Cost of Living in San Diego vs San Francisco

California makes up more than half of the entire West Coast of the US, making it arguably the most diverse state in America. It’s also known to be a state with an exorbitant cost of living. Looking at two cities on opposite ends of the state, with very different landscapes and lifestyles, let’s compare the cost of living in San Diego vs. San Francisco. One imparts images of long haired blondes clinging to surfboards, the other; cable cars, jazz music, and nearly vertical streets. As different as they may be, both are iconic in their own way to SoCal or NorCal history and culture.

Cost of Real Estate in San Diego vs. San Francisco

While America watched the Tanner children of Full House grow up in one of San Francisco’s famed “Painted Lady” Victorian homes, let’s be honest, this isn’t how most San Francisco residents live.

It’s wildly expensive to rent or own in San Francisco, with the median home price being around $1,405,000 (according to Zillow.) Just shy of a million and a half dollars for an AVERAGE home?! That’s crazy, even by California standards.

SF Painted Lady's, Cost of living in San Diego vs San Francisco, Living in San Diego real estate (12)

The median home price in San Diego is about $680,000, and while that’s more than you might pay in Fargo or Pittsburgh, it’s still attainable for many San Diego residents with average incomes.

We’re not sure how many people with average incomes have more than a million dollars sitting around to buy a home with, but if so, we want that job! If you aren’t in the market to buy a home, you’ll still struggle to find affordable housing in San Francisco to rent. It would be hard for anyone in San Francisco to find a place to rent under $3,000 a month. At $36,000 a year, that’s more money than many receive in income, and that money is just washed away, as renting is never an investment you’ll later receive benefits from.

San Diego rent isn’t cheap, by any means, but it is about a thousand dollars cheaper, and you’ll find larger, nicer living areas for that amount of money than what even more money will acquire in San Francisco.

aerial of Pacific Beach, Cost of living in San Diego vs San Francisco, Living in San Diego real estate

Traffic & transportation in San Diego vs San Francisco

California is notorious for traffic, and while both San Francisco and San Diego have traffic, it’s a little bit worse in San Francisco.

The average commute time in San Francisco is about 30 minutes, and in San Diego, about 20. Traffic can be particularly tight on the Golden Gate Bridge during peak hours, making it extremely difficult to cross the bay into other parts of the city.

Though fluctuating, gas prices in both cities are pretty equivalent, but wear and tear on your car will probably be higher in San Francisco, just due to the greater amount of time spent on the road.

More than 77% of San Diego has a commute time of less than 30 minutes to or from work every day, and around 55% of San Francisco has a less than 30 minutes commute, meaning almost half the city is spending more than a half hour in their car in the morning and evening, just to get to work.

traffic in downtown San Francisco at night, Cost of living in San Diego vs San Francisco, Living in San Diego real estate (13)

There is one transportation caveat in which San Francisco wins the draw, and that’s flying. If you fly often for work or pleasure, especially internationally, San Francisco offers a lot of options for affordable flights. Many direct flights head out from San Francisco all over the country, and many international flights leave from there, making it an easy return to arrive back in the states from your trip and instantly be home. The San Diego airport, while an international airport, is smaller than SFO. There are fewer airlines and less flights to choose from throughout the day. This not only means less options, but small airports are notoriously expensive. In fact, if you’re flying out of San Diego, the chances of you having a layover in San Francisco are quite high.

Cost of food & dining out in SD vs SF

Both San Francisco and San Diego have wonderful dining options and cuisine. Dining out can get pricey anywhere you live, but on average, a dinner for two in San Diego will be about $75, and in San Francisco, about $80. A five dollar difference isn’t huge, but it’s hard to judge an actual median price on dining out because there’s so many types of dining establishments and some are more expensive than others.

Where we really see the food and dining cost difference between the two cities is in the grocery bills. The average grocery bill in San Diego is a little over $300, and in San Francisco, you’re looking at a bill of about $423. That’s over a hundred dollars more just on groceries alone.

Each city offers an array of grocery stores, everything from chains such as Ralphs, the west coast Kroger owned grocer, to Whole Foods, to small organic options, and even some economic grocers like Food 4 Less. Even with the higher grocery bills in San Francisco, cooking at home will always be the most economic (and usually healthiest!) option.

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Tax Differences between San Diego and San Francisco

Property taxes are about the same in San Francisco and San Diego; however you will see a difference in the sales tax. San Diego has a sales tax of 7.75%, and San Francisco sales tax is 8.5%. California already imparts a 7.25% sales tax anywhere in the state. But the sales tax is more than an entire percentage point higher in San Francisco, which really adds up when you ring up a bill and see how much more expensive it was than you were expecting.

Unfortunately, sales taxes are just one of the ways cities in which many people want to live can benefit from the massive population, and there’s really nothing you can do about it but pay it, or live (or shop!) somewhere else.

calculator and money, Cost of living in San Diego vs San Francisco, Living in San Diego real estate (15)

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Cost of utilities

Utilities are another somewhat ambiguous cost of living to quantify. Each home uses different amounts of electricity, gas, internet, etc. The size of your home and your family will also cause these prices to fluctuate, but generally speaking, the cost of utilities in San Diego is about $134 a month, and in San Francisco, it’s about $154.

This makes utilities another sector of our cost of living comparison which seems to be rather similar in cost. Many homes in Southern California, however, are switching to solar power. With the plethora of sunny days, this proves to be both eco-friendly, and an economic endeavor for the homeowner. Installation and purchasing the system is of course expensive, but in the long run, it all but abolishes monthly utility costs.


General cost of living items in San Diego vs San Francisco

Let’s break down some of the other expenses that pop up in day to day life between San Francisco and San Diego. Let’s be honest, we don’t just spend our money on food, housing, and transportation. When it comes to staying in shape, both areas have plenty of free options outdoors like hiking, walking trails, nearby state parks, and local parks with great playgrounds for children.

If you like to go to a gym, a gym membership in San Diego runs about $44 a month, and in San Francisco, it’s almost $90. You can pick and choose the best gym for you, some are more barebones, some are almost spa-like.

Childcare can get extremely expensive no matter where you live. In San Diego, childcare runs about $1,200 a month, and over $2,000 a month in San Francisco. That’s a lot of money! Often this leads families to be a single income household if at all possible, to avoid this excessive cost.

Average Salaries in San Diego vs San Francisco

Last but not least, how are you going to pay for all the above? Let’s talk about salary! The average salary in San Diego is $75,000 a year, and in San Francisco, you’ll find the average salary to be $97,000 a year. It’s clear people make more in San Francisco, which slightly offsets the higher cost of living.

The Bay Area is full of medical campuses, and is home to the well known cradle of tech, Silicon Valley, where you’ll find giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and many more. With these multimillion dollar businesses, come high paying jobs that bring people flocking from around the country (and even the world) to work for them and live in San Francisco.

downtown San Fransicso at dusk, Cost of living in San Diego vs San Francisco, Living in San Diego real estate (11)

Even with all these job opportunities and these higher annual salaries, when added up, it still costs less to live in San Diego than San Francisco. The exorbitant costs are never entirely offset by the higher wages, and not everyone has jobs that afford them these higher salaries, though everyone DOES have to pay all the higher costs of living in the San Francisco area.

Thinking of moving to San Diego, California?

Overall, we’d have to say in the ongoing SoCal vs. NorCal face off, SoCal wins when it comes to cost of living. If you’re considering moving to California, pack those bathing suits, because you’ll get more for your buck in San Diego. Plus, who wants to risk getting run over by a cable car anyway?! Call or email us to get started on your search for your perfect home in San Diego.