Your Ultimate Guide to Moving to San Diego

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San Diego at a Glance

Made for surfers, sailors and California dreamers, San Diego is the paradisical queen of the SoCal scene. The pleasant climate, the sweeping, white sand beaches, and the laid-back vibe of America’s Finest City is hard to deny. But there’s more to this coastal turf than just the surf — hundreds of amazing museums, restaurants and amusement parks await you in this special city on the sea.  

With a population of 1,381,162 sun-loving residents in the city and nearly 3.3 million in San Diego County, San Diego has long been a desirable relocation destination. The city has gained more than 70,000 new residents since 2010 — far more than Los Angeles and San Francisco combined. Newcomers may be gobsmacked by housing costs that dwarf the United States’ average, but you’d be hard-pressed to find the amenities of this beach city anywhere else in the nation. 

San Diego is a culturally diverse city, and more than 25% San Diegans are foreign born. 30% of city residents identify as Hispanic/Latino — not surprising, given the close proximity to Mexico — and nearly 18% of the San Diego population identifies as AAPI. The city has one of the largest Filipino American communities in the nation.  

This West Coast city is also economically diverse, with an enormous agricultural sector, a powerful military presence in the Naval Base San Diego and corporate giants in industries from aerospace to biotech rounding out the city’s business profile.  

If you’re looking for a fresh start in a cosmopolitan city with a beach view, San Diego may be the place for you. Learn more about San Diego’s job market, real estate, attractions, weather and food scene below. Not yet set on SoCal? Learn about some of the other best cities in California in our Guide to Moving to the Golden State.   

Climate and Weather

San Diego City Guide - Beach front in San Diego - Mayflower

San Diego may lie on the ocean, but the climate of this seaside city isn’t humid like Miami or Tampa. It’s cooler, drier and even sunnier than the Sunshine State, thanks to its coastal desert terrain. The city receives less than nine inches of rain each year, on average, with foggy mornings in the cooler months along with a wet winter and a dry summer.  

The average temperature in San Diego is a hard-to-beat 65 F, which is one reason everyone is smiling all the time here. The other is dolphins. There are a lot of dolphins in San Diego — and dolphins are always smiling — and everyone knows it’s impossible to make eye contact with a dolphin and not smile back. (Also, rude!)  

Temperatures rarely drop below 40 F in San Diego, so you’ll only need serious cold-weather gear if you head into the mountains for a hike or head back east to visit your jealous family members, shivering through another terrible winter. 

July, August and September are the city’s warmest months, and temperatures usually climb into the 90s F, occasionally creeping past the 100-degree mark when the sun is at its peak.  

Climate change, though, is making this already vulnerable environment more susceptible to extremes — both fire and flooding are increasingly high risks for San Diego residents.  

Housing and Cost of Living in San Diego

San Diego City Guide - Arial view of San Diego CA - Mayflower

San Diego has one of the most expensive housing markets in America. The median home value in San Diego between 2017-2021 was $664,000 according to the U.S. Census — that’s nearly three times the national average and more than twice the average price in Chicago — the third-largest city in the country.  

San Diego’s housing prices also top the median home value in California by almost $100,000, and it’s even more expensive than New York’s. Compared to California’s largest cities, though, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Diego’s prices beat out only Sacramento, whose median is only $385,500 — still far higher that the U.S. average of $244,900. Los Angelenos spend an average of $705,900 and San Franciscans spend a whopping $1,194,500. And that was before the housing bubble! Home sales have driven real estate prices sky-high, and according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation the mean home price in June 2023 was $958,250 — out of reach for most Americans. 

But San Diegans also earn far more than their counterparts, helping to balance out the cost of living a bit. On average, city residents bring home nearly $90,000 a year — $20,000 more than LA and NYC residents, whose earnings are on par with the U.S. median household income: $69,021. Poverty levels in the city are only 11.6% — less than a tenth of a point higher than the U.S. average, and several points lower than most of the aforementioned cities.  

California’s tax rates are something to be aware of. The Golden State does have the highest marginal state personal income tax rate in the nation — 13.3%, according to the Tax Foundation — but you’ll only pay that if your household earns in excess of $1,354,550. Thanks to California’s graduated tax rate, those earning San Diego’s median household income will only pay 6%. There is a statewide 7.25% state sales tax, and San Diego imposes an additional 0.25%-1.50%, depending on the district. The state corporate income tax rate in California is 8.84% — the seventh-highest in the nation. 

Please note: we are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and advice from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances. 

Job Market and Economy in San Diego

As California’s second-largest city, San Diego has a massive labor force with nearly 1.6 million nonfarm workers in the San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos area. This highly skilled workforce is employed in a diverse array of industries, from defense and cybersecurity to cleantech, software development, life sciences and tourism. Top employers in the area include Sony Electronics, Kaiser Permanente, Scripps Research and SeaWorld.  

The largest single non-farm industry in San Diego is Professional & Business Services, which employs more than 286,000 people. But this port city’s major military presence means that the government is actually one of the largest industry sectors, employing more than 239,000 individuals. In addition to those employed by the Naval Base San Diego, the military presence also supports other vital industries in the region, including aerospace, shipbuilding and the Trade, Transportation & Utilities sector.  

