Los Angeles vs. San Diego CA: Which City Should You Live In?

Which Is Better to Live In, Los Angeles or San Diego?

Though they're both popular Southern California cities on the Pacific Coast, separated by only 120 miles, the experience of living in Los Angeles is vastly different from that of San Diego. If you're torn between these two SoCal cities, it's time to explore the ins and outs of living in each. Focusing on lifestyle, cost of living, and the opportunities each city offers, we'll place Los Angeles and San Diego side by side to gain some clear insights and aid in the decision.

Essential Comparisons

  • Los Angeles is more densely populated than San Diego and has a larger land area of roughly 500 square miles compared to San Diego's 372.
  • Both Los Angeles and San Diego have vibrant entertainment scenes and outdoor activities, but LA is the entertainment capital with a more dynamic fashion scene, while San Diego's culture is heavily influenced by its coastline and its biotech industry.
  • While housing is expensive in both cities, Los Angeles has a higher median home cost. 
  • Despite bike lanes and public transportation, LA and San Diego remain car-dependent and have traffic and congestion issues.

Comparing the SoCal Cities: Los Angeles and San Diego

Los Angeles and San Diego, two of California's most renowned cities, offer a taste of the coveted SoCal lifestyle. The sprawling SoCal city of Los Angeles, covering a massive 500 square miles, is significantly larger than San Diego's 372 square mile footprint, but don't be fooled by the numbers. Both cities boast numerous hiking trails, parks, beaches, and cultural attractions, and their surrounding mountains offer unique escapes from the urban bustle.

Climate and Weather

A Sunny Day at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California

Climate and weather can be key deciding factors when choosing a place to live. Los Angeles and San Diego are known for their beautiful weather, and both are home to some of California's best beaches, but how do they stack up against each other? Los Angeles enjoys slightly more sunny days per year at 284, compared to San Diego's 266 sunny days. On the other hand, Los Angeles experiences more rainfall, with 15.5 inches annually, than San Diego's 11.7 inches.

Temperature-wise, Los Angeles tends to be slightly hotter, particularly during summer. San Diego might be more appealing to those who prefer milder temperatures year-round.

Population and Size

Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis with a whopping population of 3.9 million, almost three times that of San Diego's 1.4 million. Also, Los Angeles is more densely populated, with roughly 8,300 people per square mile, approximately double San Diego's 4,200 people per square mile. This difference in population density significantly impacts traffic, housing availability, and walkability in the two cities.

Geographic Features

The geographical features of both cities significantly influence the lifestyles of their residents. Los Angeles has a diverse geography, including beaches, mountains, and valleys, contributing to its varied microclimates and scenic views.

Similarly, San Diego's location near the Pacific Ocean and Mexican border enhances cultural and recreational opportunities for its residents and visitors. So, whether you're an adventure enthusiast or a beach bum, San Diego and LA have something special.

Lifestyle and Culture in Los Angeles vs San Diego

Moving on from geographical and demographic elements, we'll examine the essence of these cities—the lifestyle and culture they embody. San Diego, known for its laid-back lifestyle, surf culture, and close-knit community, contrasts with Los Angeles' bustling and fast-paced environment. However, there's more to these cities than just their speed.

Their entertainment, food, and outdoor activities also play a significant role in defining their cultural landscapes, influenced by personal preferences.

Entertainment Scene

Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California

When it comes to entertainment, Los Angeles—the entertainment capital of the world, home to Hollywood and major film studios—takes the crown. Some of the top entertainment options in Los Angeles include:

  • Iconic venues like the Hollywood Bowl
  • The Greek Theatre
  • Broadway shows in downtown Los Angeles
  • Live music at the Troubadour or the Roxy
  • Comedy shows at the Comedy Store or the Laugh Factory

Los Angeles offers a plethora of entertainment options for everyone to enjoy.

Yet, San Diego's entertainment scene is equally impressive, boasting historic theatres, delightful outdoor concerts, and a thriving craft beer scene.

Food and Dining

In terms of food and dining, both cities offer a diverse array of culinary delights. The best restaurants in Los Angeles are dynamic and wide-ranging, offering dining choices from food trucks to high-end restaurants featuring global cuisines.

On the other hand, San Diego's dining scene has been gaining prestigious acknowledgment, with restaurants like Addison and Soichi featured in the 2023 Michelin Guide California. From excellent seafood to authentic Mexican cuisine, the city offers a casual dining atmosphere that food lovers will surely enjoy.

Outdoor Activities

Both Los Angeles and San Diego take full advantage of their coastal locations, offering abundant outdoor recreation options near the Pacific Ocean. Whether it's biking along LA's beach paths and through cyclist-friendly Cypress Park or exploring the myriad of tide pools in San Diego's La Jolla area, both cities offer something for every outdoor enthusiast. The picturesque Mission Beach in San Diego and the iconic Venice Beach in LA are among each city's most famous and popular outdoor destinations.

Moreover, Los Angeles offers ample opportunities for hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains and exploring Griffith Park; these are also some of the top places for sunset views in LA. San Diego, for its part, is home to Balboa Park, which is one of the largest urban cultural parks in the United States and features several museums, performing arts venues, and beautifully landscaped gardens.

Housing and Affordability

Aerial View of Houses in San Diego, California

One significant consideration when choosing a city to call home is affordable housing. In this sense, both Los Angeles and San Diego have unique attributes. Both consistently rank among the country's top ten most expensive housing markets. Los Angeles usually takes a higher spot on that list, with many single-family homes starting around $1.2 million versus San Diego's $900,000.

