Breathe in that saltwater-fresh air and tilt your grinning cheeks to the sun as you arrive in your new home city: San Diego, California. They don’t call it America’s Finest City for nothing. This always-75-and-sunny coastal city is bursting with life, color, flavor, and outdoor adventure.
If you like to lace up your Salomons after a long shift, admire the Earth’s great sea and land creatures, or relax beachside with a California Chardonnay, then you’re going to love calling San Diego home. There’s only one problem in San Diego: deciding what to do first.
If you’re wondering what living in San Diego is like as a travel nurse, look no further. Climb aboard this sunset cruise as we explore everything you need to know about San Diego living: where to live, what to do, where to eat, and what to expect when you arrive on the sandy SoCal coast.
Where to Live in San Diego
Is San Diego a good place to live? Most definitely! You’ll feel right at home with the fellow young professionals in this bustling city. Ready to discover how to find housing as a travel nurse? Let’s dive into each of San Diego’s unique neighborhoods, each with its own personality and flair.
Visitors and San Diego residents alike love these neighborhoods in particular:
North Park is in the bustling center of pretty much everything, just northeast of Balboa Park. Here, you’ll find hipsters hunkering down at trendy coffee shops, chatting at patio brunch, and head-nodding to live music at the pubs. The energy is palpable and infectious.
Just a few upsides of living in North Park are:
- Walk and bike easily with a walk/bike score of 86/64
- Ride the bus and/or trolley to and from anywhere in the city
- Sit down for a stylish lunch somewhere on any block
- Have no trouble making new friends in bars and coffee shops
Welcome to the colorful canopy of San Diego, home of the San Diego Pride parade. Hillcrest is largely popular within the LGBTQ+ community, so you can bet on tons of rich diversity, culture, and interesting things to do, like farmers’ markets, thrift stores, phenomenal restaurants, and much more.
Call Hillcrest home if these delights sound appealing:
- Blocks of welcoming LGBTQ+ bars and restaurants
- The best produce and flowers from Hillcrest Farmers Market
- Treasured thrifted finds on Fifth Avenue
- Iconic restaurants like cash-only Bronx Pizza
If you’re looking for the picturesque SoCal beach vibes you only see in movies, then you’ll love Ocean Beach. Wake up to a view of the Pacific Ocean every morning and catch a few surfers—or join them. On the weekends, browse charming shops before replenishing with zesty fish tacos.
Grab your sunscreen and enjoy these neighborhood staples:
- The famous Seaside Cliffs and SeaWorld San Diego
- The local Dog Beach for beach-meets-puppy heaven
- Miles of cozy, historic antique shops
- The Ocean Beach Farmers Market
San Diego Cost of Living
Living in San Diego can get pricey—estimated to be about 44% more expensive than the U.S. average.1 But with a travel nurse stipend, it’s perfectly doable. (Not to mention worth it.)
Consider these costs in your San Diego Living budget sheet:1
- Renting – The cost of renting varies by neighborhood, but the average going rate for a one-bedroom in San Diego is $1,487 per month.
- Utilities – It rarely drops below 50 degrees in San Diego, so you’ll save on heat, but other utilities average at about $138 per month.
- Groceries – Groceries in San Diego tend to be on the higher end, especially if you’re buying organic. Locals budget about $291 per week in this category.
- Public transportation – It’s not uncommon for San Diegans to own cars, but public transit is an accessible alternative. The bus will cost $2.50 per ride or $72 per month.
- Dining out – San Diego caters to a wide dinner audience. You can snag a meal on the less expensive end around $15, or expect to pay $40 or more if you’re wining and dining.
Places to Explore While Living in San Diego
We could write a dozen guides on the best places to explore in San Diego alone. Spending a single weekend here will have you feeling spoiled—and engulfed in opportunity.
If we had to choose, here are the spots we suggest clearing your calendar to see:
This expansive outdoor wonderland is the largest urban cultural park in the entire United States. When you get there, you won’t believe it’s just one park, as it spans for miles with huge museums, sweeping gardens, and an entire world-famous zoo.
- Walk the colorful cobblestones of the Spanish Village Art Center
- Make flower friends at the Japanese Friendship Garden
- Enjoy a nighttime movie at Cinema Under the Stars
- Wave to the 3,500 animals at the San Diego Zoo
Downtown San Diego is often referred to as Gaslamp Quarter. There’s a lot of history beneath its well-wandered streets. In the 1860s, city planners installed 50 gas lamps in the neighborhood to attract new potential San Diego residents. The name—and the lamps—stuck.2
- Experience Italy through a SoCal lens in Little Italy
- Find one-of-a-kind crafts at the Gaslamp Artisan Market
- Laugh it off at comedy clubs like American Comedy Co.
- Head to Fifth Avenue to befriend fellow pub crawlers
Must-Try Restaurants in San Diego
Californian cuisine is fresh, colorful, and herbaceous. San Diego combines this style with their proximity to fresh fish and a few worldly inspirations to deliver plates full of color and flavor.
