San Diego Newcomers Guide

San Diego City ScapeOver 70 miles of beautiful beaches, world-renowned cultural attractions, a near-perfect climate, a vibrant dining and entertainment scene and a healthy, diversified economy--no wonder San Diego claims to be America’s Finest City. The nation’s sixth largest city in the U.S. is home to over 1.2 million residents within its nearly 72 square miles, with another 1.5 million living in the 17 incorporated cities scattered throughout 4,255-square-mile San Diego County.1 If you’re looking for a new hometown and want the conveniences of an urban setting combined with easy access to rural retreats and natural beauty, then San Diego is the place for you. And our newcomers guide will give you a quick overview of San Diego real estate, history, schools, lifestyle and job market.

California’s Birthplace

San Diego Cabrillo MonumentAnthropologists believe what is today San Diego was inhabited since as early as 20,000 years ago and the ancestors of the present-day Kumeyaay people settled here at least 12,000 year back. But everything changed in 1542, when Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo sailed into the harbor, came ashore and claimed the area for Spain. Cabrillo was the first European here and San Diego was the birthplace of what would eventfully become California. Growth and expansion began slowly. First came the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of a chain of 21 missions established along the Camino Real by Father Junipero Serra. The Spanish flag flew over Alta California until 1821 when it ceded to Mexico. In 1850, following the Mexican-American War, California became the 31st of the United States. Commerce and government long centered around an area at the foot of the old Spanish Presidio in what is today called Old Town. In 1867, a visionary named Alonzo Horton purchased for 27.5 cents apiece 960 acres a few miles away around San Diego Harbor and founded New Town, today’s downtown San Diego. By the early 20th century, San Diego’s population and development were booming. The large, protected harbor was ideal for shipbuilding, maritime trade and the U.S. Navy, which first established its important and enduring presence around 1918. World War II and the post-war boom meant further expansion fueled largely by the military and aerospace industry, and the population reach 696,000 by 1970, and topped 1 million in 1990.2

Relocating to San Diego

San Diego Big Bay BoomThe same things that attracted a record 33.8 million visitors to San Diego in 20143 make it an ideal choice for relocation. rates it “Extremely Livable” with a score of 80, giving it an A+ for amenities such as Balboa Park and public beaches, and as for its stable housing market and a mild Mediterranean-style climate. (The Weather Channel calls it one of America’s two best climates!) Given the sheer size of the city, San Diego is remarkably walkable too, earning a 49 from Walk Score, high by Southern California’s car-centric standards. You’ll never be able to give up your vehicle or depend entirely on public transportation unless you want to spend a lot of time of a bus or trolley, but many urban neighborhoods are within walking distance of stores and services, and for long leisurely strolls, there are dozens of parks and all those beaches. There’s also a thriving bicycle culture in San Diego, and a growing number of bike lanes on urban streets.

Neighborhood Scout calls San Diego a “decidedly white-collar city.” Over 87% of the workforce is employed in white-collar jobs in professions, sales, management and administrative support in the private and public sectors. There are also many service jobs in this tourist-oriented town. It’s also one of the most well educated cities in America; nearly 42% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. It all adds up to make San Diego a popular choice for relocation.

San Diego Real Estate

San Diego Balboa ParkThe city of San Diego is comprised of 52 different Community Planning Areas, each of which may include several distinct neighborhoods. In total, California’s second-largest city has over 100 neighborhoods. As a result, the price and availability of real estate will vary greatly. In general, the closer you are to the beach, the pricier the homes, although certain established inland areas with commanding views such as Mount Helix, for example, can command equally lofty prices. In Q2/15, Trulia listed the median price of homes for sale in San Diego at $484,000, an appreciation of 36.3% over the last five years. Trulia notes that popular neighborhoods include Carmel Valley,4 an area just east of San Diego’s coastal cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach. If you’re interested in new homes in this attractive area, award-winning homebuilder Taylor Morrison is currently offering Elms, a new home community offering a premier North San Diego County location minutes from the Pacific Ocean and close to excellent schools, nature trails, shopping, essential services, fine and casual dining and easy access to job centers via major freeways. Elms is an enclave of spacious two-story homes on larges sites with prices starting in the low $1Ms. Click here for more information about these and other Taylor Morrison new homes.

