18 Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego, California (2023)

San Diego, CA, sits along the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It is immediately adjacent to the border with Mexico and sits about 120 miles south of the Los Angeles metro area. About 1.5 million people call this city their home, which makes it the eighth-largest in the United States.

This region is often called the birthplace of California because it was the first site to be visited by European explorers along the western coast. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claimed the area for Spain in 1542, but it wouldn’t be until the Mission of San Diego and the Presidio were founded in 1769 that a permanent settlement in the area would begin to take shape. In 1821, the city would become part of Mexico after it gained independence.

California would become part of the United States after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848. Two years later, San Diego would join their state as part of the union. There are roughly 200 hills and canyons to explore throughout the city, creating urban centers that have remained relatively untamed. This structure gives the city a segmented feel, which creates a low-density living environment.

If you are thinking about making the move to Southern California, then these are the pros and cons of living in San Diego that you will want to consider today.

List of the Pros of Living in San Diego

1. You are going to get to live near the beach in San Diego.
Heading down to the Pacific Ocean is going to be a new way of life for you when you start living in San Diego. You can take a stroll in the early sunshine, go surfing, or take a swim at almost any time you want when you live in the city. The close proximity that you have to the sand and sunshine makes it convenient to do a little tanning or pursue your favorite beach sports. Because of this advantage, you will discover that there is a slower vibe in this city compared to some of the chaos that tends to occur in LA to the north.

2. There are plenty of fun road trips to experience from San Diego.
Even when the traffic is heavier than normal, you will discover that there are plenty of activities that you can do during the day when you live in San Diego. Disneyland is about 90 minutes away. You can visit Catalina Island after a two-hour drive and a 60-minute ferry trip. Big Bear is a stunning lake that is about 2.5 hours away. You can always take the 4-hour road trip over to Las Vegas during the weekend. Phoenix is a little further out at 5.5 hours, while even Yosemite is within reach at less than 8 hours of driving time.

3. The traffic in San Diego isn’t fantastic, but it is manageable.
The traffic in Los Angeles is the worst in the country, so any other city you might choose to call home will provide you with a better experience. San Diego isn’t perfect by any means, but you will find that the highways through town are fairly easy to navigate. There are not as many unexpected surprises that happen out there, so your commute is fairly predictable most days. Even the public transportation system in the city is useful if you prefer to live and work in the downtown area.

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4. You have the option to drive in the carpool lane.
Most cities require that you have 2 or 3 passengers in a vehicle to have access to the carpool lane. This express option makes it easier to get to work on time, navigate through a city, or avoid unnecessary exits and their traffic. If you start living in San Diego, then you might want to consider the purchase of an electric vehicle. The DMV will give you a reflective sticker that allows you to drive your Prius, Tesla, or similar model in the carpool lane even though you’re the only person in the car.

5. The culture of San Diego is strong and growing.
The largest urban cultural park in the United States is located in San Diego. Balboa Park features over a dozen museums, even more art galleries, the Globe Theaters, and the zoological park for the metropolitan area. There are plenty of beautiful gardens to explore when you are in this area as well. Opera, live symphonies, and over 7,000 restaurants are waiting for your arrival also. If you have always want to explore California culture, living in this city will be a wonderful experience for you.

6. There is plenty of elbow room to enjoy when living in San Diego.
Although the cost of living in San Diego is significant if you are just moving into town, there are over 4,500 square miles of neighborhoods to search through to find the perfect place to call home. It has been said that even the “localians” of the city have not visited all of the spaces that are available to explore.

You will find that San Diego feels more like an eclectic collection of small towns more than it is a big city like LA or Chicago. Each neighborhood offers a special vibe and lifestyle that can make living here a lot of fun. There really is something in San Diego for everyone to enjoy if you’re willing to be patient with the searching process.

7. You will find that there is more than one type of beach to enjoy in San Diego.
Going to the beach is a habit for most residents in the city because there is over 70 miles of coastline to explore. That means you’re not just going to “the beach.” You get to choose the exact options that you want to have a great time. There are beaches for dogs, ones that offer a stunning view, and places where the tides break perfectly so that you can go surfing every day. There are beaches for parties and locations for families.

You can even find a couple of official spots for nude sunbathing if you wish thanks to Black’s Beach or the area near San Onofre.

