Cost of Living in San Diego, California

“Go west, young man!” must have meant “until you hit the ocean!” because if everyone ended up in San Diego, they would surely have been convinced they’d reached paradise. But with everyone vying for a place here the question of ‘what is the cost of living in San Diego?’ is one that often comes up conversations (especially for those who are looking to move here).

Sparkling, blue ocean meets beautiful cliffs and rolling hills. The weather is gorgeous and moderate year round. The food is excellent, and the lifestyle is healthy. Just a hop and a skip from our nation’s southern border, a quick weekend trip to the white, sandy beaches of Mexico is an easy feat. It’s easy to see the appeal to San Diego, and why it has been so aptly named “America’s Finest City.”

Cost of Living in San Diego

As the lifestyle, weather, and landscape lures residents from around the country to the southernmost end of the California coast, many find themselves contemplating the cost of living in San Diego, CA. From housing, to taxes, to food and healthcare, you might be wondering, is San Diego an expensive city to live in? Yes and no, in short. Every city has is commodities that are more expensive than others, as well as has different things to offer its residents. Depending on your needs and wants in a city to call home, you might find just what you’re looking for in San Diego!

San Diego sunset over downtown skyline, cost of living in San Diego

Housing Costs in San Diego

Housing in San Diego is perhaps the most expensive part of living in this balmy beach town.  Statistically, buying a home in San Diego is even more expensive than Los Angeles, or New York City.  Renting is significantly lower, making it often the better deal, even if you are a long term resident.

In 2019, the median home price was over $600,000. A price tag that makes many feel home owning just isn’t in the cards for them. With the city growing and the housing market value increasing, these estimates are likely only to climb, making owning and renting somewhat of a hurdle for those looking to call San Diego home.

San Diego Neighborhoods

         Like any city, neighborhoods play into price and living environment greatly. Beachside and beach adjacent suburbs like Pacific Beach are pricier, and offer “less for more.”  As in, less space, less yard, less hom, and more money.

Just ten minutes to the east however, in Mission Valley, residents can find larger dwellings, with yards and garages, for considerably less. While clearly you are paying for the beach lifestyle the closer you get to the coast, San Diego is a very drivable town, with almost all parts of town being a short drive away.

Elegant La Jolla, just north of San Diego, invites tourists (and residents) from all around to indulge in the lifestyle and landscape that inspired famed children’s author, Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name; Doctor Seuss. The homes here seemingly teeter on the edge of Pacific cliff sides, and trees twist and wind like truffula trees of The Lorax. The gorgeous homes and their stunning views, of course, come at a price, many of them over two million dollars.

view of La Jolla from sea, cost of living san diego

The further east you move, neighborhoods become increasingly affordable, such as Clairemont, Mira Mesa, Serra Mesa, and Chula Vista.  Most of these homes fall below the 600K budget, making them more affordable. And similarly to eastern San Diego, these neighborhoods also offer more space.

While these aren’t all of the neighborhoods in San Diego, it’s a small snippet of what you can expect when looking to buy a home here.

Learn More: Cost of Living in San Diego vs Los Angeles

Utility Costs in San Diego

Most living situations don’t include utilities, and even if they do, such as gas and water, and maybe electric, you will still be footing your own internet bill, and any other ancillary services you like having. San Diego Gas and Electric provides the power and natural gas to the San Diego area. And unlike most cities, in San Diego your gas and electric bill will be all with one provider, which is convenient when it comes to bill paying. Like most areas of the country; generally speaking, electricity bills are higher in the summer. This is due to the fact that in the summer months residents are using their air conditioners, and refrigerators are working extra hard to stay cold. Gas bills are higher in the winter, when central heat is used in the home, but with San Diego weather, you often won’t ever need your heaters turned on – just grab a sweater!

The cost of monthly utilities in San Diego is of course also affected by the age of the home; including the type of cooking range the home has, and if electric radiators are used for heat. The cost of utilities for a 915 square foot apartment is approximately $130.60 a month, according to numbeo.com. From experience of living in a 1200 square foot condominium, who runs the AC in the summer months, we pay roughly $300/month for electricity in the summer months. Months where are our electricity usage is much lower, we pay much lower, around $120/month. 

utilities costs SD, cost of living in San Diego

Healthcare Costs in San Diego

Healthcare is not only a hot topic in the United States right now, it’s vitally necessary. Even the healthiest person will need to see a dentist, receive regular check-ups, and come down with the occasional flu or ear infection. Healthcare costs in San Diego are fairly average to the rest of California, being slightly high for the national average.

Insurance can be difficult to afford, but programs such as Covered California can help out if you are of a lower income bracket, or have to provide your own healthcare if you freelance or are an independent contractor who does not receive a healthcare insurance plan through your employer.

We are lucky in San Diego that we have access to many incredible health facilities, including the ones offered by Covered California. The larger healthcare groups include big names such as Scripps Health, UCSD, and Sharp Rees-Stealy.

