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San Diego vs San Francisco: The Perfect California City to Move In 2024

Are you considering relocating to California but unsure where to settle between San Diego vs San Francisco? The two areas are great locations to live, despite being situated in different regions of the state.

So which one should you opt for? Let’s dive into a detailed comparison of the two and see which option is better!

San Diego vs San Francisco

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Review of San Diego vs San Francisco

There are advantages and drawbacks to living in either San Francisco or San Diego, so it’s important to weigh them carefully. Here is a quick comparison of the cities:

  • San Francisco is in Northern California, while the sunny coastal city of San Diego is in the Southern part of the Golden City.
  • San Francisco’s population is 800,000, California’s eighth most populous city. San Diego, the state’s second-largest city, has a popularity of 1.4 million.
  • Both San Francisco and San Diego are located on the Pacific Coast. 

That’s not all. Before making your final decision, consider other factors like taxes, cost of living, education, security, and climatic conditions. Continue reading to explore more!

Comparative Analysis of Living in San Francisco vs. San Diego

Both cities have much to offer their residents. Below is a summary of what to expect in the two cities and which city is better.

FACTOR

SAN DIEGO

SAN FRANCISCO

Lodging/ housing

Expensive housing

Affordable housing

Cost of living

Cost of living is not that high

High cost of living

Quality of life

12th best in the US

It is an expensive city

Attraction

With kids

Travelling solo or couple

Safety

It is quite safe

High crime rate

Food

Mexican cuisine

Asian Cuisine

Nightlife

The Gaslamp Quarter

The Mission

Public transportation

Two major options

More transit options

Weather

Mostly sunny

Mild winters and dry summers

Traffic

Less Traffic

There is a lot of traffic

Population

Overpopulated

More densely populated

I will highlight all the above factors in detail, but for now, let us look at the pros and cons of each city. 

Benefits and Limitations of Living in San Diego

The most effective way to decide where to live is to compare and contrast the pros and cons of relocating to either city. Here are the pros of living in San Diego.

Pros of Relocating to San Diego

San Diego, which is close to the Mexican border, is considered California’s birthplace. It was among the first places where Europeans settled.

Naturally, it is an attractive and hilly city surrounded by parks and other natural areas, contributing to a high in-migration rate. Here are the pros of San Diego:

Pros of Relocating to San Diego
  • Promising job market: There’s a higher chance of you landing a job in the transport, marketing, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors. 
  • San Diego has good public schools: They are considered the best in the country. 
  • There are many activities to do: Enjoy the nightlife and participate in outdoor fun such as Surfing, snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean, and hiking. 
  • Perfect weather: The temperatures are about 70° Fahrenheit year-round, making the city to be regarded as “America’s Finest City.”
  • Mouthwatering Mexican cuisine: There are over 7,000 restaurants within city limits.
  • It has excellent arts and culture: The city has beautiful galleries, 15 museums, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and botanical gardens.
  • Stunning views: You’ll be mesmerized by the view of downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge. Nature lovers canenjoy La Jolla Cove and Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

These are just some great amenities you will enjoy when you move into the city. Let me take you through some cons you might experience. 

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Disadvantages of Relocating to San Diego

Despite the many pros the city offers, there are a few drawbacks, such as:

Disadvantages of Relocating to San Diego
  • Expensive housing: San Diego ranks among the country’s top 10 most expensive metropolises, meaning that houses in San Diego won’t come cheap.
  • High taxes: California has the highest income tax rates in the country. 
  • Public transportation is not the greatest: The transport only covers about 570 of the city’s more than 4,000 square miles.

Let us now look at what San Francisco offers so that you can compare the two cities properly.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Living in San Francisco

San Francisco’s breathtaking natural beauty, diversified culture, and innovative spirit inspire powerful emotions in its visitors. Still, there’s some disagreement on whether it makes for a desirable city to call home.

Take a look at these potential pros and downsides for further insight!  

