The west is the best, and of all the places you could have chosen to live along the Pacific Coast, San Diego is a terrific choice. With its ideal year-round temperate weather, a highly developed infrastructure, robust economy, and its strong sense of community, what’s not to love about San Diego.
Considered the first modern city in California, San Diego received its name from a European ship carrying Spanish missionaries into the bay. The cultural influences resulting from interactions with these settlers and the native populations are still evident in street names, local customs, and historical sites. Part of newly acquired California territory in 1848, The City of San Diego officially incorporated 1850.
Now over 1.4 million residents call the city home. With over 3.3 million residents in the greater San Diego metropolitan area, there are plenty of opportunities for newcomers if you know where to look. Based on the quality of life, job market, and value of living, realestate.usnews.com ranked San Diego the #14 Best Places to Retire and #36 Best Places to Live out of 125 of the nation’s metro areas.
Use this moving guide to plan your new life in San Diego and discover how we can help you organize your relocation to the best city in the Southwestern United States.
Living in San Diego, CA: What to Know Before Moving to San Diego
San Diego is a fantastic place to live, but like any big city, it has its idiosyncrasies. Find out what you need to know about America’s Finest City.
The Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego, CA
Pros — The residents of San Diego have a lot to celebrate.
- Mild Climate – Weather remains warm and calm throughout the year.
- Beaches! – Surf, sunbathe, or play in the sand as often as you like.
- Live Entertainment – There’s always something going on in Balboa Park.
- Public Transit – Cut expenses and commute times on the best bus and rail network in California.
- Road Trips – Adventure on the weekends with day trips to the mountains, deserts, and Mexico.
Cons — It’s easy to become enamored with the entire Southern California lifestyle, but there are still a few drawbacks you should be ready to face.
- Earthquakes – California is one big fault line, and everyone gets a good shake every so often.
- Droughts – With a dry climate and a desert to the east, water shortages and fires do happen.
- Air Quality – On windy days, dust and pollution throw haze into the air and aggravate allergies.
- Expensive – Property is always in high demand, which drives up the cost of living.
- Border Town – Law enforcement works hard to prevent smuggling and human trafficking.
The high cost of living merely reflects the value and high quality of life of this famous region. Do potential natural disasters and expensive housing outweigh San Diego’s fantastic weather and Pacific Coast lifestyle?
The California state government employs a clever mix of taxes to fund its operations.
- Income Tax: In addition to your federal income taxes, expect the state to also collect income taxes. The rate ranges from 1% to 12.3%, plus a 1% surcharge applies to incomes of $1 million and more.
- Sales Tax: Statewide, the sales tax is only 6%, but San Diego County and the City of San Diego both tack on a little extra to fund their local governments. Expect to pay 7.75% on purchases within the city limits. Sales tax does not apply to essential purchases like your groceries.
- Property Tax: San Diego County calculates property taxes on the assessed value of your home. Property taxes range between 1.02% and 1.19%, depending on approved bonds and special assessments. On a home valued at $486,000, the homeowner can expect to pay $2,955 per year in property tax. San Diego County charges one of the highest median property tax rates in the country.
- Other Taxes: California also has the highest fuel tax at 36 cents a gallon and imposes excise taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, and cell phone use. Vehicle registration fees are necessarily high. The DMV collects these fees to fund infrastructure projects and highway safety enforcement.
Most residents rent their homes to avoid some of the high costs of ownership. Real estate markets have long since recovered from the 2008 recession, and property values have skyrocketed since 2017. The median home price is over $650,000. An 800 square foot two-bedroom apartment in the downtown area will set you back at least $2100 a month.
Suburbs like Santee and Poway have more affordable options, but you’ll need to balance housing expenses against the costs of commuting to work. For less pricy homes inside the city limits, search the San Ysidro and Bay Terrace neighborhoods.
Cost of Living
The overall cost of living is 77% higher in San Diego than the rest of the United States so brace for sticker shock. The overall cost of living index for San Diego is 177.5. In comparison, Dallas, TX, has an overall index of 107.7, according to bestplaces.net. Housing and food account for the largest expenses in San Diego.
The median household income is $71,535 a year, much of which goes, as we said, to pay for housing and food. Owning a vehicle in the city often requires additional costs for parking or storage. A San Diego family of four should bring in no less than $97,000 a year. If you’re single, you might get by with $47,000 yearly income.
Sharing space with a roommate is a common strategy. If you need to rent out your spare bedroom, you’ll find no shortage of prospects on message boards. The city also tolerates a few outlandish options. In tougher times, some inventive residents formed a small community living on houseboats in the bay.
Weather and Natural Disasters
Despite the numerous tropical palm trees, most of which are not native to the region, San Diego enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate. Weather patterns from the Pacific Ocean remain stable throughout the year. With average August highs of 76°, you can expect warm sunny summers that get hotter as you move inland from the coast. Hills and valleys create microclimates throughout San Diego County.
