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What’s Living in San Diego Like? 🏖️ | ULTIMATE Moving to San Diego Guide

Are you thinking about living in San Diego? There’s definitely a lot to love. San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches, family-friendly attractions like Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo, an idyllic climate, and its huge military presence. San Diego’s nickname is America’s Finest City and it certainly lives up to that moniker. Famous people from San Diego you may know include author Dr. Seuss, actors Mayim Bialik, Nick Cannon, and Cameron Diaz; skateboarder Tony Hawk, personality RuPaul, and musician Frank Zappa.

Where is San Diego? It’s located in San Diego County, California 124 miles south of Los Angeles and just north of Tijuana, Mexico. It borders Orange County, Riverside County, and Imperial County along the Pacific Ocean.

San Diego is also known as the Birthplace of California. In 1542, the first European to visit the area was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who claimed the San Diego Bay for Spain and named it San Miguel. Later named for the Catholic saint commonly known as San Diego de Alcalá, it wasn’t permanently colonized by Europeans until 1769. San Diego became part of Alta California, a Mexican territory, in 1821. It then became part of the United States when it was ceded to the U.S. after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848.

The Panama-California Exposition of 1915-1916, the first World’s Fair hosted in San Diego, left an impression on Balboa Park and popularized Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival architecture in California.

San Diego was incorporated as a city in 1850 and soon a real estate developer was promoting the area. However, it began to expand rapidly thanks to the growth of its military and defense facilities after WWII and commerce through the Port of San Diego. The population doubled between 1930 and 1950 alone.

Today, San Diego is one of California’s most idyllic cities with seemingly everything you could want: great food, beaches, amenities, neighborhoods, and job opportunities await.

San Diego Population & Demographics

The population of San Diego is 1.42 million which makes it the 2nd largest city in California after Los Angeles and the 8th largest in the U.S. The population of San Diego County and the San Diego-Carlsbad metro area is 3.34 million. San Diego is part of the San Diego-Tijuana conurbation, the second-largest transborder metro area in the western hemisphere, with a population of 4.9 million.

The San Diego population grew dramatically during the 20th century from just 17,000 in 1900 to 200,000 in 1940. By 1990, San Diego had passed 1 million residents.

San Diego’s population is very diverse with a racial and ethnic composition that is:

  • 45.1% non-Hispanic white
  • 28.8% Hispanic (24.9% Mexican or Mexican American, 1.4% Spanish American, 0.6% Puerto Rican)
  • 15.9% Asian (5.9% Filipino, 2.7% Chinese, 2.5% Vietnamese, 1.3% Indian, 1.0% Korean, 0.7% Japanese, and less than 0.5% each Cambodian, Laotian, and Thai)
  • 6.7% Black or African American

Over 41% of people living in San Diego speak a language other than English, most notably Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, and Cantonese. The foreign-born population is almost 26%, higher than the U.S. average of under 14%.

Interested in experiencing San Diego’s diversity? Encanto is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Diego. Any two residents have a 71% chance of being from a different ethnic and racial background.

San Diego does have a problem with homelessness. In 2020, there were almost 4,900 homeless people in San Diego, the 5th largest homeless population in the U.S.

The median age in San Diego is 35.4. While this is close to the national average, 27% of the population is a millennial, the second-largest share of millennials among major U.S. cities.


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San Diego has a large LGBT community and has been named America’s 9th most LGBT-friendly city with the 7th largest share of gay residents.

San Diego Climate

What’s the weather like in San Diego? Pretty much perfect. While living in San Diego, you’ll get little rain, 261 “pleasant” days every year, and temperatures that usually range between the 60s and mid-70s. San Diego has been ranked as the most pleasant place in America for its perfect weather.


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Winter in San Diego is cool, but temperatures during the day are still in the 60s. The San Diego summers are warm, dry, and often come with morning fog. The most “unpleasant” part about the San Diego climate is June Gloom and May Gray with overcast, gray mornings but still, little rain.

The best time to visit San Diego is March through May or September through October. You’ll skip the crowds of tourists and enjoy pleasant weather without rain or foggy mornings.

