijuana to Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe: $153
  • San Diego Airport (SAN) to San Diego hotel/address - Round-Trip Private Transfer: $151
  • San Diego Airport (SAN) to Carlsbad - Round-Trip Private Transfer: $151
  • Arrival Private Transfer San Diego Airport SAN to San Diego by Executive SUV: $134
  • RoundTrip transfer in private car from-to San DiegoAirport in San Diego Downtown: $127
  • Tijuana Intl Airport (TIJ) to Playas de Rosarito - Arrival Private Transfer: $121
  • Arrival Private Transfer: San Diego Airport SAN to San Diego in Luxury SUV: $117
  • Arrival Private Transfer San Diego Airport SAN to San Diego City by Business Car: $111

Is it cheaper to fly into Big Sur or San Diego?

Prices for flights to both San Diego and Big Sur change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Big Sur -
    San Diego $45

Typical Food Prices in San Diego

Here are some examples of typical meal expenses from previous travelers to San Diego:


  • Mexican Lunch for Two
    $27
  • Breakfast at Starbucks
    $20

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in San Diego

For San Diego, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • Pizza and Gelato Tour in San Diego: $80
  • Old Town Tequila and Tacos Walking Food Tour: $81
  • Little Italy Food and Drink Walking Tour: Pizza, Pasta & Piazzas: $85
  • Gaslamp Quarter Downtown San Diego Food Tour: $89
  • Gaslamp Quarter Food Tour: $89
  • San Diego, Seaport Village: Waterfront Walking Food Tour: $99
  • Seaport Village Food Tour in San Diego : $99
  • Guided Secret Food Tour: $104
  • Scenic Buffet Dinner Cruise: $108
  • San Diego Dinner Cruise: $116
  • Gourmet Dinner Cruise: $118
  • Thanksgiving Day Buffet Brunch or Dinner Cruise: $121

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Big Sur -
    San Diego $48

Typical Entertainment Prices in San Diego

For San Diego, here are some examples of average entertainment and activity prices from previous travelers:


  • San Diego Zoo
    $15
  • Sea World Parking
    $12

Tours and Activities in San Diego

Also, here are some specific examples of entertainment, tickets, and activities for San Diego.

  • Maritime Museum of San Diego Admission Ticket: $24
  • 1 Hour GPS Guided Scooter Tour: Harbor/Gaslamp Quarter: $92
  • 1-Hour Private Scenic Tandem Sidecar Tour in San Diego: $99
  • 1-Hour Voodoo Escape Room Experience in San Diego: $35
  • 1.5 Hour Walking Tour from La Jolla in San Diego: $59
  • 1Hr GPS Self Guided Scooter Tour: Harbor/Gaslamp Quarter: $63
  • 2-Hour Guided Fishing Tour: $75
  • 4 Hour Self-Guided Electric Bike Tour or Rental: $87
  • A Seaside Stroll: La Jolla's Hidden Treasures Self-Guided Tour: $9.99
  • All Day San Diego Scenic Tour: $125
  • Apple Pies & Desert Skies: A Self-Guided Driving Tour: $15
  • Balboa Park Puzzling Adventure: $35

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Big Sur -
    San Diego $21

Sample the Local Flavors in San Diego

Also in San Diego, these are the prices for nightlife and alcohol related activities from various tour providers:

  • San Diego Bar Hunt: Slammin' San Diego Bar Crawl: $13
  • History Tour Pub Crawl of Famous Gaslamp Quarter: $30
  • Brewery Tour with Tastings and Food Pairings: $85
  • Vino! Vino! Little Italy Wine Tasting Walking Tour: $125
  • Little Italy Wine Tasting Walking Tour: $125
  • Private Wine Tasting Tour in Valle de Guadalupe: $134
  • Cruise & Booze Brewery tours : $149
  • Baja Tour Guide wine tour: $169
  • Sidecar Wine Tasting Tour: $199
  • Brewery and Tap Room Sidecar Tour: $199
  • California Sunset Brewery Tour: $199
  • Brewery and Beer Tasting Tour in San Diego: $215


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Big Sur and San Diego, we can see that San Diego is more expensive. And not only is Big Sur much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Big Sur would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Big Sur and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in San Diego would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in San Diego than you might in Big Sur.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Big Sur Expensive? and Is San Diego Expensive?.



When is the best time to visit Big Sur or San Diego?

