If you are considering moving to San Diego, you probably have a lot of questions on your mind. In the early-90s I made my own fateful decision to move to San Diego. I spent my entire life to that point living in the San Francisco bay area. When it was time for a change, and a college education, the lure of San Diego’s beaches and great weather was enticing. Fast forward to today, I have spent more time living in San Diego than I did growing up in the bay area. As a real estate agent in San Diego, I have advised people coming to and leaving San Diego. My decades living here along with my real estate experience will hopefully make me an excellent resource to help you with some perspectives and pros and cons of moving to San Diego.
Should I Move to San Diego?
It’s a seemingly simple question that millions of people have asked themselves. As a major tourist destination, many visitors from all over the globe have wondered whether to make the move here. The answer to this question depends a lot on your motivations, financial circumstances, work status, and lifestyle.
Shortly after the pandemic started there was a significant uptick in people moving to San Diego. The rapid acceptance of work-from-home has contributed to San Diego’s increasing appeal. After all, if you can work from anywhere, why not do it from paradise?! As you contemplate whether to move to San Diego, it’s important to evaluate what your goals are in moving here.
One theme you will see repeated in most analyses of relocating to San Diego is the high cost of living. If you are comfortable financially or are considering moving here for a well-paying job, the high cost of living may not be a deterrent. For those with modest or limited income, the cost of living in San Diego may be too much to bear. And some people simply prefer not to spend a high percentage of their income on housing and basic living requirements.
By assessing some of the pros and cons of moving to San Diego, you can make a more informed decision. I will cover some basics to consider in the following list of pros and cons, and then will dive deeper into some specific topics related to help answer the question “Should I move to San Diego?”
Pros and Cons of Moving to San Diego
San Diego Pros
- The Weather! – More on this one below, but our weather is hard to beat. It is inevitably at or near the top of the list of reasons people love San Diego.
- Amazing Beaches – Whether you want miles of white sand, fun surf to play in, or even clothing-optional recreation, San Diego likely has an ideal beach for you.
- Varying Neighborhoods – While some cities come across as homogenized, San Diego has a diversity of communities, each with its own unique character/appeal.
- Minimal Bugs – My daughter thinks this should be at the top of the list. Although we have insects, we have relatively few of them compared to elsewhere in the US.
- Outdoor Dining, Year-round – In San Diego people BBQ and dine outdoors most of the year. Exceptions are during rare rain or if the temps dip unusually low.
- Relaxed, Casual Ambiance – I often wear a suit for work. As far as I can tell, I’m one of about a dozen people in San Diego that do so. We are a casual city.
- World-class Surfing – San Diego’s coastline is peppered with popular surf breaks. For those that surf respectfully, territorial locals are rarely an issue.
- Boating – San Diego is home to numerous yacht clubs and marinas. Whether yachting, offshore fishing, or sailing is your thing, San Diego is ideal for boating.
- Tech, Hospitality, and Bioscience Career Opportunities – Although San Diego’s wages have historically trailed some areas, many sectors have thrived recently.
- #1 city for Craft Beer per Fodors – There are over 150 breweries in San Diego. Whether your tastes run sour, bitter, or malty, your sudsy needs are covered!
- Fantastic Dining – From sushi to Mexican fare, steak houses to brew houses, and countless ethnic cuisines, San Diego is a great place to dine out or get food togo.
- Balboa Park & Museums – “San Diego’s ever-changing, always amazing, 1,200-acre backyard” is home to 15 museums, gardens, trails, and the San Diego Zoo.
- The Ocean – From sunsets to just enjoying the view, our scenic coastline is gorgeous and attracts fans from far and wide.
- San Diego Zoo and Safari Park – The lesser-known Safari Park is a bit of a drive, but offers a unique opportunity to see animals in wide open spaces.
- Seaworld – After some bad PR, Seaworld has been on a mission to reinvent itself. Its rides in addition to animal exhibits and shows make it a fun destination.
- Safety – San Diego enjoys lower crime rates than many US metro areas.
- Old Town – A popular tourist destination, it is home to numerous Mexican food restaurants. It also provides a glimpse into historic times in San Diego.
- Burritos/Tacos – We have a LOT of burrito and taco options, including the (in)famous California Burrito. Need I say more?
