The Ultimate Guide to Moving to San Diego

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Quick Facts about San Diego 

Nestled between the roaring surf and the rugged mountains of Southern California, San Diego is a coastal desert paradise. Jagged cliffs overhang the sea, producing dramatic, panoramic vistas. Wildflowers spread across the arid hillsides, punctuated by blossoms of prickly pear, paprika yarrow and sea asters. The temperate marine air brings alluring morning fog but little rain to the city, making this urban enclave a sunny counterpart to its northern sibling, San Francisco.  

Two hours from Los Angeles and just 20 miles from Mexico, San Diego is one of the largest cities in California and, in fact, the entire United States. The population of the city proper is now 1.4 million, and nearly 3.3 million residents reside in the county. The city’s steady growth over the past decade has brought in 70,000 new residents since 2010, and the county has ballooned by more than 180,000. San Diego has a strong military presence, which brings stability and diversity to the job market. Those career possibilities combined with the lure of oceanside living have proven irresistible to many, even if the city is prohibitively expensive to most.  

San Diego’s thriving cultural scene is also remarkably varied. When you’re not cheering on the Padres, San Diego MLS, San Diego Wave or the San Diego Seals (the city’s pro lacrosse team), an inspiring array of diversions awaits. Theme parks like SeaWorld, historic sites like the Cabrillo National Monument, kid-centric venues like the New Children’s Museum and only-in-San-Diego institutions like the Museum of Making Music make for meaningful and fun experiences for your whole family.  

If you’re thinking of moving to San Diego, learn more about what life is like in SoCal.

If you haven’t decided yet which California city is right for you, learn more about the Golden State in our Guide to Moving to California. 

Living in San Diego

If it weren’t for the hefty cost of living, you wouldn’t have to twist many people’s arms to get them to move to San Diego. The sunny climate, the proximity to both mountains and sea and the diverse culture and economy make this city an easy sell. Learn more about the pros and cons of living in San Diego below.

San Diego’s Climate

San Diego has what’s known as a “coastal desert climate,” which makes for mild weather year-round and more temperate conditions than you’ll find further inland. The average temperature in San Diego is 65 F, thanks to the ocean air that moderates the temperature, keeping the daily range within 15 degrees F. This is a stark contrast to the nearby inland desert areas, which can start and end the day thirty or more degrees apart. But you should be prepared for some hot summer days, when daily highs can easily reach the nineties.  

The city’s abundant sunshine has long drawn new residents and visitors, but San Diego’s marine environment keeps the air damp, so mornings often start out pleasantly foggy. The coastal areas receive less rain than the outlying, mountainous region, and San Diego residents see less than nine inches of rain a year, on average. Much of the annual rain falls in the colder months from November through April — traditionally California’s “green season” — but climate change has meant increasing environmental threats, including droughts, wildfires, mudslides and flooding over the past 20 years.  

Employment Opportunities

According to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the city is on a bit of a downward trend, economically, with rising unemployment (3.9%) and declining labor force participation. But the outlook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a bit rosier, indicating year-over-year gains in many industry sectors, including 6.9% in Education and Health Services, 7% in Leisure & Hospitality and 10.9% in Other Services. 

San Diego’s single largest sector is Professional & Business Services, which supplies 287,000 jobs in the city across diverse corporations.  

Thanks in part to the military installations in the area, the Government also has a large economic footprint, employing more than 250,000 individuals and supporting numerous businesses. Over 115,000 members of the Navy, Marines and the U.S. Coast Guard are stationed in San Diego, and it’s estimated that defense spending in the area supports nearly a quarter of all jobs in San Diego County. 

Education & Health Services is the third-largest sector, supporting 241,000 jobs, including those at San Diego’s numerous (and well-regarded) hospital and research groups. Trade, Transportation & Utilities employs more than 222,000 people in San Diego, and Tourism supports more than 210,000 jobs in the city.  

San Diego’s diverse economy is a stabilizing factor in the region. The county’s largest employers include the Naval Base San Diego, Scripps Research Institute, SeaWorld, Caesar Entertainment and Sony. The area’s colleges and universities are also a major economic boon. The University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) is ranked 34th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and San Diego State University, the University of San Diego and more than a dozen other higher educational institutions provide a well-trained workforce for the numerous industries in the region. 

Cost of Living

Like many cities in California, San Diego’s cost of living is one of the highest in the country. According to SmartAsset, the cost of living in San Diego is outmatched only by San Francisco. The median household income in San Diego, which now stands at just under $90,000, doesn’t come close to meeting the threshold for comfortable living in the city, which is estimated at $80,000 per individual per year — not nearly enough to comfortably support an entire household.  