8. There are plenty of events to enjoy when living in the city.
When you start living in San Diego, then you will discover that there seems to be something happening in the city almost every weekend. There are plenty of live bands who tour through here, sporting events to attend, horse races, and beer gardens to enjoy. If you can’t find anything to do with all of those options, then you can spend a day on one of the 80 golf courses that are in the city. Unless you plan to chill at home all of the time, you will find that living here almost mandates that you spend a lot of time enjoying the Great Outdoors.

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9. You will discover some excellent craft beer in San Diego.
There are more than 100 licensed craft beer producers that are currently operating in the city right now. This culture has led to the development of several unique brewpubs and individual brands that make for the perfect evening away from home. The culture does more than draw tourists into the city. It also serves as the foundation for the International Beer Competition, Beer Week, and much more. Several of the breweries that call San Diego home are consistently rated as being the best in the world.

10. The food options in San Diego are some of the best in the state.
If you thought that the city’s location right along the border of Mexico would mean that you’d have some incredible Mexican dining options to enjoy when living in San Diego, then you’d be correct. Nothing beats this culinary option when you call this community home. You can find options available on almost every corner, with a majority of the locations open around-the-clock for convenience. Instead of it being Taco Tuesday, you’ll find that it is more like Taco Every Day when you live here.

11. You receive free parking at the beach whenever you want to visit when in San Diego.
When you visit most of the beaches that are geared toward tourists in the United States, then you can expect to pay at least a small fee for the privilege to park there. Almost all of the parking that is available in San Diego for some time in the sun and sand is free. If you’re used to driving in the city, then the entire process isn’t that bad. You might struggle to find a spot midday during the height of tourist seasons, but it isn’t usually as difficult as people think it is to head out to the water.

List of the Cons of Living in San Diego

1. Living in San Diego is not a very affordable experience.
Because there has been a renewed interest in the idea of living in Southern California, the prices of the average home have skyrocketed in recent years. Even if you manage to find an outdated property in a part of town that is less than ideal, you can expect to pay at least $500,000 to have the privilege of owning it. Most newer houses sell for well over $1 million. If you want to rent a studio apartment in the city, then expect to pay about $1,500. Two-bedroom apartments are over $2,200 per month – without utilities included. These prices have been rising at 3%.

It is important to note that despite these costs, San Diego is still a cheaper place to live than cities to the north like San Francisco or Los Angeles.

2. You will still want to own a car in San Diego.
Although you can get around with the public transportation system in the city, the trolleys and buses are not always the most convenient form of getting from Point A to Point B. Most residents find that owning a vehicle is necessary if they want to reduce the amount of time that they spend on the road. The one exception is for those who live in the downtown area, as the Coaster can take you to the various stops and scenic views for just $120 per month.

3. The airport in San Diego is falling behind the times for convenience.
There are plenty of benefits to consider when moving to California. The skies are almost always blue, the rains only come around regularly in San Diego, and you don’t usually need to worry about cold weather. What you will also notice about the city if you love to travel is that the San Diego International Airport is nowhere near as helpful as what you would expect to find in a city of this size. There is only one runway to support the air traffic that comes through the area.

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Airlines price a flight to San Diego as if it were more of a regional hub as well, which means flying out of there will cost you more than if you went through an airport to the north. Most residents of the city find themselves driving up to LAX to fly somewhere because the savings can be significant.

4. There is always a chance that you’ll meet a stingray.
When you visit Black’s Beach (nude or otherwise), you are advised to shuffle your feet in the sand as you enter the shallows of the water. Stingrays tend to rest just beneath the surface, and you will not see them as you begin to wade. If you don’t scare them away before you inadvertently step on them, then there is an excellent chance that you will experience the excruciating pain of a sting. It takes up to two hours for the pain to peak, and it is not unusual for the region to turn red or blue.

Stingrays can produce enough of a reaction that your lymph nodes can start to swell. Nausea, vomiting, and tremors can happen. It can also cause a severe and sudden drop in your blood pressure, so you should make your way to the hospital if your feet greet the stinger.

5. Parking can be a real struggle when you start living in the city.
Because most households own at least one vehicle when they live in San Diego, you will find that trying to find a decent parking space can seem like an impossible task. If you live in the city proper, this issue can be especially significant since you may be asked to pay for the space as well. If you do decide to take the bus, then you’ll need to budget a couple of hours to ensure that you reach your destination. Driving might only take you 20 minutes, but you’ll need another 10 to find a safe spot to park. You might want to consider a motorcycle or a scooter to make this process easier.