San Diego Economy

San Diego’s economy is healthy and job opportunities are diverse. The unemployment rate in 2015 is 6%, with job growth at 1.04% and job growth over the next decade projected at 36.10%.5 According to the City’s 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, San Diego’s top employers are the United States Navy, UC San Diego, Sharp Health Care, San Diego County, Qualcomm, San Diego Unified School District, City of San Diego, Kaiser Permanente, UC SD Health System and San Diego Gas & Electric. Top businesses and industries include defense/military, tourism, international trade, biotech and research/manufacturing. In 2014, a Forbes columnist designated San Diego as the country’s best place to launch a small business or startup company.6

San Diego Schools

San Diego MissionSan Diego is divided into several public school districts. San Diego Unified, the second-largest district in the state, serves more than 132,000 students pre-school through grad 12. It covers, roughly, most neighborhoods south of Del Mar, Rancho Penasquitos and Poway, and north of National City and Chula Vista.7 Most of North County is served by the San Dieguito Union High School District, with five elementary districts in Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Cardiff, Solana Beach and Del Mar.8

California’s second-largest city is divided into five separate school districts: San Diego Unified, Sweetwater Union, Poway Unified and Chula Vista Elementary School District. Both districts include exemplary schools that have earned regional, state and national recognition.

San Diego Living

Amazing beaches, ocean sports, Balboa Park, a world-famous zoo, historical and cultural attractions, professional sports, world-class medical facilities, shopping, entertainment--San Diego has it all. Here are just a few of the highlights.

Culture & The Arts
San Diego ZooAt around 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is the nation’s largest urban park. It is also home to 15 museums/art galleries, the San Diego Zoo, a formal Japanese Garden, an outdoor organ pavilion and the world-renowned Old Globe Theater. Old Town State Park is the official birthplace of California and a wonderful place to explore the city’s history, shop and dine. Also of historical interest is the Mission San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley. The Museum of Contemporary Art has galleries in La Jolla and Downtown San Diego with permanent collections and visiting exhibits. La Jolla Playhouse is a Tony Award-winning professional non-profit theater. Other major cultural attractions include the San Diego Opera, San Diego Symphony, the Maritime Museum on the Embarcadero and the Cabrillo Lighthouse on the end of Point Loma.

San Diego BeachRecreation
When you live in San Diego, recreational opportunities surround you. Just a few include boating on Mission Bay and San Diego Harbor, nearly 60 public and private golf courses, Mission Trails Regional Park nature hikes including one to the top of Mount Cowles, the county’s highest peak. And that’s just scratching the surface!

Attractions & Family Fun
In addition to those already mentioned under Culture & The Arts, San Diego is also home to the San Diego Safari Park Zoo, SeaWorld, the USS Midway Museum, Belmont Park in Mission Beach, Birch Aquarium and, further north, LEGOLAND in Carlsbad. There are also Chargers games at Qualcomm, Padres games at Petco, and surfing, sailing, boating and fishing along the 70 miles of shoreline. Find a comprehensive list here.

San Diego Horton PlazaShopping
The modern shopping mall was practically invented in San Diego. The first, Mission Valley Center, has been expanded and upgraded over the years. Other shopping venues include Horton Plaza in the heart of downtown San Diego, Fashion Valley and University Towne Centre. For boutique shopping, explore The Gaslamp Quarter downtown, Adams Avenue Antique Row, Ocean Beach, Hillcrest, Little Italy, Seaport Village, Old Town, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Find a comprehensive guide here.

Community Events
When you live in San Diego, it seems like there’s always a party going on. Highlights throughout the year include December Nights in Balboa Park, the Parade of Lights on Mission Bay and San Diego Harbor, Night Zoo in the summer, Restaurant Week in January and September, Big Bay Boom July 4th fireworks, LGBT Pride Parade, Rock & Roll Marathon, ComicCom, and November Beer Week. Find more here.

Medical Facilities
Major healthcare providers include the Scripps Health Care System, UC San Diego Health Care System, and Kaiser Permanente, each with facilities throughout the county.

San Diego is a car-centric city, served by a network of major interstates and highways, but public transportation is available via the city bus system and the San Diego Trolley. Residents are also served by Lindberg International Airport and Amtrak.

Photo credit:
San Diego Cityscape: peasap flickr cc
Cabrillo Monument: Eric Kilby flickr cc
San Diego Zoo: Jenny Huey flickr cc
Mission San Diego: ((brian)) flickr cc
San Diego Beach: Lars Plougmann flickr cc
Balboa Park: Bill Kuffrey flickr cc
Horton Plaza: Allan Ferguson flickr cc
Big Bay Boom: Port of San Diego flickr cc