Cost of Living in San Diego, CA 2021
San Diego locals consider themselves lucky to live along sparkling coastlines, soaking an average of 266 days of sunshine each year. The city draws a mix of college students, young professionals, retirees, and veterans looking to call this coastal city home.
Nicknamed America's Finest City, San Diego is among the country's most popular and expensive cities to live in. Yet, despite its higher cost of living, it’s still cheaper than other California hotspots like San Francisco.
Before you start packing, here's what to know about the cost of living in San Diego, California.
San Diego Housing Costs
Housing will probably take up most of your monthly budget, so let's start by evaluating the cost of living in San Diego.
The city typically boasts low unemployment rates and a strong job market. However, the market took a hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rent Prices in San Diego
San Diego is also known for some of the highest rent prices in the United States. The city's year-over-year rent growth rose by 19.5% in comparison to last year's national average.
After a brief decline, rents are climbing again and showing recovery. A median one-bedroom in San Diego rents currently for $1,874 per month while a median two-bedroom runs $2,484 per month.
Despite San Diego's recently falling rents, the city's median two-bedroom rents are still above the national average of $1,101.
San Diego rents vary depending on your neighborhood, as well as the type of apartment you choose. Apartments near the beach or popular shopping complexes come at a premium. However, moving inland will reduce your costs.
You may end up paying a premium for flexibility. However, you can take your time exploring neighborhoods before signing a year-long lease.
San Diego Real Estate
Renters looking to step into homeownership face stiff competition around San Diego, as the city's home prices continue to rise and outpace much of Southern California.
The small pool of housing inventory and low mortgage rates drive the demand for home purchases. The current average home price in San Diego is $865,000.
San Diego Transportation
San Diego is notorious for heavy traffic. The good news is, locals can get around the city by walking or public transportation.
Expect to spend approximately $4,900 per year on transportation as a single adult. However, if you have a family with two working adults and one child, your transportation cost will increase to $11,186 per year.
To avoid driving and getting stuck in rush hour traffic, hop on the MTS—Metropolitan Transit System with buses and trolleys. Expect to pay $72 per month for a local monthly pass or $2.50 for a single one-way trip.
Not all of San Diego is walkable. However, there are still charming neighborhoods to choose from. Both Little Italy and the historic Gaslamp district boast a walk score of 98. Harborview, Marina, Cortez Hill, East Village, and La Jolla are also among San Diego's walkable areas.
San Diego Food Costs
MIT living wage estimates a single full-time working adult in San Diego that cooks their meals and snacks spends around $3,792 per year on food. Like most of California, grocery prices are also high in San Diego.
Numbeo’s cost of living index estimates a gallon of milk at $3.32 and a dozen eggs at $2.76. Fresh produce is generally reasonable in San Diego. Prices range from $1.46 for a pound of oranges to $0.79 for a pound of bananas.
However, if you want to take advantage of San Diego's thriving food scene, expect to spend $15 for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. A meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant costs around $75.
San Diego is one of the best foodie cities in the country. Locals dig into incredible seafood, Mexican dishes like carne asada, and wood-fired California-style pizza.
There are also plenty of local wineries and breweries to explore in the greater San Diego area!
San Diego Healthcare Costs
Healthcare is a significant expense in most areas. The same holds in California.
Healthcare costs are rising faster than incomes throughout the state. However, you can offset expenses with an employer-sponsored benefits package.
To get an idea of what to expect, we looked at MIT's data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. They estimate $2,724 per year for a single full-time working adult and $5,069 per year for a family of three living in San Diego.
San Diego Utilities
San Diego's temperate weather and breezy summers will keep your utilities relatively low. Winter temperatures range from 50 to 67 degrees. As a result, locals can enjoy the outdoor lifestyle year-round.
A standard utility bill for a 915 sq. ft. apartment including electricity, cooling, heating, garbage, and water averages around $140.06 per month. Additionally, internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) will increase the total monthly cost of utilities by approximately $62.08, bringing your total to $202.10 per month.