LEARN MORE: Check our complete guide to the San Diego climate to learn more about average daily temperatures, seasons, extreme weather & more.

How to Get Around San Diego – Public Transportation & More

San Diego is a car-dependent city with more than 80% of residents relying on driving to get around. It’s served primarily by I-5 which runs to Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico; I-8 which connects to Imperial County; I-15 which runs to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and the Inland Empire; and I-805.

Bicycling is very popular in San Diego, named the best large city for cycling in America. While the hilly terrain of San Diego can make cycling a challenge in many areas, there’s a large network of bicycle routes and bike lanes.

Interested in public transit options while living in San Diego? The city is served by the SDMTS buses and the San Diego Trolley light rail system. The trolley mainly serves downtown and urban areas. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Coaster offer commuter rail service to surrounding areas.

After moving to San Diego, you’ll also be served by two airports: Downtown San Diego International Airport (SAN) and Tijuana International Airport. San Diego’s airport has drawbacks including high prices similar to regional airports. Many residents fly in and out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

San Diego Crime – Is San Diego, CA Safe?

While California’s crime rate is higher than average, San Diego is one of America’s largest cities and a safe place to live. Crime in San Diego is 10% below the national average. San Diego is 43% safer than other California cities and 32% safer than other cities in the U.S. The San Diego crime rate is 2,244 crimes per 100,000 people. In 2019, San Diego crime reached a 40-year low. Violent crime is 5% below the national average and aggravated assault is the most common form, accounting for two-thirds of violent crime in the area.

Like most cities, crime (and particularly violent crime) is concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods. The following are the most dangerous areas of San Diego:

  • East Village (pop. 13,000) has a crime rate 900% higher than San Diego! There are 3,617 violent crimes per 100k people compared to 362 per 100k for San Diego.
  • Horton Plaza, a small community of 700 people, has 574% more crime than San Diego
  • Marina (pop. 4,500) has 556% more crime than San Diego
  • Little Italy (pop. 3,000) has a violent crime rate of 1,469 per 100k people.
  • Kearny Mesa (pop. 3,600) has 306% more crime than the San Diego average.

As you can see, these areas account for a large share of violent crime in San Diego. What about the safest areas of San Diego? Neighborhoods with the lowest crime include:

  • Nestor (pop. 16,000) has 98% less crime than San Diego with just 45 crimes per 100k people
  • Egger Highlands (pop. 10,000) has 95% less crime than San Diego
  • Scripps Ranch (pop. 36,500) is San Diego’s largest safe neighborhood and popular with families. It has 71% less crime than the city average.
  • Rancho Penasquitos (pop. 63,500) has 63% less crime than the city with 830 crimes per 100k people.

Concerned about crime after moving to San Diego? Check our guide to the safest neighborhoods in San Diego here.

LEARN MORE: You can see a San Diego crime map and other crime statistics from the City of San Diego.

San Diego Economy

San Diego has a strong and diverse economy centered on tourism, international trade, research and manufacturing, and military and defense.
San Diego is home to the world’s largest naval fleet with 5% of all jobs in the area military-related. Over 15,000 businesses in the county rely on contracts with the Department of Defense. There are military bases for the Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and Coast Guard. San Diego’s military presence alone is responsible for 23% of all jobs in San Diego.

Of course, San Diego’s economy also relies heavily on tourism thanks to its beaches, climate, and popular attractions. Its location on the US-Mexico border combined with its commercial port make it a center for international trade. The Port of San Diego is one of the country’s top 10 containership ports and the main port of entry for vehicle manufacturers like Honda, Audi, Volkswagen, and Fiat.

The San Diego metro area had a gross domestic product of $206 billion in 2014. That was the 4th largest in California.

Jobs in San Diego

How much do you need to make to live in San Diego? The average salary in San Diego is $77,000 with an average hourly rate of $20.77 according to Payscale. The median household income in San Diego is $79,673. Here are average salaries for common jobs:

  • Software engineer: $91k
  • Senior software engineer: $120k
  • Electrical engineer: $85k
  • Registered nurse: $43/hour
  • Office manager: $21/hour
  • Medical assistant: $17/hour

According to Glassdoor, employees vote these as the best places to work in San Diego:

  • In-N-Out Burger
  • Google
  • Lululemon
  • Apple
  • Intuit
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Pfizer
  • Cisco Systems


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You’ll find rewarding careers in many sectors in San Diego. The city’s main employment fields include military, education, healthcare, government, tourism, maritime, and manufacturing. While most known for its military and defense, San Diego was recently ranked 9th in the U.S. for tech jobs!

