cost of living in san diego california

5 Factors Affecting the Cost of Living in San Diego

“America’s Finest City” has a price-point, and amenities, that live up to its nickname.

The eighth-most populous city in America, San Diego typically ranks around the same for the cost of living compared to other major cities in the country. Overall, San Diego’s cost of living comes in at 44 percent above the national average.

While that may seem steep, it’s important to realize that within this expensive city, there are plenty of pockets where the cost of living is more affordable. San Diego residents may already know where to look, but it’s something you can calculate, too. It’s all about understanding the price, and whether your expenses are still affordable in the city.

Below, we break down the five factors affecting the cost of living in San Diego to help you discover if “America’s Finest City” is a fit for you.

San DIego ca beachside houses come at a higher cost in san diego california

1. Housing costs and utilities in San Diego

Housing in San Diego doesn’t come cheap. In fact, the uninitiated may experience sticker shock at first glance when it comes to home prices.

Overall, housing costs are a whopping 115.6 percent higher than the national average. This is only slightly below the housing costs in Los Angeles and Orange County, and considerably higher than most California cities.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego is about $2,887 per month, which is a 1 percent decrease in cost over last year. A two-bedroom is around $3,788 per month on average, a 1 percent increase over last year. Those prices fluctuate depending on the neighborhood and amenities.

If you’re looking to buy a home, the median price in San Diego is $930,000. Home prices are up 3 percent over last year. Most homes in San Diego sell within days, so if you have the means, you need to act fast.

To better understand how housing costs in San Diego compare to the rest of California, the average cost for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $4,939, over $1,151 more. The average home price in Los Angeles is $975,000, $45,000 more. The San Diego cost of housing may feel high, but it’s definitely not the highest in the state.

living in san diego: a two-bedroom apartment can add up in this city, so budget plenty for housing and other expenses

Apartment hunting around San Diego County

Although San Diego is an expensive city, prices vary greatly based on the neighborhoods you decide to check out. The difference in living expenses between a more expensive San Diego spot, and the least expensive, is pretty significant.

Trendy North Park, with its vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene, is an expensive neighborhood in the city, with one-bed rental prices at $2,300 per month on average. But, rest assured, there are plenty of areas offering apartments for a fraction of that price.

Case in point, City Heights, located inland and to the east of many better-known San Diego communities, offers one-bed apartments for an average rent of $1,700. Areas like Colina del Sol and Paradise Hills are also on the more affordable side, with one-bed rents averaging the same at $1,650 a month.

Utilities in San Diego

San Diego is known for its beautiful weather. Average temperatures hover around 76 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the year, but you’ll still feel some seasonal change, lots of rain and the occasional cold front.

If you live inland, summer days are scorchers, leading locals to crank up that air conditioning. On the flip side, some nights in the winter get really cold. As a result, a person could pay a hefty price for AC and heat.

Taking this into account, overall utility costs are 13 percent higher than the national average. This is an actually a increase over last year, where this particular piece of the cost of living in San Diego was 10 percent above the national average. Inflation has contributed to this number for every state.

San Diego street tacos might help you cut down on your food expenses when eating out

2. Food costs and goods and services in San Diego

San Diego is famous for its diverse culinary scene. Whether you’re more inclined to try a pasta dish in Little Italy, some chile rellenos at an authentic Mexican restaurant in Old Town or fish tacos, a local favorite, you can find a deal on a meal just about anywhere. However, when it comes to casual dining, meals average out to around $25 per person.

Of course, most people don’t eat out all the time. With dozens of quality supermarkets and plenty of neighborhood farmer’s markets, meal planning and finding a deal on food is easy.

Keep in mind that groceries in San Diego run 10 percent higher than the national average. You’ll pay extra for certain staples like milk ($2.17 for a half-gallon), eggs ($4.85 for a dozen), bread ($3.63 for a 24-ounce loaf) and ground beef ($8.08 per pound).