Housing and Rent

When we compare housing costs between San Diego and other major cities in the country, San Diego’s real estate is, not surprisingly, among the very most expensive. San Diego’s prices are on par with New York City and Los Angeles, and more than double that of Chicago’s and the national average. According to the U.S. Census, the median home value in San Diego is $664,000 in the city and $627,200 in San Diego County. But other sources tell an even worse tale. The National Association of Realtors puts the median home price in San Diego in 2023 at $942,400 … and rising. Rent in San Diego far outpaces Los Angeles and NYC, with a median of $1,885 per month — $700 higher than the U.S. average.   

Tax Rates

Tax rates in California are, indeed, some of the highest in the nation. There is a graduated personal income tax rate with 10 brackets, which can be helpful to those earning less. The state also has the seventh highest corporate income tax and sales tax rates, according to the Tax Foundation. 

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. 

Unique Experiences in San Diego

San Diego is a cultural haven, with world-class museums, tempting boutiques and an incredible food scene and nightlife. All the city’s urban delights are all enveloped in natural beauty — the daunting Pacific on the west and the untamed mountain terrain to the east. Residents of this SoCal hotspot have access to manmade wonders, like the Mingei International Museum or The Museum of Us, which examines the diversity of human experiences from prehistoric times to this very moment. But, of course, this is a city to see outdoors, whether that’s boogie boarding at Tamarack State Beach to hiking among the spectacular flora and fauna of Joshua Tree National Park — just three hours from the city. Learn more below about outdoor and indoor fun in this creative, coastal gem.

Outdoor Activities

With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is famous for its beaches, beloved by serious surfers and accomplished beachcombers, alike. In the northern reaches of the city, Carlsbad is known for the protected wetlands of Batiquitos Lagoon — a relaxing spot for kayaking, nature walks and biking. On the opposite end of the city, San Diego’s South Bay is built for days of adventuring. The 24-mile Bayshore Bikeway travels from Coronado all the way downtown, and along the route you’ll have the chance to spot amazing wildlife in the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Residents flock here for the Imperial Beach Sun & Sea Festival, which hosts an annual sandcastle-building competition.  

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is an exquisite stretch of beaches and forests, which is home to one of the rarest species of pines in the U.S. The ancient trees’ distinctive silhouettes are sculpted by the area’s salty air and strong winds, which rush up the wildflower-laden hillsides — a treat for hikers in the springtime.  

If you prefer the sun to the shade, Torrey Pines State Beach is a lovely place for long walks, but it can be treacherous. High tide breaks directly on the sandstone cliffs, which are fragile and often fall unpredictably on the sand below, even during low tide. Be sure to follow all park guidelines to safely enjoy this special place.  

In this area, PGA enthusiasts will be well-acquainted with Torrey Pines Golf Course, a celebrated venue overlooking the ocean. The course is open to the public, and city residents play for greatly reduced rates.  

If you are looking for a place to break out snorkels and scuba gear, La Jolla Cove beaches are the place to visit. The mysterious caves and colorful reefs are the stuff of wonder, where fish seclude themselves deep in the kelp forests. Sea lions also populate the beach, so sometimes sand is at a premium, and humans will be asked to defer to the animals, here. If you want to ride the waves, the Boomers area is designated just for bodysurfers (some areas are off-limits to boards of any kind). Windansea is a favorite of local surfers with advanced skills who can handle the crushing waves that often arrive in the winter months and can reach heights of eight feet.  

San Diego Attractions

History buffs won’t want to miss a trip to the USS Midway Museum, which celebrates the 20th century’s longest-serving air carrier. Competed in September of 1945, the ship features 30+ aircraft, including airplanes flown in the Battle of Midway (1942), the Korean and Vietnam Wars and even today’s F/A-18 Hornets. Walk the armored flight deck and learn how pilots deftly maneuvered their aircraft for precision takeoffs and landings or go below decks and see the systems that powered this floating city in the steam engine rooms. 

If you’d like to build your own ship, or spacecraft, castle or fortress, you’ll want to head to Legoland California. With its climbing towers, Brick Beatz dance parties and building adventures for land, sea and outer space, Legoland really stacks up the fun. There are coasters and water slides for the thrill-seekers in your family, and Lego building spaces to follow wherever your imagination leads you. Booking a room at the castle-themed hotel at the park entrance will put you in the lead for the Best Parent Ever award and at the head of the line for park entry, too.  

