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San Diego vs. San Francisco | ⭐️ Comparison, Pros & Cons, Which City is Better for You?

Trying to decide between living in the Golden Gate City or America’s Finest City? San Diego and San Francisco are two of California’s largest metro areas and each sits right on a beautiful bay. You’ll find excitement and fun no matter which you choose, but San Francisco and San Diego offer very different lifestyles, not to mention the differences in the cost of living. To help you make your choice, here’s a complete guide to San Diego versus San Francisco and what you’ll love (and hate) about each city.

Pros & Cons of Living in San Diego vs. San Francisco

Do you want to live right near warm California beaches in a laid-back city or do you love the hustle and bustle of a densely populated urban center? San Francisco and San Diego are very different in terms of culture, cost, and attractions. Here are some important San Diego versus San Francisco benefits and drawbacks to consider.

Living in San Diego Pros

San Diego Has Amazing Cultural Attractions

San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park.

You may not realize just how many attractions and activities San Diego has to offer until you move to the area. A cultural hub of Southern California, San Diego has everything from the symphony and opera to museums, art galleries, live music venues, and world-famous parks.

San Diego’s crown jewel is Balboa Park, America’s largest urban cultural park with more than one dozen museums, the Globe Theaters, gardens, open green space, and the San Diego Zoo. There’s simply always something happening in San Diego every day of the year.

San Diego’s Food and Craft Beer Scene

San Diego boasts fantastic, diverse cuisine ranging from classic Italian in Little Italy and authentic Mexican food to fresh sushi and upscale steakhouses. Fresh fish tacos will definitely become a way of life!

Many people don’t realize that a positive of living in San Diego is its craft beer scene which has been exploding in recent years. San Diego is home to more than 200 tasting rooms and craft breweries which have made it one of America’s craft beer capitals. If you love beer, you’ll no doubt fall in love with San Diego’s breweries which have earned global recognition.

San Diego’s Famous Surf & Beach Lifestyle

One of the highlights of living in San Diego? The beach is never far away. San Diego boasts over 70 miles of coastline with world-class surfing, boating, paddle boarding, and more. Each beach has something unique to offer whether you end up on Coronado Beach, La Jolla, or Mission Beach. You’ll quickly find your favorite spots for morning walks, sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. The beach and surf lifestyle also permeate the vibe of San Diego which is more laid back and slower than the rush and chaos of Los Angeles.

Living in San Diego Cons

San Diego Doesn’t Have the Best Airport

The San Diego International Airport doesn’t deliver everything you hope for in a major city. If you enjoy traveling, you’ll be disappointed with a very small airport for the size of San Diego with high flight prices similar to regional hubs. A drawback of living in San Diego is you’ll probably find yourself driving to Los Angeles to fly out of the area for significant savings.

You’ll Want to Have a Car Living in San Diego

Dreaming of a car-free lifestyle? A disadvantage of living in San Diego is you’ll still want a car. You can get by without a car but only in the areas of the city with good public transit and a job that’s close to home. San Diego doesn’t really offer rapid mass transportation except for the trolley. When you compare San Diego versus San Francisco, you’ll find San Fran has a much more robust public transit system and its denser layout makes it easy to walk everywhere.

Living in San Francisco Pros

San Francisco Is Amazingly Diverse

One of the pros of living in San Francisco is the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life – and from every corner of the world! San Fran is a minority-majority city with a racial and ethnic composition that’s:

  • 42% non-Hispanic White
  • 33% Asian, most notably Chinese (21.4%), Filipino (4.5%), Vietnamese (1.6%), Japanese (1.3%), Indian (1.2%), and Korean (1.2%)
  • 15% Hispanic, particularly Mexican (7.4%), Salvadoran (2.0%), Nicaraguan (0.9%), Guatemalan (0.8%), and Puerto Rican (0.5%)
  • 6% Black or African American

Almost 36% of San Francisco residents were born outside of the U.S. The city is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia which is one of the city’s top tourist attractions and home to authentic Chinese cuisine and exciting events.

It’s Easy to Get Around San Francisco

One of the strengths of living in San Francisco is its excellent public transportation system. You’ll have Caltrain, BART, MUNI buses and trains, and e-scooters, at your disposal, but great weather and a dense urban environment means you can usually bike or walk where you need to go. San Francisco is one of America’s most walkable cities!