The top employers in San Diego include:

  • U.S. Navy (38,500 employees)
  • University of California, San Diego (30,000)
  • Sharp Healthcare (17,800)
  • County of San Diego (17,400)
  • San Diego Unified School District (14,000)
  • Qualcomm, Inc (11,600)
  • City of San Diego (11,400)
  • Scripps Health (10,900)
  • Kaiser Permanente (8,400)

Ready to explore job opportunities? You can get started by searching for jobs in San Diego, CA on Indeed. You can also check for City of San Diego jobs and County of San Diego jobs.

San Diego Cost of Living

How much does it cost to live in San Diego? While it’s certainly not the most expensive city in California, the cost of living in San Diego is high. The San Diego cost of living index is 141.3. That means it’s over 41% more expensive than the national average.

Almost everything is costly while living in San Diego, but healthcare and groceries are less than 15% over the average for the U.S. San Diego utilities and transportation are around 25% higher. Housing is where San Diego really becomes expensive with a housing index of 213.9 for 2019.

San Diego Typical Living Expenses

Compare these common expenses of living in San Diego to what you pay now.

Ribeye steak, 1 pound: $10.60
Half-gallon milk: $2.17
Dozen eggs: $2.74
First-run movie ticket: $14.05
Mid-range, three-course meal for two: $75
Fitness club monthly membership: $40
SDMTS one-way trolley or bus fare: $2.50 ($72 30-day pass, $100 premium regional pass)
The average monthly utility bill is $242.90

According to Numbeo, a family of four faces $3,643 in average monthly expenses excluding rent or a mortgage.

San Diego Taxes

Ahead of moving to San Diego, it’s helpful to understand the taxes and how they affect your cost of living.

The California income tax rate is 1% to 12.3%. There is a 1% tax on all income over $1 million.
The San Diego sales tax rate is 7.75%. This includes a California sales tax (7.25%) and San Diego County tax (0.5%).
The effective property tax rate in San Diego is 0.73%, below average for the U.S.

Property taxes in California are capped thanks to Prop 13. However, there are several Mello-Roos Community Facilities Districts (CFDs) in the city. Mello-Roos taxes are special property taxes added to your tax rate if you live in one of these districts. They are used to fund public improvements and require permission from landowners in the area. You can see Mello-Roos CFDs in San Diego here before buying a home.

San Diego Real Estate – Average Rent & Home Prices

Housing is the biggest expense you’ll face while living in San Diego and it’s responsible for pushing the cost of living so high. In 2021, San Diego home prices are predicted to rise over 8%, the highest forecast in the nation. A lack of housing inventory and income growth in highly skilled sectors is behind this.

Rising home prices are nothing new for San Diego, of course, which experienced a 9.5% increase in single-family home prices in 2019. The city has become a top destination for affluent buyers with a hot luxury real estate market in San Diego. However, a subset of buyers are attracted to San Diego because they perceive it as a bargain compared to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The average home price in San Diego is $682,000, up 19% year-over-year in early 2021, with an average price of $492/square foot. Homes spend just 14 days on market on average.

Where will you spend the most money to live in San Diego and which neighborhoods offer more of a bargain? In Carmel Valley, Pacific Beach, and Black Mountain Ranch, average prices are well over $1 million. The most affordable areas include East Village, Otay Mesa West, City Heights.

You can see San Diego, CA homes for sale here to begin exploring properties.

How much will you pay in rent after moving to San Diego? Average rent in San Diego is $2,179 according to RentCafe for 874 square feet. Of course, rent varies significantly by neighborhood.

