The best places to live in San Diego
San Diego’s neighbourhoods sprawl out between the ocean, desert and mountains, providing new arrivals and expats with a diverse range of options that contribute to the city’s small-town atmosphere. Here are a few areas and suburbs in San Diego favoured by newcomers.
Suburban living in San Diego
Hillcrest is a bustling neighbourhood known for its coffee shops, independent antique stores, Bohemian bookshops and speciality boutiques, all of which contribute to the area’s village atmosphere. Nearby attractions include Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. Many of Hillcrest’s residents live close to their workplaces in a range of accommodation styles, including apartments, condos and freestanding houses.
An upmarket area northeast of downtown San Diego, Kensington is known for its Spanish Revival houses and quiet, picturesque atmosphere. As one of the city’s older neighbourhoods, residents enjoy strolling through its winding palm-lined streets and exploring the businesses and eateries on Adams Avenue. This peaceful neighbourhood is excellent for raising a family and is close to several good public schools.
Developed in the early 20th century, Mission Hills is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods and is known for the impressive architecture of its well-maintained mansions, craft-style bungalows and stately family homes. Residents have access to everything they need in the area, including parks, a library, shops and entertainment venues in the city’s commercial district. Situated on the hills to the north of the city, the suburb overlooks downtown San Diego.
Urban living in San Diego
The opening of the Petco Park baseball stadium in 2004 helped turn the East Village from a warehouse district into an area with upscale hotels, rooftop bars, gourmet eateries and fashionable cafés. The largest neighbourhood in downtown San Diego, East Village is mainly made up of luxury condominiums, studio apartments and lofts. As much as it is an excellent fit for sport-loving expats with the necessary budget, the area is also home to the San Diego Central Library for the bookworms at heart.
Little Italy has gone through an urban revival recently, with old family businesses combined with fresh ideas in this city centre district. New arrivals will have access to decades-old shops and restaurants alongside galleries and trendy cafés. New housing developments also mean that potential residents have more options. Apartments and condos are standard in Little Italy, while freestanding family homes are rare. Parking can also be tricky to come by, although the area is replete with public transport options.
Seaside living in San Diego
La Jolla is a seaside Mediterranean-style village rich in history. Residents can access fine dining, designer shopping, and a thriving cultural scene in a strikingly beautiful setting. Gentle waves along the hilly coastline make swimming, kayaking and surfing popular activities. Home to the University of California San Diego, La Jolla has a range of education options at the kindergarten, elementary and high school levels. As one of the most affluent areas in San Diego, La Jolla offers house hunters a range of options, including cliffside homes above Black’s Beach and upmarket apartments with ocean views.
Mission Beach offers residents the opportunity to live the California beach lifestyle in a tamer environment than the better-known Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Surf shops, beach bars, restaurants and nightclubs entertain residents along a sprawling seaside boardwalk.
Much of the area’s housing was built to be holiday accommodation, which contributes to the area’s relaxed atmosphere. Expats looking to move to this area have options from double-storey houses to seaside apartments. It also provides a host of family activities and is home to Belmont Park, which offers an amusement park with shops and restaurants.
Known for its lively party scene, Pacific Beach boasts a wide range of accommodation options as well as amenities to keep young professionals, students and retirees entertained alike. This area also attracts families due to the many bike paths, protected swimming areas and beautiful picnic spots sprinkled around the neighbourhood. One of the drawbacks to living in Pacific Beach is the traffic.
The neighbourhood is popular with people from all walks of life, creating some traffic congestion. Fortunately, San Diego’s bus service makes quick work of getting to the downtown area outside peak hours.
►Learn more about accommodation in San Diego
Which neighbourhoods do expats recommend in San Diego?
"If I could choose again I would go closer to the border and south of San Diego city. Hillcrest etc where more artists live and where there is more diversity. I think it depends on the individual and why they moved to the area. There are benefits to each area." Read more about the experiences of Quinne, a South African expat who lived in San Diego for many years.
Photo credits: Balboa Park by Urban Sanden; East Village by Derek Story; La Jolla by Ameer Basheer. All sourced from Unsplash.
Are you an expat living in San Diego?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Diego. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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