The trade-off is one of the disadvantages of San Francisco: you’ll definitely have a love/hate relationship if you own a car with minimal parking options and terrible traffic.

Living in San Francisco Cons

San Francisco Has an Expensive Housing Market & Little Space

The San Francisco real estate market is hard to believe, especially for renters. The median price for a single-family home was recently $1.65 million, pricing out most people. Even condos start at $1.25 million.

Thinking about renting? Brace yourself for high costs and very little room – one of the biggest obstacles of living in San Francisco. San Francisco apartments have always been small, but they’re actually shrinking from 769 square feet in 2013 to 700 square feet on average in 2019.

San Francisco Traffic Is Notorious

It may be nice having a great public transportation system and walkability in San Francisco, but the times you need to drive, you’ll regret. Traffic is almost always unmanageable at all hours within the city and you’ll always need to plan to take longer than you think to get where you’re going. Drivers also tend to be aggressive in San Francisco.

Cost of Living in San Diego vs San Francisco

San Diego and San Francisco are both high-cost cities, but San Diego doesn’t compare to the high cost of living in San Francisco. According to Numbeo, you would need $8,137 per month in San Francisco to maintain the same quality of life you would get with $6,000 in San Diego. That’s a huge difference that breaks down like this:

  • Rent is 61% higher in San Francisco versus San Diego
  • Restaurant prices are 14% higher in San Francisco vs. San Diego
  • Groceries are 17% higher in San Francisco compared to San Diego
  • Purchasing power is 28% higher in San Diego versus San Francisco

Housing is the biggest expense you’ll face and it’s what really sets these two cities apart. The average rent in San Diego is $2,352, according to RentJungle, compared with $3,870 in San Francisco. If you’re planning to buy, expect a median home price of $1.2 million in San Francisco. One of the perks of San Diego is it’s affordable by comparison with a median home price of $654,000.

Additional Things to Consider Between San Diego vs San Francisco

San Diego vs San Francisco Population

Do you imagine living in a densely packed urban environment or do you want a little more room to yourself? When you compare and contrast San Diego and San Francisco, remember that it’s not just about population but also density.

The population of San Diego is 1.43 million with a metro population of 3.38 million. The population density, however, is just 4,369/square mile. By comparison, San Francisco is home to 881,000 people with a metro population of 4.72 million. Don’t be fooled by the smaller city population: the population density of San Francisco is 18,790 people per square mile! That makes it the second-most densely populated city in the U.S. after New York City!

Sports in San Diego Versus San Francisco

San Diego is known more for its sandy beaches and beautiful weather than its sports. If sports are a big consideration when deciding where to live, you may lean more toward San Francisco.

San Diego is home to one major pro sports team: the San Diego Padres (MLB). One of the benefits of living in San Francisco? The Bay Area has six major sports teams plus many other pro and college teams including the San Francisco 49ers (NFL), San Francisco Giants (MLB), Oakland Athletics (MLB), Golden State Warriors (NBA), and San Jose Sharks (NHL). College sports are also big in San Francisco.

San Diego vs San Francisco Weather

These California cities have very different climates despite both being on the coast. When you compare the typical temperature on the coast, San Diego is usually just a couple of degrees warmer than San Francisco. However, once you go inland, San Francisco can be up to 30 degrees colder. San Francisco is also known for its wind and fog, particularly during the summer. One of the pluses of living in San Diego over San Fran is the year-round ideal weather free of fog and cold.

Crime in San Diego Versus San Francisco

Concerned about safety when considering San Diego as opposed to San Francisco? One of the advantages of San Diego is its low crime rate. The crime rate in San Diego is 19% lower than the California average while San Francisco’s is 123% higher! Most concerning is the violent crime rate in San Francisco which is twice as high as San Diego.

San Diego to San Francisco Distance

How far is it from San Diego to San Francisco? A whopping 502 miles from San Diego to the Bay Area. While you can find fairly cheap flights between the two cities, the two aren’t close enough to easily enjoy the amenities of both.

San Diego vs San Francisco: Which City Will Be Home?

Which city is calling to you: the relaxed surf culture of San Diego or the busy and diverse San Francisco culture? No matter which city you choose, you’ll enjoy world-class dining, exciting attractions, and beautiful California coasts at your fingertips. If you’ve settled on the San Diego area, give our friendly movers at Republic Moving and Storage a call to get started with a free moving estimate.


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