Cost of Living in San Diego vs Los Angeles

One of the toughest questions we hear is “Should I move to San Diego or Los Angeles?”. Which can be a tough question to answer. Because truthfully, choosing between the two cities will come down to what your preferred lifestyle is.

If shows like Baywatch, and Melrose Place, taught us anything, it’s that life is just better on the West Coast; specifically, in Southern California. Mountains, ocean, perfect weather, and tan skinned, bleach-blonde teenagers surfing until the sun sets, then meeting up on the beach for a bonfire. Can life get any better than that? Probably not; but those people weren’t real, and most Californians don’t live that lifestyle because they have real jobs and obligations. Television worthy or not, life in California is wonderful, but it comes at a price.

Cost of living in SoCal is more expensive than almost any other place in the country, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. San Diego and Los Angeles are the two largest metropolitan areas in Southern California, but which one is more expensive to live in? Let’s break down the cost of living in San Diego, CA, vs. Los Angeles, CA, and see what it really costs to reside in the Golden State.

Cost of Living in San Diego vs Los Angeles

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Facts are facts, and statistically, it’s about 8.2% more expensive to live in Los Angeles than San Diego, over all. This number is multifaceted, however, and some categories are more expensive than others. Los Angeles is also a bigger city, with about four million people living in the city, and around ten million in all of LA County.

While prices may be inflated, they represent a really large area and a huge population. But with that many Americans choosing to live there, the fact that Los Angeles has a lot to offer speaks for itself.  When you add up the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, entertainment and dining out, and even groceries, the expenses add up. It’s important to look critically at what a city has to offer in all of these categories, and see if what you can find matches the budget you are working with, and the lifestyle you’re interested in.

Cost of Real Estate in San Diego vs. Los Angeles

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Perhaps your first thought when you think of moving to or living in a city, is the housing prices. Home ownership in Los Angeles comes at an exorbitant price. L.A. has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the United States.

The median home price in Los Angeles is almost $700,000, compared to San Diego, where the median price is $645,000. Renting falls at about the same percentage difference as owning. If you are coming from the Midwest (or honestly, almost anywhere else in America) both of these numbers probably look crazy to you. But that’s just living in California.

It’s expensive wherever you go, and San Francisco is actually the most expensive city in California, where the median home price is over a million dollars.

Tax Differences between San Diego and Los Angeles

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Sales tax helps fund the infrastructure of these beautiful cities (that and the outrageous parking ticket fees) and it’s higher than most places in the country. The statewide sales tax rate in California is 7.25%, but in San Diego it’s 7.75%, and in Los Angeles it’s a whopping 9.5%. An almost 10% sales tax is pretty high! These prices can be even higher in areas like Santa Monica, and other tourist heavy locations. Property taxes are about the same between the two cities, around 1.25%.

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Traffic & Transportation

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Both Los Angeles and San Diego are “car” cities, meaning in all honesty you will most likely need a vehicle to get around. Many big cities have great public transportation, but both Los Angeles and San Diego are spread out, sprawling cities. Knowing you’ll need a car, the price of gas is an important expense to consider.

The gas prices are very similar in both cities, usually from between $3.50 to $4.00 a gallon, depending on the national price of gas at any given time. Of course, you can always choose to use rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, absolving the stress of parking.

While we’re breaking down traffic expenses, let’s address commute times. As they say in L.A., you better like your car, because you’re going to be spending a LOT of time in it. (Seriously, Los Angeles news station KTLA claims the average Angelino spends 119 hours a year in traffic!) It’s a well known fact that Los Angeles traffic is absolutely horrible. Freeways sometimes nine lanes wide can’t even accommodate the millions of drivers trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Traffic in San Diego, while still sometimes busy, isn’t nearly as congested, and commutes for the average San Diego resident tend to be significantly shorter than the same distance traveled in L.A.

The only thing Los Angeles does have over San Diego is a better walkability rating. Meaning there are more amenities easily accessible by foot than there are in other cities, San Diego included.