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Pros of Relocating to San Francisco 

Some of the reasons to live in San Francisco include:

Pros of Relocating to San Francisco 
  • Plenty of job opportunities: San Francisco Bay Area is home to Silicon Valley and tech jobs.
  • Mild weather: Temperatures range between 45- 83 degrees Fahrenheit, with 259 days of sunshine yearly. 
  • Efficient public transportation: It is regarded as one of the best in the country.
  • Delicious food: Some cuisines here include artisanal bakeries and classic seafood dishes.
  • Amazing culture and sights: Art galleries, museums, fascinating historical sites, and old architecture are here. Also, you can discover sights, such as the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Those are the pros the locals of this beautiful city enjoy. Now let me highlight the cons. 

Disadvantages of Moving to San Francisco

There are some drawbacks though not many, that the inhabitants here experience, and they include:

Disadvantages of Moving to San Francisco
  • Constant wildfires: These fires cause untold damage to people, structures, and wildlife every summer.
  • High taxes: This, in turn, makes living in the city to be expensive.
  • Bad traffic: The average San Francisco resident spends a total of 97 hours a year stuck in traffic. 

Those are the pros and disadvantages of living in either San Francisco or San Diego. Let us shift our focus and see these two great cities’ size and population differences.

Population and Size Comparison in San Francisco vs San Diego

There is a huge difference between San Diego’s population, size, and density and the San Francisco population and size. Here’s a closer look!

Population Comparison in San Francisco vs San Diego

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San Diego Population and Size

San Diego’s population in 2023 is 1,402,466. 

  • It represents a growth of roughly 0.61% compared to the figure recorded in the previous year. 
  • The largest age group in San Diego is between 25 and 34, and the second largest is between 34 and 44.
  • The San Diego population is distributed over a land area of 372.1 square miles (963.7 km2).

San Francisco Population and Size

San Francisco is California’s fourth most populous city, with about 876,063 people calling San Francisco home in 2023. 

  • People between the ages of 25 and 34 make up the largest age group in San Francisco. 
  • Those between the ages of 34 and 44 make up the second largest.
  • The population is distributed, spanning 47.355 square miles (122.6 square kilometers).

San Diego has more people living there than San Francisco does. What’s intriguing, though, is that it has a lesser population density. San Francisco and San Diego both have quite old populations. 

San Diego vs San Francisco: Cost of Renting and Buying a Home

Both San Franciso and San Diego are beautiful places to call home. Let us compare the cost of housing in the cities. 

How Much Will It Cost in San Diego?

San Diego is pretty pricey whether you want to buy a house or rent one. Prices have increased in line with the local home market’s appreciation during the past 20 years.

Cost of Renting and Buying a Home in San Diego
  • The typical rent in the city for a 1-bedroom apartment will be $1,560, and for a 2-bedroom apartment, it will be $2,393.
  • The Median House Value in San Diego is $958,250.

How Much Will It Cost in San Francisco?

When you Compare it with San Diego, the average price of a San Francisco home is relatively higher. Homes in the neighborhood have seen a 3.0% increase in value recently, but over the following several years, their value is anticipated to decline by 0.1%.

 Cost of Renting and Buying a Home in San Francisco

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  • San Francisco’s rent, on average, for a 1-bedroom apartment will cost you $3,600, and a 2-bedroom apartment will be $4,690.
  • The median price of a home in San Francisco is $1,323,810.

Comparison of Expenditure Between San Diego and San Francisco

One of the most important factors to consider when deciding which of California’s top cities to relocate to is the local cost of living. Come with me as I explore each of the offerings of these cities.

Cost of Living in San Diego

Living costs in San Diego are lower than the national average. 

Cost of Living in San Diego
  • A lunch menu in San Diego’s financial area will set you back around $16. 
  • Fast food restaurants charge around $8 for a meal.
  • Whole-fat milk in a 1-liter container costs only 93 cents.

The average person in the city will spend about $1,012, and a typical family of four can expect to spend as much as $3,648 each month on costs other than rent.

