What’s the Real and Complete Cost of Living in San Diego?

house with standard cost of living for san diego

We’ll start this San Diego cost of living article with an overview of basic costs for singles, couples, and families. From there, we get more detailed and take a tour through the city to show you real prices in 2024. 

For those of you considering moving to or within San Diego, I created a cost of living index comparison table for many of the city’s neighborhoods, suburbs, and areas. 

I also included a cost of living index comparison table to show the differences between San Diego and Los Angeles, the California average, and the US average. 

From there, I dive into expenses for high-income individuals. While it’s no secret that SD is expensive, there are also plenty of elements that offset those costs. That’s why I’ve written 10 additional cost of living considerations for San Diego, like the wealth of free things to do and available tax credits. 

Local employment is one of the biggest ways to ensure that you can afford a great quality of life here. That’s why there’s a breakdown of local salaries for a variety of occupations. 

Basic San Diego Cost of Living Breakdown


Basic Cost of Living for a Single Person

Expense Category Montly Cost
Housing $2,900 (Studio)
Groceries $300
Utilities $220 (Energy) + $80 (Water) = $300
Transportation $150 (Public Transport) or $120 (Gas) + $119 (Insurance) = $269
Healthcare $300 (Average with insurance)
Entertainment $250
Total Monthly Cost $4,319


Basic Cost of Living for a Couple

Expense Category Montly Cost
Housing $3,500 (2-BR Apt)
Groceries $600
Utilities $220 (Energy) + $80 (Water) = $300
Transportation $120 (Gas) + $239 (Insurance) = $359
Healthcare $600 (Average with insurance)
Entertainment $400
Total Monthly Cost $6,059


Basic Cost of Living for a Family of 4

Expense Category Monthly Cost
Housing $5,200 (Mortgage)
Groceries $1,350
Utilities $240 (Energy) + $120 (Water) = $360
Transportation $120 (Gas) + $279 (Insurance) + $399 = $399
Healthcare $1,200 (Average with insurance for 4)
Child Care $1,800 – $2,500
Entertainment $600
Property Taxes $1,040
Maintenance Costs $300
Total Monthly Cost $12,249 – $12,949

These tables provide a comprehensive overview of the monthly average cost of living in San Diego for a single person, a couple, and a family of four, covering key expense areas and highlighting the overall financial commitment required to live in the city.


Cost of Living Index Comparison Table for San Diego Areas 


Area Cost of Living Index Notes
Otay Mesa 85 Lower cost of living, longer commute times
Eucalyptus Hills 87 Quiet suburban lifestyle, lower cost of living
Mira Mesa 90 Affordable suburban area, tight-knit community
San Ysidro 90 Affordable living, border community
Chula Vista 95 More affordable, good amenities, family-friendly
Escondido 95 Affordable housing, good schools
El Cajon 95 Affordable, diverse community
Linda Vista 97 Moderate cost of living, central location
Normal Heights 98 Moderate cost, eclectic community
Hillcrest 115 Popular among young professionals, moderate rental prices
North Park 115 Trendy area, slightly higher rental prices
University City 115 Proximity to UCSD, moderate cost of living
Downtown San Diego 120 High rental prices, vibrant lifestyle, city center amenities
Serra Mesa 120 Central location, higher rental prices
Torrey Highlands 125 Good location, moderate cost of living
Carlsbad 125 Large suburb, family-friendly, good schools
Encinitas 130 Mix of urban and suburban, higher real estate prices
Rancho Bernardo 130 Family-friendly, good schools, higher cost
Scripps Ranch 130 Suburban, good schools, higher cost
Torrey Pines 135 Beautiful area, high cost of living due to location
Pacific Beach 135 Beach community, high rental prices
Pacific Highlands Ranch 140 Wealthy area, high real estate prices
Del Mar Mesa 145 Upscale neighborhood, high cost of living
La Jolla 150 Upscale living, high real estate prices, premium amenities
Coronado 160 Resort-like living, high median home prices, excellent services