Paddle boarding in San Diego - a fun activity you might not find in other cities - might factor into your entertainment costs

Commodities and entertainment costs

As you tally up expenses in your cost of living calculator, don’t forget to budget for goods and services. This includes all the extras on your monthly expense sheet that you could live without, but really don’t want to deny yourself.

This category includes things like a session at a yoga studio ($24), movie tickets ($12.5 each), dry cleaning ($24) and a trip to the beauty salon ($80).

Overall, goods and services in San Diego cost 10 percent more than the national average, a slight dip of less than one percent over last year.

San Diego train tracks in downtown San Diego, where the median home price is even higher than the state average

3. Transportation costs in San Diego

One of the many luxuries about life in San Diego is that the freeways are much calmer than those of Los Angeles. Traffic is tame during most hours of the day, although it gets a bit congested around common commute times. Still, transportation expenses are slightly higher than those in Los Angeles and 30.4 percent higher than the national average.

For any person who decides to use a car to get around the city, be prepared to pay to park. Parking can range from as little as $7 to as much as $32 based on parking type and whether you need to keep your car there overnight.

For those who choose to forgo driving altogether, San Diego offers an accessible public transportation system. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System provides bus and trolley services across San Diego County, including a dedicated line for the University of California, San Diego.

Bus and trolley fares are the same. One way will cost $2.50, but you can purchase a day pass for $6 or a monthly pass for $72. Family weekends allow you to save a little on transportation. Up to two children, 12 and under, can ride free with a fare-paying adult.

If you just want to get around and enjoy life outside, San Diego’s layout makes it ideal for walking — it’s also convenient for bike enthusiasts. The city has a walk score of 53 and a bike score of 43.

4. Healthcare costs in San Diego

Healthcare is a primary concern in most people’s minds, and in San Diego, you can expect to pay slightly more in this category — about 7.2 percent above the national average. This is a slight dip in overall costs from last year.

Prices now are about 1.4 percent less. It’s also not the highest-priced city in the state by far. Los Angeles and most major cities in Northern California are higher than San Diego’s cost of living for healthcare.

A visit to a doctor will cost you about $145, while a dental checkup will run you around $120. You can also expect to pay a bit more for medications. For example, the median price for a bottle of Ibuprofen is about $13. When you factor in the maintenance appointments you’ll need each year, and your list of prescriptions, the price can add up.

Calculating average healthcare costs for everyone is difficult. Everybody has different needs for their body and healthcare routines vary drastically. As a result, you should consider your typical healthcare routines when creating your cost of living budget, factoring in your medicine regimens and insurance coverage.

5. Taxes in San Diego

Since taxes vary by location, it’s easy to get confused when it comes time to budget accordingly. Sales tax in San Diego is 7.75 percent. However, neighboring cities, where you may go shopping, can vary.

Live in San Diego, but prefer to shop in Oceanside? You’ll pay 8.25 percent in sales tax.

San Diego sky line -- San Diego sky line -- residents pay for the views, things to do, transportation costs and all the other fun things that constitute living in san diego

How much do I need to earn to live in San Diego?

Earlier, we discussed the fact that the housing piece to your cost of living in San Diego is quite a bit more than in other locations.

Experts generally recommend you allocate at least 30 percent of your annual income to rent, which means you should know the average salary that aligns with the average rent.

If a one-bedroom in San Diego is $2,879 per month, you’d need a job that pays at least $115,160 per year. You may have to consider a roommate or some creative living situation, given that the median annual income in San Diego is $89,457.

Although lower than what you’d need to pay the average rent, it’s not impossible to live comfortably. Our rent calculator can show you exactly how much you can afford and help you target specific areas within your budget.

cost of living san diego

Living in San Diego

San Diego is a wonderful place to live if you love warm beaches, temperate climates, great food and a lively club scene. It’s no wonder 35 million people visit each year and some of them end up living in San Diego after their vacation.

Whether those people choose to plant roots depends a lot on budget. What can you afford?

The Cost of Living Index comes from coli.org.
The rent information included in this summary is based on a calculation of multifamily rental property inventory on Rent. as of August 2023.
Rent prices are for illustrative purposes only. This information does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.

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