San Francisco Cost of Living

Compared to San Diego, San Francisco’s cost of living is 37.9% more. However, the average income increase offered by San Francisco firms is just 15.8 %, meaning that your standard of living will fall when you relocate here. 

  • San Francisco has the fifth-highest electricity rate in the US at 19.39 cents per kilowatt-hour. 
  • Fares on the bus and subway are also going up. The average monthly expense comes to about $91.
San Francisco Cost of Living

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The cost of living is higher in San Francisco, with an average individual spending $1,254 monthly on all costs other than housing. For a family of four, this figure rises to $4,517. 

Comparison of Job Possibilities Between San Diego and San Francisco

Considering the job chances available in either city is crucial before relocating. You need a job to cope with the high cost of living. Let us see what San Diego has in store if you decide to move there. 

Job Chances in San Diego

You can secure employment from the several industries available in San Diego. Potential employers include:

  • The University of California;
  • San Diego Unified School District;
  • Naval Base San Diego;
  • Scripps Health;
  • San Diego County;
  • Sharp Health Care;
  • San Diego Community College District.
Job Chances in San Diego

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However, unemployment rates were estimated to be 4.0 percent in June 2023, an increase from the previous month, which had 3.5 percent. What about San Francisco?

Job Opportunities in San Francisco 

San Francisco is a big city with a healthy job market, contributing to the city’s continually expanding economy. Silicon Valley is located in the Bay Area, and around 20% of San Francisco’s occupations are in technology.

Job Opportunities in San Francisco 

The corporate headquarters of several companies are located in the Valley, including:

  • Tesla;
  • Apple;
  • Facebook;
  • Netflix;
  • Google;
  • Yahoo.

Unemployment rates were estimated to be 3.2% in June 2023, up from a revised 2.9% in May 2023. Let us look at how education is. 

San Francisco’s vs San Diego’s Education

Education is crucial to consider before moving to either San Diego or San Francisco. Where will your children go to school? Well, let us find out. 

San Diego Schools and San Francisco Schools

San Francisco and San Diego have some of the best schools in California.

San Francisco

San Francisco’s best schools include:

San Francisco's best schools
  • Lowell High School: The challenging curriculum at Lowell High School emphasizes honors-level and AP classes in chemistry, calculus, and economics. Additionally, Lowell High School provides a range of foreign languages, and its athletic teams have won more city titles than any other San Francisco public high school.
  • Dougherty Valley: The 18th-best high school in California is Dougherty Valley. Courses and tests of the Advanced Placement level are available to students. At Dougherty Valley High School, 79% of students take at least one AP course.

San Diego

San Diego likewise has good schools, which include:

Best school in San Diego
  • The Preuss School: It is situated on the University of California—San Diego campus and attempts to prepare low-income students for college. Many Preuss School students enroll in four-year institutions for the first time in their families.
  • Canyon Crest Academy: It is number 17 in California, and the students at Canyon Crest Academy can take AP coursework and exams.

San Francisco and San Diego Preschools

Considering the available preschools for your little ones is important. Let us look at your options in San Francisco and San Diego.

San Francisco

Most preschools in San Francisco accept kids aged two to six years. There are around 35 private preschools with 7,486 children. The fee is around $23,148, higher than the California average.

Cost of Preschools in San Francisco

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Your kids can go to the best preschools in the city, such as:

San  Diego

There are 196 private preschools in San Diego, with 31,845 students. The average tuition is roughly $11,001. This is lower than the California private preschool average tuition cost of $12,663.

Cost of Preschools in San Diego

Among the best preschools in the city includes: 

Now you know where you can take your kids to school, let us consider the tax burdens in the cities.

Differences in Taxes in San Francisco and San Diego

The lowest possible total sales tax rate in San Francisco, California 2023 is 8.63 %. All local, county, and state sales taxes are included here.