- Coronado – This charming island town is home to the historic Hotel Del and has a gorgeous stretch of beach.
- Close Travel – San Diego has access to nearby mountains, desert, and even skiing/snowboarding via Big Bear or Mammoth (both areas within driving distance).
- La Jolla – One of many San Diego neighborhoods. La Jolla’s upscale, scenic oceanfront appeal makes it a popular destination.
- Sports – Snapdragon Stadium, Petco Park (downtown), the Padres, and some great golf courses will keep sports fans well-occupied and entertained.
- Los Angeles – Close enough to visit, but far enough not to detract from San Diego’s unique charm.
San Diego Cons
- High Cost of Living – including housing costs, taxes, utilities, etc.
- Homelessness – Like most CA metro areas, San Diego has a significant homeless population, most noticeably in downtown San Diego.
- Temps Below 60 Degrees? – You may occasionally need a sweater or sweatshirt!
- Traffic – More on this below.
- May Grey / June Gloom – San Diego’s dirty little secret. May and June experience quite a bit of coastal cloud cover during the months of May and June.
- Parking – With real estate at a premium, parking is often in short supply. This is especially true downtown or near the beaches in Spring and Summer.
- Tourists/Overcrowding – All the pros that make San Diego great also attract a lot of visitors. Some areas can get crowded, particularly in the spring and summer.
- Air Traffic Noise – With our airport right by downtown and San Diego being a military town, it can be hard to find quiet areas away from jets and helicopters.
- No Discernable Seasons – I personally see this as a pro, but some people really want to experience fall, winter and a wide range of weather. Instead, it is virtually always pleasant here. Terrible, right?!
- Drought – San Diego isn’t known for much rain. That’s been especially true in the early 2020’s, when San Diego and the southwest are in drought conditions.
- Earthquakes and Wildfires – Earthquakes and wildfires are a risk throughout most of California. While still a risk, thankfully San Diego hasn’t experienced major quakes to the extent LA or the bay area has. Wildfires have been a growing concern though, and much of San Diego County is in areas deemed to be at high risk for wildfire. Homeowner’s insurance can be challenging and more costly, especially in more rural, higher fire-risk areas. Fire risk is generally lower along the coast.
What to Know Before Moving to San Diego
No matter how much research you might do, San Diego may still have a few surprises up its sleeve for you. Those surprises are likely to be happy ones, however, it is worth being aware of some general considerations before moving to San Diego.
San Diego is Sprawling and Encompasses Many Neighborhoods
It is easy to think of San Diego as a single city and place. In fact, San Diego County has dozens of communities, neighborhoods, and even separate cities within its boundaries. The experience you might have in one community can be completely different from another community. Even longtime San Diego residents have a handful of areas of San Diego they have not explored. If you are new to San Diego and are considering moving here, I would recommend spending time in different areas to get a feel for what appeals to you.
Housing Costs in San Diego
Like much of California, especially coastal California, San Diego real estate is not inexpensive. Unless you are moving from San Francisco or New York City (more on that below), you are likely in for some sticker shock. Housing costs in San Diego are one of the top complaints about living here. That applies to both renting and buying.
For more specifics on San Diego housing costs, check out my article on San Diego market stats which covers both average home prices in San Diego and median home prices in San Diego. House prices in San Diego have been on the rise for years as of the time of this article (February, 2023), however, the area has experienced downturns and plateaus as well. Despite the fluctuations, San Diego hasn’t really ever been considered a low cost of living destination. At least not in recent history.
If you are moving here single, housing costs in San Diego can be particularly burdensome. Some residents partially resolve this with roommates. I say partially since even with roommates housing can still be expensive. If you plan to live by the beach, expect to pay higher rates than neighborhoods further south or east. You can get a more clear picture of pricing by reviewing the charts in this article detailing San Diego home prices by neighborhood.
How Much do You Need to Make to Live in San Diego?
The answer to this can depend on your lifestyle and family circumstances (eg. are you single or married, do you have kids, etc.) The smart folks over at MIT have a useful Living Wage Calculator for San Diego county. The tool provides numbers for individuals and households with one to two working adults and zero to three children. Not surprisingly to those of us with kids, you need to make a lot more to afford to live in San Diego if you have children.