Collins Aerospace, headquartered in San Diego, creates everything from autonomous aircraft technology to enhanced cabin seating in commercial planes. So, if you’re looking for a little extra legroom, you might have a Collins engineer to thank for that in-flight comfort.   

Between the University of California, the VA San Diego and other major hospitals and research facilities, the Education & Healthcare sector is another stabilizing force in San Diego’s job market. 

But nothing sells itself quite so easily as the sunny skies and roaring surf, which create a booming Tourism, Leisure & Hospitality industry in this coastal gem. 

Unemployment in San Diego rose to 4.3% in August 2023, topping the nation’s average, but employment in most sectors held steady or saw year-over-year growth, especially in Other Services, which has expanded by 9.1% since August 2022.   

Education and Schools

San Diego has a robust and well-respected school district in California. As the second-largest district in the state, the San Diego Unified School District encompasses more than 200 facilities, including charter schools, alternative/atypical campuses and dual language programs. The public school system in San Diego serves a diverse population of students, representing more than nine racial and ethnic groups, a quarter of whom are English learners.   

In higher education, the city is also a standout. The University of California system is one of the most renowned public institutions of higher learning in the country, and UC San Diego is ranked #28 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The University of San Diego — a mid-size, private, Roman Catholic institution — boasts the #2 most beautiful campus, according to the Princeton Review. And, San Diego State University, founded in 1897, offers 202 degree programs to more than 36,000 students on its iconic, urban campus. 

Transportation and Commute

Like most major American cities, San Diego is plagued by congested roadways, but commute times in the city aren’t terrible by U.S. standards. The U.S. census estimates it takes San Diego workers an average of 24.5 minutes to get to the office every day. Or, every other day, if you’re one of the millions of Californians who have now switched to hybrid work schedule. 

To help San Diegans get around the city, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Authority manages four all-electric trolley lines in the city’s light rail system and a near-zero-emission bus service that offers rapid routes to popular destinations. Standard daily fares on the San Diego MTA are $2.50 for a one-way ticket and $72 for a monthly pass. 

Commuters needing to travel to farther-flung destinations outside the city can take the COASTER Commuter Train. Monthly passes range from $59 for the “Sprinter” service to $189 for the coastal 3 zones. Daily and weekly passes are also available. 

If you want to travel up the coast, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner is the best way to go. This train will get you so close to the beach you’re liable to have sand in your socks when you disembark.  

For those commuters traveling by car, I-5 will take you all the way from the Mexican border up the coast to Los Angeles. The notoriously congested I-805 also travels a north-south route, but further inland. I-8 will take you from Ocean Beach east to Arizona and however far your four wheels can roll.  

Lifestyle and Recreation in San Diego

In San Diego, there are activities for the outdoorsy, the indoorsy and the in-between. Whether you’re destined to be the next biggest San Diego Padres fan or you’re seeking enlightenment at the San Diego Museum of Art, you’ll find hundreds of diversions to suit your style, your spirit and your mood. 

Get Outdoors

San Diego City Guide - Mountain in San Diego - Mayflower

You may have told people that you’re moving to San Diego for a cool new job or because the weather is so wonderful, but if you’re honest, you’re moving to San Diego for the sea lions, and that’s okay. To see these wonderous, carnivorous pinnipeds, head to La Jolla Cove beach, where you can scuba dive with them or admire the playful antics of these “dogs of the sea” from the shoreline.  

La Jolla is one of many beaches in San Diego worth exploring. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is an immersive getaway only a short drive from downtown, where you can hike along forested ocean bluffs or test the waters of the surf below. Linksmen will be familiar with the storied landscape of Torrey Pines Golf Course, where the disappointment of bogeying a hole is always tempered by the beauty of the Pacific Ocean below — the final resting place of your Titleist Pro V1. RIP.  

Along the Mexican border, the Tijuana River Estuary and National Estuarine Research Reserve is a protected and rare wetland in the region — it’s one of the only salt marshes left in Southern California. More than 370 species of birds (and countless ornithological enthusiasts) are glad this special place has been offered the protection of the California state park system.  

If you want a family-friendly San Diego beach experience, Mission Beach has all-day fun: an excellent boardwalk with a creaky-but-probably-sturdy 1925 roller coaster, dozens of restaurants, bars and shops, and perfect surf for boogie boarding and kiteboarding.  

Balboa Park is a destination for indoor and outdoor fun alike. See a Ballet Folklorico performance at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, learn how humans took flight at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, or see an exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego. At Balboa’s Comic-Con Museum, you can create your own superhero in their makerspace. We know SuperYou is dying to try it. Outdoors at Balboa, you can ride the antique mini-train, or see a Shakespearean play at The Old Globe. Cyclists will want to spin their wheels at the San Diego Velodrome, and plant-lovers will find floral havens of almost every kind at Balboa — a cactus garden, a native plant preserve, the tropical Palm Canyon and even a nudist-colony-turned-butterfly-garden — an appropriate spatial transformation, if ever there was one.  

