Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Southern California

Michael Beausoleil

There’s a lot to love about SoCal. We’ve got sun, beaches, warm weather, and some of the best food in the country. Southern California also isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are some negatives, and these are the things that forced changes into my daily life

Don’t get me wrong, the benefits outweigh the costs for me. There are a number of differences I didn’t quite anticipate when I moved. When weighing the costs and benefits, some costs appeared after I made the move. These can serve as a precaution for anyone hoping to relocate to LA, Orange County, or San Diego.

1. It Costs A Lot to Live In Southern California

This is fairly well known. LA is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, and other SoCal cities aren’t far behind. There are expenses beyond the rent, and they need to be factored into your budget. Water tends to be more expensive, as do some groceries. Many apartments do not come with parking, and you’ll need to shell out some extra money if you want your own spot. Plus, high rent means you’ll be paying more up front if you’re paying first, last, and a security deposit.

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As you spend more time in the area, you’ll also find more expenses that add up. Metered parking, electric hikes, and bottle deposits all become part of daily living. Once you’re familiar with the area, you’ll understand why people talk about an inflated cost of living.

2. Wealth Inequality is Everywhere

With such high costs of living, you need a decent salary if you even want a studio apartment. Walk down the street from a studio apartment and you’ll find multi-million dollar mansions.

When you walk around Southern California you will find different levels of wealth everywhere you look. There’s certainly a strong homeless population, and there’s also a lot of wealthy people. When you go into public spaces, you’ll be sharing the environment with both crowds of people.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that people in California can be materialistic, but it seems everything can be viewed as a status symbol. From your car to your coffee cup, where you shop will say a lot about you.

3. The Roads Are Different

Los Angeles is notorious for its traffic, but even when you drive in other parts of Southern California you’ll notice some unique qualities on the roads. Firstly, they’re really wide. It’s not uncommon to be on the freeway and see six or more lanes of traffic. So, you will need to be comfortable switching between lanes and doing it often. This helps alleviate traffic delays, but it’s also makes navigation challenging when compared to other parts of the country.

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Many Californians will complain about the state of their roads, but when you compare them to roads in other states they tend to be maintained better. Lines are clearer and potholes are fewer. Likely, this is due to the lack of harsh elements and snow care. This makes the roads feel safer until there’s rain. A minor sprinkle can wash up months of oils that’s built on the roads and drivers don’t know how to handle this.

When it comes to driving in Southern California, your biggest enemies on the road are the other drivers.

4. Taxes and Fees are Part of Life

Everywhere you go, you’re going to be taxed and charged. For starters, the California state income tax is higher than any other state. Depending on your level of income, a 8% or 9.30% state tax rate is realistic. Then there’s sales tax at a base 7.25% plus county taxes. Add in the federal income taxes, your dollar doesn’t go very far in California.

On top of these, there are other fees that will add up. Plastic bags at the grocery store cost $0.10 and every can or bottle has a deposit on it. Gas is expensive, as expected, so every time you get in the car your drive down the street has a cost associated with it.

5. Dogs Are Everywhere

Southern California is a great place to have a dog or be a dog. There’s plenty of hiking, sunshine, and dog-friendly areas. A lot of businesses welcome dogs, and they can join diners on patio seating.

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Until I moved to Southern California, I never understood the need for a leash law. Everyone I knew just kept their dog on a leash. In California, that’s not the case. People will often let their dog run free, and you need to be weary of loose dogs. Often, these are well-trained dogs, but you can never be sure. Approach with caution, but pet the dogs.

6. You’ll Need a Car

If you want to get around in Souther California, you can’t rely on public transportation. There are some options: such as the bus or trolley in San Diego. However, these options only have limited access and can’t take you everywhere. Unlike major cities such as Chicago or New York, you can’t get around the SoCal cities with public transportation alone.

Roads tend to be wider than other major cities, and it does feel like Souther California is an area designed for automobile transportation. Still, some people will experience a major change in lifestyle when they move. If you don’t have a car, you’re going to be spending a lot on ride-sharing apps.

7. The Weather Has Its Own Challenges

If you’ve lived in any other part of the country, you probably think Southern California has remarkable weather. The truth is: this is accurate. You’ll have a hard time finding better weather anywhere in the United States. Still, some unique challenges are posed by the climate.

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Always be prepared to have sun protection on you, especially sunglasses. The sun can make driving exceptionally hard. The lack of rain makes water a commodity and makes it hard to keep plants and grass hydrated. You will also need frequent car washes, something I was unfamiliar with due to the Northeast rainfalls.

This is not a complaint, as the weather is one of the best aspects of SoCal living. After enough days of sunshine, you’ll learn to celebrate the rain and appreciate the occasional cloudy day.

8. Southern California Isn’t All Blue

As a whole, California is viewed as a super liberal state. This is mostly true, there are many parts of the states that remain more conservative. In fact, California was a red state until 1992. With a transition that recent, it shouldn’t be shocking to see a conservative presence in the area.

Much of the super-liberal reputation comes from the San Francisco area. Of course, there is also a lot of diversity in the state. Almost every identity group will find a community here, but don’t expect everyone to think the same way. The state is full of transplants and there’s a strong military presence in San Diego. This brings certain ideologies into the area, and it’s quite common to see political debates among the population.

9. You’re Still in a Start-Up Playground

Southern California has a few big cities. While you’re not in Silicon Valley, you’re close enough that the start ups will test products in your area. When I moved here, I was shocked to see Lime Bikes and Bird Scooters all over the city. Then, I was delighted to find all the services I can receive through apps. If I want delivery or need a handyman, there are apps available for me.

When it comes to new apps and start ups, you might not be part of the first tests in SoCal. You’re likely to be included in the second beta, and you’ll hear about a lot of upcoming companies. Some will get mass success, while others will be a mere memory in one year.

10. The Food is Everywhere

With such a diverse population, there are a lot of options for food. Foods aren’t just categorized by culture, they’re also available based on dietary restrictions and preferences. Chain restaurants don’t do too well in the big cities, with the exception of some chain fast food restaurants. Despite the proximity to Mexico, Chipotle still manages to have a strong presence.

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This means you’ll be tempted to spend a lot on food. When Starbucks is the cheapest coffee option, you know you’re in for some trouble. It’s true that Starbucks are all over the place, but they’re not as densely populated as Dunkins in Massachusetts. You’ll find some variety between two Starbucks.

You could go a whole year without eating at the same restaurant twice. That’s a good thing for some people, but a determent to some wallets.

Is Southern California Worth the Cost?

If you love being in the city but also love having access to beaches, mountains, and oceans then you might like Southern California. You definitely pay a premium to be here, but many people will pay that expense for the lifestyle found in SoCal.

Some people don’t love the beach, prefer small town life, and need four seasons. These are the people who won’t like Southern California. Most other people will find the opportunities and variety found in Southern California appealing.

I would argue Southern California is worth the cost; at least it can be. Most people who move to the area know it’s expensive. They might not have all the details, but they are aware that California has a high cost of living. With the right mentality and expectations, living in SoCal can be a fulfilling and exciting experience.

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San Diego, CA
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