More than 35 million people visit San Diego County every year thanks to its pristine beaches, world-famous attractions, outdoor recreation, and year-round pleasant weather. Whether you’re just visiting or planning to relocate to Southern California, you may be interested in learning about the main cities in San Diego County.
This guide covers all the San Diego County cities plus information on the county itself, the four regions, and top things to do.
San Diego County – Demographics, History & Top Attractions
San Diego County is the 5th most populous county in the U.S. and the second most populous county in California. However, it’s only the 84th largest U.S. county and the 10th largest of California’s 58 counties by area and roughly the size of Connecticut. The county is in the southwest corner of the state in Southern California. It’s bordered by Riverside and Orange counties to the north, Imperial County to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and Mexico to the south.
The biggest city in San Diego County is San Diego, the county seat and the second largest city in California. The San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad metropolitan area is anchored by three of the top five largest cities in San Diego County and it’s the 17th most populous in the United States.
There are 18 cities in San Diego County. However, the county is home to more than 350 cities, towns, and census designated places (CDPs). The county also has 18 Native American tribal reservations. That’s more than any other county in America. Outside the large metro area, the county is mostly rural.
San Diego County has America’s largest concentration of military personnel. About 7.6% of the county’s population is comprised of active-duty personnel and military family members while 13.5% are military veterans. There are 16 military installations in the county with 60% of the Navy’s fleet and one-third of the active-duty force of the Marines.
San Diego County is divided into four regions:
- East County covers the area of the county to the east of the city of San Diego. The cities of Santee and El Cajon are in the East County along with rural communities in the Mountain Empire area.
- Central San Diego includes most of San Diego city and Coronado, but the northernmost neighborhoods and the South San Diego district are excluded. It’s the most populous region.
- North County is the affluent area of northern San Diego County and the second most populous region. It’s divided into two regions: coastal and inland North County. The coastal region is famous for its beach culture and includes Oceanside, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Vista, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, and Solana Beach. The inland area includes San Marcos, Escondido, and Poway.
- South Bay refers to the San Diego County towns, cities, and communities at the southern end of the bay. South San Diego, National City, Lincoln Acres, Bonita, Imperial Beach, and Chula Vista are in the South Bay.
San Diego County Geography & Climate
The County of San Diego boasts diverse geography that includes desert, mountains, and coastal beaches. The San Diego climate is mild Mediterranean to borderline arid, but the East County has a semi-arid or steppe climate.
The county has over 70 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean, including San Diego Bay, a natural harbor about 12 miles long and California’s third-largest natural bay after the San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay. The bay is spanned by the Coronado Bay that connects the metro area to Coronado, a resort city on a small peninsula.
The densely forested Laguna Mountains are in the eastern part of the county. This area experiences cooler temperatures and more extreme precipitation, including snow. Beyond the mountain range is the county’s desert region, the Sonoran Desert. The northwest of the county is dominated by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park while the Cleveland National Forest covers central San Diego County and extends into Riverside and Orange counties.
San Diego County History
In 1542, San Diego Bay was claimed for the Spanish Empire and named San Miguel. The area of the harbor and current-day Point Loma and Mission Bay were surveyed in 1602 and named Saint Didacus, a Spanish Franciscan missionary and saint better known as San Diego. The first European settlements were founded in 1769.
After Mexico declared independence, San Diego County became part of Mexico in 1821. It became part of the United States after the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. It was one of the first counties in California which became a state two years later.
Top Attractions in San Diego County
As you explore the list of cities in San Diego County, you’ll find many of them are frequently ranked as among the best places to live in the United States. The coastal area is rated for having the best weather in the U.S. (and top 10 in the world!). For many, the ideal year-round weather is worth the “sunshine tax,” or the high cost of living in the area. The area also attracts new residents thanks to its excellent schools, strong economy, and its many attractions.
Some of the best things to do in San Diego County include:
- Balboa Park in San Diego
- San Diego Zoo
- LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad
- Coronado Beach
- Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla
- La Jolla Cove
San Diego County Demographics
- Population: 3,338,300
- Population density: 793 people per square mile
- Area: 4,210 square miles
- Median age: 36.4
- Median household income: $83,985
- Median home price: $750,000
- Educational attainment: 88% graduated high school or higher; 40% with a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Population: 1,423,900
- Population density: 4,369 people per square mile
- Area: 325.9 square miles
- Median age: 35.4
- Median household income: $85,507
- Median home price: $785,000
- San Diego Map
San Diego is the county seat and largest city in San Diego County. Along with the small resort city of Coronado, it makes up the Central area of the county. San Diego the second most populous city in California and the 8th largest city in the U.S. The San Diego-Tijuana transborder metro area has a population of about 5 million.