San Diego Fitness and Entertainment
With 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is a fitness lover's dream. Whether you enjoy swimming, jogging, or volleyball games on the beach, there's something for everyone. For a day of hiking and coastal views, try Los Peñasquitos Canyon and Waterfall or Torrey Pines State Park Loop to stay fit and enjoy nature.
If you want the benefit of weights and fitness classes at the gym, expect to pay $41.03 on monthly membership fees.
Entertainment is a big deal around San Diego. Shopping, nightlife, and music reign.
If movies are your entertainment of choice, you'll spend about $15 per ticket plus extras at the concession stand. Theme parks are also big business in San Diego with many major attractions to choose from.
The San Diego Zoo costs $62 for a day pass, Belmont Park runs $30 for an unlimited attraction pass, and SeaWorld will set you back $95.99.
Disneyland is also just 95 miles away where tickets start at $159 per adult.
Other Expenses to Consider in San Diego
There are other expenses to think about when living in San Diego, like taxes. California has one of the highest income tax rates in the country, which adds to your overall expenses. Expect to pay a combined sales tax rate of 7.75% in San Diego.
Gas prices in San Diego are also high. It's not uncommon for them to soar past $4 per gallon. However, gas prices dropped to $3.86 during the coronavirus pandemic, making it more affordable to drive and take advantage of nearby day trip destinations.
Free Things Around San Diego
Despite San Diego's many premium attractions, there are still free things to see and do that’ll keep your budget in check. San Diego beaches are ranked among the top in the nation. It's free to swim, body surf, or relax.
If you drive, you may end up paying for parking. However, you can bike or walk to the beach, depending on where you live.
You'll find live entertainment and window shopping at San Diego's Embarcadero or gorgeous parks and trails like Mission Bay Park.
Bird watchers head to wetland reserves like Tijuana Estuary or Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to look for San Diego's 400 species of year-round birds.
You can also take a bike ride along the Waterfront, where you’ll find 27 miles of bayside parks, marinas, and people watching.
Head inland to Balboa Park to explore the largest urban cultural park in America, or walk or bike along the 65 miles of trails or take in the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
Look for outdoor concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Sundays at 2 p.m. Don’t forget to stop by the free California Surf Museum on Highway 101.
Recommended Salary in San Diego
San Diego is known for its high cost of living, which requires a decent salary to enjoy what the city offers. You'll need to earn a bare minimum of $21.26 per hour if you're single with no children or $39.67 an hour for a family of three.
The living wage covers only necessary expenses, excluding restaurants, movies, premium entertainment, or vacations. It also excludes investing, emergency expenses, and savings.
Figuring out how much to spend on rent requires balancing the median rent against your salary. For example, if your one-bedroom rent runs $1,600, your monthly wages should be at least $4,800 per month or $57,600 per year.
An employer who offers a robust benefits package and a transportation allowance can also improve your cost of living.
These rent and salary figures consider that you shouldn't spend more than 30% of your monthly income on rent. Grab a calculator and multiply your rent by three to ensure it falls within this 30% rule.
With so many things to do in San Diego and plenty of incredible restaurants to enjoy, you'll need a salary bump. You may also want to find roommates to help reduce expenses and live a comfortable lifestyle.
Biggest Employers Around San Diego
There's good news for job hunters in San Diego looking for a decent salary. Locals enjoy relatively low unemployment rates and a wide range of major employers.
Nearly 85,000 businesses call San Diego home. However, a handful stand out as major employers.
Tech and electronics employers lead the way with companies, including:
- Cubic Corporation
- Pulse Electronics
Military and education are also significant sources of employment in San Diego. The United States Navy has a strong presence in the area, as does the University of California in San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District.
If you're dreaming of working in tourism, there are plenty of choices around San Diego. The many theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife all service the growing tourism industry.
San Diego's stunning landscape and oceanfront breezes make it the perfect place to settle in for California living. However, if San Diego seems too pricey for you, consider other cities in California that may be cheaper.
Are you ready to pack up and see for yourself? If so, register with Apartment List and begin apartment hunting in San Diego, California.