A more in-depth look at the housing market in each city may reveal differences in terms of location, amenities, and property type. Condos in Los Angeles, for example, vary from stucco low-rise properties to luxury high-rise buildings. Starting prices range from the $300s in San Fernando Valley communities to $1 million for a modest unit in West Hollywood. Single-family homes in the Arts and Crafts style typically range from $1 million to $3 million, while estates in the Hollywood Hills and elsewhere in LA can fetch prices in the $10–$40 million range.

Although San Diego's housing prices aren't typically as aggressive as LA's, the cost of living is still relatively high. Prices for single-family homes in desirable neighborhoods like La Jolla and Del Mar can range from $1 million to $5 million, while condos and townhomes can range from $400,000 to $1 million.

Property Taxes

Property taxes are another essential factor to consider when navigating the cost of living in California. Although property tax rates differ slightly, with San Diego's average property tax rate at 1.25% compared to Los Angeles' 1.64%, California's Proposition 13 caps general property taxes at 1% of a property's market value.

Renting vs. Buying

When comparing homeownership rates, San Diego leads with 47.6%, while Los Angeles lags behind at 43.5%. However, for those considering renting, the average rent for a home or apartment in San Diego is higher at $3,175 compared to Los Angeles' $2,980.

Transportation and Commuting

Transportation and commuting habits significantly influence the lifestyle and convenience of living in a city. In San Diego, car ownership is a common necessity among residents, influencing commuting habits significantly. However, the average commute time for San Diego residents who drive is 22 minutes, which is relatively less congested compared to Los Angeles.

We'll examine in greater detail the public transportation, traffic, congestion, walkability, and bikeability in these cities.

Public Transportation

Red Trolley in Downtown San Diego, California

Public transportation is another critical aspect of city living. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates LA's public transportation system, while the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) operates San Diego's.

So, whether it's the rail network of Los Angeles Metro or San Diego's array of trolleys, buses, and the COASTER train, you have some options to get around without a car. This isn't to say, however, that owning a car won't make things more convenient. Both cities are quite spread out, and the public transportation system might not be able to take you exactly where you need to go. Regardless, exploring all your options and seeing what works best for your itinerary and budget is always a good move.

Traffic and Congestion

Traffic and congestion are inevitable aspects of city living, especially in a fast-paced city like Los Angeles. Heavy traffic congestion is part of driving in Los Angeles, particularly on the 405, 101, and 10 freeways during peak commuting times.

While San Diego experiences lighter traffic congestion than Los Angeles, significant delays still occur during rush hours on the I-5, I-15, and SR-163.

Walkability and Bikeability

Walkability and bikeability are increasingly becoming important factors for city dwellers. Downtown San Diego is highly walkable, offering pedicabs as a transportation option, while LA's most walkable neighborhoods—including Silver Lake, West LA, and Culver City—score high in walkability.

Job Market and Industries

Job Searching in Southern California

The job market and industries are key factors in deciding where to live. San Diego's job market is significantly influenced by the biotechnology sector, with some of the largest biotech companies in the United States based in the city, while the entertainment and tech sectors bolster LA. Both cities, however, are vital to the economy of California.

Entertainment and Fashion

Los Angeles takes the lead in the entertainment and fashion industries. Known as a major hub for the fashion industry, the city is home to numerous high-end fashion brands, a dynamic fashion district, and events like LA Fashion Week that feature local and international designers.

Technology Startups and Hospitality

San Diego's booming technology startup scene and thriving hospitality industry contribute significantly to the city's economic landscape. The city's attractive climate, diverse tourist attractions, and large convention center that holds various events throughout the year make it a hotbed for the hospitality industry.

Aerospace Engineering and Biotechnology

When it comes to the aerospace engineering and biotechnology industries, both cities have their unique strengths. San Diego's robust cluster of companies in pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, and bioresearch tools reflects the city's reputation in the biotech industry.

On the other hand, key players in Los Angeles' aerospace industry, such as Varda Space Industries in the El Segundo neighborhood, are making waves with a focus on space manufacturing.


Education is another critical factor when deciding between two cities. Both Los Angeles and San Diego offer a range of educational opportunities, from public and private institutions to prestigious universities.

School Districts

When it comes to school districts, both cities offer diverse educational opportunities. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest public school district in the United States, serves an enormous student population of more than 500,000. As the second-largest employer in Los Angeles County, it's also critical to the economy in LA.

On the other hand, the San Diego Unified School District is recognized for its leadership in areas like technology and science.

Universities and Higher Education

University Classroom in California

Los Angeles and San Diego offer robust higher education opportunities. 

LA is home to prestigious universities like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC), offering a comprehensive array of undergraduate and graduate programs.

San Diego is not far behind with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), acclaimed for its robust research programs, especially in the fields of science and engineering.

LA vs. San Diego: Living in SoCal's Stellar Cities

Both Los Angeles and San Diego offer diverse opportunities and unique lifestyles. Whether it's the fast-paced, entertainment-centric lifestyle in LA's top neighborhoods or the laid-back surf culture of San Diego, the choice ultimately boils down to personal preferences. Both cities can offer a high quality of life, abundant outdoor recreation, and a thriving job market. So, whether you're drawn to the glitz of Hollywood or the charm of La Jolla, either city could be the perfect SoCal home for you!

If you're looking to make your home in Los Angeles, contact The Brad Korb Real Estate Group with LA Homes at (818) 953-5300 to discover your LA dream home today.

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