It’s going to be difficult to find a San Diego resident who doesn’t enjoy living there; or if there are any, they are scarcer than hen’s teeth. After all, what’s not to love? A day in San Diego can have you enjoying a morning swim in the Pacific Ocean, strolling through the gardens and theme parks in the afternoon, and enjoying the unique cuisine on a night out in the gorgeous Old Town.
But San Diego is much more than that. It easily checks a lot of boxes in terms of standard of living, job options, weather and attractions. What exactly makes San Diego stand out? We’ve skimmed through research papers and studies to see the areas where it excels and how it compares to other hot relocation destinations.
San Diego’s premium quality of life
In terms of overall quality of life, San Diego ranks second among big US metros (over 1M inhabitants), bested only by San Jose. With over 30 million visitors annually, and over 1.4M permanent residents, there is a lot more to San Diego than the city’s eye-candy seaside location.
San Diego ranked eighth in the recent Sharecare Community Well-Being Index out of the 150 most populous US metros. The city has also consistently made the top twenty or thirty US cities in recent years, in terms of happiness, according to rankings carried out by Business Insider, WalletHub, 24/7 Wall St. and Time.
San Diego housing landscape
Considering the city’s size and diversity, it’s not going to be difficult to find your perfect home in what’s known as “America’s Finest City.” It might be true that the area has never been easy on the wallet, but you are sure to find a good place and a lively neighborhood if you prioritize and budget accordingly. In fact, San Diego landed in 6th position in a StorageCafe study listing the cities that attracted the most renters, with over 60% of relocations being in-state moves.
Other StorageCafe research shows that median lot sizes in San Diego have increased by almost 50% in the last 100 years. The city has seen not just large lot sizes but also large median home sizes. Despite the fact that San Diego is generally known for its expensive homes, there are in fact many other locations in California where real estate property is significantly more expensive, such as San Francisco, San Jose and Orange County. For digital nomads, for example, renting a studio here is cheaper than in NYC and LA, among other places.
Employment in San Diego
You name it, San Diego has it – defense-related jobs, high-tech, biotechnology, communications, tourism, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc. Moreover, the digital economy of the city is strong and has been able to accommodate recent remote working and automation trends. The city’s unemployment rate has seen a decrease from 11% in 2010 to 3% in 2020 and despite a recent spike in unemployment caused by the pandemic, the rate has managed to drop back to 5% in just a few months.
Some of the area’s largest employers include the US Navy, the Marine Corps, Sharp Healthcare, Qualcomm, General Atomics, Scripps Health, Intuit and Teradata. In a recent study on the best cities for wage growth, San Diego came in second, with a 9.8% wage increase over the last year. The average annual salary in the city exceeds $60K.
Cost of living
Californians flock to San Diego, as financial improvements could be significant, depending on your departure point – e.g. median earnings in San Diego are almost 26% higher than those in LA. Downsizing in San Diego can also save you a fortune – residents switching from a 4-bedroom home to a 2-bedroom abode in the metro area can save you over $260K overall. Homeowners that are planning to downsize, but don’t want to leave the center of the metro’s action, can still enjoy about $315K in savings by relocating within the city limits of San Diego, according to StorageCafe.
While the cost of living might be regarded as high, depending on your budget and income, it is still lower than that of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Washington D.C., among others. Additionally, in a ranking of the best US cities for saving money (calculated by looking at high salaries relative to the cost of living), San Diego is the best place in California and the fourth city overall – looking only at big urban centers with over 1M inhabitants.
Attractions and Leisure
San Diego is undoubtedly a bucket list destination. It’s a common attraction for snowbirds due to its great year-round weather, but it’s also a common tourist destination thanks to its iconic aquatic paradise and vivacious urban life. The multiple aquariums and theme parks, the various water sports locations and the historical spots of the Old Town – the site of the first Spanish Settlement on the West Coast – attract over 30 million visitors every year. It’s hard to beat the 70 miles of coastline and the stunning scenery around the city. The best part? As a resident, you’ll have access to all of this on a daily basis.
Education and health
San Diego ranks eleventh for college readiness among students at the high school level and its university life is well-regarded throughout the country, with over 20 universities and colleges, such as San Diego State University, UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.
Research is a growing area of interest and activity in the city, especially in the field of biotechnology. In a similar vein, technology and healthcare also represent major employment areas. The multitude of academic medical centers and research institutes also translate into good patient healthcare and competent medical facilities and professionals.
Transport and environment
San Diego has the fifth-largest concentration of electric vehicles in the country, according to data from StorageCafe. The infrastructure is where it all starts – almost 1K public charging stations are available, with another 2K under construction at the moment. Also, as part of the city’s commitment to go green, San Diego has made consistent efforts to improve public transportation and alternative urban mobility.