  • Currently, California has a sales tax rate of 6%.
  • The rate of the County’s sales tax is 0.25%.
Differences in Taxes in San Francisco and San Diego

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San Diego has a combined sales tax rate minimum of 7.75% in 2023.

  • The sum of all local and state sales taxes.
  • Currently, the rate of sales tax in the state of California is 6%.

Which Is Safer, San Francisco or San Diego?

Your safety and that of your family is crucial to keep in mind before deciding where to settle. Let us contrast the two cities in terms of safety. 

Safety in San Diego

The national average crime rate is 6.52%. San Diego is among the safest cities, as its crime rate is lesser than the national average, as illustrated in the table below.

TYPE OF CRIME

NATIONAL AVERAGE 

RATE IN SAN DIEGO

Burglary

376.0

337.2

Rape

42.6

28.3

Assault

246.8

232.5

Property (car)

246

450.3

As you can see, San Diego is quite safe regarding house thefts. Now let us look at how the situation is in San Francisco.

Safety in San Francisco

San Francisco is not a safe location compared to San Diego. Consider the statistics below:

TYPE OF CRIME

TOTAL REPORT

RATE PER 1000

Murder

22,941

0.007

Assault

943,774

2.84

Robbery

202,155

0.61

Rape

144,285

0.43

Regarding safety, San Diego is the winner, without a doubt. 

Variations in Weather Conditions in San Francisco vs San Diego

Considering your potential home’s climate and weather conditions is another key factor. After all, you will spend most of your time in that location. Let’s see how the climate differs in the two regions. 

Weather in San Diego

If you want to live in a place where it’s warm, then San Diego should be your choice. The weather that San Diego offers is perfect for outdoor activities such as walking on the beach. 

Weather in San Diego
  • The city is known to have a Mediterranean climate which experiences mild winters. 
  • Rainfall is between December- March and is around 9 to 13 inches yearly.

There is rarely any snow, so this would not be the perfect place if you are a snow lover. Over the last 150 years, it has only snowed five times. What about San Francisco?

Weather in San Francisco

San Francisco enjoys moist and mild winters and dry summers.

  • Pacific Ocean’s The San Francisco Bay and the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean are the reason for San Francisco’s weather. 
  • There is a slight variation in the temperature.
Weather in San Francisco

Now that you know the weather conditions, let us look at the cities’ attractions. 

Which Has Better Attractions, San Francisco or San Diego?

These two California cities have much to offer their inhabitants. Here is a look at the fun activities you can encounter in San Diego.

4 Attractions San Diego Boasts

As I had already hinted, San Diego boasts a mild Mediterranean climate, exquisite natural beauty, and lots of sunshine – excellent for outdoor adventures. Here are the attractions in San Diego: 

4 Attractions San Diego Boasts
  • Balboa Park: It is a one-stop wonderland for tourists. Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre site encompassing historical structures, museums, parks, and green space. Amazing locations include Lily Pond, Seaworld San Diego, and the botanical gardens. Popular museums with historical sights are the Museum of Man, the Museum of Natural History, and the San Diego Museum of Art.
  • San Diego Zoo: It is among the popular zoos in the US. Animals include grizzlies, gorillas, leopards, koalas,  polar bears, bonobos, and rhinos. 
  • Gaslamp Quarter: It is the most ideal place to enjoy the nightlife. It is roughly 16 blocks from Broadway to San Diego Bay. You can either walk or hop on bike taxis.
  • San Diego Beaches: Some lovely beaches include Coronado Beach, Torrey Pines State Beach, mission, and dog beach.

Clearly, San Diego has plenty of fun activities. What is distinguishable in San Francisco?

4 Attractions in San Francisco

With its oceanfront location and rolling hills, San Francisco is widely regarded as one of the most attractive cities in the US. The city has a wide variety of restaurants, shops, bars, museums, and other entertainment venues, not to mention its rich history and beautiful neighborhoods.