When summer comes around, trying to find a parking spot at the beach between 10am to 7pm can feel like an impossible experience too.

6. You’ve got to watch out for the “Zonies” in the city.
People who live in Arizona come into San Diego all of the time as a way to enjoy the sand, surf, and opportunities in the city. You will get to the point where you can pick out the Zonies without seeing their license plates because of the way that they drive. Although the city thrives on tourism, when the summer heat hits Phoenix, you will find droves of people moving westward on I-8 to find the cooler shores of the Pacific.

Everyone has horror stories about this group of summer migrating travelers. There are the ones who make left turns from the right-turn lane. Those in the water sometimes violate protocol at surf breaks. They try to take the best parking spots, fill up all the dinner reservations, and will likely be blamed one day for the apocalypse that destroys the planet.

(Video) Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego

7. People struggle with precipitation in San Diego.
The people in San Diego are very centered on their routines. You will discover that it does feel comfortable when the days are warm, and the ocean water stays cool throughout the year. During the odd times when the weather decides not to cooperate, the traffic snarls can get bad very quickly. It does not take much precipitation in the city to begin causing the number of accidents to climb. You will want to take care on the roadways at these times to ensure that you can arrive at your destination safely.

A Final Thought About the Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego

As with any city, living in San Diego takes a period of adjustment. When you first move, it can feel like you are the luckiest person on the planet. You love the excitement of being at the beach, heading out to parties, or finally getting to eat at In-N-Out. Then you go through a phase when all you want to do is be at the beach. Then you begin the real transformation process where you start visiting the festivals, playing kickball, and appreciating what is there.

The pros and cons of living in San Diego are important to consider if you plan to make this city your full-time home. There are plenty of cycling options to consider for transportation, and you always have the option to take an Uber too. You will find that getting around the city is useful with a vehicle that you own. Consider each of these key points as well, and then you will be able to know if living here is right for you.

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Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.

FAQs

What are the benefits of living in San Diego? ›

Not only is America's Finest City one of the best places to live on the West Coast and one of the best places for veterans to retire, but it also has great employment opportunities, a plethora of beautiful beaches, top-notch cuisine, affordable neighborhoods, and much more!

Is it worth it to live in San Diego? ›

With some of the best weather, food, schools, and beaches in the world, San Diego is one of the best places to live in the entire country. Known for its high quality of life and relaxed atmosphere, living in San Diego is often considered better than living in Los Angeles.

Why do people love San Diego so much? ›

San Diego is a Southern California city known for its beautiful beaches and year-long sunshine. It has many tourist attractions besides beaches, including parks, museums, gardens, and a fantastic zoo.

Is it worth going to San Diego? ›

If you're looking for a great place to enjoy the weather and some outdoor activities, look no further than San Diego. There are SO many places to get outside and explore nature (too many to list!) From hiking and biking trails to gorgeous beaches and parks, there's something for everyone.

What salary do you need to live in San Diego? ›

To put things in perspective, the median salary in San Diego is $63,739. This is a good salary to aim for if you're thinking of moving to San Diego.

Are people in San Diego happier? ›

San Diego is one of the "happiest" cities in the country, according to a new report. The study conducted by WalletHub ranked cities based on things like job security, depression rates, and the frequency of divorce to determine the happiest cities in America. "Location plays a hand in how bright or gloomy our days are.

Why is San Diego so special? ›

San Diego is renowned for its idyllic climate, 70 miles of pristine beaches and a dazzling array of world-class family attractions. Popular attractions include the world-famous San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California.

Is there a big homeless problem in San Diego? ›

In downtown San Diego alone, 1,706 unsheltered are estimated to be living on the street, in tents and in cars. In November 2021, there were 1,124 estimated homeless living in downtown San Diego.

Why is San Diego not hot? ›

San Diego has a marine climate, strongly influenced by cool Pacific Ocean temperatures that annually range from the upper 50s to upper 60s. As the cool ocean air spreads inland it gradually warms, with much higher temperatures in the inland valleys.

Does San Diego have poor air quality? ›

San Diego smog, or visible air pollution, is among the nation's worst. Smog is composed of a combination of air pollutants, primarily ozone and particle pollution. For both pollutant measures, San Diego ranks poorly.

Are people in San Diego attractive? ›

San Diego might be known for its beautiful weather and beaches, but it's also known for its beautiful residents. According to “Travel + Leisure” magazine, San Diego ranks no. 2 city for having the most attractive people in America.

