Cities, City Life

The 13 Best San Diego Neighborhoods in America’s Finest City

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So you’ve decided to move to America’s Finest City. Perhaps you came seeking sun and surf. Maybe you’re hoping for a reprieve from rain in San Diego’s balmy climate. Or maybe you’ve landed a job in San Diego’s famous biotech industry. No matter what the reason is, you’ve made a great decision to come to San Diego. Now, you just need to decide which San Diego neighborhood you want to call home.

San Diego is one of those cities where, to many, you are your neighborhood. Picking a place to live isn’t just about commute time or proximity to grocery stores, it’s about your identity. Fortunately, there are lots of great neighborhoods to choose from. Take a look at our summaries of the best San Diego neighborhoods to help make your decision easy. 

Downtown San Diego Neighborhoods

Unlike most major cities, San Diego’s downtown is under-populated, with less than 50,000 residents. While that number has been going up in recent years, the small population and high inventory has made downtown San Diego far cheaper than most urban downtowns. It’s not a bad spot, either, with Balboa Park providing lots of trails and the famous zoo inside, plus great bars and nightlife. 

There are three major neighborhoods in downtown, each with a unique personality worth checking out:

Gaslamp Quarter

Image Source: San Diego Tribune

Average rent: $2,404

The Gaslamp Quarter is San Diego’s historic downtown, which makes life there both a blessing and a curse. There are plenty of hotels and tourists, which can be a bit much. However, that does translate to a great nightlife scene. The convenience can’t be beat, and if you’re a history buff, there’s nowhere else like it in San Diego

Little Italy

Image Source: Hatch

Average rent: $2,404

In the northwest section of downtown San Diego is Little Italy. If the name isn’t already cluing you in, we’ll spell it out for you: Little Italy has the best food scene in the city. It boasts a famous farmer’s market for foodies and a beautiful waterfront park for the outdoorsy. 

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East Village

Image Source: San Diego Condos

Average rent: $2,404

On the other (east) side of the Gaslamp Quarter, the East Village is a wild cultural hub. This part of the city is less touristy, though it is still crowded with Padres fans heading to Petco Park on game days. This downtown neighborhood is more than just baseball, it’s an educational hub, with the city’s sprawling community college and its new public library. 

Coastal San Diego Neighborhoods

Your dreams of living on the Pacific can come true–for a price. While almost every neighborhood in San Diego is a short drive from the beach, these coastal neighborhoods put the beach in your backyard. But keep in mind that beachfront living doesn’t come cheap.

Pacific Beach

Image Source: California Beaches

Average rent: $1,967

Sandwiched between Mission Bay and the Pacific, Pacific Beach truly lives up to its name. This beachfront San Diego neighborhood is the embodiment of chill vibes, and is frequented by local surfers, as well as students from the nearby universities, who often live in the less-expensive, almost-beachfront apartments. If you’re considering Pacific Beach, keep in mind that the quiet oasis of the neighborhood is for weekdays only. Expect to see a fair amount of bar crawls and parties on every weekend and holiday–which might be just up your alley, or maybe a total nightmare.

Ocean Beach

Image Source: Ocean Beach

Average rent: $1,800

On the opposite side of Mission Bay from Pacific Beach is Ocean Beach, an affordable (and more relaxed) alternative to many of the other beachside neighborhoods. This San Diego neighborhood boasts beautiful ocean views, great fishing, and a surfer’s paradise. This all makes for a surprisingly relaxed attitude considering how close Ocean Beach is to the center of San Diego. If you dreamed of San Diego for the beach, but don’t want to deal with the sky-high prices of La Jolla or spring break attitudes of Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach is perfect. 

La Jolla

Image Source: Premium Parking

Average rent: $2,480

Families seeking a bit more of the San Diego lifestyle will often opt for La Jolla, the seaside neighborhood northwest of downtown. Its stretch of rugged coastline is breathtaking–as are the price tags for the neighborhood’s homes. Per Zillow, the average home price in La Jolla is over $1.6m, making it just a dream for many. If you can afford it, La Jolla’s schools are nationally ranked, the homes and views are beautiful, and safety will rarely be a concern. 

Central San Diego Neighborhoods

Palm trees aren’t just for the beach. In these central San Diego neighborhoods, you’ll find the beach lifestyle extends even in areas where downtown is around the corner. And while you won’t have the ocean in your backyard, you will have easy access to Balboa Park, San Diego’s downtown gem. 

Mission Valley

Image Source: the Local Realty

Average rent: $2,317

More a region than a single neighborhood, Mission Valley has plenty to offer, especially for families. The area is known for being home to most of San Diego’s shopping malls, perfect for taking the kids on a walk. While nightlife isn’t abundant in Mission Valley, its central location means it’s a quick Lyft ride from the downtown San Diego neighborhoods. That also means a quick commute for work, and a short drive to the beach on weekends–which of course, comes at a slightly higher price tag than some of the other areas on this list.

