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Distant view of the San Diego skyline over an extensive marina.

8 San Diego Neighborhoods That Capture The Best Of SoCal Living

San Diego California

by Amelia England Posted on March 13, 2024

Endless coastline, charming historical districts, abundant greenspace, unique nightlife, and top-rated school districts: There’s a lot to love about living in San Diego. Add picture-perfect year-round weather, and it’s easy to understand why you might want to relocate to any one of the many San Diego neighborhoods (yes, even if you’re moving from across the country). Is that your dream? Then this neighborhood guide is for you!

Planning a move to San Diego? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

First, a Quick Look at San Diego

  • San Diego is located on the southwestern tip of California, strategically positioned on the U.S.-Mexico border and the Pacific Rim, making it a major gateway for international trade and tourism.
  • With an estimated nearly 1.4 million residents in 2024, San Diego is the second-largest city by population in California (after Los Angeles). 
  • Reaching beyond the city’s borders, San Diego County overall is home to about 3.3 million residents, making it the fifth-most populous county in the U.S.
  • The city has a unique geography, with hills and mesas separated by valleys and canyons. And, of course, the stunning deepwater San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, which provide 70 miles of coastline — home to some of the best San Diego neighborhoods.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into exploring the best places to live in San Diego. First things first: What are the neighborhoods in San Diego like? With more than 100 colorful and distinctive neighborhoods (yes, over 100!), San Diego offers more than enough choices to satisfy diverse needs and personalities. 

Prices, on the other hand, may be a challenge, with an average San Diego home valued at around $994,000 in February 2024, an 9.4 percent increase over the year prior. And rents are costly, too, at an average of around $3,000 per month for about 875 square feet. But if you’re patient, you can find more affordable options — smaller homes, for instance, or condos that are inland, away from the pricier coastal neighborhoods. 

For the purposes of this guide, we’re focusing on three main areas in our overview of where to live in San Diego:

  • Downtown and urban neighborhoods
  • Coastal neighborhoods
  • North County neighborhoods

An illustrated graphic of the best San Diego neighborhoods

Now let’s get going!  

Downtown San Diego Neighborhoods

The urban neighborhoods in and around downtown San Diego are the heart of the city’s business, arts, and entertainment communities. The area has undergone 20 years of redevelopment that’s transformed downtown into a vibrant place to live, work, and play, resulting in some of the best neighborhoods in San Diego.

San Diego’s downtown is much less densely populated than comparable cities like Seattle, Portland, Denver, and Las Vegas. For now, that means its hilly streets and greenspaces are more walkable and less crowded. However, ambitious plans for commercial and residential projects are expected to more than double the urban center’s population to about 90,000 by the year 2030.

Ready to get in ahead of the big wave? Let’s take a look at three favorite downtown San Diego neighborhoods: 

1. Little Italy – A Lively Slice of History in San Diego

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $3,075
  • Average home value: $700,900
  • Great for: Professionals, folks without cars, social people

If you want to get as much downtown action as you can, look to historic Little Italy: a close-knit, 48-block community teeming with unique local restaurants, cultural events, and year-round street festivals. Here you’ll find a waterfront view, live music, a gourmet farmer’s market, and even an Italian-style piazza — complete with a three-tiered fountain to light up the evening crowds. It’s a quaint and purposefully explorable area, and easy to access by trolley from virtually anywhere else downtown. Fun fact: This is not just one of the best family neighborhoods in San Diego — it’s also the largest “Little Italy” in the U.S. (take that, Manhattan!).

Little Italy offers diverse living options across historic districts and new construction. And despite being one of San Diego’s buzziest downtown neighborhoods, Little Italy is surprisingly affordable, boasting an average home value of around $700,900 (about $295,000 less than the city’s average, making it one of the more affordable neighborhoods in San Diego for buying) and an average monthly rent of around $3,075. That being said, start your apartment search early to find the best selection; Little Italy doesn’t have as many rental options as other areas of downtown.

Q: What is the most walkable part of San Diego? 
Practically all of the city’s downtown districts are eminently foot-friendly, with Little Italy in particular earning an impressive 98 rating from Walk Score. And if, for some reason, you need to go elsewhere (but why would you leave?), San Diego’s public transit system of buses and trolleys is within easy reach.
San Diego's East Village
(Source: Quartyard via Facebook)
Revitalization in the early 2000s transformed East Village from a gritty warehouse district to the thriving heart of downtown San Diego. 

2. East Village – San Diego’s Biggest Downtown Neighborhood 

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $3,075
  • Average home value: $669,700
  • Great for: Young professionals, walkers, cyclists, retirees

Spanning 130 blocks from 7th Avenue just outside the downtown core to 17th Street and the five freeway (I-5), East Village has transformed from a gritty warehouse district to a thriving mixed-use urban community. The 2004 opening of Petco Park, home of baseball’s San Diego Padres, ignited the area’s revitalization, bringing an abundance of restaurants, cafes, rooftop bars, boutiques, and live music venues to make it the beating and bustling heart of downtown San Diego. Ask where to find some of the best neighborhoods in San Diego and you’ll likely get East Village as an answer time and again.