Carmel Valley, North City, and Torrey Hills are the most expensive neighborhoods for renters in San Diego with an average rent of $2,750. San Diego rent prices in other popular neighborhoods include:

  • Scripps Ranch: $2,387
  • Gaslamp: $2,370
  • Harborview: $2,370
  • Petco Park: $2,370
  • Bankers Hill: $2,310
  • Midtown San Diego: $2,310
  • Rancho Bernardo: $2,171

Many neighborhoods have rent under $2,000 like Hillcrest, known for San Diego’s LGBT community, and University Heights.


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Top San Diego Neighborhoods

Ready to explore the best neighborhoods in San Diego? Whether you’re looking for a more suburban setting that’s family-friendly or you want an exciting urban neighborhood in the downtown area, San Diego has you covered. Here are the best places to live in San Diego, California.

Gaslamp Quarter – Exciting San Diego Neighborhood for Millennials

The Gaslamp District is one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego if you’re looking for nightlife, restaurants, and attractions. Located in downtown San Diego, this action-packed neighborhood is just outside Balboa Park and it’s downtown’s dining and entertainment hub. Young professionals, millennials, and singles flock to the Gaslamp Quarter, but expect high rent!

Check our complete guide to living in the Gaslamp Quarter to see if it’s right for you!

La Jolla – Best Oceanfront San Diego Neighborhood

La Jolla is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in San Diego. Home to 40,000 people and located on the coast, La Jolla is one of the safest neighborhoods and one of the most expensive. The average home price in La Jolla is $1.44 million, high even for San Diego. You’ll enjoy tons of shopping, dining, and recreation in La Jolla including La Jolla Cove, a picturesque cove surrounded by cliffs.

Thinking about moving to La Jolla, San Diego? Be sure to read our guide to this seaside neighborhood.

Rancho Bernardo – Safest Neighborhood in San Diego Popular with Families

This master-planned community in northern San Diego, home to over 41,000 people, is one of San Diego’s best neighborhoods for families. Packed with amenities like parks and golf courses, it has a crime rate 62% lower than San Diego on average. It’s also home to a major commercial park with employment opportunities. The median home price in Rancho Bernardo is $700,000. You can click here for Rancho Bernardo, San Diego homes for sale to see what’s available.

Check out our guide to living in Rancho Bernardo, San Diego here.

Amazing San Diego Restaurants

San Diego is a great city for foodies! Known for its authentic Mexican cuisine, California-style pizza, southeast Asian cuisine, seafood, local wine, and burgeoning craft beer scene, you’ll have plenty of excellent breweries, wineries, and restaurants in San Diego to explore. Here are three of the best.

Top Things to Do in San Diego

Famous for its ideal climate, 70 miles of beautiful beaches, and some of the world’s best zoos, museums, and theme parks, there’s an endless number of fun things to do in San Diego. San Diego is best known for its family-friendly attractions like LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, and the San Diego Zoo, but locals and visitors alike also appreciate its beaches, nightlife, world-class shopping, and culinary scene. Here are some of the top attractions in San Diego you’ll love exploring after moving to San Diego, CA.

San Diego Attractions

  • San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park is one of the world’s most famous zoos. It’s also one of the top things to do in San Diego with kids!
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a satellite of the San Diego Zoo. This massive wildlife sanctuary protects 300 species of Asian and African species.
  • SeaWorld San Diego is a popular animal theme park and oceanarium.
  • Belmont Park is a beachfront amusement park with a roller coaster, plunge pool, and games on Ocean Front at Surfrider Square.
  • Petco Park in downtown San Diego is home to the San Diego Padres and hosts other sports events.
  • Gaslamp Quarter is an historic district and entertainment hub of San Diego with an exciting nightlife, bars, and restaurants.
  • Old Point Loma Lighthouse is located on Point Loma at the mouth of the San Diego Bay where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed in 1542.

San Diego Entertainment & Arts

  • San Diego Opera is one of America’s top 10 opera companies.
  • The Old Globe is an historic performing arts center in Balboa Park that shows classic musicals, Shakespeare, and contemporary plays.
  • The Shell is a new year-round concert venue at Embarcadero Marina Park South with performances by the San Diego Symphony.
  • The Observatory North Park is an historic theater with a red-decked cathedral hall used as a live music venue.