San Diego is famous for its amazing climate, significant military presence, white-sand beaches, and world-famous attractions. The city also offers a strong economy and a diverse range of neighborhoods for young professionals, retirees, millennials, and families alike. Learn more with our COMPLETE guide to moving to San Diego.
- Population: 274,500
- Population density: 5,529 people per square mile
- Area: 49.6 square miles
- Median age: 37.4
- Median household income: $87,876
- Median home price: $663,500
- Chula Vista Map
Chula Vista is San Diego County’s second largest city and the 7th largest city in Southern California. Located in the South Bay area, it’s just 7 miles from Tijuana, Mexico, and downtown San Diego. This affluent city is one of the best San Diego suburbs for families thanks to its family-friendly amenities, great schools, and diverse population.
Find out more about living to Chula Vista in our comprehensive guide to the city!
- Population: 175,800
- Population density: 4,260 people per square mile
- Area: 41.3 square miles
- Median age: 37.5
- Median household income: $77,226
- Median home price: $715,000
- Oceanside Map
Oceanside is one of the most exciting places to live in San Diego County. It’s the third largest city in the county and the largest in the coastal North County area. Oceanside is famous for its beautiful harbor, sandy beaches, cliffs, and iconic wooden pier.
Interested in living near the beach but want to avoid the $1+ million price tags you’ll find in most coastal San Diego County cities? Oceanside is one of the most affordable beach towns in the area – although that’s definitely relative!
- Population: 151,600
- Population density: 4,063 people per square mile
- Area: 37.3
- Median age: 36.9
- Median household income: $58,157
- Median home price: $734,500
- Escondido Map
Escondido is the largest city in the inland North County area and known for its wineries, craft breweries, the California Center for the Arts, Escondido and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It’s just 30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego and 15 miles from the coast.
Downtown Escondido is an exciting destination with a growing arts scene, cafes, and restaurants. The city also boasts 15 beautiful parks like Kit Carson Park with a large arboretum. Combined with its low crime rate and great schools, Escondido is a great place to live for families.
Find out more with our guide to living in Escondido, CA.
- Population: 115,400
- Population density: 3,057 people per square mile
- Area: 37.8 square miles
- Median age: 44.6
- Median household income: $123,409
- Median home price: $1.2 million
- Carlsbad Map
Carlsbad is the second-largest of the cities in San Diego County’s coastal North County and the 5th largest city in SD County. Located 35 miles north of San Diego and 87 miles south of downtown L.A., Carlsbad is one of the most affluent cities in the United States. Along with Oceanside and Vista, it forms the Tri-City area.
Carlsbad is famous for its gorgeous beaches, oceanside cliffs, lagoons, golf companies, and attractions. Carlsbad State Beach is a popular spot for scuba diving, fishing, and swimming while the stretch of shore known as Tamarack Surf Beach is one of the area’s top surfing destinations. Carlsbad is also home to LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE Aquarium, the Flower Fields, and other major attractions.
Learn more about this beach city in our complete guide to moving to Carlsbad.
- Population: 102,700
- Population density: 7,077 people per square mile
- Area: 14.5 square miles
- Median age: 34.9
- Median household income: $63,236
- Median home price: $675,000
- El Cajon Map
Just 17 miles east of downtown San Diego is El Cajon, the 6th largest of San Diego County cities by population and the largest in the East County region. About one-quarter of El Cajon’s population is made up of Iraqi Americans, the second-largest number of Iraqis in the U.S. El Cajon is home to 15,000 Chaldeans, a persecuted religious and ethnic minority from Iraq.
El Cajon is one of the most affordable places to live in SD County. According to RentCafe, average rent in El Cajon is $1,700 – a bargain compared to $2,344 in San Diego, $1,850 in Escondido, and $1,885 in neighboring Santee.
Find out if living in El Cajon, CA is right for you with our complete guide to the city!
- Population: 101,600
- Population density: 5,422 people per square mile
- Area: 18.7 square miles
- Median age: 34
- Median household income: $78,656
- Median home price: $735,000
- Vista, CA Map
Vista is one of several cities in San Diego’s coastal North County. Located 42 miles north of San Diego east of Carlsbad and Oceanside and just seven miles from the coast, Vista is known for its abundant shopping and dining options as well as numerous attractions. It’s even home to churches and temples for 75+ denominations including a Buddhist Temple.