Housing in East Village consists mostly of apartments, luxury condos, and converted warehouses, with tons of new residential and greenspace development staged for the coming decade. The average home value as of February 2024 is about $669,700, an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous year.

RentCafe lists the average rent in East Village at around $3,075 per month, only a hair above San Diego’s overall average of around $3,000. Along with Little Italy, East Village is one of the cheapest neighborhoods in San Diego — although that’s relative, given the overall affordability scale of the area.

Looking to live near work and ditch your car? Getting around East Village’s grid system is safe and easy with the city’s public bus and trolley lines, and plenty of areas are accessible by foot or bike. 

3. Hillcrest: San Diego's LGBTQIA+ Hub

  • Average rent (one-bedroom):  $2,650
  • Average home value: $829,700
  • Great for:  LGBTQIA+, young professionals, students

If you’re looking for San Diego’s LGBTQIA+ scene, head a few miles north of downtown to Uptown Hillcrest. Start at the Pride flag and walk either direction down University Avenue. You’ll soon be pleasantly surrounded in this diverse and welcoming district by coffee houses, bars, boutiques, and bookshops — and perhaps the iconic Hillcrest Brewing Co., known as the first gay brewing company in the world.

This market is H-O-T, so if you find you’re destined to live in Hillcrest, known as one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego, start your house hunting as soon as possible. Attached townhomes, luxury condos, and single-family homes are all available with an average home value around $829,700, up nearly 6 percent from a year ago but still refreshingly below the city’s average.

Looking to rent? You’re in luck. The typical rent for a one-bedroom unit in Hillcrest is just under $2,650 a month — slightly below the city’s overall average.

Moving from another state? Get these 14 tips about moving costs and things you need to know about living in California before you arrive in the Golden State.

Locals are enjoying the sunset at a beach in San Diego’s La Jolla.
A true jewel on the SoCal coast, San Diego’s La Jolla offers award-winning schools and a vibrant dining and cultural scene — as well as stunning beaches, of course. 

Coastal Neighborhoods of San Diego 

If you love the idea of living in San Diego but want to embrace the beach life, take yourself on a tour of the city’s many coastal neighborhoods. We recommend starting with Pacific Beach and La Jolla as two distinct sides of the San Diego coin: one a bit more laid back and eclectic; the other more upscale and mature. 

4. Pacific Beach – Bayfront Living Close to Downtown San Diego

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,875
  • Average home value: $1.35M
  • Great for: Retirees, young professionals, families, vacation homes

Often named one of the liveliest places to live in San Diego, Pacific Beach offers a unique mix of waterfront, urban, and suburban living amenities for all manner of beachgoers, vacationers, young professionals, and happy retirees. One-bedroom rentals average around $2,875 a month, and the average home price in Pacific Beach is high at around $1.35 million — a whopping 6.9 percent jump from last year. Still, residents who can afford to live in this close-knit community justify the cost as a buy-in to the neighborhood’s fun atmosphere, low crime rates, and best-in-city access to San Diego Bay. 

Pacific Beach (affectionately dubbed “PB” by locals) has a party reputation but attracts plenty of families. Look beyond the buskers and sunbathers and you’re sure to discover a mellower side of this funky beach town — from pleasant picnic spots to protected swim areas, local eats to luxe day spas — and miles of bike paths in between.

You may be wondering about the commuting situation in Pacific Beach, especially if you don’t plan to spend all your time biking the boardwalk or surfing Crystal Pier. The traffic isn’t always ideal, but you can get from PB to downtown like so: Take a fairly direct bus line south and get off at any number of stops downtown, or drive 15 minutes (outside of peak traffic hours) on I-5. (FYI, if you drive every day, you’ll definitely need to make a downtown San Diego parking plan.)

5. La Jolla – The Jewel of San Diego

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $3,475
  • Average home value: $2.27M
  • Great for: Luxury living, retirees, professionals

A bit up the coast from Pacific Beach, this Mediterranean-style village is considered San Diego’s jewel and is widely considered one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego. With world-renowned beaches and towering, rocky cliffs forming a dramatic backdrop, this A+-rated community features award-winning schools, ritzy streets, and a vibrant dining and cultural scene. Think of it as the Beverly Hills of SoCal — and one of the best family neighborhoods in San Diego.

Here, the average home value is a lofty $2.27 million, making it one of the most expensive and sought-after places to live in the U.S. In fact, La Jolla had two of the priciest home sales in the entire county in 2023. And rents are relatively sky high, too, at about $3,500 a month for a one-bedroom.

Besides its seven miles of coastline and gorgeous scenery, La Jolla packs a powerful economic punch as home to the University of California San Diego, one of the top research universities on the planet. This has attracted biotech giants like Scripps Research and Pfizer, whose La Jolla operations are instrumental in continuing advancement in the healthcare fields.

Q: What are the safest areas to stay in San Diego? 
Midway District Southeast, Barrio Logan East, and Rancho Encantada are the safest San Diego neighborhoods, according to Neighborhood Scout data. If a neighborhood with less ‘burb and more hubbub is your style, the East Village and Gaslamp Quarter are two of the safest areas in downtown San Diego. 

