Moving to San Diego: “America’s Finest City”

Moving Tips

There are plenty of reasons that you may be moving to San Diego. A town that caters to beach lovers, military professionals and families — there’s a lot San Diego can offer people.

The Southern California town has fewer crowds, cleaner air and a more relaxed vibe than well-known Los Angeles to the north — and it’s stunningly beautiful. The high cost of housing in town can make it difficult to put down permanent roots, but the suburbs are close enough that living inland can give you more affordable options.

Keep reading to find out what other benefits come with living in this seaside town, and what you should know before you head to “America’s Finest City.”

When to Move to San Diego

Locals, moving pros and bloggers all agree: You want to move to San Diego in the winter. Summer is tourist season, which adds to the city’s congestion. College starts in the fall, and all those students moving to town make it hard to find an apartment. You’ll want to be settled in to enjoy your first spring in town, so winter it is.

San Diego Public Transportation Won’t Get You Everywhere

The San Diego trolley is awesome. You can take it to the Mexican border and Old Town San Diego and then switch lines and head over to Petco Park and to watch the Padres hit some homers. It’s a great system and carries tons of people, but odds are it won’t help you get to work. You’ll love the trolley on weekends and when people visit from out of town, but for day-to-day commuting, a car is still a must-have. However, unlike in New York or Boston, you won’t pay a premium to own a car in San Diego. Many apartments and homes have convenient and free parking for residents, and street parking is doable in neighborhoods inland from the beach.

Image by Prayitno

How to Say “Interstate” in San Diegan

It’s simple: Don’t say it! No one in San Diego says “interstate,” “route” or “highway.” In San Diego, and in all of Southern California, people call freeways “the ____.” For example, what most of the country would call “Interstate 5” or “I-5,” people in Southern California call “the 5.” This goes for almost every major roadway in San Diego, including the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), the 405 and the 8.

Where to Live in San Diego

Unlike the megalopolis to the north (Los Angeles), San Diego isn’t one big traffic jam. Rush hour traffic jams on the I-5 can be painful, but you can commute to work in San Diego and still have a life. This is important, because it gives you the freedom to think about living in a suburb, where rents are lower.

Image by Port of San Diego

Apartments in San Diego: Don’t Rent Without a Tour First

Don’t trust apartment and home rental ads on Craigslist. This is good advice for any city, but San Diego has had more than its share of rental scams. Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Google the address to make sure the property is the same as the one listed.
  • Google the phone number the “landlord” provides. People often post reviews of bad encounters on Yelp and other sites.
  • Check the property on Zillow.com. Scammers have been known to show empty homes that are actually in foreclosure.
  • Do not wire money to anyone, anywhere.
  • Do not apply for credit on a random site or email any personal details — they may be fishing for your financial profile.
  • If you live out of town, work with a licensed realtor. Commissions and fees in San Diego are not as high as in bigger cities such as New York.
  • Spend a month in an extended–stay hotel while you look for a home. If you’re moving all your possessions, put them in storage while you look.
  • Best San Diego Neighborhoods

    Downtown: With ocean-view apartments and condos, the Gaslamp Quarter and Downtown San Diego typically draw tourists and young professionals

    Little Italy: Just north of Downtown is a section of low-rise apartments, restaurants and markets that has grown into a family-friendly neighborhood with a big-city (and Italian) feel.

    La Jolla: Home to UC San Diego, the Scripps Oceanographic Institute, the Scripps Research Institute and the Salk Institution, La Jolla is San Diego’s brain trust. It’s a great place to work or go to school, but it can be a very expensive place to live.

    Image by Alejandro Mallea

    Mission Hills: A mix of historic bungalows and grand homes, Mission Hills is a classic enclave in the hills north of Downtown. To the north, Mission Valley offers a shopping mall, the Chargers’ former stadium and now an event venue, and more affordable homes and apartments.

    Hillcrest and Balboa Park: The hills to the east of Downtown are defined by the open spaces of San Diego’s Balboa Park. The Museum of Art, the Science Center, the San Diego Zoo and dozens of quirky buildings and exhibits all call the park home. The neighborhoods around it are some of the best in the city.

    Image by Rob Bertholf

    North Park: East of Balboa Park is a neighborhood of Craftsman-style bungalows, local restaurants and craft beers. Forbes put it on a “best hipster neighborhoods” list a while back and rents climbed accordingly, but it’s still relatively affordable.

    Beyond the 805: The interstates separate San Diego proper from its suburbs. The 805 is the first border and the 15 is the next. Out here you’ll find communities such as El Cerrito, La Mesa and Lemon Grove. These are neighborhoods where your rent, or mortgage, will go a lot further. To the north, past the 8, Kearney Mesa and Clairemont offer similar breathing room. You’ll have a longer commute, but it may be worth the trade.

    Living in San Diego: There’s a Community for Everyone

    San Diego has its own distinct vibe. As in all of Southern California, warm weather, ocean and beaches support a laid-back, surfer atmosphere. Mexico is right next door, and the cultures of San Diego and Tijuana are constantly mixing and inventing new foods, music, art and nightlife.

    At the same time, San Diego is home to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and Cyber Command, plus dozens of tech, pharmaceutical and bioresearch firms. The military and research presence gives San Diego a more conservative personality than that of Los Angeles.

    Things to Do in San Diego

    Southern California is definitely a land of vacations, especially in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, the Safari Park, Legoland, the beaches, the weather — all the reasons you probably want to move here — draw tourists from all over the world. Like them, you’ll be able to use San Diego as a base for many other adventures, such as Temecula wine country, Disneyland, Hollywood and Los Angeles, Yosemite, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon … the opportunities are vast.

    San Diego Nightlife

    With four major universities, a constant stream of tourists, the homeport of the Pacific Fleet and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton up the road — San Diego can get a little rowdy, especially in the Gaslamp Quarter and Pacific Beach. If you prefer things on the quiet side, don’t worry. Once you get away from the bar zones, San Diego is pretty tranquil.

    Image by The Conmunity

    San Diego Beaches Are a World of Their Own

    You could spend your life exploring the beaches and surf breaks of San Diego County. Honestly, many people do. Some people even make a living at it. If you’re moving to San Diego as a grown-up, you probably aren’t destined to be a pro surfer, but don’t let that stop you from hitting the beaches and getting out in the water.

    Best Beaches in San Diego

    North County state beaches: San Onofre, Carlsbad, Leucadia, San Elijo, Cardiff — head out for an entire weekend of swimming, surfing and camping.

    Image by Rian Castillo

    La Jolla Cove and Shores: Be sure to visit between July and September when mama leopard sharks come in to give birth. They’re typically harmless, beautiful and amazing snorkeling buddies.

    Del Mar City Beach: A small town with a two-mile-long beach that’s perfect for younger swimmers. If you need a break from the sand, there are two parks for picnics and play.

    Image by Sergei Gussev

    Mission Beach: Beach plus roller-coaster equals an amazing day. The swimming and surfing are great, and Belmont Park has dozens of rides, including the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller-coaster built in 1925. Right behind the beach is Mission Bay, a 4,200-acre water park built around a saltwater lagoon.

    Dog Beach: Just south of Mission Beach, where the San Diego River enters the ocean, is an off-leash paradise for dogs and their owners. It even has public parking.

    Image by Tristan Loper

    Coronado: Out in the bay, away from the city, Coronado Island has wide beaches with gentle surfs that are great for kids, and a romantic, Victorian resort. It’s like swimming in a postcard.

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