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The Best Places to Live in San Diego

Where you should live if you don't like big box stores, if you're into cultural diversity, or if you want great food with your beer



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...If you want to ride your bike safely around town:

Carlsbad {92008}

This year marks the start of a new promotional campaign between the City of Carlsbad, the SD Bike Coalition, and Circulate San Diego to raise awareness of the new infrastructure improvements that make it safe for cycling, as well as the health and community benefits of walking and biking more. “Carlsbad is changing the streetscape to accommodate more bicycling as a mode of transportation,” said Andy Hanshaw of the SD Bike Coalition. With new, widened, buffered bike lanes, more roundabouts, and community walkabouts and bikeabaouts around the village, Barrio, and beach areas, the idea is to convince people to leave the car at home for errands and recreation. They’re even getting kids involved, with outreach and events at local elementary schools.

  • Median Home  
    $721,000  
  • Change (YoY)
    +7.1%
  • Avg. Rent
    $3,163
  • Walk Score
    34
  • Carbon Footprint
    44
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE... Coronado, with wide, winding bike paths and an active beach culture. It is the only community in San Diego to receive a silver rating from the League of American Bicyclists.

 

 …If you don’t like big box stores:

South Park {92102, 92104}

Photo by Luci Dumas Fine Photography

What South Park may lack in size, it makes up for with a tight-knit community of small businesses and events, like the South Park Walkabout. The petite ’hood manages to keep its cool factor high with eclectic shops and restaurants. There’s Progress for gifts and home décor needs, Café Madeleine for a cuppa that feels straight out of Paris, and, for the mother of all Neapolitan pizzas, the uber-popular Buona Forchetta. Next up? Kindred, a stylish vegan eatery serving beer and cocktails. The community was less enthusiastic about the new TargetExpress, a smaller iteration of the mega-retailer, which announced plans last year to take over the Gala Foods supermarket. Community members and businesses rose up, some circulating a petition. After a few months, Target delayed its plans. So while Gala will still close, at least for now, the Marisco’s German food truck and Captain Kirk’s coffee stand are open for business. 

  • Median Home  
    $425,800 
  • Change (YoY)
    +9.55%
  • Avg. Rent
    $1,741
  • Walk Score
    71
  • Carbon Footprint
    39.6
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Ocean Beach. Fourteen years ago this month, OB protested an incoming Starbucks. The coffee giant didn’t listen, but the Newport Avenue location is the least profitable in San Diego, according to the website OB Rag. Also: There’s still no Target, Walmart, or McDonald’s in 92107. Stayin’ independent.

 

 …If you want an urban village, without the noise and expense of downtown:

La Mesa {91941, 91942, 91943, 91944}

More greenery, better lighting, new benches, and enhanced crosswalks are just some of the improvements coming to La Mesa Boulevard courtesy of a $5 million renovation expected to be completed by October. It’ll be a well-deserved facelift for the quaint downtown village that includes a bevy of mom-and-pop shops, antique stores, and restaurants like Swami’s and BO-Beau kitchen + garden. Beyond the main commercial drag, “The Jewel of the Hills” also offers a walking trail through public art sites, 14 parks, and the “secret stairs,” three sets of steep public stairways nestled within the Windsor Hills area.

  • Median Home  
    $468,350 
  • Change (YoY)
    +4.75%
  • Avg. Rent
    $2,127
  • Walk Score
    79
  • Carbon Footprint
    39.75
 

MY LA MESA: “For the best hike, there’s nothing like the view on Cowles Mountain. On a clear day it seems like you can reach out and touch the Coronado Islands. Not to mention it’s a great workout. Locals say it’s not official unless you touch the plaque at the top. BO-Beau is great for date night. Start with a La Mesa ‘lemonade.’ It’s great for parents too, since the kids can play on a play area school bus they have on the patio. Be sure to stroll the village for some window-shopping after. Hoffer’s is a cozy bar offering dozens of local beers on tap, plus a fun back patio. If you like cigars, try one from their two humidors.” - Delana Bennett, Radio Host, Star 94.1

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Escondido, where West Grand Avenue meets East Grand Avenue, a villager can walk to the Grand Tea Room, Bellamy’s, EscoGelato, Grape Day Park, Escondido Public Library, and the Center for Arts. And oh, it’s super quiet and they have a Swami’s, too.