The cost of healthcare in San Diego will entirely depend on your healthcare plan, but expect it to be a bit more pricey compared to many other cities outside of California. The steeper prices can typically mean better quality healthcare.

healthcare costs in SD, cost of living in San Diego

Transportation Costs in San Diego

As a very drivable city, most people in San Diego choose to have their own car. There is public transit in San Diego, ranging from trolleys to buses, and local trains. A monthly pass for the San Diego public transit system costs $72 dollars a month, with discounts for children, seniors, those with disabilities, and those on Medicare.

Assuming you have your own vehicle, gas prices currently range anywhere from $2.80-$4.00 per gallon in San Diego. This may seem high for the national average, but is right about median for the rest of California. Having a car is especially necessary if you plan to live not exactly in San Diego proper, but nearby, or commute from up the coast.

Being that San Diegans love the outdoors, there are also plenty of options to rent bikes or scooters to get around the city and surrounding neighborhoods. If you pass a row of either to rent, you can simply download the app and pay as you go. Talk about a convenient & sustainable way to navigate around San Diego.

Like the rest of California, there are many beautiful places to enjoy recreationally, but you’ll need a car. There aren’t a lot of busses headed to Joshua Tree, or Sequoia National Park!

public transportation in SD, cost of living in San Diego

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Recreational Costs in San Diego

Let’s talk about what brings everyone to San Diego in the first place, the recreation! The beautiful Pacific Ocean, rolling hillsides and beachside cliffs, and activities galore make San Diego one of the most desirable places to live in the country.

If you are an ocean lover, you’re in luck. Boating, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, surfing, and paddle boarding are just some of the activities in which you can indulge in the briny blue. Many of these activities are free, or only cost however much your equipment rentals, or buying said equipment to keep for future use, costs.

Guided tours cost a bit more, but are still reasonable, such as the popular La Jolla cave kayak tour, which runs about $35-$45 per person, for a 90 minute guided tour.

Of course, shopping at the grocery and cooking at home is always going to be the most cost effective option when it comes to dining, but nobody wants to eat at home every night! Cost of dining out is pretty average in San Diego, with an entree at a mid-tier restaurant being about $15, and you can add a bit more to that if you’re having a couple cocktails. But trust us when we say that the food scene in San Diego is out of this world, and often worth the money spent.

Taxes in San Diego, California

Everyone’s least favorite topic; next to parking tickets and root canals, let’s talk about taxes. The entire state of California is known for having exorbitant taxes. Perhaps it’s the dense population, representing more than 12% of the entire American population. Perhaps it’s because California is so large, spanning over more than half of the western coast of the United States.

Southern California is generally considered to have a higher cost of living for a larger area than Northern California, with the exception of the San Francisco Bay area, known to be wildly expensive.

When it comes to sales tax, the rate in San Diego is 7.75%, just slightly above the state California sales tax, 7.25%. This is pretty average compared to the rest of the United States, perhaps bordering a bit high, but nothing compared to the nearly 10% of states like Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama.

taxes in San Diego, cost of living in San Diego

Most property tax rates in San Diego are around 1.02% to 1.19%. Unfortunately, no matter where you go in California, the income tax is more than 7.25% higher than anywhere else in the country, at 12.3%. Sounds high to you? Yeah, we agree. But it’s what we call the ‘Sunshine Tax’, meaning we’re paying to enjoy the gorgeous weather year round. And while the weather does make San Diego a perfect place to call home, the income tax rate is definitely something you want to consider before moving here.

Learn More: 11 Reasons to move to San Diego

What salary do you need to live in San Diego?

Speaking of good jobs, what kind of salary do you need to live in San Diego? If you plan on living in San Diego for an extended period of time, you’ll need a decent salary. As a ballpark estimate, a salary of around $100k a year would define “comfortable” living, but leaves little money to spare to plan for vacations, buying a home, getting a new car, etc.

The locals have a phrase, “the sun tax” that San Diego natives pay, referring to the general higher cost of living compared to almost anywhere else. Admittedly, making a hundred thousand dollars a year in most cities in the United States would mean a very comfortable lifestyle, with spending money for trips, nice dinners, and whatever other “toys” you decide you need.

That being said, most of these cities don’t offer what San Diego does. They don’t offer 266 days of sunshine a year. They don’t border the Pacific Ocean, or beautiful mountains. Indeed; we decide what matters most to us when choosing a place to call home, and if you ask nearly any San Diego resident, they’ll tell you there’s no place they would rather be. 

Thinking of Moving to San Diego?

With all of that being said & done, we still love calling San Diego home, and would love to help show how it can be home for you too. If you have questions or are ready to get started on your move to San Diego then please call, text or email us. We love showing off how incredible this city is. And can support you from discussing realty options to even taking you on a neighborhood tour to get your footing before you begin to look for homes.