Here is what you can expect:

4 Attractions in San Francisco
  • Golden Gate Bridge: It connects San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north. It is also regarded as the most photographic destination in the city 
  • Alcatraz Island: It is home to the historic Alcatraz Penitentiary.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf: It is known for its restaurants, shops, and beautiful setting along the waterfront.
  • Golden Gate Park: It has museums and gardens, such as the California Academy of Sciences Museum with Steinhart Aquarium, de Young Museum, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Japanese Tea Garden.

Fun Activities and Beaches in San Diego and San Francisco

Both San Francisco and San Diego have beautiful beaches with a surplus of activities you can partake in. 

Activities and Beaches in San Diego

San Diego offers locals more than 100 kilometers of beachfront to discover in and around the city. Here are some of the most famous beaches:

1. Mission Beach

This beach offers plenty of activities, such as:

  • Renting a bike to cruise along the boardwalk;
  • Learning how to surf;
  • Watching the world go by with a cocktail in your hand at one of the beach bars;
  • Relaxing in the sand. 
Mission Beach

Stretching to Pacific Beach, Mission is one of San Diego’s longest beaches. This makes it ideal for taking lengthy strolls or runs along the shore. You can also play volleyball or sign up for a team on one of the courts.

2. Pacific Beach

College students choose to congregate in Pacific Beach. Along Grant and Garnet Street, you can find:

  • Numerous bars;
  • Inexpensive restaurants;
  • Entertaining coffee shops;
  • Clubs.
Pacific Beach

It is very beneficial for beginning surfers to visit Tourmaline Surf Park in North Pacific Beach, a surf-only beach.

3. Ocean Beach

The atmosphere is incredibly laid-back and chill, which makes it ideal for families and parties. 

You can catch incredible waves near the pier if you’re a surfer. 

  • You can swim;
  • Play in the ocean;
  • Relax in the sand in the center of Ocean Beach.
Ocean Beach

Activities and Beaches in San Francisco

San Francisco offers numerous tranquil beaches with countless chances for outdoor experiences. Around the neighborhood beaches are several monuments, historical sites, hiking paths, and hang-gliding locations. 

1. China Beach 

China Beach is a small, peaceful beach where visitors may:

  • Ride the waves;
  • Bask in the sun;
  • Take in the stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge. 
China Beach 

Rock barriers on either side of the beach make it somewhat private.

2. Baker Beach

One of the most popular beaches in the area, Baker Beach is located close to the Golden Gate Bridge and provides:

  • Beautiful scenery;
  • Plush sands;
  • Lots of space. 
Baker Beach

Although the water is quite cold year-round and the rip currents can be dangerous, it’s a nice location to unwind and dip your toes in the sea.

3. Mile Rock Beach

Mile Rock Beach in Lands End Park is a great place to stroll and learn about the local wildlife. 

  • Several boulders and logs have washed up on the coast, giving the beach a raw and natural appearance. 
  • If you climb from the shore, you’ll find the Lands End Labyrinth, a rock maze with beautiful bridge views. 
Mile Rock Beach

This beach is on the south side of Golden Gate Park, close to the park’s central shore.

Which Has Better Nightlife, San Diego or San Francisco?

San Diego offers its residents the perfect nightlife. The Gaslamp Quarter is the place to be in San Diego at night. Many discos, bars, and arcades are available for your enjoyment.

The Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego
Credit: www.tripadvisor.com

Other venues include:

  • The Grass Skirt;
  • Trailer Park After Dark;
  • Polite Provisions.

San Francisco is not dissimilar in this regard; the vibrant city is home to several pubs, lounges, and nightspots. The Mission is one of the most vibrant areas when nighttime rolls around.

The Mission district, San Francisco
Credit: www.tripadvisor.com

Other areas include:

  • Asia SF;
  • Church of 8 Wheels;
  • The Great Northern.

You can’t go wrong with either city because they both have exciting nightlife scenes.