The downtown area is becoming more bike-friendly and walkable, the bus and trolley systems are generally reliable and there is a wide range of green initiatives such as FRED (Free Ride Everywhere Downtown, an electric fleet of vehicles accessible for free) or SPIN e-bikes and e-scooters. The city’s environmental organizations are also developing numerous sustainability programs in the area. After San Diego earned the top spot on WalletHub’s greenest cities list in 2018, it has managed the same feat this year too. San Diego has also consistently appeared in other similar rankings in the last few years.
San Diego’s crime rate is 15% lower than the national average, lower than California’s average, and most crimes tend to be non-violent. Furthermore, San Diego has a lower crime rate than other similarly sized US metros, and while big cities are usually associated with higher crime rates, that is not the case in America’s Finest City. If you want to look for homes in the safest areas of the city, you can orient your search towards neighborhoods such as Torrey Hills, Torrey Pines, Del Mar Mesa and Via de la Valle.
We’ve mentioned that San Diego is a top destination for snowbirds and that is thanks to its great year-round weather. Winter temperatures are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and there are no more than 12 inches of rain per year, compared to the national average of 38 inches. Also, you can swim in the ocean pretty much year-round, you can go kayaking, whale watching, surfing and practice all sorts of water sports all winter long.
With around 265 days of sunshine every year and 10 hours of daylight even during the winter, weather is one of those things that attracts people the most to Southern California.
How San Diego is doing compared to its direct competitors
When talking about quality of life in the US, a few cities consistently make the top 10, year after year. Let’s see which cities these are, how living standards compare to San Diego, and whether they might be a better fit for you.
- San Jose – San Diego’s closest geographical competitor enjoys higher average salaries ($83K compared to $60K) but also substantially higher median home prices ($1.3M compared to $830K). The average morning commute is longer in San Jose (30 minutes compared to 24 minutes, and yes, those daily minutes do add up) and the cost of living in San Jose is over $200 higher than in San Diego. Most notably, while San Jose is indeed known for its Silicon Valley appeal and charm, your leisure activities will be more limited there.
- San Antonio – While San Diego and San Antonio have very similar numbers in terms of demographics and temperatures, as well as education and amenities, the slower pace of life in landlocked San Antonio might deter people from relocating here. Summers are even hotter without an ocean breeze, while the economy and the job market are arguably less diverse. However, if you can forget about the ocean, the cost of living is indeed lower.
- Houston – The same goes for Houston in terms of climate – if you’re not particularly a fan of very hot and humid weather, this might be a deal-breaker for you. While Houston does have its specific charm, ‘America’s Finest City’ feels more alive, with its continuously evolving entertainment and dining scene. Traffic is generally better in San Diego, with more pleasant commutes.
- Phoenix – While similar in terms of demographics, San Diego and Phoenix feel different – the former is often perceived as a relaxed little city despite its size, whereas the latter truly feels like a big city. Accommodation might be somewhat pricier in Southern California, but San Diego is half as densely populated as Phoenix, average salaries here are considerably higher, there are 11 more universities and temperatures are milder. Phoenix summers are simply too hot for many people. However, if you occasionally want to enjoy a hot air balloon ride in the Sonoran Desert, hike the nature parks or go to a Suns game, Phoenix is only a five-hour drive from San Diego.
- Dallas – Simply put, San Diego has more to offer in terms of universities, GDP and income, cheaper public transport and shorter commuting times, not to mention the beaches and the perfect temperatures…again. Moreover, as far as scenery, leisure and the cultural scene go, San Diego emerges as the clear winner. While Dallas might have the stronger business reputation, the Finest City in America lives up to its nickname and arguably wins the tie here.
- Minneapolis – If you’re fine with the cold, harsh winters, the abundant rain and the lower number of sunshine days, then living in Minneapolis might be a good fit for you. On the other hand, if you are here and you made it this far into the article, chances are that all those things are deal-breakers for you. We’re not saying the Twin Cities metro area is not a great place to live – it does boast cheaper rents, a higher GDP, more airports and sports facilities. However, life in San Diego just feels more relaxed and comfortable, considering all the aforementioned reasons. Finally, you can also go skiing around San Diego.
- Austin – Both cities are popular travel destinations, and while Austin definitely steals the thunder when it comes to the music scene, San Diego’s aquatic paradise has no match in Texas. Considering the fact that home prices in Austin are still higher than the national average, it might be worth paying the sunshine tax and relocating to SoCal, if the ocean is calling you.
Use self storage for your move to San Diego
San Diego offers dozens of storage facilities, with average prices for a standard unit hovering around $210 a month. In case you are thinking about moving here, self storage will make your relocating experience easier, more efficient and less stressful. In fact, the city offers almost six square feet of self storage per person, more than many of the big coastal US metros. Public interest in self storage is high in the area, with more than 5,800 online monthly searches for storage units in San Diego.
Regardless of where you’re coming from, it’s very unlikely you will regret your move. There is a general tendency of people who were born here and who moved somewhere else during their life to come back to their hometown sooner or later. Taking into consideration everything the city has to offer, there may be more than just plain nostalgia to this trend. You stay classy San Diego!