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Ask A Local: What’s It Like To Live In San Diego, California? (Pros & Cons)

San Diego – from the near-perfect, year-round weather to the 70-mile stretch of sun-kissed beachy coasts, the swanky downtown spots, to the exciting craft beer sagas that await, it truly does feel like you are looking at it with rose-tinted glasses.

Unless it’s a serious fashion statement, we say ditch the rose tints because what you see is what you get in San Diego. Don’t just take our word for it, a local expert graciously agreed to spill the beans for us so that you can decide if San Diego’s nickname – America’s finest city – rings true.

Meet Megan Varela, who has made San Diego her home since 2018.

Megan Varela

I am a millennial San Diego transplant who ended up in San Diego back in 2018. When I first moved to the area, I was going through quite a bit of culture shock and had only ever visited San Diego for a weekend at a time. So, I made myself a bucket list to ease the transition of moving and giving myself things to do alone or as I made friends.

This is where my blog was born and grown over social media in 2020! I have a large social media presence of over 120,000 people, most of whom are San Diego residents or frequent visitors looking for the best local businesses, restaurants, and things to do in America's Finest City.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to this ongoing series of articles featuring interviews of locals from various cities across the United States. Our goal is to provide readers with unique insights about local living, drawn from personal experiences of individuals on the ground.

If you do have any questions or inquiries related to a particular city or state, we encourage you to send them over, which we will use to improve and refine our questionnaires for a more helpful output. Submit them via email at [email protected]

Before we delve into the finer details, here’s a look at the key takeaways from our interview with Megan.

Living in San Diego – Things at a Glance

  1. Blissful weather with 300+ warm days and average temperatures around 70°F.
  2. Abundant outdoor activities, including parks, beaches, canyons and mountain trails.
  3. Low crime rates, maintaining below the national average.
  4. Diverse food scene, especially known for Mexican cuisine.
  5. Clean city, ranked by Forbes as one of the cleanest US cities.
  6. Rich culture and supportive community.
  7. High cost of living, with a median house price of $800,000 and the average rent for a 1BR apartment at $2,700/month.
  8. High tax rate and competitive job market.
  9. Overcrowded during summer in popular touristy areas.
  10. Varied experiences, from historical sites to top beaches and food spots.

What are the Pros of Living in San Diego?

Blissful Weather

The weather is pretty warm most of the year (300+ days) with average temperatures hanging around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s not too much to complain about.

Outdoor Activities

We have some insane outdoor activities. Parks and beaches are not the only things on the plate. We have canyon and mountain trails that are otherworldly. You could make it from the Pacific Ocean to Big Bear to Joshua Tree in just 1 day!

Low Crime Rates

It’s a friendly city. On average, the latest crime rates are maintained below the average national level.

Foodie’s Haven

Having a diverse community can impact the food scene on different levels. It’s no secret that San Diego does Mexican flavours serious justice outside of Mexico. The city’s a melting pot of flavours.   

Clean City

Forbes listed San Diego as one of the cleanest US cities. The rating was done in areas like restaurant hygiene, sanitiser demand, and pollution. Our neighbourhoods are decently maintained in most parts too.

Culture and Community

The city is rich in diversity which is evident in the colourful festivities and unique holidays. The community is very supportive – dedicated to helping small, local businesses grow and thrive.

From craft breweries to family-owned restaurants to resident-led snorkelling tours, they’re highly valued as part of the city’s unique makeup. It’s one of my favourite things about San Diego. 

Cons of Living in San Diego?

Cost of Living

It’s a great place to visit and live, but it does come with a price. The housing median is $800,000 and the renting median for a 1 BR apartment is $2,700 / month.

The population of unhoused individuals continues to grow with a lack of state funding and desirable programs.

California Tax

The downside of being part of California is the California Tax. Here, residents pay one of the highest income tax rates in the US.

Competitive Job Market

The job market is highly competitive since so many people want to live in San Diego and would move for a job here.

Overcrowded During Summer

The summer crowds in popular areas like downtown, La Jolla, and Mission Beach can put a damper on the local’s enjoyment of summertime activities

San Diego - Megan Varela

Seasons in San Diego

Spring

Spring for me is the ideal time to explore the city – which I never get tired of doing. The heat is milder, and the crowds are less, so there’s a serenity and freshness in the city air you only get in spring.

Summer

I can safely say that the weather isn’t the only thing getting hot (77° Fahrenheit upwards but rarely above 90° Fahrenheit), the crowds definitely flood in, and it’s time for the city to get buzzing with festivities.

Winter

Winter here is underrated. It’s the ideal time to have some craft beer and some San Diego-style cuisine.

The average temperature for winter is 67 degrees Fahrenheit but there are always a few sunny days mixed in that, perfect for the beach!

Cost of Living in San Diego

This would largely depend on your lifestyle and income. The average rent is roughly $2,700 for a one-bathroom apartment ($3,600 for 2 bathrooms), and buying a house would generally cost you $800,000.

Essentials and Utility Costs

Dozen of eggs: $4

Chicken breast: $4.5 per pound

Fish: $7 per pound

Potato: $3 per pound

Bread: $2 per pound

Milk: $3 per gallon

Lettuce = $2 per head

Internet – $50 per month

Cable TV = $55 per month

San Diego is a warm city, so heaters are not often needed. But it’s hot so many crank up the AC. That’s where the bills swell up. On average it costs $230 monthly for utilities including electricity.

