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San Diego vs Denver | 🏖️⛰️ Comparison and Pros & Cons: Which City is Better for You?

Trying to choose between living in America’s Finest City and the Mile High City? These two metro areas couldn’t be more different in many respects – one high in the snowy mountains of Colorado and the other in warm, sunny Southern California. Past the surface, they actually share a lot in common! Both Denver and San Diego are among the healthiest cities in the country with endless options for outdoor recreation and stunning natural beauty. How do you choose between SD vs Denver?

To help you make your decision and choose the right city to call home, here’s a complete comparison of living in Denver v San Diego with the top pros and cons of each city.

Pros & Cons of Living in San Diego vs Denver

A good place to start when comparing these two metro areas is a look at the top benefits and drawbacks of Denver vs San Diego living. Here are the most important things you want to know.

Living in San Diego Pros

Gorgeous San Diego beaches and outdoor recreation are a big perk of living in SD

San Diego is one of the best places to live thanks to its amazing beaches and park system. One of the advantages of living in San Diego is exploring more than 40,000 acres of parks and miles of shoreline.

San Diego’s crown jewel is Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre park home to 16 museums, open green space, and top attractions like the San Diego Zoo. At Mission Bay Park, America’s largest aquatic park, you can not only spend a day at SeaWorld but also enjoy sailing, paddleboarding, and kitesurfing.

In addition to its famous parks, San Diego boasts some of America’s most beautiful beaches like La Jolla Shores Beach. Spend your days soaking up the sun on the beach, surfing, sailing, or paddleboarding!

Don’t want to give up the mountains? While it won’t compare to Denver, what you may not realize is San Diego also offers mountain hiking in the Laguna Mountains and the Cuyamacas.

San Diego is a large and diverse community

Do you love the idea of living in a culturally and ethnically diverse city? If you enjoy meeting people from different cultures and countries, you’ll find the diversity is a huge advantage of living in San Diego! Minority communities account for 55% of San Diego’s population and it’s one of America’s most diverse communities. This diversity extends to not only race and ethnicity but also national origin and linguistic diversity! SD is even one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in America.

When you compare San Diego versus Denver, you’ll find the Mile High City feels more homogenous and lacks a lot of diversity. Denver has one of the country’s largest Mexican-American populations at nearly one-third of the population, but there are very few ethnic enclaves in the city.

San Diego has an amazing food scene

Foodies will definitely rank the city’s food scene as a big plus of living in San Diego! Recently named the #5 best foodie city in America, San Diego’s food scene has been shaped by generations of immigrants, fresh seafood, local produce, and its laid-back beach culture. The study identified 104 unique cuisines in the U.S. with 77% represented in San Diego. When you compare Denver v San Diego, you’ll find the Mile High City’s cuisine is more limited with great Mexican food but a distinct lack of amazing seafood.

Living in San Diego Cons

San Diego has a competitive, difficult jobs market

San Diego’s economy is dominated by a few sectors including military, research, healthcare, education, and tourism. Healthcare is expected to see the strongest growth in 2022 and beyond, and San Diego is seeing a rise in tech jobs. However, the job market is notoriously competitive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the competition: employers may be desperate to fill openings, but they are choosing from a massive pool of unemployed workers and new graduates. They can choose exactly who they want to hire and that usually means the workers with the most experience. Breaking into a new career can be a big hurdle, even with the right education – a major drawback of living in San Diego.

Living in Denver Pros

Denver’s famous craft beer scene is a big draw

Denver has one of America’s biggest craft brew scenes with 150+ craft breweries in the city limits. It’s fun beer scene is a major draw for millennials and beer enthusiasts and brings with it a great nightlife for singles.

Denver has a strong and diverse economy

Denver boasts a diverse, thriving economy that has recovered from the pandemic better than San Diego. Major sectors include healthcare, financial services, telecommunications, aerospace, bioscience, software, and energy. Denver ranked as the 5th best performing job market in a recent study. It ranked highly across many categories like wage levels and workforce education.

Denver is one of the best places to live for sports and the outdoors

When you compare Denver vs San Diego, you’ll find both are ranked among the most active cities in the country. However, Denver definitely has an edge when it comes to sports and enjoying the great outdoors – aside from the sand and surf variety.

Denver is paradise for outdoor lovers with everything from world-class hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing to biking and even white water rafting. You’ll love kayaking or tubing in Confluence Park, biking over 85 miles of trails, and even shredding at the massive Denver Skatepark! There are also gorgeous hot springs throughout the region – perfect for an adventurous trip on the weekend.

Living in Denver Cons

Denver lacks strong public transportation

Looking for a car-free lifestyle? When you compare living in Denver vs San Diego, you’ll find Denver’s public transit system isn’t as robust. While neither city ranks very high for its public transportation, Denver is more car-dependent than SD. The San Diego public transportation system is surprisingly efficient for getting around the urban core with a greater number of walkable communities.