Though it does rain from time to time, precipitation is light. San Diego receives less than twelve inches of rainfall a year. A morning fog might spread moisture around but usually clears by the afternoon. Snow is unheard of with winter lows barely dipping into the 40-degree range.
October is the fire season. A spark in the dry brush in the surrounding hills fanned by the annual Santa Ana winds can spread smoke and havoc. To complicate matters, San Diego is only 15 miles from a primary fault line. Though rare, a magnitude seven earthquake can happen at any time.
Economy and Job Market
San Diego’s economy is massive and varied. As a port city, it’s a hub of commercial activity for business throughout the Southwestern United States. In 2017, San Diego’s GDP was $231 billion, and it’s steadily tracking upward. Future job growth is predicted to be 34.9% over the next ten years.
Unemployment was a mere 3.2% in 2018, and wages are on the rise. The largest employers are in defense with the military, but it’s also easy to find work in the tourism or hospitality sectors. The constant international trade with Mexico supports San Diego’s transportation and manufacturing industries.
Besides the US Navy, defense contractors and aerospace manufacturers like General Atomic, NASSCO, and Boeing pour resources into the area. If the military isn’t your style, you might prefer to work in healthcare with Keiser Permanente or in education within the California university system.
San Diego also has a thriving small business community. Contractors, freelancers, and professional service providers have lots of opportunities to network. If you’re adventurous, the newly unleashed cannabis industry is booming. Pot growers and retailers have set up shop in the area because of recent deregulation.
Traffic and Transportation
San Diego has a collection of Interstate freeways that converge in the city. Interstate 5 connects you with Los Angeles in the north and Mexico to the south. Take Interstate 15 northeastward through the Inland Empire and continue toward Las Vegas. Interstate 8 runs to the east along the Mexico border to Arizona.
You can also get around on other major highways, like Interstate 805 and Highway 163, but all routes jam up with traffic during rush hour. Though not as severe as other large cities, San Diego’s traffic is still plenty challenging. Even so, many residents live close enough to work or ride public transit, cutting the average commute to only 24 minutes.
The North County transit system routes busses that connect with San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit bus system. Combined with commuter rails and trolley lines, you can get just about anywhere in the county on these routes and might even venture as far north as Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. Amtrak operates out of San Diego to locations north along the California coast and on to Seattle, plus east across the country. San Diego International Airport, just 3 miles northwest of downtown, is handy for commuters and tourists.
Downtown San Diego has plenty of walking paths connecting you with locations along the waterfront and to shopping districts. Bike lanes are not as common as they could be, though improvements are in the works. You’ll see commuters and business people in suits zooming around downtown on public electric scooters.
What to Do
Go to the beach. Everyone else does it. Beach life is an obsession in Southern California. When you need a break from the waves and the sand, head over to Balboa Park. This 1200-acre green space in the middle of San Diego blends culture, history, education, and natural beauty.
For the best nightlife and entertainment, walk through the historic Gaslamp Quarter. The original Victorian-era architecture remains, providing a backdrop for San Diego’s annual Mardi Gras celebration. You’ll find the San Diego Convention Center just to the south. This venue hosts special events throughout the year including the most extensive annual comic book convention on the planet.
San Diego is also the home to several major theme parks and tourist attractions. The world-famous San Diego Zoo not only houses animals from all over the planet but is a world leader in animal conservation. Sea World, in the middle of Mission Bay, puts you into direct contact with marine life, and the Wild Animal Safari Park, covering 1800 acres, lets you see exotic and endangered animals in wild and open spaces. The famous USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego are also easily accessible for those who love the sea.
For sports fanatics, the San Diego Padres play major league baseball at downtown’s Petco Park. Hockey enthusiasts can watch the American Hockey League’s Gulls, and the San Diego Shockers are the city’s Major Arena Soccer League team.
Schools and Universities
Most students attend public schools within the San Diego Unified School District. It’s the second largest district in California with 226 separate facilities providing education for over 100,000 students. The 2019 high school graduation rate is 86.6%, which was the highest of any major city in California. San Diego’s public school quality varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, but the three top-rated districts are: San Dieguito Union High School District, Poway Unified School District, and Coronado Unified School District.
The University of California San Diego is the top-rated higher education institution in the city, but San Diego State University also offers an excellent education at more affordable fees. San Diego Mesa College, California College, and San Diego City College prepare students to transfer to other four-year universities throughout the state.
There are plenty of trade schools and education alternatives that provide job skill training. You may find suitable programs or online education through the University of Phoenix, Azusa Pacific, or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
San Diego receives a C+ crime rating by areavibes.com. Their research also finds that San Diego crime averages 25% lower than the California average and 20% lower than the national average.