Neighborhood Cost of Living Index Summary

This table is sorted from the lowest to the highest cost of living index, with 100 representing the average cost of living for the entire city of San Diego:

  • Otay Mesa, Eucalyptus Hills, Mira Mesa, San Ysidro, Chula Vista, Escondido, El Cajon, Linda Vista, and Normal Heights are below the city average, offering lower housing costs but potentially longer commutes or fewer premium amenities.
  • Hillcrest, North Park, University City, Downtown San Diego, and Serra Mesa are above the city average due to their central locations, amenities, and vibrant communities.
  • Torrey Highlands, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Bernardo, and Scripps Ranch are moderately above the average, known for their family-friendly environments and good schools.
  • Torrey Pines, Pacific Beach, Pacific Highlands Ranch, and Del Mar Mesa are higher cost areas due to desirable locations and higher real estate prices.
  • La Jolla and Coronado are significantly above the average, reflecting their upscale living conditions and premium amenities.

These indexes help illustrate the varying cost of living across different parts of San Diego, aiding in decision-making for prospective residents.


Detailed Cost of Living Comparison Tables

San Diego is known for its high cost of living, which is significantly above the national average, the California state average, and even the average cost of living in Los Angeles. Below is a detailed breakdown comparing various aspects of living expenses.

1. Housing Costs

Expense San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Rent (1 Bedroom, City Center) $2,807 $1,369 $2,000 $2,562
Rent (1 Bedroom, Outside Center) $2,361 $1,101 $1,670 $1,950
Rent (3 Bedrooms, City Center) $4,726 $2,222 $3,500 $4,478
Rent (3 Bedrooms, Outside Center) $4,200 $1,681 $2,900 $3,800
Average Home Price $1,084,913 $417,500 $717,000 $800,000
Mortgage Rate 6.54% 5.6% 5.9% 6.2%


2. Utilities

Expense San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Basic Utilities (85m² apartment) $320.36 $179.73 $198.00 $226.15
Internet (60 Mbps, Unlimited Data) $73.26 $62.99 $70.00 $65.00
Mobile Phone Plan $71.07 $50.00 $60.00 $68.00


3. Food and Groceries

Item San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Milk (1 gallon) $4.98 $3.78 $4.00 $4.79
Bread (1 loaf) $4.36 $2.69 $3.00 $3.50
Eggs (12) $4.49 $2.72 $3.20 $4.30
Chicken Fillets (1 lb) $6.63 $4.18 $5.50 $6.00
Apples (1 lb) $2.31 $1.32 $1.80 $2.25
Potatoes (1 lb) $1.46 $0.78 $1.00 $1.25


4. Transportation

Expense San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Gasoline (1 gallon) $4.68 $3.68 $4.10 $4.50
Public Transport (Monthly Pass) $72.00 $70.00 $72.00 $100.00
Taxi Start (Normal Tariff) $10.00 $3.50 $4.50 $4.00


5. Healthcare

Service San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Doctor Visit $132.50 $112.00 $120.00 $130.00
Dentist Visit $121.37 $98.00 $110.00 $115.00
Optometrist Visit $138.66 $100.00 $115.00 $120.00


6. Entertainment and Leisure

Expense San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Movie Ticket $16.89 $13.00 $14.50 $16.00
Fitness Club (Monthly) $89.62 $45.00 $60.00 $80.00
Tennis Court Rent (1 hour) $26.67 $15.00 $20.00 $25.00


7. Childcare and Education

Expense San Diego Average US Average California Average Los Angeles Average
Preschool (Private, Monthly) $1,713.33 $1,040.00 $1,200.00 $1,500.00
International Primary School (Year) $18,333.33 $12,000.00 $15,000.00 $20,000.00


Comparison Tables Summary

San Diego’s cost of living is considerably higher than both the national and California state averages. Key factors include high housing and rental prices, expensive groceries, and high utility costs. 

While some costs, like transportation and healthcare, are somewhat in line with or slightly above state averages, the overall cost burden is higher in San Diego, making it a more expensive place to live compared to many other major cities, including Los Angeles.

