Updated: March 1, 2023
In This City Guide:
- San Diego at-a-glance
- What it’s like to live in San Diego
- Economy and job outlook in San Diego
- Real estate, cost of living in San Diego
- The top neighborhoods in San Diego
- How to get around in San Diego
- School and education snapshot
- Weather and climate in San Diego
- 10 can’t miss things to do in San Diego
San Diego At-A-Glance
Over 1.4 million people call San Diego their home, making it the eighth largest city in the U.S. and the second largest in California. With its globally connected and innovative economy, San Diego is considered a great place to live and work. Maybe that’s why in addition to being known as “America’s Finest City,” it’s also supposed to be one of its happiest cities, too.
Really, those two honors shouldn’t be a surprise—the weather is nice and overall sunny year-round, so residents have plenty of time to enjoy its 70 miles of stunning beaches, 92 golf courses, parks, and more.
The city is also known for several major attractions like San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego, and LEGOLAND California. San Diego also hosts big festivals and events throughout the year, including San Diego Comic Con and Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp Quarter, the largest Fat Tuesday celebration on the West Coast.
Diversity Shines in San Diego’s Booming Culinary, Arts, and Culture Scenes
Because of the global nature of its innovative economy, and given its proximity to Mexico, San Diego has quickly become a multicultural city. Over a quarter of San Diegans were born abroad, and nearly 41 percent speak a language other than English at home—that’s nearly double the national average!
With the Mexican border just 17 miles away, it’s no wonder that Cali Baja is the signature cuisine out of San Diego, featuring a fusion of flavors from both sides of the border and plenty of seafood. You’ll find delicious Mexican-inspired dishes throughout neighborhoods like Barrio Logan and La Jolla, but those aren’t all San Diego can offer. Ranked one of the Best Foodie Cities in the U.S., San Diego has 6,400 dining establishments and has made its mark on the craft beer scene with more than 150 breweries so far.
The city’s arts and culture scenes are thriving, too. Balboa Park, known as the Smithsonian of the West, is the largest urban cultural park in the U.S. The park has 15 museums to enjoy, numerous art galleries, stunning gardens, and one of San Diego’s two Tony Award-winning theaters. Beyond Balboa, you’ll find a plethora of public art, historic sites, music venues, performing arts venues, and so much more.
A Dynamic Economy and Rebounded Job Market
In a unique pairing, San Diego hosts the largest military concentration in the world (the area’s number one employer is the U.S. Navy), alongside a heavy tourism industry. Additional jobs come from tech and research organizations, international trade, manufacturing, and of course the local universities and schools.
Despite unemployment rates spiking in 2020, San Diego has bounced back, with some industries seeing faster growth than had been projected prior to the pandemic. As of October 2022, the unemployment rate was at 3.2 percent.
Paradise Isn’t Free—and Neither is San Diego
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness wasn’t quite right. San Diego may be one of the most livable and happiest places in the U.S., but its beauty and lively neighborhoods come at a cost. That cost of living is about 47 percent higher than the national average, and 4 percent higher than the California average.
The largest contributor to that high cost of living is housing. Housing in San Diego is 119 percent higher than the U.S. average, with a median home sold price of $830,000 in November 2022, with listing prices still trending upward 8.5 percent over the same time in 2021.
Although median rent prices fell to $2,384 between October and November 2022, they’re still up 6 percent compared to last year. A one-bedroom apartment gets a median rent of $1,960, and the median rent for a two-bedroom is $2,527.
The city does have one thing going for it when it comes to costs: the median household income in San Diego, as of 2021, was $89,457—nearly $15,000 higher than the U.S. median income the same year.
Great Beaches and Lively Communities
When you think of living in San Diego, you may be thinking about the beaches. But there’s more to this city than its gorgeous ocean views. Whether you’re looking to dive into your education, grow your career, raise a family, or retire, there are plenty of diverse communities to settle in. Check out these highly recommended neighborhoods for those moving to San Diego:
Coronado sits across the harbor from San Diego’s downtown, providing a gorgeous view of the city across the Coronado Bridge. Settle down in the Village, on the northern part of the island, or go for a life of luxury in the Shore or the Cove.