 

…If you want to embrace the “City of Villages” ethos:

Grantville {92108, 92120, 92124}

Surrounding NIMBYs, beware. A plan is under way to bring more community space and denser housing to what’s now a more “light industrial” zone near SDSU and Mission Valley. Though not yet finalized, the plan is to take advantage of Grantville’s location by the San Diego River, possibly planning for parks and even restaurants by the water. The relatively under-populated Grantville would also get a series of multifloor apartments—with retail mixed in. Given the nearby trolley station (another reason this spot is a target for more density) as well as its proximity to a major university and healthcare center (Kaiser Permanente), it’s an ideal place to bulk up housing and accommodate San Diego’s ever-growing population.

  • Median Home  
    $534,400 
  • Change (YoY)
    +2.35%
  • Avg. Rent
    $904
  • Walk Score
    73
  • Carbon Footprint
    42.9
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE... Carmel Valley. Ok, you want more mixed-use living and don’t mind density? Carmel Valley is wrestling with a new plan proposed by a developer that would add hundreds of new housing units plus retail and commercial space off Del Mar Heights Road.

 

 …If you want great food with your beer:

North Park {92104}

Amidst coffee shops, cultural venues, and Craftsman homes, the cool-kids neighborhood has quickly evolved into an undisputed craft beer hub, bringing the current total to six breweries. Last year alone saw the additions of Rip Current Brewing, Modern Times’ Flavordome, and Fall Brewing Co., while Bottlecraft Beer Shop partnered with Venissimo Cheese to offer the perfect mash-up of frothy brews and fromage. But if beer is North Park’s current claim to fame, buzzy new restaurants are a close second. The ’hood has welcomed a gleaming indoor-outdoor space for UnderBelly’s second location and authentic Belgian waffles at Wow Wow Waffle. More recently, Nomad Donuts is serving up uniquely flavored deep-fried treats and fried chicken purveyor StreetCar Merchants is the only place in San Diego to grab a cup of Intelligentsia coffee. With all that eating and drinking, it’s a good thing the neighborhood is so pedestrian-friendly. 

  • Median Home  
    $484,500 
  • Change (YoY)
    +.5%
  • Avg. Rent
    $1,910
  • Walk Score
    77
  • Carbon Footprint
    32.5
 

MY NORTH PARK: “I moved [here] in 2006, when there weren’t many exciting businesses. Now there is a new restaurant opening every week. It’s hard to keep up. I love that it is so central. I work at all four Venissimo shops, and can ride my bike to three of them! North Park is a wonderful biking and walking neighborhood. Some of my regular haunts include Caffe Calabria for coffee and reading in the outside seating area (also great pizza), Street Side Thai (very underrated!), Saguaros for a California burrito (24-hour drive-thru!), Thorn Street Brewery, Carnitas’ Snack Shack when the line is not ridiculous, City Tacos, and Ritual Tavern.” - Rob Graff, Academy of Cheese Manager, Venissimo Cheese

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Vista, which is home to 10 breweries including Mother Earth and Iron Fist, with more in the works.

 

 ...If you want a community to help keep your kids healthy:

Chula Vista {91909, 91910, 91911, 91912, 91913, 91914, 91915, 91921}

The Chula Vista Elementary School District was the first to be accepted into the county’s Live Well San Diego initiative. The two organizations are working together to expand nutrition education, farm-to-cafeteria programs, school gardens, disaster preparedness, and safer routes to schools. The district has a mobile app to keep parents in the know about the latest happenings, including lunch menus and account balances. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, three charter schools recently received grants for projects that range from robotics to solar power. A+! 

  • Median Home  
    $464,720
  • Change (YoY)
    +8.1%
  • Avg. Rent
    $1,747
  • Walk Score
    25.6
  • Carbon Footprint
    50
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Lemon Grove, which also joined the county’s Live Well program.

 

 …If you want to take up horseback riding:

San Marcos {92069, 92078}

Take a walk, jog, bike, or horseback ride on San Marcos’ Twin Oaks Valley trail, and you’ll see why this North County nabe ranks high. Though situated next to Twin Oaks Valley Road, the sycamore- and oak tree-lined path is a way to get away from it all without having to go far. The peaceful two-mile path winds down a flat course past California roses, evening primrose, and the Twin Oaks Valley Golf Course. It’s also located near the only public equestrian facility in San Diego, Walnut Grove Horse Park, which hosts an annual Horse Heritage Festival in October with hands-on activities and entertainment for all ages. 

  • Median Home  
    $489,700 
  • Change (YoY)
    +6.15%
  • Avg. Rent
    $2,115
  • Walk Score
    62
  • Carbon Footprint
    45.8
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Rancho Santa Fe. The Covenant, or Rancho Santa Fe Association, protects 50 miles of trails for use by association members only. And horses always have the right-of-way, according to Trail Committee rules. Many local riding clubs and ranches teach and train riders, putting kiddos in the saddle as early as age three.

