Locals enjoy a sunny day at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Beach in San Diego County.

16 Must-Read Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego

San Diego California

by Bridget Houlihan Posted on April 30, 2024
If you’re wondering why San Diego is considered one of the best places to live, you’ve come to the right place. America’s Finest City boasts of some of the best year-round weather; has easy access to beaches, mountains, and greenspaces; and offers residents jobs in a variety of in-demand industries. That being said, San Diego might not be for everyone, and if you want to avoid regretting a move here, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of living in San Diego.

While it may seem like an easy decision to relocate here, there are some disadvantages of living in San Diego, just as there are in all cities. And no matter where you’re coming from, getting to know a little bit more about your new potential home is a great way to see if it’s really the perfect fit for you.
Planning a move to San Diego? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

Fun Facts You Should Know About San Diego

  • San Diego has a population of around 1.38 million.
  • It’s considered the birthplace of California, as it was the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in 1769.
  • The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest in the country.
  • The endangered Torrey Pine only grows in San Diego and one other location.
  • Balboa Park features Spanish architecture from the early 1900s.
  • Skateboarding was invented in San Diego.
  • The U.S. Navy is the top employer in San Diego.

A couple enjoys a refreshing wine spritzer while dining al fresco in San Diego on a beautiful summer day.
It’s not just sunny days that make San Diego’s climate ideal; the temperatures typically don’t rise above the 80s or dip below the 50s throughout the year.
(Source: Visit San Diego via Facebook)

16 Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego

Yep, San Diego is definitely one of the best places to live in California. But before you take the next step toward making the move, it’s important to first acquaint yourself with some of the pros and cons. While living in San Diego may be a dream of yours, it’s essential to recognize that every city has its advantages and disadvantages — and San Diego is no different. Here are the main things we think you should know before you go.

Pro: The Weather in San Diego Is Outstanding

If you’ve always wanted to live in a city that’s known for near-perfect weather, then San Diego could be it. Residents really take advantage of the more than 250 sunny days each year. But it’s not just sunny days that make its climate ideal; the temperatures typically don’t rise above the 80s or dip below the 50s throughout the year. Not to mention its location on the coast ensures that the humidity stays low and you don’t experience the searing dry heat of further inland. And although there are cloudy days, the rainfall in San Diego is minimal. You also won’t see snow in the city itself, but if you really want to, you can just head east and spend some time in the Laguna Mountains!

Con: You’ll Never Experience Four Seasons

While sunny days and little rainfall may be good news for surfers or beachgoers, if you’re someone coming from an area that experiences drastic changes of the seasons, you may be disappointed in that aspect of the San Diego weather. There are really only two types of days you’ll experience with regularity: sunny days and cloudy days. The cloudy days seem to be more prevalent in May and June, leading to the popular saying “May Gray, June Gloom” in the city. Over half the days are cloudy during these months.

Pro: There Are All Kinds of Ways To Enjoy the Outdoors

Residents of San Diego are active, and they like to be outdoors and engage with all kinds of activities and sports. Some of the most popular pastimes are surfing, sailing, and snorkeling, thanks to the easy access to beaches. San Diego is home to a lot of the best beaches in the state of California, including:

  • La Jolla Beach
  • Pacific Beach
  • Ocean Beach
  • Mission Beach

However, the San Diego area is also where you’ll find all kinds of parks and preserves that you can explore. The Cabrillo National Monument offers visitors places to walk along the shore, check out the tidal pools, or just enjoy the beach. The city also has numerous state and regional parks that offer excellent opportunities to hike the trails, take the bike out, or go horseback riding, including:

Two surfers walk across the glassy wet sand toward the water on a San Diego beach.
If you’re not that into water sports or don’t really enjoy lying on the beach all day, San Diego may not be the right fit for you. 
(Source: Frank Mckenna via Unsplash)

Con: If You’re Not a Beach Person, You May Not Want To Live Here

Sure, the sunny weather and warm temperatures give beachgoers and surfers plenty of opportunities to get out on the water or relax on the shore. But the beachy vibe permeates into the overall culture of the city, as well, and water activities like sailing, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving tend to take center stage for a lot of residents — as does soaking up the sun, of course. If you’re not that into water sports or don’t really enjoy lying on the beach all day, San Diego may not be the right fit for you. 

Pro: You Can Find All Types of Housing To Meet Your Needs

Whether you’re looking to rent an apartment or beach bungalow, or you want to buy a house or condo, there are all kinds of housing options in San Diego. If you’re a young professional or student who wants to live by the beach but would prefer to rent, you’ll find a variety of apartments and small houses in coastal areas. Or perhaps you want to retire somewhere that’s away from the bustle — there are inland options that still offer plenty of access to shopping, dining, beaches, and entertainment. Do you have a family that needs a lot of space and access to good schools? Or do you want to be able to walk to the grocery store? You’ll find plenty of options to fit those needs, as well. 