This upscale beach neighborhood has people flocking to its beautiful, rugged coastland. In addition to the scenery, La Jolla has great schools, hot industries, and some of the best food in San Diego. Just keep in mind that if you want to live in paradise, you’ll have to pay for it.
If you’re okay with the tourists, this unique, historic downtown area of San Diego is not just convenient—it also has a thriving nightlife, great culture, and showcases the city’s history.
East Village is a cultural and educational hub that sees a bit of action when the Padres are playing at local Petco Park. Just east of Gaslamp, it’s a great place to be if you want a lively neighborhood without the heavy tourist traffic.
Ocean Beach is an affordable alternative to other beachside neighborhoods in San Diego. This bohemian neighborhood is more relaxed but still offers beautiful ocean views, a great surf, and a vibrant community.
Other neighborhoods to include in your San Diego home search:
- Del Mar Mesa
- Little Italy
- Solana Beach
- Mission Hills
- North Park
Getting Around San Diego
More than three quarters of people living in San Diego drive their cars to work, so while the city isn’t as high on the list of traffic-inflicted metropolitan areas as, say, Los Angeles, it still sees congestion during busy work hours.
For those looking to get some time back in their day, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) offers a Light Rail service, with 65 miles of rail over four lines, as well as 100 fixed bus routes with multiple levels of service, including local, urban, and express. The COASTER commuter runs north and south through San Diego County to help commuters avoid the heavy traffic in and out of the city.
DecoBike is the city’s bike share option, with over 800 bikes available for those commuters who would rather take advantage of the city’s beautiful weather than sit in traffic.
San Diego is a Well-Educated City
San Diego is home to several highly acclaimed colleges and universities, including University of California at San Diego, University of San Diego, San Diego State University, and Point Loma Nazarene University.
For families with school-aged children, San Diego County boasts public schools with a high ranking, performing in the top 20 percent of California’s public schools. Districts also see a graduation rate that is significantly higher than the national average. In addition to public school options, parents can consider one of 355 private schools, which educate 12 percent of the city’s K-12 students (slightly higher than the state average).
Post-pandemic, San Diego is committed to giving families options for how their children are educated, making way for in-person, online, and independent (parent-led) studies at public, magnet, and charter schools.
A Blissful Climate with Plenty of Sun
In terms of the weather, San Diego ranks high as one of the best places to live in the U.S. The city doesn’t record days below freezing and rarely sees temperatures climb above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, most days fall between 50 and 77 degrees. With two-thirds of its days clear or only partly cloudy, San Diego’s dreamy weather means you’ll have plenty of beach days to look forward to.
10 Can’t-Miss Things to Do in San Diego
With beautiful weather and renowned beaches, you won’t find yourself short of great outdoor spots for a stroll or a swim. But that’s not all San Diego has to offer. The city is full of cultural hot spots, fun, and beauty.
Here’s a list of 10 must-dos in San Diego:
- Spend a day at the San Diego Zoo, located within Balboa Park. Home to more than 12,000 animals, this 100-acre zoo has gathered one of the largest collections of rare and endangered animals in the world.
- Enjoy a walk, ride your bike, or have a picnic at Balboa Park. These 1,200 acres exhibit beautiful Spanish architecture, the famous Botanical Building, plenty of gardens, and the Old Globe Theatre.
- Check out the amazing beaches, including Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
- Take a ride on the iconic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement park that residents and visitors of San Diego have been enjoying since 1925.
- Get your spook on at the most haunted house in America, the Whaley House. Once home to the Whaley family, this historic home once served as San Diego’s first commercial theater, the county courthouse, and a general store.
- Take a sunset sail around San Diego Bay for a seaside perspective of the city’s landmarks and the Coronado Bridge.
- Step into the past with a trip to Old Town San Diego, where you’ll enjoy the beauty of Spanish-inspired architecture and plenty of Hispanic culture, art, and food.
- Admire the beauty of one of the few remaining undeveloped California coastlines at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
- Walk down the Embarcadero to the USS Midway Museum, built upon the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century.
- Visit Petco Park, recently named the best ballpark in the MLB for its atmosphere and offerings—including a nightclub.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 26, 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.