But the outdoor fun in this city between the mountains and the sea doesn’t have to end at the city borders. Slip away for some resort-grade me-time in Palm Springs, or — if you’d rather escape civilization altogether — head to Joshua Tree National Park for a few days of hiking, camping and stargazing at this International Dark Sky Park. Both destinations are about a three-hour drive from the city. 

Key Attractions 

If you didn’t get enough of the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, SeaWorld will be happy to take the baton, where alluring jellyfish and intimidating sharks will happily greet you, sometimes with disturbingly hungry eyes. Five high-thrill roller coasters also await you at SeaWorld, including a floorless dive coaster called the Emperor — no doubt modeled after the world’s most daredevilish penguin — which will send you plunging 14 stories — face down — before whipping you through barrel rolls and flat spin turns that will make you glad to be a lowly land mammal. 

Legoland and Sesame Place turn down the ocean and turn up the charm. These two popular amusement parks will be a hit with the smaller set, where they can meet their favorite TV friends like Count Von Count, Elmo and Abby, attend fun events like Brick-or-Treat and get some pint-size thrills on kiddie coasters — no Dramamine or defibrillators required.  

If you’ve never been to the San Diego Zoo, you’ll find it’s no ordinary zoological park. In addition to being able to meet bee-eaters, bonobos and babirusa (known to their friends as “pig deer”), you can sign up for an overnight adventure in the San Diego Safari Park, where your family can glamp out, take a nighttime zipline tour, and see the African and Asian animal exhibits with night vision binoculars. We hear those tigers love s’mores.  

History and aviation buffs will want to make a pilgrimage to the USS Midway Museum, which has an astonishing collection of historic aircraft and military memorabilia. Climb into the sailors’ bunks and imagine how it felt to be tossed about on the high seas while you’re trying to get some Z’s. The flight simulator really lets you in on the action, but you can also stroll through the command information center and pretend you’re at the helm. You might be astonished by how primitive this once state-of-the-art equipment now seems.  

Diverse Dining Options

With a backyard of avocado and citrus groves and a front yard view of the Pacific, San Diego has some serious agricultural muscles to flex. And, boy, does the San Diego food scene shine when it does. Restaurants in San Diego reflect the local riches from land and sea but also the wealth of its diverse cultural influences.  

Neighboring Mexico has given San Diego has an embarrassment of culinary treasure, from dozens of casual taquerias like ¡Salud! to fine dining establishments like Javier’s in La Jolla, where the ingredients are sustainably sourced to craft its impeccable ceviche, guisados and other specialty dishes. 

Thanks to San Diego’s prominent Filipino American community, you can also count on finding top-notch lumpias, liempo and kare-kare at establishments like Kusina SD and many others around the region. When it’s time for a treat, Filipino Desserts Plus —established in 1990 by Agnes Manansala De Joya and now run by her daughter and son-in-law — has all the pitsi-pitsi, turon and sapin-sapin you can handle.  

When you’re ready to dive into the flavors of the ocean, Mitch’s Seafood should be the first menu you sample. Serving the freshest catch in true Baja style, simplicity is what stands out on this longstanding Point Loma menu.

If you’re just looking for a well-earned reprieve from the workday, Downtown San Diego has all the nightlife you’ll need. Rooftop spots like the Fairweather bar are popular in sunny San Diego, which offers an array of tacos and classic bar snacks to soak up the suds, bubbly or other tempting concoctions from their cheery bar. The Nolen offers more upscale fare, like nduja ricotta crostini with prosciutto and micro herbs, along with gussied up low-brow bites, like the crispy tots, dusted with mezcal salt.  

Tips to Help You Relocate to San Diego 

Find a Trusted Mover

If San Diego is going to be your next home, now is the time to start looking for the best professional moving company to help you relocate. Check out these tips on how to find the best movers.  

During your move to San Diego, Mayflower will be here for you Every Step of the Way®. For nearly 100 years, Mayflower has been the nation’s most trusted moving company. We have a nationwide network of movers who are licensed for interstate moves, dedicated to helping make your relocation smooth and worry-free.   

Using the Mayflower Move Portal will keep all the details of your upcoming move at your fingertips.  

Get a moving quote for San Diego from Mayflower.  

Consider Moving Full-Service to San Diego 

If you’re moving cross-country to San Diego, Mayflower’s long-distance movers can help you move from anywhere in the country. Our dedicated agents can provide you with custom moving packages and full-service moving solutions. We can handle the packing and unpacking, shipping your car, storage needs, debris removal and more. 

If you are moving in California, Mayflower can assist you with local movers in San Diego and the Golden State. Our California movers and movers in San Diego perform local moves in California independently under their own brands and business names.  

Get Moving Tips and Resources from the Pros

Even if you are planning a DIY move to San Diego, Mayflower’s professional moving resources can help you keep your move on track and on budget. Take advantage of our moving checklist and planner. Learn more about the Golden State and the coastal West in Mayflower’s state guides and city guides.  

Remember, Mayflower is there for you even after your move is complete. Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or you’re a home improvement guru, follow these simple tips to help you settle into your new home.  

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