Big Bird and Elmo fans will adore Sesame Place, a theme park with low-intensity thrills for the smaller set. The Magic Bubble Wands in Sesame Street Village are, indeed, pretty magical, and families can cool off during the summer on the gentle water rides at Sesame Summer Splash, like Snuffy’s Spaghetti Slides, 60-foot-long bucatini-like tubes that land in a splash pool. The park is also a Certified Autism Center, and every attraction has a sensory rating to make it easier for parents to anticipate their child’s experience.  

If you’re looking for high-intensity thrills, SeaWorld has some of the most exciting roller coasters on the West Coast. On the Emperor, riders plunge 14 stories face down and whip through barrel rolls, feet — and hearts — dangling. The Electric Eel is no less shocking with its 60-mph, twisty inversions. Of course, the other reason to visit is to see the animals that inspired these exhilarating rides. You can sign up in advance for close-up encounters with penguins, dolphins, killer whales and more.  

You’ll catch all your other favorite animals at the San Diego Zoo. This renowned venue is home to wondrous creatures great and small, from the tenacious dung beetle to the indomitable hippopotamus.  

Of course, the zoo is just one of the highlights of the 1,200-acre Balboa Park. Balboa has 17 museums, including arts destinations like the Centro Cultural de la Raza and the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego, and fun spots like the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and the Comic Con Museum. Fans of planes, trains and automobiles will want to see the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the San Diego Automotive Museum.  

The gardens of Balboa Park are idyllic walking grounds, where you’ll find a native plant preserve, formal Spanish gardens and the Japanese Friendship Garden, among many others. The park’s Puppet Theatre has delighted audiences longer than almost any other theatre of its kind in the country, but if you’re looking for Shakespeare, symphony or dance performances, you’ll find that in the park, too. When you’ve finished museum-hopping, the Prado at Balboa Park offers an elegant dining experience in the historic 1915 Hospitality Building. The menu features unmatched fare from land and sea, like mustard-crusted pork prime rib and paella in a lobster saffron broth.  

Foods and Drinks

Back in the city, you won’t be able to travel more than part of a block before happening upon your new favorite restaurant. In Harborview, Juniper & Ivy is an industrial-chic lounge, serving up irresistible small plates, like the Egg Yolk Raviolo, and large plates, like the tantalizing Whole Fried Pink Snapper with bok choy, roasted peanuts and nuoc cham.  

In Carlsbad, you’ll find an urban retreat in Campfire, whose menu takes you on an epicurean trek beginning with inventive cocktails, building to fire-roasted mains and concluding with the simplest of delights: s’mores. Campfire’s octopus, prepared with green harissa and torn herbs, is truly memorable, as is the cavatelli with braised lamb, black garlic and sunflower.  

After dark, the Gaslamp Quarter is the hub of San Diego’s nightlife, where DJs spin into the wee hours at thumping clubs like the Onyx Room and crowds pack into speakeasies like Prohibition to hear jazz jams and rockabilly in 1920s digs. 

One of the best things about being a full-time resident of San Diego residents are the city’s open-air markets, which you’ll find in neighborhoods all over the city, from the Gaslamp Artisan Market downtown to the Mission Valley Market east of USD. One of the biggest outfits is the Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market, which fills six city blocks each Saturday with prime California produce, olive oil, meats and artisanal wares.  

Get Ready for the Big Move to San Diego

Have you decided San Diego is your next hometown? Choosing the right professional moving company to help you relocate can be the smartest move you’ll ever make. Get a moving quote for San Diego from United Van Lines, America’s #1 Mover®. 

Moving cross-country to San Diego? Let United Van Lines provide you with a customized, full-service moving package. We can take care of your packing and unpacking, storage needs, debris removal, car shipping and more. The MyUnited Move Portal will help streamline all the details to make your move as seamless and stress-free as possible. 

Are you relocating to San Diego from another California city? United Van Lines can also help you with local moves/movers in San Diego and local moves/movers in California. Our interstate California movers and San Diego movers provide local moving services independently under their own brands and business names. 

Planning a DIY move to San Diego? Even if you’re moving by yourself, United Van Lines’ moving resources can provide you with helpful moving checklists, packing tips and regional guides — tailor-made for anyone looking to simplify their move.  

Unsure where you want to move in California? United Van Lines’ Guide to Moving to California has a wealth of information and resources about the most popular cities in the Golden State. 

Get a quote today on moving to San Diego. 

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