 

 ...If cultural diversity is important to you:

Normal Heights {92116}

The mid-city neighborhood scores big on the diversity scale. Last year UT San Diego reported that amongst all San Diego regions, Normal Heights’ distribution of ethnicities most closely resembles that of the county’s, with half the population being white, one-third Hispanic, and smaller groups of Asians, African Americans, and others. The cross-cultural community comes together for a number of events throughout the year, like April’s Adams Avenue Unplugged and June’s Taste of Adams Avenue.

  • Median Home  
    $455,900 
  • Change (YoY)
    -9.2%
  • Avg. Rent
    $2,155
  • Walk Score
    79
  • Carbon Footprint
    33.8
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Encanto. Half of the residents of this area are Hispanic; one-quarter is black while about 15 percent are Asian and less than seven percent are white, according to a diversity index created by USA Today. The diversity index is 0.811, meaning you have an eight out of 10, or four out of five, chance that you’ll run into someone of a different race.

 

 …If you want robust community services for your kids:

City Heights {92105}

The diverse and densely populated City Heights is getting a much-needed public space called the Central Avenue Skate Plaza, a half-acre park that’s being funded with a nearly $2 million state grant, plus money from the city and the Tony Hawk Foundation. Spearheaded by members of the Mid-City CAN Youth Council, the project will include a 6,000-square-foot skating area, as well as turf and play sections. Already in place, the shiny new Copley-Price Family YMCA at Fairmount and El Cajon is bringing more accessible fun and fitness to the ’hood. The $34 million project includes a 7,500-square-foot gym, two pools, a soccer field, demonstration kitchen, and more, all in a LEED-certified building. And there’s more to come: A second skating facility in Park De La Cruz is expected by early 2017.

  • Median Home  
    $324,300 
  • Change (YoY)
    +7.6%
  • Avg. Rent
    $1,599
  • Walk Score
    71
  • Carbon Footprint
    36.1
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE... Encinitas, where the YMCA offers everything from dance to swimming, soccer to gymnastics, music lessons and martial arts.

 

…If you want to take up trail-running or walking:

Encinitas {92024}

It’s not just about surfing in the laid-back North County city. Encinitas is also home to nearly 30 miles of trails for bikers, cyclists, and equestrians. The Encinitas Trails Coalition is a city-backed nonprofit dedicated to protecting and developing the community’s trail system, and provides tips and maps for a number of Encinitas routes. Meanwhile, the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, a nearly 1,000-acre habitat that stretches from Solana Beach to Encinitas and through Rancho Santa Fe, established its LEED-certified Nature Center in Encinitas’ micro-neighborhood of Cardiff. There, you can take part in interactive museum exhibits, have a look from the second-floor observation deck, and go for a stroll on the half-mile loop trail through the Reserve.  Also this year, the Rancho Coastal Humane Society is working on a $1.5 million expansion for youth summer camps and education programs, the citywide ban on plastic bags launches in April, and a new 2-acre dog park opened this past January.

  • Median Home  
    $816,400 
  • Change (YoY)
    +1.1%
  • Avg. Rent
    $3,329
  • Walk Score
    80
  • Carbon Footprint
    47.4
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE... Sorrento Mesa, perched just above the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve and its miles of shaded hiking and biking trails that wind through the valley just south of Highway 56.

 

...If you’re an urban family: 

Little Italy {92101}

If you have little ones but are not cut out for the suburbs, Little Italy couldn’t be more perfect. The neighborhood association organizes many family-friendly events for the community, from a holiday tree lighting to trick-or-treating at the businesses along India Street. And with dog parks, free bocce ball courts, the bustling Saturday Mercato, the soon-to-be-opened, aptly-named Piazza Famiglia (they are permanently closing Date Street to make it a piazza!), and new County Waterfront Park with free splash fountains and state-of-the-art play equipment, it’s almost a crime not to stroll about the streets with a dog or a stroller in tow. And while you’ll pay a pretty penny for it, the neighborhood also boasts some of the larger and most pet-friendly condos and apartments in the downtown area. 

  • Median Home  
    $410,500
  • Change (YoY)
    -0.4%
  • Avg. Rent
    $3,400
  • Walk Score
    92
  • Carbon Footprint
    22.8
 

MY LITTLE ITALY: “I love this neighborhood a little more every day. There are the Italian ‘institutions’ like Cafe Zucchero and Mona Lisa, mixed with newer restaurants like Ironside and Monello (although the best slice in town is Landini’s). The new Waterfront Park is the perfect spot for an afternoon run. But my favorite thing to do is grab a cappuccino from Cafe Italia and stroll the Mercato on Saturday mornings. I run into neighbors all the time, too.” - Megan Tevrizian, Weekend Anchor and Reporter, NBC 7 News Today

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE... East Village. Tons of shiny new condos stand near many dining options, from old standbys like The Mission and Lolita’s to new favorites Halcyon, Bottega Americano, and Común. Residents also enjoy Petco Park and the Central Library in their backyard, with the MTS trolley running through it.