The high altitude of Denver can be challenging

They don’t call it the Mile High City for nothing! Denver sits almost 5,300 feet above sea level. That means thinner air with less oxygen and sunlight that’s more intense. Until you adjust, it can be difficult to breathe at this altitude – especially if you have asthma. During the winters, you may deal with dry, cracked skin and bloody noses until you adjust.

Cost of Living in San Diego vs Denver

Denver and San Diego are both fairly expensive places to live, but how do they compare? What is the cost of living in Denver vs San Diego and what should you expect?

Denver is about 20% more affordable than San Diego by most measures. Here is how Denver versus San Diego living costs compare.  

Cost of Living in Denver vs San Diego
San Diego Denver
Cost of Living Index 160 128
Food Index 110 102
Utilities Index 103 96
Healthcare Index 89 84
Average Home Price $790,000 $540,000
Average Rent $2,610 $1,877
Avg Property Tax Rate 0.73% 0.50%
Sales Tax Rate 7.75% 8.81%
Income Tax Rate 1% to 12.3% 4.55% flat rate


Both cities have a high cost of living, but when comparing Denver vs San Diego taxes, food, and housing, you’ll find you generally come out ahead in Denver. Still, despite the much lower home prices in Denver, it’s still well above the national average and a hard market to get into. Both cities are notoriously hard for first-time home buyers. In fact, outside coastal areas like San Diego, the Denver housing market is the worst for first-time buyers. If you do decide on moving to San Diego, this guide to buying a home may be helpful!

You’ll need to decide if the higher San Diego cost of living is worth it for the warm weather, beaches, and lifestyle or if you’d prefer the (somewhat) more affordable living in the beautiful Colorado mountains.

Additional Things to Consider Between San Diego versus Denver

San Diego vs Denver Population

To decide between Denver or San Diego, it may help to understand the size of each city. The population of San Diego is 1.39 million within 372 square miles with a population density of 4,256 people/square mile. The SD metro population is 3.3 million.

By comparison, the Denver population is 715,000 within 155 square miles with a population density of 4,674 people/square mile. The metro Denver population is 2.9 million but the Denver-Aurora Combined Statistical Area population is 3.6 million.

That means the metro areas are very similar in terms of size and population and the cities are equally densely populated, but Denver is much more condensed.

Crime Rate in Denver vs San Diego

Is safety a top priority when deciding where to live? When you compare Denver versus San Diego crime, you’ll find San Diego is the clear winner.

The Denver crime rate is 135% above the national average with 858 violent crimes per 100,000 people. By comparison, the San Diego crime rate is 12% below the national average with 369 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

San Diego is one of the safest large cities in the U.S., a big distinction considering California’s overall higher crime rate.

San Diego versus Denver Climate

The weather in Denver versus San Diego is one of the most obvious differences between the two cities.

If you love warm weather, the climate is one of the top advantages of living in San Diego! Ranked the most pleasant place in the nation because it receives little precipitation with 261 average “pleasant” days each year, San Diego has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and mild winters. During the summer and fall, the average daytime temperature is in the 70s while the average San Diego temperature in winter is in the 60s.  

When you compare San Diego versus Denver, you’ll quickly see plenty of extremes. Denver is located at a high elevation in the Rocky Mountains with average highs in the mid-80s to 90s in the summer and winter daytime highs in the 40s. Denver gets only 17” of annual rainfall but about 60” of annual snowfall!

San Diego vs Denver Sports

Are you a big sports fan? You’ll definitely want to know who you will be rooting for in SD vs Denver.

Denver is ranked the 6th Best Sports City and the smallest city with 5 major professional teams: Denver Broncos (NFL), Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL), Colorado Rapids (MLS), and Colorado Rockies (MLB). By comparison, San Diego has just one major sports team: the San Diego Padres (MLB).

You won’t need to choose between the San Diego Chargers vs Denver Broncos as SD lost the Chargers to Los Angeles in 2016.

Who do you want to root for?

Denver vs San Diego Airports & Travel

If you’re a frequent flyer, you know how important it is to have a good airport in your city to avoid dreaded layovers or long drives. While the San Diego International Airport was recently named the best airport in the U.S. thanks to its close proximity to downtown, on-time flights, and amenities, you probably won’t use it as much as you like.

The San Diego airport is surprisingly small with high airfare. It offers just 70 or so nonstop destinations to U.S. destinations and five countries. You’ll probably find yourself making the drive to LAX in Los Angeles instead. By comparison, Denver International Airport has 183+ nonstop destinations in the U.S. and 14 countries. DEN also frequently earns awards as one of the best airports in the world and it’s a traveler favorite thanks to its Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS) of furry volunteers.

San Diego vs Denver: Where Are You Moving?

Now that you see what each city has to offer, which one is calling to you? Do you see yourself enjoying the snow, mountains, and lower cost of living in Denver, or do you prefer the beach lifestyle of San Diego with great food and entertainment?

If you’ve settled on moving to San Diego, Republic Moving & Storage is here to help! Give us a call to discuss your move so we can help you enjoy everything San Diego has to offer after a seamless, stress-free moving day.


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