San Diego Museums

  • USS Midway Museum is the permanently berthed and decommissioned USS Midway, one of the largest military ships of the U.S. Navy. It features 25 restored aircraft and hundreds of exhibits. It’s been voted one of the top San Diego activities!
  • Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park is a planetarium and science museum and one of the top kid-friendly activities in San Diego.
  • San Diego Air & Space Museum features exhibits on space exploration and aviation in Balboa Park.
  • San Diego Natural History Museum or theNAT in Balboa Park was founded in 1874 and covers Southern California’s natural history. It’s the region’s oldest scientific institution!

San Diego Parks & Outdoors

  • Balboa Park is beloved by locals and tourists alike. San Diego’s top outdoor attraction, it’s home to the San Diego Zoo, gardens like the Japanese Friendship Garden, open space, and 17 museums.
  • Coronado Beach on Coronado Island is one of the most iconic beaches in San Diego.
  • Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is an open air museum and state park that depicts life in the 1800s with preserved adobe buildings from the period.
  • Mission Bay Park is a popular beach spot on the bay with a dog-friendly beach, surfing, boating, and more.

San Diego Shopping

  • Seaport Village is a picturesque waterside complex with shops, entertainment, restaurants, and more.
  • Westfield Mission Valley is a major open air shopping center in San Diego’s Mission Valley neighborhood.
  • Fashion Valley is an open air shopping center in Mission Valley with over 200 upscale stores. It’s one of California’s largest malls.

Map of Things to Do in San Diego

San Diego Sports

Are you a sports fan considering moving to San Diego? With its idyllic weather, America’s Finest City is a great place to play and watch sports. San Diego may not have an NFL, NBA, or NFL team (goodbye, Chargers), but it’s home to America’s “undisputed best” ballpark, Petco Park. While living in San Diego, you’ll be rooting for the San Diego Padres (NLB) who play at Petco Park in the East Village downtown.


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There are also minor league teams in San Diego like the San Diego Loyal SC (USL Championship) and the San Diego Gulls (American Hockey League).

San Diego Healthcare

San Diego has excellent healthcare with some of the state’s top hospitals. UC San Diego Health is one of the best healthcare systems in America and San Diego’s only academic hospital. The top hospitals in San Diego are actually in neighboring La Jolla: Scripps La Jolla is nationally ranked in 7 specialties while UC San Diego Health-Jacobs Medical Center is nationally ranked in 10 specialties.

San Diego Schools – Higher Education + Private & Public Schools

San Diego is a great city for education! While living in San Diego, you’ll probably be served by the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) which includes most public schools in the city. It’s California’s second-largest district. School districts in surrounding cities serve some schools in the San Diego city limits.

Over 44% of people living in San Diego have at least a bachelor’s degree and it’s the 9th most educated city in America. The main university in the city is the University of California, San Diego, one of the country’s major research institutes. San Diego is also home to:

  • San Diego State University
  • San Diego Community College District
  • University of San Diego
  • UCSD School of Medicine
The Geisel Library of the University of California, San Diego which is named for Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Setting Up Utilities in San Diego & Getting a California Driver’s License

Ready to experience San Diego living first-hand? Ahead of moving to San Diego, it’s helpful to know how to take a few of the first steps you’ll need to take to become an official resident.

It’s a good idea to have your utilities connected a few days before moving in.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is the electricity and gas utility. You must call SDG&E at 1-800-411-7343 to start electricity service.

The City of San Diego supplies water, sewer, and trash services. You can start water service online through the Public Utilities Department. You can call the Environmental Services Department at 858-694-7000 to start trash pick-up.

LEARN MORE: Check out our in-depth guide to San Diego utilities to find out more about setting up utilities and average costs.

Once you’re settled into your new home, make sure you take the steps to transfer your out-of-state driver’s license. You can start a driver’s license application here through the DMV website, but you must visit a California DMV location in person to transfer your license.

Is moving to San Diego in your future? Once you’ve narrowed down your options and chosen the perfect San Diego neighborhood to call home, give Republic Moving & Storage a call at 619-000-0000. We’ll provide a free moving estimate and help you get started living the California dream.


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