 

…If you’re passionate about clean beaches:

Imperial Beach {91932}

When a neighborhood gets a new mayor who’s a surfer and the executive director of the Wildcoast Conservation, with a geography Ph.D. to boot, you can imagine that eco-focused initiatives are on the agenda. Mayor Serge Dedina, who grew up in Imperial Beach and was sworn in last December, is dedicated to preserving IB’s classic SoCal beach town vibe. He helped bring the community’s free skate park to life, and now in a more official capacity, he plans to monitor ocean water quality and eradicate beach pollution, as well as introduce a much-needed grocery store and improve roads and crosswalks. The political shift will advance a sort of renaissance already in progress in IB. Last year, big names like Coronado Brewing Company and the Pier South Resort hit the scene, while the non-profit IB Beautiful launched the bustling oceanside farmers market held every Friday evening. The results? Polish without sacrificing authenticity. Plus, epic sunset views and dolphin sightings aren’t too shabby either. 

  • Median Home  
    $721,000  
  • Change (YoY)
    +7.1%
  • Avg. Rent
    $3,163
  • Walk Score
    34
  • Carbon Footprint
    44
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Oceanside, which was placed on the honor roll by Heal the Bay in their annual review of beaches in 2014, with A+ grades for water quality all year long.

 

…If you’re big into busing:

University City/UTC {92122}

Loyal MTS card-carriers, rejoice! A new SuperLoop transit hub is making commuting around University City and La Jolla Village a whole lot easier. Along with the San Diego Association of Governments, the MTS recently unveiled the Gilman Transit Center on UC San Diego’s campus, including four new bus stations, larger waiting areas, a dedicated bike lane, and improved seating and lighting on the eco-friendly SuperLoop buses. It’s great news for professionals and students—as well as foodies excited for Rick Bayless’ first and highly anticipated San Diego eatery, Red O, which will make its debut in the former Donovan’s spot later this year. 

  • Median Home  
    $597,200 
  • Change (YoY)
    +3.4%
  • Avg. Rent
    $2,453
  • Walk Score
    40
  • Carbon Footprint
    39.1
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...  Uptown Corridor, where the San Diego Association of Governments recently rolled out a new Rapid bus system along El Cajon Boulevard with new express stops and routes to get you through the streets faster.

 

…If you want to live in the next “hot ‘hood”

El Cerrito {92115}

According to slick real estate search site and agent service Redfin.com, El Cerrito is at the bleeding edge of hipness in terms of San Diego neighborhoods. Based on things like biggest increases in pages viewed online, number of homes people favorited while searching, and the number of “hot homes” in the area (an algorithm Redfin came up with to determine homes that are predicted to sell quickly), this tiny pocket southeast of Talmadge, just west of SDSU, came out on top. It’s not surprising, as it has all the elements of a trendy urban ’hood: historic homes on walkable streets, a central location close to freeways, and cute bistros popping up in between the plethora of established ethnic restaurants along El Cajon Boulevard. Priced out of Kensington and Talmadge? Look east, people.

  • Median Home  
    $498,000
  • Change (YoY)
    -6.2%
  • Avg. Rent
    $1,493
  • Walk Score
    64
  • Carbon Footprint
    35.8
 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...Rolando, which is just a few paces south and east of El Cerrito and has many cute, older, single-family homes on winding streets. 


*Housing values reflect median prices and year-over-year changes as of January 2015, as tracked by Zillow.com; rental rates reflect median two-bedroom monthly rents in January 2015, as calculated by Realtor.com. Walk scores were calculated with walkscore.com on a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the most walkable. Carbon footprint figures reflect the average tons of CO2 produced per year by an average-sized household with an average income by zip code; the numbers were taken from CoolClimate.Berkeley.edu/maps. For neighborhoods that span more than one zip code, data was averaged across all applicable zip codes.


In the original version of this article, under the South Park neighborhood, it was incorrectly stated that the South Park Business Group led a petition effort against TargetExpress. The group did not sanction any petition. A printed correction on this will also appear in the next issue.

An earlier version of this article contained inaccurate walk scores for the North Park and South Park neighborhoods. They have been corrected. The walk score for South Park is an average between the 92104 and 92102 zip codes.


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