Cost of Living in San Diego vs Orange County

If you’ve ever stumbled across an episode of Real Housewives of Orange County, or The OC, you’ll quickly see the residents of this SoCal hotspot depicted as beautiful and rich, with problems you’d kill to have. But what is Orange County really like, and what is the cost of living in Orange County vs. San Diego? From the southern end of Orange County to the northern end of what’s considered to be the San Diego area isn’t even an hour drive time, but you’ll notice a distinct difference in terrain, climate, and lifestyle.

Cost of Living in San Diego vs Orange County

Where is Orange County & San Diego located?


Irvine CA homes on a hill, Cost of living in San Diego versus Orange County (12)

There are over 24 cities within Orange County, the biggest being Anaheim (home to the Happiest Place on Earth; Disneyland!), Irvine, Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach. Of these four cities, Huntington Beach is the only coastal city. It’s full of rich American history as the original Surf City, USA, to which thousands of Americans have flocked every summer to take their chances in hopes of catching one of those famous HB waves!

Orange County spans a large area, and each of the towns within have their own vibe. In upscale Newport, you’ll find a wharf and sailing enthusiasts. Industry rich Irvine has a competitive economy and high rises reaching for the blue, California sky. Cozy San Clemente, with historic charm, has a walkable downtown full of dining options. There is an OC option for everyone, so do your research, and see what works best for you.




San Diego suburbs aerial, Cost of living in San Diego versus Orange County (13)

Spanning from the southern border of Orange County, all the way to the southern border of the United States, there are over 18 cities in San Diego County.  San Diego draws everything from beach dwellers to military families, and each little coastal town is similar to, but different from the rest.

Some of the most popular areas to live in San Diego County are: La Jolla, North Park, and Rancho Bernardo. Located in northern San Diego, La Jolla is a small but charismatic town; home to resident sea lions, an underwater nature preserve, and inspiration to one of America’s most beloved doctors…Dr. Seuss.

With multiple military bases in the San Diego area, there’s plenty of housing and amenities for these families, and a large and supportive network of peers, for those living the military life. Near the heart of San Diego, you’ll find historic Balboa Park, spreading over 1,200 acres with vegetation, a zoo, and stunning historic architecture, much of this built to support the visiting Panama-California Exposition in 1915.  While the exposition took place for exactly two years to the day, the infrastructure still stands in all its beautiful Spanish colonial glory, providing San Diego residents a beautiful respite from the bustle of city life.

Cost of Real Estate in San Diego vs. Orange County

The median home price in Orange County is about $825,000, while in San Diego, it’s only $640,000 (only is used perhaps in jest, as both of these vastly exceed the national average.) It’s no secret that it’s expensive to buy a home in either of these cities, but Orange County is clearly more expensive.


Traffic & transportation

Traffic in both cities can get hectic at times, but due to its proximity to Los Angeles, it’s noticeably worse in Orange County.  The price of transportation doesn’t vary much between the two cities, although you might find the gas prices to be slightly lower in San Diego. Both areas have public transportation, but like much of Southern California, it isn’t as developed as some other parts of the country known for great public transportation, like New York City or Chicago.

OC at night, Cost of living in San Diego versus Orange County (14)

Job Markets in San Diego & Orange County

The San Diego job market is largely saturated in technology, healthcare, tourism and military careers. Orange County industry primarily centers around tourism, agriculture, retail, and manufacturing. Of course both of these areas have plenty of other career opportunities such as education, finance, law and more.

A double income family in San Diego needs to make about $98,000 a year to support a middle class lifestyle. The same family would need to make about $90,000 in Orange County, making it more affordable at first glance. A lot of factors need to be considered though; Orange County has some extremely expensive neighborhoods despite the cheaper cost of living at first glance. Once you have found an area that appeals to you, it’s important to do some research into how much living there would actually cost.

Dock on beach at dusk, Cost of living in San Diego versus Orange County (11)

Entertainment & Things to do in both cities

When it comes to entertainment, both San Diego and Orange County have a plethora of opportunities. Both offer beach lifestyles for those who love to catch some rays, and if you are a surfer, you can’t beat the Orange County waves. If you prefer to spend your time under the water, San Diego is a better bet, as the snorkeling and diving areas are gorgeous, full of rock reefs, and stunning kelp forests.

If amusement parks are more your thing, in Orange County’s Anaheim, you can don a pair of exorbitantly priced mouse ears and spend a day, week, or forever roaming the grounds of Disneyland, or head just across the street to Disney California Adventure! Also in Orange County is historic Knott’s Berry Farm. Once the supplier of the Knott’s jam and jelly monopoly, the farm now serves as an amusement park, known for its seasonal thrills, such as Knott’s Scary Farm during the Halloween season, and a more family friendly Knott’s Merry Farm during the holidays.

Disneyland at night, Cost of living in San Diego versus Orange County (15)

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In San Diego, visitors and residents alike can enjoy the world renowned San Diego Zoo, or take flight (figuratively!) at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. If you want to get out on the water, but not exactly in it, you can take off on one of the many dinner cruises that leave from San Diego to take in the sights and cuisine, but don’t worry, this three hour tour ends much better than it did for Gilligan and his friends! Looking for some bar hopping? Check out San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, or Orange County’s Main Street in Huntington Beach.

General cost of living items in San Diego vs Orange County


When comparing the overall cost of living between San Diego and Orange County you need to consider where you would be living in either of these places. The coastal areas of either are going to be more expensive, whereas the areas further east, are more affordable (especially when it comes to the cost of buying a home in San Diego or Orange County). One thing we want to note is that if you choose to live in San Diego it’s recommended that you have a higher salary than you would in Orange County.


Keep in mind though, that cost of living isn’t everything. Both San Diego and Orange County are beautiful, and offer plenty to do, see, eat, and enjoy. It’s just about finding the right place for you and the things you deem most important for you and your family. 

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