San Diego, CA

Opinion: I spent 9 days exploring San Diego neighborhoods for a future home and this is what I discovered.

La Jolla Cove, San DiegoElaine Ho

Everyone knows San Diego for the beautiful weather, nice beaches, chill vibes, and let's not forget the delicious tacos. I am no stranger to San Diego as I’ve visited throughout my 20’s with different levels of evolving purpose from being a tourist, attending a wedding, having a bachelorette trip, and now finding a potential home. My latest San Diego trip was to explore the northern and southern suburban areas of San Diego County to get a sense of the neighborhood vibes and to my surprise, we weren’t the only Bay Area folks doing this too. According to San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego is the 8th most popular destination in 2020 for Bay Area residents to relocate too.

After nine days of exploring San Diego County suburban neighborhoods, I discovered:

You need to be loaded with cash to live near the beach

Carlsbad, La Jolla, Del Mar, Solana Beach are the creme de la creme of high-end living. Everyone wants to live in these beautiful beach towns if they can afford it, so expect to pay a hefty premium to live in these cities. Purchasing a home in these beach towns can be anywhere between $2 - $20+ million.

Coronado is another renowned beach town, but many people refer to it as Coronado Island as the only way to get there is a freeway over the water from central San Diego.
Niche ratings for La Jolla, Carlsbad, Solana Beach, and Del MarElaine Ho

Oceanside is the most affordable beach town

Before you dismiss Oceanside, hear me out. It use to have a bad rep, but Oceanside is improving and has cleaned up the city in the last several years. They recently added three new hotels bringing in more tourism to the northern San Diego beach town and adding developments to revitalize the city. If your dream is to live by the beach, Oceanside is an affordable option.

  • Safety rating: C
  • Commute: B
  • Nightlife: B+
  • Public schools: B+

Watch out for the Mello-Roos fee when purchasing a home in San Diego

If you’re ever planning to purchase a home in San Diego, some neighborhoods have an annual Mello-Roos fee that goes toward improving the community such as public schools and local parks. This is completely different from HOA fees. The annual Mello-Roos fee lasts 30 years starting from the year the house was built. For example, if the house was built in 2000, and you purchased the house in 2020, then you pay Mello-Roos for the remaining 10 years.

Central San Diego suburbs is the best location, but have older and smaller homes.

Overall, if you value convenience and location to downtown activities and the beach, the following neighborhoods are where you want to be: Clairemont, Kearny Mesa, Serra Mesa, Linda Vista, and Mira Mesa. They are ranch-style one-level homes that are much older and need some TLC unless they got renovated. These neighborhoods are usually 20-30 minutes from San Diego’s main tech and business hub with quick access to all central freeways and abundant restaurant options. These are highly desirable neighborhoods and can be anywhere from $850,000 - $1+ million.
Niche ratings for San Diego suburban neighborhoodsElaine Ho

Poway is ranked one of the best school districts in California

As I talked to every realtor, they all said the same thing: Poway has the best school district in San Diego. Poway has a quiet and rustic vibe and access to plenty of hiking options, such as the Potato Chip Rock. Poway is based in North San Diego County and is a 30-minute drive from the San Diego city center.

  • Safety rating: C+
  • Commute: B
  • Nightlife: B
  • Public schools: A+

The houses are slightly easier on your pockets when you drive further from San Diego. Only slightly.

This may be true for certain cities as you drive further from San Diego where new developments are continuing to expand in North and South San Diego County. In comparison to central San Diego, there are more affordable homes, but homebuyers should check for HOA fees or Mello-Roos. Needless to say, you can find more square footage and newer homes in San Marcos, Escondido, or Chula Vista. Here are some pros and cons of each city:

San Marcos

New developments are continuing to expand in San Marcos. If I had to choose one city in the North, San Marcos wins in my book when it comes to safety and public schools (if you exclude Poway.) However, future homeowners should take into consideration the commute to them because it can take 40-60+ minutes to get to central San Diego. Some may say there are not as many activities in San Marcos.


Escondido is a neighboring city of San Marcos in North San Diego County, so the commute can also take anywhere from 40-60+ minutes. It is a huge city and I love that they have Stones Brewing World Bistro and Gardens. The city is working on improvements as there are still sketchy neighborhoods to avoid, but you can still find pockets of good neighborhoods.

Chula Vista

Chula Vista is the 15th biggest city in California and can be found South of San Diego with a population of 275,487! They are continuing to build new homes on the East side where there are nicer communities. Chula Vista has the best tacos and a drive-in movie theater which is rare to find these days. The commute to San Diego is a challenge as there is more traffic going from South to North.

Find a good realtor that you trust and who will vouch for you

After analyzing over a dozen houses on Trulia, Zillow, and Redfin to compare asking prices and what it sold for, it’s crazy to see home values continue to spike. It will continue to be a seller's market as there is a low inventory of houses on the market, so having an experienced and communicative full-time realtor who knows the neighborhoods will help you steer through this crazy real estate market. Realtors provide great advice and they are free for buyers.

Closing thoughts:

Real estate values will continue to rise and so will interest rates. With the flexibility of working remotely, many Bay Area residents are on the move and considering San Diego County. San Diego is a beautiful city and with luck and persistence, there is still a chance to find a dream home.

Disclosure: This article combines analysis from research, talking to San Diego realtors, and a perspective of buying a future single-family home in San Diego. All ratings listed in this article are from in 2022.

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Elaine is a blogger and a digital creator focused on travel, food, and hiking. She loves to share local finds in San Francisco Bay Area and tips for travel and hiking. Elaine runs her blog on

San Francisco, CA

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