10 Tips for Navigating San Diego International Airport - 2 Dads with Baggage
Terminal 1 & 2 at San Diego Airport

10 Tips for Navigating San Diego International Airport

I travel a LOT for work and pleasure, and living in San Diego I’m sharing my 10 tips for navigating San Diego International Airport. If you are not from America’s Finest City (I didn’t make up that title), our airport can be a challenge because of its weird layout and quirks. Let me help you make your way, so travel is less stressful whether you are departing or arriving.

Sky view of San Diego Bay
With a little altitude, this bird’s eye view of San Diego Bay is pretty awesome.

10 Tips For Navigating San Diego International Airport

Navigating San Diego International Airport – Departing

  1. Know your terminal – There are only two terminals, and neither makes any sense because they both contain domestic and international flights. If you are flying on Southwest Airlines, you are definitely in Terminal One. All the others? Best to check to avoid a long walk.
    Signage at SAN Terminal 2
    The signage at San Diego Airport is more than a little confusing for newbies.


  2. Not much waiting room – This older terminal did not anticipate the amount of traffic it would receive, and the new self-serve ticket kiosks take up a lot of room. There are VERY few seats before going through security, and the areas are cramped with people navigating their luggage.
  3. Pre-Check is your friend – Have you applied for your TSA Pre-Check approval? It’s an easy process, and can get you past what are sometimes very long security lines. I’ve arrived 30 minutes before boarding time and still arrived at the gate with plenty of time.
    Pre-check line is always short at San Diego Airport
    TSA Pre Check is the best thing ever. Keep your shoe on and your laptop packed!


  4. Food is sparse in Terminal One – Terminal Two has decent food choices, but Terminal One is very challenged. If that is your departure zone best to get food from the bar at Banker’s Hill, which serves some very good food along with a nice selection of local craft beers.
  5. Valet parking is a good thing – If you’re in a hurry (which is the story of my life) valet parking can be a lifesaver. It’s not much more money than regular airport parking, and you can text from the plane at landing to have your car curbside when you arrive.

    Terminal 2 Departing Flights
    Drop-off for Departing Flights in Terminal 2 is on the top level – very confusing.

Navigating San Diego International Airport – Arriving

  1. Bag claim takes forever – For such a small airport, your bags will travel at a snail’s pace. You could stop and have a cocktail, visit the restroom and shop for a new watch before you saunter down to baggage claim.
  2. App-based rides pick up in different places – If you are an uber person, black picks up curbside and all the others are “supposed” to pick you up on an island across the way – and you can only reach that island by crossing over via bridge ON ANOTHER LEVEL. So confusing and dumb. That’s where the cabs pick up too FYI.
    Sky Bridge to ground transportation at SAN Terminal 2
    God forbid you have to grab ground transportation from Terminal 2, because it’s on the other side of this sky bridge


  3. Secret exits if you carried on – If you are able to avoid baggage claim by carrying on, there are some secret ways to exit quickly in Terminal 2. In Terminal 2 East towards the front, you would turn right to keep walking to baggage claim but if you walk straight down that little hallway right next to the security line coming in, you’re at a quick exit out! In Terminal 2 West, sneak out the very non-descript white doors right past that hideous fountain.
    Terminal 2 obscure exit
    If you didn’t check luggage, you can exit Terminal 2 through this obscure doorway.


  4. Curbside pickup can be a nightmare – It’s not 7 am or 12 midnight, the curb is always packed. Why oh why do people think that if they park and crane their neck far enough, their pick-up will suddenly appear out of thin air and get in the car? These are the same people that stop and look at their phones in the middle of the grocery aisle.

    Curbside waiting at SAN
    I’m always so happy to return to San Diego, I don’t mind waiting curbside for Triton to come get me.
  5. Close to everything – If you are staying Downtown, Mission Valley, Hillcrest, Banker’s Hill, North Park, Point Loma or any of the beach areas, you are REALLY close to the airport. It won’t be more than a $20 ride to most of those places, and some will be far less. So relax, you will be there in no time!

Hope this list of 10 tips for navigating San Diego International Airport helps! I wish I could memorize all the tricks I’ve collected from other airport visits around the world, but this one I know like the back of my hand.

If you have tips on your hometown airport, please share and I’ll create a post from all of our shares!

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14 thoughts on “10 Tips for Navigating San Diego International Airport

  1. Our time saver since D is at the airport twice a week: we use the really nice new rental car terminal instead of driving in traffic all the way to the airport. I drop D off there and he takes the free shuttle which is fast (7 mins) and saves me the added drive back home and same for when he comes back into SD, he just hops on the shuttle straight out of baggage claim, he’s at the rental car lot 7 mins later, (no added driving, no circling around, no looking and waiting for an Uber). I’m at the rental car lot ready to get him and we are home a few minutes minutes later. There are also taxis at the rental car terminal if needed.

  2. Can you go from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 without going through TSA again? We have a connecting flight with a short layover on Friday. Thanks for any info!

    1. Unfortunately no you cannot, and it’s a bummer because the lines do not move very quickly unless you have Pre-Check status. Also you will have to exit Terminal 1 and walk outside down a sidewalk to Terminal 2. I hear they are planning to change this, but that construction is years away. Have a safe flight!

  3. Sounds like a truly terrible airport that needs a good overhaul to get it to the level a city like San Diego deserves. So the take away from all this — fly on airlines into Terminal 2, which seems to have everything going for it, and Terminal 1 is the ugly stepchild.

    1. Not terrible, and actually in the middle of a huge improvement program. Terminal 1 is getting torn down and rebuilt to modern standards like the new part of Terminal 2. It will be awesome in a couple of years, and right now is a construction zone (like literally every single airport we’ve flown into across the US! LOL)

    1. Hi Anna – there is a bus and shuttle stop right outside baggage claim in Terminal Two, and they are equipped to handle luggage. Safe travels!

  4. It looks like the Priority Pass lounge access is only in Terminal 2. If I’m flying out of Terminal 1, would I be able to first pass through Terminal 2 security to use the lounge before my flight? (I have TSA precheck, so could quickly get back through security of Terminal 1.) Thanks for the great post!

    1. Thanks Ellen – the airport is under more construction so things are a bit different right now. There is only one lounge that admits Priority Pass and it is in Terminal 2. Unfortunately they are separate buildings, and you would have to exit Terminal 1, go through TSA and then access the lounge. Kinda sucks.

  5. Can I pass through a security of T2 with a flight ticket departing from T1? I have 3 hours between flights, so would like to have a meal and visit the lounge(Aspire) at T2.

    1. Hello! Well yes, you can pass through but unfortunately in order to access T1 you will have to exit the building and walk down to re-enter through security again. If you have TSA it might be worth it. Note: there is a ton of construction right now that is slowing things down a lot.

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