Prepare to be dazzled by San Diego’s food scene at some of the best places, including:
- El Pescador Fish Market – For the freshest catches of the day, go to El Pescador on La Jolla cove. Warning: This place might ruin fish tacos for you everywhere else.
- Monzu Fresh Pasta – Local secret: the best Italian food is about a mile east of Little Italy. The owners, Aldo and Serena, make this East Village alcove the place to be for authentic, fresh Italian pasta, seasonal sauces that will make you cry That’s amore!, and some of the most wonderful San Diegan hospitality.
- La Puerta – Beloved by locals in Gaslamp Quarter, La Puerta is where you eat excellent Mexican food, sip the best margaritas in town, and stay for dancing afterwards.
- Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant – When the ‘rents come to visit, take them here. It’s a historic landmark tucked inside of the Spreckels Theater with French-Californian cuisine that’s a feast for the taste buds and the eyes.
- Beshock – For a beachy city, San Diego’s ramen scene is exceptional with dozens of tasty ramen spots ranging between casual and classy. Beshock is a must-try not only for its famous spicy miso and black garlic ramen, but for its sake. The restaurant is owned by the only sake sommelier in the US.
What to Do for Fun in San Diego
Get ready for plenty of fun in the sun. Don’t miss the opportunity to get up-close and personal with all of Mother Nature’s diverse landscapes—all tucked into San Diego’s close borders.
- Ride the waves – Coast on a paddleboard, hop on a sailboat, or take a dip at beaches like Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach.
- Get lost in the trees – From coastal trails to mountain peak points, San Diego is home to over 120 hiking trails to tread or rest your head under the stars.3
- Laze on the sand – Choose from the vast 70 mile span of San Diego pacific beaches to relax and stick your toes in the sand after a long shift.
- Soak in some art – After you’re done soaking in salt water, bathe in rich art and history in museums like the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Experience history – Venture to the birthplace of California, where you’ll find historic architecture, marketplace treasures, and a mariachi band or two.
- Treat your ears – San Diego has no shortage of live music of all genres. See your favorite bands at the North Park Observatory, House of Blues, or enjoy some classical performances at The Rady Shell in Jacobs Park.
Tips for Moving to San Diego
The cardboard boxes are nearly packing themselves by now—there’s no question how much this Southern California city has to offer. Along with the more general advice for moving to a new city, keep these tips in mind during your transition to America’s finest city:
- Beat the traffic with public transit – As most locals own cars, traffic can jam harder than Friday nights in Gaslamp Quarter. Pick up a Compass Card during your first week and save time with buses and trains.
- Mind your expenses to live in paradise – Expect prices to be a little higher here, but don’t let it deter you. Save money by taking public transit, finding a roommate, or shopping secondhand.
- Don’t forget your passport – Beautiful Mexico is only about a 30 minute drive from San Diego. Take a weekend trip to the beautiful Tijuana to experience the vibrant culture and scenic beaches.
Find Home in Sunny San Diego with Host Healthcare
It’s an incredible opportunity as travel nurses to live all over the country while saving lives—which oftentimes can lead to you finding yourself with travel nursing. San Diego is one of those places that just stick with you years after you leave (if you can bear to).
At Host Healthcare, we know what it means for you to find the perfect place to call a temporary home. There is so much to see and do in the world, and we’re helping travel healthcare professionals achieve it all easily and safely.
Apply today and get matched with a recruiter who can get you moving in the ocean-view direction you’ve always wanted. Unlock the door to your next travel nurse job and get ready for one incredible adventure.
Cindy Cook, BSN, RN, CCRN
Nursing Specialty: Emergency, Cardiac, Pre-op, PACU
I have been working in the medical field for 22 years. I started as a back office, medical assistent in orthopaedics, which made me realize my calling was to help patients, and inspired me to go to nursing school. As a nurse I have worked in oncology, cardiac, emergency, and I am now currently working in Pre-op and PACU.
- “Cost of Living in San Diego, CA.” Best Places, https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/city/california/san_diego.
- “10 FUN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE GASLAMP QUARTER.” San Diego, CA, https://www.sandiego.org/articles/downtown/gaslamp-10-fun-facts.aspx.
- “The 5 Best Places to Go Hiking In and Around San Diego.” 57 Hours, https://57hours.com/best-of/hiking-san-diego/.
- “The Best Neighborhoods in San Diego for Young Professionals.” California, https://www.california.com/the-best-neighborhoods-in-san-diego-for-young-professionals/
- “15 Best Things to Do in Downtown San Diego.” The Crazy Tourist, https://www.thecrazytourist.com/15-best-things-to-do-in-downtown-san-diego/
- “Pros and Cons of Living in San Diego.” Off the 56, https://offthe56.com/pros-and-cons-of-living-in-san-diego/