This detailed comparison highlights the economic demands of living in San Diego, which can be helpful for individuals considering moving to or within California.


Touring San Diego for Real Living Costs

According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, San Diego ranks as the 11th highest cost of living city in the United States, standing 43% higher than the national average. 

With a city population of about 1.3 million and over 3 million in the county, it’s essential to understand what living in “America’s Finest City” entails. 

This section provides a detailed breakdown of the true prices of goods and services in San Diego, based on my video above. 

Grocery Costs

On average, a single person spends about $220 per month on groceries in San Diego, while a family of four might spend around $500. Here are some specific grocery prices from a local Vons store:

  • Gallon of milk: $5
  • Prime drink (two for): $5
  • Gallon of orange juice: $4.99
  • Organic eggs: $6.99

Coffee Prices

A medium iced vanilla latte costs about $5.55 at a local coffee shop, with prices generally rising about once a year.

Healthcare Costs

Healthcare is another significant expense in San Diego. For example:

  • Eye exam without insurance: $160
  • General dental cleaning without insurance: $99

Transportation and Car Costs

Most San Diegans own cars, and the cost of gas typically ranges between $4 and $5 per gallon, with current prices around $4.81. Additionally, car insurance for two cars can cost about $239 per month.

For public transportation, options like the Coaster train offer affordable rates:

  • Solana Beach to Old Town: $3.25
  • Entire day pass for the Coaster: $15

San Diego International Airport ranks 22nd in the country for airfare prices, averaging $378 per ticket. For cheaper travel to Mexico, using the Tijuana airport can be a cost-effective alternative.

Little League/Club Sports Costs

Sports and recreational activities also add to the cost of living:

  • Little league fees: $100 to $150 per month
  • Club sports fees: $1,500 and up

Car Wash and Movie Theater Costs

Car washes range from $10 to $18, with unlimited monthly passes available for $15. Movie tickets cost:

  • Children: $10 to $12 (or $8 before noon)
  • Adults: $15 to $16
  • Premium theaters: up to $20

Tickets for a San Diego Padres game start at $25 for lawn seats and $35 for regular seats. Concert tickets in San Diego average $108, making it the fourth most expensive city in the U.S. for concerts.

Child Care Costs

Child care is another substantial expense:

  • Full-time child care center or preschool: $1,800 to $2,500 per month
  • Home daycare: $1,200 per month
  • Full-time nanny: $19 per hour

Housing Costs

Housing is the most significant expense in San Diego:

  • Average apartment rental: $2,900 per month
  • Single-family home rental: $4,000 per month
  • Median home price: $940,000
  • Median condo or townhome price: $645,000
  • Property tax: 1.2% of the assessed value

Utility costs add to the housing expenses:

  • Average energy bill: $220 per month
  • Average water bill: $80 per month (family of four: $120 per month)

Parking Costs

Parking costs vary widely:

  • Free parking is available in many North County neighborhoods
  • State beaches offer an annual Explorer Pass for $200
  • Downtown parking: $25 to $35 (up to $40 to $50 on busy weekends)


The Hidden Costs of Living

San Diego is renowned for its beautiful weather, stunning beaches, and vibrant lifestyle. However, living in this sunny paradise comes with its own set of hidden costs that can catch residents off guard. Here are the top seven hidden costs of living in San Diego:

1. Airfare

San Diego’s airport, while efficient and less crowded, offers fewer direct international flights compared to larger hubs like Los Angeles. 

Consequently, flights can be more expensive, especially for international travel. Hawaii is a nice exception.

2. Mello-Roos Tax

Besides the standard property tax rate of approximately 1.1% in California, San Diego homeowners might face the additional Mello-Roos tax. 

This special tax can range from $100 to $800 per month, depending on the neighborhood, significantly impacting the overall cost of property ownership.

3. Home Insurance

Due to the risk of wildfires, home insurance premiums in San Diego have seen substantial increases. 

For example, a homeowner’s insurance cost that was $1,300 in 2020 could jump to $2,300 in 2022. 

Additionally, homes in certain areas may require flood insurance, further adding to the costs. I pay $800 per month for flood insurance. 