Both destinations experience a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. And since both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Big Sur or San Diego in the Summer?

Both San Diego and Big Sur are popular destinations to visit in the summer with plenty of activities. Many visitors come to Big Sur in the summer for the beaches, the hiking, and the family-friendly experiences. Also, most visitors come to San Diego for the beaches, snorkeling, the hiking, the city activities, the music scene, and the family-friendly experiences during these months.

In July, Big Sur is generally cooler than San Diego. Daily temperatures in Big Sur average around 63°F (17°C), and San Diego fluctuates around 71°F (22°C).

In July, Big Sur usually receives more rain than San Diego. Big Sur gets 0 inches (1 mm) of rain, while San Diego receives 0 inches (1 mm) of rain each month for the summer.


  • Summer Average Temperatures July
    Big Sur 63°F (17°C) 
    San Diego 71°F (22°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or San Diego in the Autumn?

Both San Diego and Big Sur during the autumn are popular places to visit. Most visitors come to Big Sur for the hiking trails and the natural beauty of the area during these months. Also, the autumn months attract visitors to San Diego because of the hiking trails, the city's sights and attractions, the shopping scene, the music scene, and the natural beauty of the area.

Big Sur is cooler than San Diego in the autumn. The daily temperature in Big Sur averages around 62°F (17°C) in October, and San Diego fluctuates around 68°F (20°C).

Big Sur usually gets more rain in October than San Diego. Big Sur gets 0.6 inches (14 mm) of rain, while San Diego receives 0.4 inches (9 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures October
    Big Sur 62°F (17°C) 
    San Diego 68°F (20°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or San Diego in the Winter?

The winter attracts plenty of travelers to both Big Sur and San Diego. The winter months attract visitors to Big Sur because of the cuisine. Also, the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine are the main draw to San Diego this time of year.

In the winter, Big Sur is cooler than San Diego. Typically, the winter temperatures in Big Sur in January average around 51°F (11°C), and San Diego averages at about 57°F (14°C).

In January, Big Sur usually receives more rain than San Diego. Big Sur gets 2.3 inches (58 mm) of rain, while San Diego receives 1.8 inches (46 mm) of rain each month for the winter.


  • Winter Average Temperatures January
    Big Sur 51°F (11°C) 
    San Diego 57°F (14°C)

Should I visit Big Sur or San Diego in the Spring?

The spring brings many poeple to Big Sur as well as San Diego. The beaches and the natural beauty are the main draw to Big Sur this time of year. Also, many travelers come to San Diego for the beaches, the activities around the city, and the natural beauty.

In April, Big Sur is generally cooler than San Diego. Daily temperatures in Big Sur average around 56°F (13°C), and San Diego fluctuates around 62°F (17°C).

Big Sur usually gets more rain in April than San Diego. Big Sur gets 1.1 inches (29 mm) of rain, while San Diego receives 0.8 inches (20 mm) of rain this time of the year.


  • Spring Average Temperatures April
    Big Sur 56°F (13°C) 
    San Diego 62°F (17°C)

Typical Weather for San Diego and Big Sur

Big Sur San Diego
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 51°F (11°C) 2.3 inches (58 mm) 57°F (14°C) 1.8 inches (46 mm)
Feb 53°F (12°C) 1.8 inches (47 mm) 59°F (15°C) 1.5 inches (39 mm)
Mar 54°F (12°C) 2.1 inches (55 mm) 59°F (15°C) 1.8 inches (45 mm)
Apr 56°F (13°C) 1.1 inches (29 mm) 62°F (17°C) 0.8 inches (20 mm)
May 59°F (15°C) 0.2 inches (4 mm) 64°F (18°C) 0.2 inches (5 mm)
Jun 62°F (16°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 67°F (19°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm)
Jul 63°F (17°C) 0 inches (1 mm) 71°F (22°C) 0 inches (1 mm)
Aug 64°F (18°C) 0.1 inches (2 mm) 73°F (23°C) 0.1 inches (3 mm)
Sep 64°F (18°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm) 71°F (22°C) 0.2 inches (6 mm)
Oct 62°F (17°C) 0.6 inches (14 mm) 68°F (20°C) 0.4 inches (9 mm)
Nov 56°F (13°C) 1.8 inches (45 mm) 62°F (17°C) 1.5 inches (37 mm)
Dec 51°F (10°C) 2 inches (51 mm) 57°F (14°C) 1.6 inches (40 mm)