Con: The Cost of Living in San Diego Is High

While there are lots of housing options in San Diego, it is expensive to buy and rent. The average home value is around $1.02 million, while the average monthly rent is around $2,925 for a one-bedroom apartment. San Diego also has a cost of living index of 154.9, which is higher than California (149.9) and significantly higher than the national average of 100. The state has some of the highest taxes in the U.S., and utilities like electricity and water can be quite expensive, as well.

Compared to L.A. and San Francisco, San Diego has a lower cost of living, but especially because of housing costs, it may still be difficult to manage, depending on where you’re coming from. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, for example, a single person without kids would need a salary of around $62,000 before taxes to live in San Diego. A family of four with two working adults would need around $145,000 before taxes. 

Entrance to the internation border between Mexico and the U.S. near San Diego, California.

Locals and tourists alike love how easy it is to pass into the border town of Tijuana for the day to enjoy local Mexican cuisine and shopping.

Pro: San Diego Is Close to All Kinds of Popular Destinations (Not Just in Cali)

If you like to travel (near and far), San Diego would make a great home base! You can be in the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles in just over 2 hours, depending on traffic. If you want to get away from it all, the Cleveland National Forest — where you can explore the trails, camp, or even go skiing in the Palomar Mountain area — is just 1 hour away. And did you know that San Diego is so close to the Mexico border you can actually park your car and walk across? That’s right. Locals and tourists alike love how easy it is to pass into the border town of Tijuana for the day to enjoy local Mexican cuisine and shopping. 

If you want to go further, Ensenada in Baja California is just 2 hours from SD, Phoenix is 5.5 hours away, and all the fun in Las Vegas is around 5 hours away. And if you’ve ever wanted to visit Hawaii, the flight from San Diego is a mere 6 hours!

Con: Trips to Other Areas of the U.S. Require Air Travel

While San Diego is convenient to a lot of SoCal cities, parts of Mexico, and some western states, if you want to go elsewhere, you’re definitely going to need to fly. Because it’s so far west and south, even visiting the fun cities of San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland will require a flight for most folks. And that’s just the West Coast! Traveling beyond the U.S. into Europe may also be a pain because you’re traveling from so far west, but lots of people find it’s completely worth the trek. 

Pro: America’s Finest City Is a Safe City

For a city with over 1 million people, San Diego is one of the safest large cities in the U.S. In fact Forbes ranked it the 6th safest city with a population over 300,000. If you’re planning to move there, you’ll also be happy to know that its overall crime index is a 17 ( which indicates San Diego is safer than 17 percent of American cities). That doesn’t seem very impressive, but compared to other large cities, it is. In fact, San Diego is safer than other California cities like L.A., San Francisco, and Sacramento, which all have crime scores of less than 10. There are also lots of safe neighborhoods in San Diego, including La Jolla, Scripps Ranch, Tierrasanta, and Mira Mesa, among many others. 

Con: The Homeless Population Is High

There are many factors that contribute to the high homeless population in San Diego. The nice year-round weather and the rising cost of living are two major reasons why there are a large number of unhoused people in the city. The local government has been trying out different strategies to help this increasing problem, and it continues to receive state funding to try and alleviate homeless encampments and provide support shelters and outreach assistance to this population.

A beautiful view of the architecture in San Diego’s Balboa Park, seen from across a pond.

Strolling through Balboa Park is an excellent way to take advantage of San Diego’s beautiful weather.

Pro: There’s A Lot To Do All Over the City

Living in San Diego means you’ll never be at a loss for things to do! Many residents take advantage of the mild weather to get outdoors every chance that they get — whether it’s doing things like strolling in Balboa Park, surfing on the beach, or taking the whole family out to enjoy the trails and views from the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. But if it’s a rainy day, or you just feel like doing something else, you also won’t be disappointed. 

San Diego is full of cultural institutions like:

You can also cheer on the MLB’s San Diego Padres in Petco Park!

Pro Tip: Get a day pass and head to Balboa Park, where you’ll have 18 world-class museums to explore in one place!

Con: The Air Quality Can Be Iffy

While air quality is important for everyone, if you have respiratory issues, it may affect you in San Diego. The quality of air in the city is iffy because the SD International Airport is very close, there is a full, functioning harbor where cargo ships are constantly coming in and out (portside communities have noticeably worse air quality), and the U.S. Navy and Marines operate bases with ship and plane traffic very close to the city. Not to mention the negative impact of smoke from nearby forest fires during fire season and proximity to the border entry points where thousands of cars and trucks pass through every day all contribute greatly to the declining air quality in San Diego. San Diego is also located within a coastal desert climate, and the dust and sand are constantly being blown into the city’s neighborhoods. You may find your car always has a layer of dust on it!