This MIT tool currently shows a Living Wage of anywhere from $17 to $80 depending on whether the household is dual or single-income and how many kids (if any) are in the family. This translates to individual annual income (before taxes) of $47,000-$165,000. As a quick comparison, the range for the Phoenix AZ metro area is $38,000-$119,000.
Whether you use the MIT Living Wage Tool or other stats – the general consensus is that San Diego is a relatively expensive place to live. On a positive note, you will spend nothing on winter gear, de-icing, or snow plowing!
Is Traffic Bad in San Diego?
Both Californians and those outside the state often ask, “What’s The Traffic Like In San Diego?” For those outside California, the assumption is that all traffic in the state is terrible. Compared to traffic in rural parts of the country, that’s probably true. If you’re coming from New York, Los Angeles, or the San Francisco bay area, traffic in San Diego may seem downright pleasant.
According to TomTom navigation, New York fared the worst of US metro areas, with an average travel time of 13 minutes per 10km (or 114 hours in rush hour per year). San Francisco and LA weren’t far behind at 12 minutes per 10km and 109-113 hours in rush hour per year. By comparison, San Diego averaged 9 minutes per 10km and 81 hours in rush hour per year. To my surprise, San Diego had better traffic stats than many of the metro areas in the US. I suspect that may in part be due to how spread out our metro area is.
As another reference point, Inrix.com ranked San Diego as the 19th most congested city in the US. By comparison, they ranked New York City as the #1 most congested city in the US. Los Angeles was ranked as the 6th most congested city in the US, followed closely by San Francisco which was ranked #7. In my experience traffic in San Diego is moderate, and some of it can be avoided with a little planning.
San Diego Weather
Ask any San Diegan what they love most about living here and 90%+ will start with the weather. We have moderate temperatures throughout the year, minimal storms, and little humidity. The spread between highs and lows each day is very narrow – usually around 10 degrees. The result: year-round comfort and very little need for planning around the weather.
San Diego Weather by Month
Chances are you are well aware the weather in San Diego is fantastic. That is especially true if you are close to the coast. Visitors sometimes do not realize that even relatively short distances inland can yield big differences in temperature. Generally, temperatures don’t get as hot or cold at the coast – the ocean has a moderating influence on our weather. The following San Diego weather by month averages are per NOAA:
Current San Diego WeatherSAN DIEGO WEATHER
Reasons NOT to Move to San Diego
The biggest factor for most people would be our high cost of living. If you’re in a career that isn’t high paying in San Diego, or you want lower overhead, San Diego is probably not the city to move to.
If you like variety in the weather and distinct seasons, San Diego may not be for you either. Here’s a quick weather comparison of most of the country compared to San Diego:
Non-San Diego Seasons
|Partial Dethawing||Sweltering||Bitterly Cold||Intolerable|
San Diego “Seasons”
** Winter may necessitate a second layer over your t-shirt. Socks MAY also be needed at times. Rain may occur.
Traveling or Commuting – Do You Need a Car in San Diego?
The short answer is probably yes. Unless you work 100% remotely and plan to live in a highly walkable part of San Diego, you will likely want a car. San Diego is spread out, and even if the two criteria above apply to you, you will still want to visit other parts of San Diego.
Although our trolley system has recently expanded and now reaches UCSD, UTC and neighborhoods north of the 8 freeway, public transportation is still experienced as less than ideal by most residents. The trolley is great if you have a specific commute close to the trolley line (eg. you live near a trolley stop and are commuting to UCSD). Most residents find themselves traveling to the MANY areas that are not conveniently accessible via public transportation.
Should You Buy or Rent in San Diego?
Like many broad financial questions, this question does not have a one size fits all answer. As you might guess, a real estate agent like is likely to have some opinions about whether to buy or rent in San Diego.
If you plan to stay in San Diego for a short period of time (eg. less than a few years), renting might be more practical. If your commute is likely to shift, renting also gives you more flexibility to move. If you are new to San Diego and are unsure where you want to live, renting first can give you the opportunity to better explore neighborhoods before settling on a location to purchase in.