North County San Diego Neighborhoods

Looking for a SoCal vibe that’s away from the hustle and bustle? You might want to consider North County, a mix of family-friendly coastal and inland neighborhoods about 25 miles north of downtown San Diego. Here are three North County coastal favorites:

Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas
Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas
(Source: Encinitas 101 Main Street Association via Facebook)
The beaches in Encinitas rate as prime surf spots, but the city is also home to families drawn to the city’s top-rated schools, eclectic cafes and coffeehouses, and focus on outdoor living.

6. Encinitas — A Classic California Surf Suburb

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,750
  • Average home value: $1.84M
  • Great for: Families, retirees, laid-back professionals

Located 30 minutes north of San Diego, Encinitas is a beautiful coastal location — and although it’s an incorporated city in its own right, locals consider it part of the greater San Diego area. And we do mean “greater”: An unspoiled reminder of the historic Highway 101 beach culture, Encinitas’ Swami Beach inspired the Beach Boys’ classic “Surfin’ USA.” And while the beach is still one of SoCal’s prime surf spots, the city is now home to about 60,750 residents, including families who appreciate its top-rated schools, eclectic cafes and coffeehouses, and focus on outdoor living.

All of these perks come with a price tag, of course. The average Encinitas home value is about $1.84 million, with lower prices inland, as one would expect in coastal neighborhoods. The average rent here is about $2,750 per month, but you can shop a variety of cute cottages and modern condos with easy access to the beach. 

7. Leucadia — The Funky Part of Encinitas

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $2,750
  • Median home sale price: $2.65M
  • Great for: Retirees, vacationers, artists

On the north end of Encinitas, Leucadia is a rustic beach community marked by its longstanding surf culture, highly walkable neighborhoods, and quaint dining and arts scene. Secluded beaches and gorgeous sunsets draw plenty of vacationers year-round, and the eclectic locals labor to “Keep Leucadia Funky'' through a steady output of folksy art. That 1960s beach-bum culture aside, funky Leucadia has certainly proved to be a hot SoCal commodity.

Looking to rent or buy in Leucadia? Plan to work another posh housing market. Luxury homes here list in the millions, while condo, house, and townhome rentals are in the $2,700-$6,000 (and up … to $29,000!) per month range, and there aren’t more than a handful of options either way.  

Q: What part of San Diego is the most affordable? 
Given that San Diego is the most expensive place to live in the United States, finding the “most affordable” might prove challenging — depending, of course, on your definition of affordable. But based on home prices and rental costs, the three most-affordable districts are City Heights, Mountain View, and Paradise Hills — all equipped with diverse housing options and convenient access to public transportation.
golf course and residential neighborhood in Carlsbad, CA
(Source: Visit Carlsbad via Facebook)
Great schools, golf courses, and a bustling business district are the hallmarks of Carlsbad, one of the best family neighborhoods in San Diego.

8. Carlsbad Village — Where You Can Find Your Happy Place

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $3,150
  • Average home value: $924,400
  • Great for: Families, professionals, retirees

Proximity to water, high-paying jobs, and a vibrant lifestyle culture combine to make Carlsbad a sweet spot for health and longevity. Yes, Carlsbad is its own city — but at just over 30 miles north of downtown, it qualifies for our exploration of San Diego’s best neighborhoods. And plenty of residents commute to the urban core from here.

Move to this city and you’ll be privy to an array of high-end amenities and luxury shopping centers, a historic enclave of mineral spas and retreats, tons of golf courses, and easy access to museums, parks, and entertainment. Carlsbad is also home to several corporate headquarters and high-end industries, thus supporting a unique job market with pipelines to both L.A. and San Diego economies.

Another major boon to living in Carlsbad is the area’s top-notch school district, rated No. 4 in the San Diego area by Niche.com. Add an abundance of hiking trails, beachfront, and great weather, and it’s no wonder Carlsbad is considered one of the best family neighborhoods in San Diego.

If you’re looking to buy in Carlsbad, you’ll find most of your selection in recently developed subdivisions. (Think backyard pools and long driveways.) The market for historic homes is highly competitive, occasionally surfacing with a stunning Mission Revival or sundrenched Victorian — all too quickly snatched up. The average home value in Carlsbad is around $924,400 (less than the average in San Diego), with average rent about $3,150 for about 925 square feet.

Planning Your Move to San Diego

With every relocation, it’s never too early to map out your timeline, consider your budget, and get started on all the details. Whether you’re moving across the country or just looking for more peaceful surroundings, consider choosing a solution like PODS moving and storage containers that give you maximum flexibility. From making it easy to change dates on a dime to having convenient built-in storage if you end up with time between homes, PODS is all about reducing the hassle and stress of moving — so your first view of the Pacific Ocean will be that much sweeter. Cheers to SoCal living!

Editor’s note: For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

Amelia England is a content writer and regular contributor to the PODS blog. Between college, grad school, and seasonal adventures, she has downsized and relocated over 25 times.

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My cousin lives in Crest , which is a where?
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