4. Landscaping

Maintaining a lush green lawn in San Diego’s arid climate can be costly. Water bills spike during the dry summer and fall months. 

Many residents opt for artificial turf to reduce water usage, but those with natural lawns need to account for higher water bills and potential maintenance costs for trees like palm trees.

5. Owning a Car

Most residents need a car to navigate San Diego’s sprawling layout. While the city lacks extensive toll roads, fuel, maintenance, and insurance costs add up. 

Residents in areas with fewer public transport options may face higher transportation costs overall.

6. Child Care

Child care in San Diego is a significant expense, with daycare costs ranging from $1,200 to $2,000 per month. 

Nannies can charge from $15 to $30 per hour, making it a crucial consideration for families with young children.

These hidden costs can add up quickly, affecting the overall budget for residents. Being aware of these expenses can help potential movers and current residents better manage their finances in this beautiful but costly city.


Typical Cost of Living Expenses for High Earners

High-income individuals in San Diego often face specific, substantial cost-of-living expenses that can significantly impact their monthly budgets. Here is a detailed breakdown of these costs, including specific services and their prices:

1. Luxury Housing and Real Estate

  • Upscale Neighborhoods:
    • La Jolla: Median home price is around $3 million. With a 20% down payment and a 6.5% interest rate, monthly mortgage payments, including taxes and insurance, are approximately $14,000 per month.
    • Coronado: Median home price is approximately $2.4 million. Monthly mortgage payments are about $11,200 per month​​.

2. Private Education and Childcare

  • Private Schools: Tuition ranges from $20,000 to $40,000 per year, translating to about $1,667 to $3,333 per month per child.
  • Elite Preschools: Costs range from $2,500 to $3,500 per month​​.

3. Healthcare and Wellness

  • Premium Healthcare Plans: Comprehensive health insurance plans cost between $1,000 and $1,500 per month.
  • Wellness Services: Regular use of high-end spas, personal trainers, and wellness programs adds $500 to $1,000 per month.

4. Home Maintenance and Services

  • Cleaning Services: Weekly cleaning services or full-time housekeepers range from $800 to $2,000 per month.
  • Landscaping and Pool Maintenance: Regular maintenance services cost between $300 and $500 per month

5. Utilities and Smart Home Systems

  • Energy Costs: Large homes with advanced climate control and smart home systems typically have energy bills exceeding $400 per month.
  • Security Systems:
    • ADT: Monthly monitoring and maintenance can cost around $60 to $70 per month.
    • Vivint: Similar services cost approximately $60 to $70 per month​.

6. Entertainment and Recreation

  • Country Club Memberships:
    • The Grand Golf Club: Approximately $1,000 per month.
    • The Santaluz Club: Membership fees around $800 per month​​.
  • Fine Dining and Social Events: High-end dining and social events can easily add $1,000 to $2,000 per month.

7. Transportation and Vehicles

  • Luxury Car Expenses: Owning and maintaining luxury vehicles, including higher insurance premiums, costs about $1,000 to $1,500 per month.
  • Private Chauffeur Services: Chauffeur services can add an additional $3,000 to $5,000 per month.

8. Professional Services

  • Personal Chef: Hiring a private chef costs between $5,000 and $10,000 per month for full-time services, including meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleanup​.
  • Stylist and Concierge Services: Personal stylists can cost around $500 to $1,000 per session, while concierge services typically charge $150 to $500 per month.
  • Full-time Nannies: High-quality nannies cost approximately $3,000 to $4,000 per month​. Babysitters are typically about $20/hour. 

These costs reflect the premium lifestyle that some high-income individuals maintain in San Diego.


10 Things That Offset San Diego’s Cost of Living

Despite the high cost of living, there are several ways in which residents of San Diego can mitigate these expenses:

1. Higher Median Household Income

San Diego has a relatively high median household income, which helps to offset some of the higher costs. The median household income in San Diego is around $89,457, which is higher than the national average of approximately $70,784​.