Entertainment & Things to do in both cities

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Entertainment in Southern California offers an endless array of fun and exciting things to do. Of course, with the beaches at your disposal, a beach day is both free, and a dose of classic SoCal fun, Beach Boys style!

Things to do in Los Angeles

We consider LA to be the west-coast and spread out version of New York City. There are truly endless things to do, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for. From excellent eateries, to local celebrity sightings (cliche’ we know), bougie cafes, to art galleries that adorn local breweries, you name it and Los Angeles most likely has it.

Not only does Los Angeles have a thriving nightlife, but you can enjoy the many cities nearby; such as bustling Santa Monica and Venice, or head north to laid back Malibu (which is somehow always chilly, even in the middle of the summe!) Hermosa Beach is perfect for nightlife and bar crawling, and Marina Del Rey offers wonderful views of the sail boats coming to and from the wharf. Plus, Los Angeles is seated at the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, offering outdoor enthusiasts countless hiking, biking, and backpacking trails.

There’s also the California Science Center, as well as the Griffith Observatory (where you can take a peek into the world’s most viewed telescope), are both free options in L.A.

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Things to do in San Diego

Compared to Los Angeles, San Diego is host to many more outdoor and laid back entertainment options. San Diego beaches are a sight to see, as the beautiful rocky coastline that hugs the western San Diego border might make you feel that you are actually in the Italian Riviera. The La Jolla Cove offers swimmers and divers a chance to jump in and be one with the beautiful wildlife. In fact, the nearby kelp forests are one of the most diverse biomes in the world, offering the adventurer a chance to experience this otherworldly beauty.

The San Diego Zoo provides guests with an exciting experience, and often you can get family package ticket prices, or discounts for seniors and children under certain ages. Plus the zoo is located inside the stunning Balboa Park, which is a must visit when in San Diego. Mission Park, and a stroll through the historic Gaslamp Quarter to view the beautiful historic and renovated Victorian homes, are all excellent free ways to spend a day or afternoon in San Diego. 

Happily, San Diego’s close proximity to the swanky establishments in Los Angeles means that there are many versions of LA favorites that San Diegans love to support. Including movie theatres with full reclining seats and where entire bottles of wine can be brought directly to you. And farmers markets that boast delectable local fare, often at more a reasonable price than compared to L.A.

While the cost of going to a movie, museum, or amusement park can definitely be pricey, there are SO many free options when it comes to entertainment in both San Diego and Los Angeles. Which is better comes down to what you like more of – city living or outdoor adventures.

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Job Markets in San Diego & Los Angeles

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The potential job markets are a huge draw to any city. Are there good work opportunities? Can you build upon and grow in your career? And most often sought out, ‘What will I earn in X city?’.

Both San Diego and Los Angeles are great “career” cities. Obviously, the entertainment industry draws many to Los Angeles, but there is so much more to Southern California than television and movie making.  The average salary in San Diego is around $83,000 a year, and in Los Angeles, it’s around $70,000. You can see, with about a thirteen thousand dollar income difference; you make less in Los Angeles, and in general, pay more just to be there.

Unless something has specifically brought you to Los Angeles, such as work or family, you might be wondering why someone would choose to live in an obviously more expensive city, that offers much of what you can find in San Diego. But at the end of the day, you can’t take it with you, so choosing the right city for you is all about your personal preference and the lifestyle you are looking for. The rich history of Los Angeles, coupled with the ability to say “Hey, that’s where I live!” when you see a scene in almost any movie or tv show, is admittedly very cool.

Whereas San Diego definitely employs an excellent combination of that active city lifestyle mixed with a more laid back day-to-day life. But fear not, for the exceedingly high percentage of millennials in either city (25% in Los Angeles, and 27% in San Diego) we assure you, offer no shortage of avocado toast!

Thinking of moving to San Diego, California?

If you’re leaning more towards that coveted San Diego lifestyle, and want to move here we have you covered. From deciding where is best for you to live, to how much you can afford and our local expertise, we have you covered. Email or call us today to lay the groundwork for your move to San Diego, CA.