18 Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego, California

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.