Is it hard to make friends in San Diego? ›

No matter if you live in downtown San Diego or Carlsbad, it still can be difficult to meet new people. So the key to making friends as an adult in San Diego is to actively pursue them.

What part of San Diego is affordable? ›

The Most Affordable Neighborhoods in San Diego:

Balboa Park. East San Diego/El Cajon. Chula Vista/Imperial Beach. North I-15 Corridor West.

Why do people want to go to San Diego? ›

With its miles of glorious beaches, idyllic year-round weather and a myriad of cultural and historical attractions, San Diego is one of the most visited cities in the world.

Can you enjoy San Diego without a car? ›

With a growing public transportation system, bike paths, boardwalks, ferries, and more to take advantage of, it's easier than ever to discover how to get around San Diego without a car.

Is LA or San Diego Better? ›

Both cities offer the Southern California vibe you are looking for with loads of sunshine, diverse cuisine and trendy styles. Los Angeles is way more crowded and spread out across hundreds of miles. Being so gigantic, Los Angeles doesn't have the community vibe that you would find in San Diego.

Why is rent in San Diego so high? ›

The report cites a number of factors, such as recession worries and rising interest rates forcing potential buyers out of home purchases, as reasons for the tight rental market. Nationally, median one-bedroom rent reached a new high of $1,503, Zumper said, with two-bedroom rent at $1,845, also an all-time high.

Is San Diego more red or blue? ›

The city of San Diego itself is more Democratic than the county's average and has voted for Democrats Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama twice, Clinton, and Biden respectively, in the last eight presidential elections.

Is Healthcare in San Diego Good? ›

UC San Diego Health, the region's only academic health system, is ranked #1 in San Diego and #5 in California, placing it among the nation's best hospitals, according to the 2021-2022 U.S. News & Worl ...

What do people love about San Diego? ›

Ocean Beach is the hippy beach, Pacific Beach is home to the college crowd, Mission Beach is for the active ones, and La Jolla offers some spectacular cliffs as a backdrop. San Diego is the perfect place for a Beach vacation. There are a ton of beautiful beach resorts in San Diego – for every budget.

Why is San Diego so healthy? ›

Cities like San Diego that have idyllic weather, lots of green space, and access to fresh foods are commonly ranked high on city wellness scales. So it's no strange fact that cities with fewer issues with social determinants of health are less prone to disease and mental illness.

Where not to stay in San Diego? ›

Unsafe Areas of San Diego

But, as with any city, there are a few areas that you may want to avoid. University Heights, City Heights, National City, as well as parts of downtown, can be a bit seedy, especially at night. Imperial Beach, which is the town in San Diego next to the Mexican border, can also be sketchy.

Where do millionaires live in San Diego? ›

Carmel Canyon is also located in the Carmel Valley region. It is a planned coastal community and is among one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in both San Diego and even in the United States.

Where should I move to in San Diego? ›

Carmel Valley. Carmel Valley is one of the best places to raise a family in San Diego County. It rates highly for the public schools serving the community, and most homeowners have a college degree or at least some college education. It gets higher marks from the residents for being safe, family-friendly, and clean.

What is San Diego's coldest month? ›

San Diego's coldest month is December when the average temperature overnight is 48.9°F. In August, the warmest month, the average day time temperature rises to 77.5°F.

Where is the best area to stay in San Diego without a car? ›

Gaslamp Quarter along with Downtown is the best area to stay in San Diego without a car due to its prime location. If you stay here, you will be located in the heart of action, within walking distance to many tourist attractions, as well as some of the best nightlife, shopping, and dining in the city.

Is it better to live in LA or San Diego? ›

This measure shows there is really no competition: San Diego is better than Los Angeles regarding the Quality of Life. Indeed, the Numbeo.com Quality of Life Index gives Los Angeles a 130.45 score. The same Index awards a 183.43 score to San Diego.

Is San Diego a happy place to live? ›

San Diego is one of the "happiest" cities in the country, according to a new report. The study conducted by WalletHub ranked cities based on things like job security, depression rates, and the frequency of divorce to determine the happiest cities in America. "Location plays a hand in how bright or gloomy our days are.

What is San Diego best known for? ›

San Diego is renowned for its idyllic climate, 70 miles of pristine beaches and a dazzling array of world-class family attractions. Popular attractions include the world-famous San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California.

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