Historically, buying real estate and holding it over time has been a wonderful investment for many. Rather than paying your landlord’s mortgage for them, buying a home in San Diego can have substantial financial benefits. Owning a home also is a very different experience than renting. For people particular about their surroundings, those with kids and/or pets, owning is sometimes a preferred lifestyle.
A LOT of variables not mentioned here can go into the decision of whether to buy or rent in San Diego. If you are contemplating a move to San Diego and would like some feedback based on your specific circumstances, please feel free to contact me.
City-Specific Considerations for Common Moves to San Diego
Moving to San Diego from NYC
If you’re making the move from New York City to San Diego, prepare to buy a car and be disappointed in public transportation. You will likely also experience San Diego as very dispersed.
Although we have nightlife, particularly in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego will likely seem somewhat sleepy relative to the 24/7 hustle and bustle of New York. Get ready for enjoying the outdoors year-round though, and you may want to pick up some new outdoor hobbies. You won’t need about 90% of your current wardrobe.
Moving to San Diego from Los Angeles
Since both San Diego and Los Angeles are southern California cities, the transition here is less extreme than moving to San Diego from NYC. One big difference is that those moving to San Diego from LA will find San Diego traffic far more tolerable. As spread out as San Diego is, it is less of an urban sprawl than the greater Los Angeles area.
Moving to San Diego from San Francisco and the Bay Area
With the trend of tech companies moving to San Diego and the popularity of remote work, there are many that have been moving to San Diego from San Francisco and the Bay Area. Having made this move many years ago, I can speak directly to this one. The old Mark Twain saying “The coldest winter was the summer I spent in San Francisco” has some validity to it. I have found the weather to be FAR nicer in San Diego than up north.
I also find the pace of life to be less stressful and less frenetic here than in the bay area. Up north it seems everyone is rushing to their next IPO event or VC meeting – traffic and stress levels are high. And, as expensive as San Diego is, the cost of living in the Bay Area is even higher. Low earners (below $250k/year?!) often have to commute for hour(s) outside the bay area to make ends meet. Lastly, while the beaches up north are beautiful, they are not waters you typically want to enter. San Diego beaches are much more recreation friendly. Anecdotally, I have heard from friends that San Diego is a better location to be single in, from a dating standpoint.
Moving to San Diego from Boston
Moving to San Diego from Boston will share some similarities with my notes about moving to San Diego from NYC. Boston has great public transportation, and San Diego does not. My advice to get a car likely applies here as well. San Diego has UCSD, USD and San Diego State, but we do not have quite the same University lineup that Boston is known for.
If you’re a history buff, you may find San Diego’s newness a bit boring. An “old” house in San Diego is about 100 years old, while Boston has buildings hundreds of years old. Things just feel newer here than in Boston. Like any New Yorker making the transition to San Diego, most of your wardrobe will be obsolete here in temperate San Diego.
What Makes People Leave San Diego?
In my real estate work, I have definitely helped more people move to San Diego than depart from it. However, several of my clients have left San Diego for other parts of the country. Although people leave San Diego for a wide variety of reasons (jobs, partners, family, etc), I would say many fall into one of two categories:
- Cost of Living – As we have discussed elsewhere in this article, San Diego is NOT an inexpensive place to live. Some people simply find the cost of living too high here and either can’t afford to live here or would prefer to have their money go further in another part of the country.
- Seeking a More Rural Lifestyle – I have had numerous clients decide the mountains and a more rural lifestyle are calling them. Oregon, Idaho, and Montana have all been popular destinations for people seeking a less urban or suburban experience. Although you can find a somewhat rural experience in parts of San Diego, that tends to be more desert-like in affordable areas, or, ultra-expensive in Rancho Santa Fe.
Thinking of Moving to San Diego?
I hope that if you are potentially moving to San Diego you have found some of these San Diego pros and cons helpful. As an agent with Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty, I regularly assist clients with a home purchase or sale in San Diego. Having lived here for multiple decades, I know San Diego quite well.
For clients relocating to San Diego, I often provide insights into neighborhood options. I can also set up a no-obligation property search so you can keep an eye on the market in whatever parts of San Diego interest you. If I can be of service with your real estate plans in San Diego, even if it is just to answer some basic questions about the area, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at your convenience.