Pro: The Food and Beverage Scene Is Top Notch

Have you heard that the craft beer scene is stellar in San Diego? It’s true! You’ll find breweries and brewpubs all over the city, and lots of folks enjoy tasting new beers while they’re out. The city is full of homebrewers who like to share their passion for beer by creating their own flavors and seeing what works and what doesn’t — needless to say, the local brewing scene is alive and well! 

Some must-visit places to try new beers include:

You’ll also hear lots of natives of San Diego claim that the best Mexican in the U.S. is right in their hometown. So if you’re a fan of burritos, tacos, empanadas, enchiladas, and some seriously spicy dishes all throughout the city, San Diego could be a dream come true. 

Since it’s so close to the ocean, you can also expect amazing seafood, and there are plenty of restaurants that serve up catches of the day that just may blow you away.

Con: You’ll Have To Get Used to Lots of Beer and Mex-Cali Foods

That being said, if beer, seafood, and Mexican/Mex-Cali foods aren’t really your thing, you may be a little disappointed with other options. While there are foods from other cultures like Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian available, they may not be up to par if you’re coming from a city like San Francisco, L.A., NYC, or Chicago. San Diego focuses a lot on California cuisine (which is delicious!), but it doesn’t offer a ton of other options when it comes to global cuisine at a variety of price points.

Residential houses in La Jolla, right along the coast in San Diego.

Pro: There Are Some Amazing Neighborhoods in San Diego

Remember how we said there were fantastic places to live with a variety of housing options throughout the city? A lot of that has to do with the eclectic nature of San Diego’s neighborhoods. You can choose to live in a chill coastal neighborhood, in a high-rise in one of the downtown areas like the Gaslamp, or in a house on one of the many golf courses or country clubs north of the city. It all depends on what you’re looking for!

Here’s a quick peek at some of the top neighborhoods in SD and what they’re known for:

  • Hillcrest - vibrant, busy, and LGBTQ+ friendly
  • La Jolla - relaxed, upscale
  • North Park - eclectic shopping with lots of restaurants and bars
  • Pacific Beach - chill, beachy vibes
  • Carlsbad - low key and outdoorsy

Con: You’ll Need a Car in San Diego

There are public transportation options that include MTS buses that go to certain areas of the city, and the San Diego Trolley, which hits most of the downtown hot spots, and is popular with tourists. Additionally, there are commuter rails that connect the North County neighborhoods to the downtown areas. However, there are major gaps in service areas, and many times you need to transfer to other trains or buses to get to where you want to go. 

Walking around all neighborhoods isn’t exactly easy either, especially the further you get away from the city center. This is why most folks have a car in San Diego (and why traffic is so bad) — because they find that it’s essential to get around. 

FAQs About Living in San Diego

Q: What are the negatives of San Diego?
Housing and the overall cost of living in San Diego are some of the main negatives.

Q: Is San Diego worth living in?
Yes! Especially if you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, surfing, and biking. 

Q: Is San Diego or L.A. safer?
According to NeighborhoodScout, San Diego is safer than L.A.,as San Diego has a total crime index score of 17 and L.A. has a score of 7 (the higher the number, the safer the place).

Q: Why is San Diego better than L.A.?
Folks who think San Diego is better than L.A. love that the weather is more consistent, the cost of living is lower, and crime is less of a problem.

The Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego: Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are a lot of good things going for San Diego. The weather is amazing, there’s always something to do, it’s generally safe, the food and drink scene is buzzing, and there’s a neighborhood for every walk of life — just to name a few perks. There are cons to every city, and San Diego has a few you should consider, such as the high cost of living, the congested traffic, the poor air quality, and the high numbers of unhoused people. However, if you still think that SD sounds like it’s right for you, we definitely agree that it’s worth moving there!

Think San Diego Is the Best Place To Live in California? Let PODS Help You Get There!

If you’re ready to pack up and make the move to San Diego, PODS can help you get there without the stress. With a PODS portable storage container, you can pack up on your schedule, taking the stress away from moving in one day. Once you’re ready, PODS will pick up the container and drive it to your new San Diego home. And they even offer PODS City Service in San Diego, where the driver will stay with your container as you unload your belongings — especially helpful if you’re moving into a busy part of the city! If you need longer to unpack, no worries, one month of storage is always included with each move!

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