Cuisine in San Diego and San Francisco

San Diego is the place to be if you love Mexican food. San Francisco is the place to be if you’re a fan of Asian food. Both San Francisco and San Diego offer a vast range of eateries for budget travelers and those looking for luxury hotels with the region’s best chefs.

San Diego

San Diego has various cuisines, from delicious traditional Mexican food to authentic Italian. There is a wide selection of seafood, as well as local brews. Some of the delicacies include:

Food in San Diego
  • Filet Mignon Burrito;
  • Omakase;
  • Korean-Style Chicken Wings.

San Francisco

San Francisco has a wider assortment of places to eat, from casual cafes to upscale hotels. Some delicacies include:

Food in San Francisco
  • Cioppino;
  • Sumo Crunch Sushirrito;
  • Mission-Style Burrito.

Differences in Transport and Traffic in San Diego and San Francisco

You must consider the ride available in your potential hometown before moving. Below is a breakdown of the traffic and transportation modes available. 

San Diego

San Diego includes bus lines, and a light rail system called the red trolley. Taking the trolley is the cheapest and simplest method to get around town. 

  • Driving during rush hours is difficult due to the dense population in the city and the narrow streets and steep hills. 
  • There is heavy traffic in the Bay Area due to the high population density and a bigger number of commuters. 

San Francisco

Various public transportation choices are available in San Francisco, including buses, cable cars, ferries, trains, and street cars. In addition, the bike-sharing program is the cheapest transportation method in the metropolis.

Differences in Transport in San Diego and San Francisco
  • The city has a more spread-out layout with wider roads, making navigation by drivers easier.
  • The low population density makes traffic less than in San Diego.

Quality of Life Difference in San Francisco vs San Diego

The quality of life in San Diego is exceptionally excellent. Out of the top 150 metropolitan areas in the United States, US News ranked it the 12th greatest location to live in terms of quality of life.

San Francisco has a remarkable standard of living because it offers numerous entertainment options, tech-related work opportunities, and excellent medical facilities. I made this summary table for you based on life quality index research by Numbeo.

QUALITY OF LIFE INDEX

SAN DIEGO

SAN FRANCISCO

Safety

58.86

38.41

Living expenses

89.58

97.15

Purchasing power

98.25

101.42

Medical Care

66.93

64.08

Time taken to commute

37.85

50.52

Weather

97.08

97.26

Pollution

42.10

50.15

Cost of Property compared to the income

9.89

8.95

Overall

162.02 (Extremely High)

140.46 (Moderate)

FAQ

Is San Francisco More Expensive Than San Diego?

Yes, San Francisco is more expensive than San Diego, as San Francisco has a higher cost of living.

Why Is San Diego, California, So Popular?

San Diego is popular as it offers locals expansive beaches, parks, and a moderate Mediterranean climate throughout the year. It is also famous due to its history of service with the US Navy and, more recently, its rise as a hub for developing biotechnology and healthcare.

Is It Worth It to Move to San Diego?

It is worth it to move to San Diego if you’re looking for a place with plenty of sunlight, beaches, and cultural opportunities. However, before transferring, consider the high living cost and bad traffic. But if you do not mind those factors, then San Diego is a fantastic spot to settle down.

Is It Better to Live in San Diego or San Francisco?

Where it is better to live in San Diego or San Francisco depends on your preferences. If you want to live in a city with many options for eating out and partying, San Francisco is the place to do it. But if you’re looking for a home with a small-town vibe or to raise a family, San Diego is a great choice.

Conclusion 

You must weigh many factors before deciding the best place to move between San Diego and San Francisco. The two cities offer different vibes, so it all comes down to your personal preferences.

If you desire a city with affordable housing, Asian cuisine, more transit options, and dry summers, you should relocate to San Francisco. But relocating to San Diego would be the best choice if you desire to live in a safe, small town with affordable schools, relatively lower living expenses, or a place to raise children.

Both cities include various attractions, from museums and galleries to parks and historic landmarks. You won’t go wrong by choosing either of the Golden State city.

San Diego vs San Francisco