2. Employment Opportunities

San Diego is home to a diverse range of industries, including biotechnology, telecommunications, and defense, which provide numerous high-paying job opportunities. 

Major employers like Qualcomm, General Atomics, and various research institutions offer competitive salaries that help residents manage the higher cost of living.

3. Outdoor and Free Activities

San Diego’s climate and geography offer numerous low-cost or free recreational activities. Residents can enjoy beaches, hiking trails, and parks without the need for expensive memberships or fees. 

This is a significant benefit compared to cities where indoor activities might be more necessary due to weather conditions.

4. Public Transportation and Biking

While public transportation costs are on the higher side, the city’s investment in infrastructure like bike lanes makes biking a viable and cost-effective option for many. 

Programs like bike-sharing and increased public transportation routes help reduce commuting costs​​.

5. Educational Resources

San Diego offers access to excellent public schools and universities, including the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and San Diego State University (SDSU). For families, this can reduce the need for expensive private schooling​.

6. Healthcare

While healthcare costs are high, San Diego is home to top-tier medical facilities and research institutions, which can lead to better healthcare outcomes and potentially lower long-term medical expenses​.

7. Housing Assistance Programs

Various programs and initiatives are available to help mitigate housing costs. For example, the San Diego Housing Commission offers rental assistance programs for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. 

8. Energy Efficiency Programs

San Diego has numerous initiatives to promote energy efficiency and sustainability. Programs that offer rebates and incentives for energy-efficient appliances and home upgrades can help reduce monthly utility costs​​. The insane amount of sunny days makes solar energy systems very worthwhile. 

9. Community Support and Services

San Diego has a strong network of community organizations and services that provide support to residents. These include food banks, community centers, and local non-profits that offer assistance with various living expenses.

10 . Tax Benefits

California offers several tax benefits and credits that can help mitigate the overall cost of living. For instance, the state offers the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) to low-income workers, which can help reduce their tax burden.


Average Incomes in San Diego

High-Paying Jobs

  • CEO: $191,000
  • Director: $163,700
  • Public Administration: $153,300
  • Program Manager: $144,600
  • Social Worker: $139,000
  • Lawyer: $135,000
  • Engineer (Various Specialties): $95,000 – $138,000

Mid-Paying Jobs

  • Software Developer: $119,600
  • Financial Analyst: $116,900
  • IT Manager: $113,000
  • Business Development Manager: $112,300
  • Electrical Engineer Lead: $110,000
  • Construction Manager: $99,000
  • Teacher: $72,400
  • Sales Manager: $65,000
  • Web Developer: $63,800
  • Car Mechanic: $64,000
  • Customer Service Manager: $85,000
  • Marketing Manager: $79,400
  • Human Resources Manager: $79,400

Lower-Paying Jobs

  • Customer Services: $50,800
  • Restaurant Manager: $56,200
  • Logistics Coordinator: $56,500
  • Media: $36,300
  • Manufacturing & Labor Workers: $28,700
  • Retail Salesperson: $45,000
  • Administrative Assistant: $42,000
  • Cashier: $30,000

These figures provide a more comprehensive view of the salary landscape in San Diego across a variety of occupations. For more detailed information, refer to the Average Salary Survey 2024 and ZipRecruiter.


The cost of living in San Diego in 2024 remains significantly higher than both the national and California state averages, with housing and utility costs being major contributors. 

However, this premium is balanced by higher median household incomes, numerous high-paying job opportunities, and an abundance of free or low-cost recreational activities. 

San Diego’s vibrant economy, coupled with its excellent educational and healthcare facilities, ensures that despite the high costs, the quality of life here is unmatched. 

Understanding these costs and the strategies to mitigate them is crucial for anyone considering making San Diego their home.

Let’s Have a Talk!

Thinking about making the move to San Diego or simply wanting to explore more about living in this beautiful city? 

I invite you to delve deeper into the various neighborhoods, compare the cost of living, and explore the opportunities that await you. 

Whether you’re looking for a vibrant urban lifestyle or a serene suburban retreat, San Diego has something for everyone. Stay informed and make the best decision for your future. 

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