Mission Hills

Image Source: Mission Hills Town Council

Average rent: $1,954

Just southwest of Mission Valley is Mission Hills, another family-friendly neighborhood that’s a bit more upscale…in part because it’s literally up on hills. This walkable San Diego neighborhood is home to nice views, unique homes, and stunning architecture. If you have children, it’s a beautiful, safe place to raise them among other families, all while living just a short walk to downtown. 

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North Park

Image Source: SharetheLove

Average rent: $1,521

Live in North Park long enough and you’ll find that the “Park” in North Park is rather ironic: North Park is known for having the city’s worst parking. But North Park is so centrally located (just northeast of downtown, and next to Balboa Park) that you won’t need a car. There are coffee shops, craft breweries, and indie boutiques dotting University Avenue to keep you occupied, and plenty of experiences for the many millennials who live in the neighborhood. Expect to find less families here and more young professionals enjoying themselves on their evenings and days off.

South Park

Image Source: San Diego Magazine

Average rent: $1,608

South of North Park is South Park, sandwiched between Balboa Park and I-15. This is where the North Park residents go when they’ve outgrown the millennial scene, flocking to South Park’s tree-lined streets, beautiful parks, and abundant coffee shops. It’s also one of the few neighborhoods in San Diego with a plethora of single-family homes, making it a destination for young families.


Image Source: Globella

Average rent: $1,814

Welcome to Hillcrest, San Diego’s very own gayborhood. Packed with bars and nightlife galore, Hillcrest is a popular neighborhood for the younger crowd, though its famous weekly farmer’s market is a draw for all ages. Hillcrest’s location is ideal, too: it’s just north of Balboa Park, making for a short commute downtown, and it’s a quick ride on I-8 to get to the beach. Altogether, Hillcrest is a perfect neighborhood for the adventurer who’s new to San Diego, as you’ll find the city easy to explore from here.

Bankers Hill

Image Source: San Diego Magazine

Average rent: $2,329

Just northwest of downtown lies one San Diego neighborhood that you either love or hate: Bankers Hill. Its location is ideal: right near Balboa Park and just out of downtown. Its homes are beautiful, often from the 19th Century due to the neighborhood’s long history. The problem is its proximity to the airport. Bankers Hill is directly in the lowest part of the airport’s flight path, meaning residents regularly find a thin coating of jet fuel on anything left outside. For those with asthma or respiratory issues, it can cause regular flare-ups. But if you don’t mind a bit of dirt and a lot of noise, Bankers Hill’s location and historic homes can be well worth it.

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Normal Heights

Image Source: San Diego Real Estate Hunter

Average rent: $1,500

If you’ve dreamed of owning a starter home in the city, Normal Heights is the San Diego neighborhood for you. This residential neighborhood has been gentrifying fast over the past decade, but has retained many of its charms throughout the process. It’s a diverse area with tasty restaurants and safe walking paths alike, all while being more affordable than its neighbors. While it’s not as family oriented as La Jolla or Carmel Valley, it’s an affordable, urban locale to start a family.

North San Diego Neighborhoods

As you head north in San Diego, you’ll start to see why the city is often called Silicon Beach. A number of the city’s biotech companies are located in its northern half, and the money they bring shows. But it’s also a more family-friendly, crime-free area, home to families and the elderly alike.

Carmel Valley

Image Source: San Diego Real Estate

Average rent: $2,748

For those families with a parent employed by San Diego’s bustling biotech industry, Carmel Valley is the idyllic choice. This planned community feels less like San Diego and more like its own distinctive micro-city. Carmel Valley is populated by high-ranking schools, making it almost a guarantee that your neighbors will all be families. While it feels like a parent’s dream, some former Carmel Valley residents do complain that the neighborhood feels downright sterile, its cookie-cutter houses lacking any personality. Nevertheless, it’s constantly ranked among the best San Diego neighborhoods to raise a child, making it well worth its while for families.

Kearny Mesa

Image Source: Trulia

Average rent: $2,031

For those who believe city life just isn’t for them, Kearny Mesa is the place to be. This neighborhood in northern San Diego is home to most of the city’s commercial and industrial land, but has an influx of new, high-end apartments that are a bargain compared to the rest of the city. The working crowds depart at 5pm, leaving Kearny Mesa quiet and relaxed, ideal for the older residents who have taken up here. Kearny Mesa does boast one other unique benefit: its variety of Asian supermarkets makes for some of the best food shopping in the city. 

Once you’ve decided which San Diego neighborhood is right for you, make sure you have the moving help you need. We can help with that. Dolly is here to help with on-demand moving in San Diego. Tell us a few details about your move, and we’ll match you with local pickup truck drivers and lifters who are ready to help, all for an affordable price with no hidden fees. With Dolly by your side, moving in San Diego is a breeze. 

Rent averages calculated by RentCafe.

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