La Jolla and other beach communities have higher prices, while the East and South parts are 40 minutes from downtown and only slightly less expensive.

Thoughts About Housing in San Diego

84% of rental housing in San Diego is over $2,000 which is beginning to push out local and younger residents looking to stay in the city after college.

The market is experiencing a huge boom in the appearance of “luxury apartments” which are further increasing the price of housing and making it difficult for people to find affordable housing. Many families still live in apartments instead of single-family homes because of how expensive it is to move out.

San Diego has recently put into place laws that are meant to prohibit large numbers of short-term housing rentals and turn over more properties for residents to purchase or create long-term rentals for families.

Healthcare in San Diego

There are many award-winning hospitals in San Diego and leading research hospitals such as Sharp and UC San Diego that offer healthcare services as well as a variety of natural/holistic medicine private practices.

Expenses are a bit high compared to the rest of the country but all residents have access to the Covered California affordable healthcare plans.

Transportation in San Diego, California

You definitely need a car to live in San Diego. If you live downtown, it is easier to not have one, but finding groceries downtown is much more difficult.

There is a trolley system and an Amtrak route that is helpful in getting to/from certain areas but leaves out a lot of essential areas. However, it is free / very low cost for students K-12 to use.

What’s the Job Market in San Diego Like?

Some major industries in San Diego include tourism (hotels, restaurants, tour groups, etc.), biotech (AG Scientific, Thermo Fischer, etc.), and tech (Qualcomm).

The job market is highly competitive since many people want to live in San Diego.

Food Scene in San Diego

San Diego LOVES food! There are so many places to try here; 2 fancy historical spots to check out are The Marine Room (waterfront fine dining in La Jolla) and Mister A’s (Banker’s Hill rooftop spot to watch the planes come in).

Mexican Food: Cafe Coyote, Los Quatros Milpas, Tuteno Taqueria (birria).

Comfort Food: The Friendly (burger), Solterra (Italian), 55 Thai Kitchen (Thai)

But whatever you plan, make sure to try out California-style pizza, Apple Pie A La Mode, Famous Brussels Sprouts, Fish Tacos and Carne Asada fries – this actually originated in San Diego.

Experiences To Have in San Diego

Balboa Park

Balboa Park

You can explore unique vegetation zones and scenic park spaces; it’s a great place to unwind.

San Diego Zoo

It’s one of the most active attractions in the city, an ideal spot especially if you have kids or adults who act like kids.

Cabrillo National Monument and Tide Pools

This is a historical park, again great for every kind of traveller – especially families.

San Diego Speedboats or Sail San Diego

You can try out a high-speed boat adventure or just have a relaxing sailing experience.

Drink Margaritas in Old Town San Diego

It’s not just a historical place to explore, but a place to experience.

Top Beaches

La Jolla Cove

Beaches are a star attraction here, but, there are some uniquely popular ones both the tourists and residents share a love for.

Moonlight State Beach

It’s a busy beach, you can go fishing here too. It’s popular, so the sooner you arrive the easier it’s to find parking. It’s a stunning beach for families and every kind of beach lover.

Coronado Beach

It’s the beach hotspot for water activities, and there’s a lot of it. It really embodies the beach beauty too, from the clear blue water to the sandy stretch. It’s also pet-friendly.

La Jolla Shores

A personal favourite because you can go kayaking, and explore sea caves. Scuba diving is popular here, thanks to its two underwater canyons. It’s stunning and there’s a lot you can do here.

Mission Beach

Belmont Park is the key attraction here apart from the beach. It’s great for a good beach day with family. It truly has the most refreshing beach vibes and it keeps me coming back.

Cardiff State Beach

If you enjoy surfing, then this beach is a must. The coastal views are straight out of a movie, and the beach itself is the playground for surfers of all levels. Parking is decent too.

Black Beach

This beach is stunning but also a bit precarious – especially the entranceway; it has some epic swells if you’re looking to surf. If you see a few naked beach-goers, don’t panic, it’s legal here.

Cultural/Historical aspects of San Diego that Newcomers should be aware of

San Diego is full of history, the Kumeyaay people were the first settlers and then came along the Spanish who established the Mission de Alcala, and then the US fought the Mexicans for control of the area.

You’ll find so many historical landmarks here – including a bar downtown that was owned by Wyatt Earp! Keep an eye out for all the plaques!

Common Misconceptions about San Diego

“It never rains” – oh it does, and HARD, but it shouldn’t turn you away from a visit!

Advice for anyone moving to San Diego

Follow me on social media for an entire series called “How to Move to San Diego” where I share apartment complex tours, grocery tips, general FAQs and all the travel inspiration you need!

Links are included in the author bio right at the top!

Editorially Reviewed By:

Nichola is a writer/editor and a shy foodie who shares a very soft spot for all things travel. She considers herself to be an island girl at heart, and nothing excites her more than learning about new places people can explore and biting into a slice of sweet melon on a hot and sunny day.

She has specialized in travel writing for over 5 years, all the while being a lifelong (die-hard) anime fan!