Vista is one of the top cities in San Diego County for families thanks to its amazing parks and recreation. Brengle Terrace Park offers a playground, Alta Vista Gardens, the Moonlight Amphitheater, and a community center. Guajome County Park boasts woodlands, horse trails, and a lake. Families can also appreciate the downtown Wave Waterpark, the Vista Community Sports Park, and the Boomers Vista amusement park.
View this post on Instagram
- Population: 96,700
- Population density: 3,969 people per square mile
- Area: 24.4 square miles
- Median age: 37.3
- Median household income: $80,814
- Median home price: $827,500
- San Marcos, CA Map
San Marcos is one of four major cities in San Diego County, California in the inland North County area. Located 36 miles north of San Diego between Carlsbad and Escondido, San Marcos surrounds the unincorporated area of Lake San Marcos.
San Marcos is best known for California State University San Marcos and its large retail and commercial area as well as its excellent school district.
- Population: 62,800
- Population density: 3,295 people per square mile
- Area: 19.1 square miles
- Median age: 43.6
- Median household income: $116,022
- Median home price: $1.59 million
- Encinitas Map
Encinitas is the 9th largest of cities in San Diego County by population and one of the most affluent. This beach city is located between Carlsbad and Solana Beach about 25 miles north of San Diego and 95 miles south of L.A. in the coastal North County area.
Encinitas is famous for its beaches, surfing, and the San Diego Botanic Garden. The classic SoCal surf town, it’s home to some of the North County’s best beaches like Cardiff State Beach and Moonlight State Beach.
Find out what living in Encinitas is like with our complete guide!
- Population: 61,100
- Population density: 8,381 people per square mile
- Area: 7.3 square miles
- Median age: 34.2
- Median household income: $47,119
- Median home price: $615,000
- National City, CA Map
National City is the second oldest of all cities in San Diego County. The city is in the South Bay region in the southwest area of the county just north of the border with Mexico and 6 miles south of San Diego.
One of the most affordable San Diego County cities, National City, unfortunately, also has a high crime rate with 55% more violent crime than the national average. The city is known for its great parks like Kimball Park with its skate park and game courts or Pepper Park, a large waterfront park with a boat launch and fishing pier.
List of Cities in San Diego County(Table)
Here is a complete list of cities in San Diego County, sorted first by population, then other metrics from the US Census. Education Level is the % of the population that has finished high school. The Population Growth is from 2010 to 2019. If they exist, under Type, we have included cities, towns, villages, census designated places and more.
CA San Diego County
|Name||Population||Med. Home Price||Med. HH Income||Median Age||Education Level||Area (miles)||Pop. Growth %||Type|
|Rancho San Diego||21,799||611,000||95,892||41.80||94.3||8.70||7.67||CDP|
|Casa de Oro-Mount Helix||19,804||661,500||100,097||45.20||94.5||6.85||3.59||CDP|
|Camp Pendleton South||11,936||0||49,851||22.60||99.4||3.91||-10.94||CDP|
|San Diego Country Estates||10,514||508,700||120,446||42.40||96.4||16.85||-1.34||CDP|
|Camp Pendleton North||7,367||0||54,214||21.60||94.7||8.85||-27.09||CDP|
|Lake San Marcos||4,713||602,700||71,923||61.70||95.2||1.72||3.99||CDP|
|Rancho Santa Fe||2,510||2,000,000||137,083||52.00||98.8||6.72||-12.39||CDP|
Cities in San Diego County Map
San Diego County FAQ
How many cities are there in San Diego County?
There are 18 cities in San Diego County. When towns and census designated places are included, there are more than 350 communities.
What is the most populous city in San Diego County?
San Diego County’s most populous city is San Diego with a population of 1.42 million.
How many people live in San Diego County?
The San Diego County population is 3.34 million. The entire county shares the same borders as the San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad MSA.
What cities are in San Diego County?
Major cities in San Diego County include San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Escondido, Carlsbad, El Cajon, Vista, San Marcos, Encinitas, National City & Coronado.
Where is San Diego County?
San Diego County is in Southern California at the Mexico border across from Tijuana. It’s also bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Riverside, Orange, and Imperial counties.
Which of These San Diego County Cities Is Right for You? Are you sold on settling in beautiful SD County? Whether you’re interested in living in San Diego proper, one of the area’s gorgeous beach cities, or the more affordable inland areas, Republic Moving & Storage is here to help. Call our friendly movers today for a free quote so you can look forward to life in your new city without the stress.