Just like school ratings, crime ratings vary among San Diego neighborhoods. The safest neighborhoods are considered to be Gaslamp Quarter, Hillcrest, Little Italy, National City, and Pacific Beach.
The City of San Diego manages water and sewer utilities for residents as well as trash and recycling pickup. Apply for service and set up your account to pay your bill online. The department also provides water quality reports which are essential during droughts. For new users, the city charges a deposit equal to twice the regular use for the neighborhood.
San Diego Gas and Electric provides energy resources. Check the online tool to establish service. You can also prepare for power outages in your area and sign up for notices when the occasional planned service interruption might impact you during peak usage times.
AT&T, Cox, and Spectrum are the largest highspeed internet providers. You may qualify for a packaged entertainment deal with Direct TV, Dish TV, or AT&T’s U-Verse. Sprint, AT&T Mobile, and T-Mobile are San Diego’s top wireless providers with Verizon also having a growing presence in the market.
Best Neighborhoods in San Diego
There are a lot of great spots to live in San Diego. The following are our top picks:
North Park is between Balboa Park and the Interstate 15 and Interstate 805 interchange. From downtown, head east on Broadway and turn left onto 30th Street. The neighborhood extends north to Mission Valley and encompasses a zone of nearly three-square miles.
In that space, you’ll find traditional homes, condos, and apartments with local shopping centers, breweries, and restaurants. The street arrangement is in an easy-to-navigate grid pattern. Unlike other hilly areas of San Diego, the flat terrain lends itself to easier navigation through the neighborhood.
Every May, North Park hosts the Festival of Arts, a free all-day event. The North Park Recreation Center, adjacent to the San Diego Indoor Soccer Center, gives you plenty of opportunities to get involved with your community and meet your neighbors.
- Population – 32,000
- Median Household Income – $68,000
- Median Home Price – $562,000
- Rental Rates – $1200
- Employers – Scripps Mercy Hospital, local retailers, and service providers
- Schools – Jefferson Elementary, Garfield Elementary, McKinley Elementary, Alba Middle School, St Augustine High School, The Charter School of San Diego
Something to Try: Hike the footpath along Switzer Canyon to get to Balboa Park.
Hillcrest is a part of the Uptown area just a few miles north of downtown. Highway 163 passes right through the middle, connecting you with Interstate 8 and Interstate 5. If you don’t own a vehicle, you can travel to and from the area by bus or on the Mission Trolley.
Once in the neighborhood, you can get around quickly on foot. It’s one of the most walkable regions in the city with local shops, restaurants, bars, and parks mingled together along the main streets. From the south, you can even access Balboa Park through trails near the Marston House Museum and San Diego Zoo.
Many who live here commute to jobs in the city. Families benefit from strong community ties, and the public schools in the area are excellent. Beginning in the 1970s, the LGBT community established a strong presence here. Today, it celebrates its growing influence with annual festivals.
- Population – 14,000
- Median Household Income – $74,000
- Median Home Price – $667,000
- Rental Rates – $1300
- Employers – Scripps Mercy Hospital, UC San Diego Health Medical Offices, CA DMV, local retailers, and services providers
- Schools – Florence Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School, UC San Diego
Something to Try: Stroll through the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market and stock up on local produce every weekend.
Find this trendy neighborhood next to the bay and downtown. Interstate 5 passes to its east, and the San Diego International Airport is the northern boundary. Unsurprisingly, the Italian Cultural Center of San Diego has its headquarters here and promotes Italian American interests.
It’s an amazing place to visit with plenty of unique shops and restaurants to explore. Besides the immediate shopping and retail excitement, the neighborhood is also really close to fine arts and performance centers like the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Most fulltime residents rent. You may find a few condos in this area to buy, but most blocks support commercial activities. Expect housing prices to be high, but it’s so convenient to get around the rest of San Diego, you may consider eliminating the expense of your vehicle.
- Population – 3200
- Median Household Income – $68,000
- Median Home Price – $430,000
- Rental Rates – $1560
- Employers – Solar Turbines, The San Diego County Clerk’s Office, the healthcare industry
- Schools – Washington Elementary, ICOHS College, California International Business University
Something to Try: Walk across the waterfront park to visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
This historic neighborhood is one of the most walkable places in downtown San Diego. The Gaslamp Quarter is 16 blocks of shops, nightclubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Crowds always gather here on the weekends to mingle and play.
Fifth Avenue is the main road through the district and intersects with Broadway at the north end. You can also arrive by rail. The green line stops on the south side of the neighborhood next to the San Diego Convention Center.
The area is perfect for young professionals or adventurous singles. You might find a stylish condo for rent above the busy street level. Parking is a challenge, so be prepared. If you have a family, consider a different neighborhood. Kids don’t have many outdoor options, and schools are some distance away.
- Population – 1100
- Median Household Income – $46,500
- Median Home Price – $450,000
- Rental Rates – $2600
- Employers – Westfield Horton Plaza, San Diego Gaslamp Marriot, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
- Schools – Charter School of San Diego, King-Chavez Community High School, Gaslamp Bartending School, Associated Technical College
Something to Try: Enjoy the San Diego skyline at night from the rooftop lounge at the Omnia Nightclub.
Like its name implies, Ocean Beach is right on the shoreline with public beaches surrounding the residential areas. Follow Interstate 8 west. The highway ends at the outlet of the San Diego River and becomes Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.
The neighborhood has a mix of homes, green spaces, and commercial zones supporting small local shops. Beach culture dominates, and many businesses cater to surfers, or at least feature surf themed motifs. A library, recreation center, and several community churches provide additional services.
Besides the beach enthusiasts, this area is perfect for families. The schools are excellent, and residential options are varied. You may rent or buy a single-family home. Apartment rentals are available within walking distance to the sand.
- Population – 11,500
- Median Household Income – $80,000
- Median Home Price – $680,000
- Rental Rates – $1900
- Employers – Local retailers, restaurants, and hotels
- Schools – Silver Gate Elementary, Ocean Beach Elementary
Something to Try: Search for marine life along the shore at the Ocean Beach Tide Pools Nature Preserve.
The Naval Air Station takes up most of this island with the remaining portion comprised of the most upscale neighborhood in San Diego. Though expensive, Coronado has the best schools, and the crime rate is the lowest in the entire city. Housing is 500% more expensive than in the rest of the United States. A modest starter condo might only set you back half a million dollars.
From downtown, cross the San Diego Bay on the Coronado Bridge. Once on the island, you may decide to complete the loop and travel back to the mainland along Silver Strand Boulevard which eventually meets back up with Interstate 5.
Tourists constantly stream through to see the sites or to stay in the most luxurious resorts in San Diego, such as the world-famous Hotel del Coronado. The best view of the city’s skyline is from the shore at Centennial Park. Naturally, the island also receives traffic from military personnel.
- Population – 24,000
- Median Household Income – $90,000
- Median Home Price – $1,300,000
- Rental Rates – $2300
- Employers – The US Navy, Hotel del Coronado, Coronado Island Marriot, Coronado Municipal Golf Course
- Schools – Village Elementary, Coronado Middle School, Coronado High School,
Something to Try: Tour the beachfront on a specialty cycle or electric bike available near the Hotel del Coronado at Wheel Fun Rentals.
The Mission Valley region is north of Uptown and runs parallel with Interstate 8. All other significant highways through San Diego bisect this stretch of pavement making it an ideal spot for commuters. The San Diego River flows through the valley basin and is the central geographic feature.
This suburb has more contemporary amenities crammed into its boundaries than any other. Find three shopping malls, rows of big box stores, golf courses, and the San Diego Country Credit Union Stadium, all lined up for your convenience along Friars Road, north of the river.
Home styles vary and are plentiful. You may rent a large house here with plenty of space for your family and commute into the city. The Green Line passes directly through the neighborhood and takes you to employers downtown. Modern apartments and townhouses are also available.
- Population – 24,000
- Median Household Income – $74,000
- Median Home Price – $460,000
- Rental Rates – $1900
- Employers – Fashion Valley Shopping Mall, Westfield Mission Valley Mall, River Walk Golf Course
- Schools – Francis Parker Lower School, Francis Parker Upper School, California College San Diego, San Diego Community College, University of San Diego School of Law
Something to Try: Go cycling on the San Diego River Bike Trail and arrive out at Ocean Beach.
Petco Park, the baseball stadium where the San Diego Padres play, is the defining feature of San Diego’s largest downtown neighborhood that covers 130 blocks between 17th Street and Seventh Avenue. You’ll also find the San Diego Central Library, San Diego City College, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and the southern edge of Balboa Park in East Village.
Interstate 5 wraps around the north and east sides of the neighborhood. You can also access the region by bus or rail. Most homes are apartments or condos, with many residents choosing to rent instead of purchase. Parking is a challenge, so carefully consider your vehicle strategy.
It’s common to walk between attractions in the East Village, the Gaslamp Quarter, and the waterfront. Access to so many amenities appeals to young professionals, but the convenience of being close to the city’s largest public schools is also a draw for families.
- Population – 13,000
- Median Household Income – $59,000
- Median Home Price – $370,000 for a typical condo
- Rental Rates – $1300 for a small apartment
- Employers – Petco Park Stadium, San Diego City College, local retailers, and service providers
- Schools – San Diego High School, San Diego City College
Something to Try: Join an impromptu block party at the Quartyard cargo container themed event center.