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Ask an Expat: Living in San Diego, California, USA

What is it like to live in San Diego?

I have been living in San Diego on and off for the past three years. But, more as a digital nomad than an expat.

What does that mean? As a digital nomad I work online and am location independent. This way I am free to choose where in the world I want to live (visa limitations aside) and work from.

And recently both San Diego and Valencia (a city in Spain) have been my preferred places to live.

San Diego is a beautiful coastal city with an almost perfect climate.

It attracts people from all over the US and a good number of people from other countries as well. And that is why I really wanted to do this interview with an expat who decided to move to San Diego many years ago.

In this Ask an Expat series I interview people living all over the world but outside of their home country. I try to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad. In the interview, the expat shares tips for anyone thinking about moving abroad and information about what to see and do in the city, town or country the expat now calls home.

Life in San Diego, California, USA

moving to San Diego, California - expat life

Name: Naz Athina Kallel
Age: 54
Hometown: Mombasa, Kenya

Her Story:

“I have always had the travel bug and a love for animals.

After spending my early years traveling all over the world and settling down to run a Photographic Safari Company in Mombasa for 5 years, I made a successful exit and financed my journey to the United States.

I lived in Los Angeles, California and in Princeton, New Jersey before I settled on San Diego; the most pristine and predictably great living.

I am a cancer survivor, a proud parent of rescued dog children, an avid traveler and a mentor to startups and small businesses. I take my miraculous recovery from Head and Neck Cancer and my second chance at life with gusto.”

Why Did You Move to San Diego?

“30 years ago I moved to San Diego because of job security. But, landing at San Diego airport makes you gasp in wonder. try it!”

What Do You Like About Living in San Diego?

“The weather and the ocean tie for #1.

San Diego is a big town with a small-town feel.

There is great access to medicine and treatments here, plus a bustling startup scene and entrepreneurial community.”

What Do You Dislike About Living in San Diego?

“The lack of convenient public transportation outside of the city.

I live on the North Coast, about 45 miles from downtown San Diego and public transport here is very limited.

Traffic is also an issue, and there aren’t enough parking spaces in many parts of San Diego.

Lastly, housing and utilities are super expensive and medical insurance is expensive too.”

Is San Diego Safe as a Place to Live?

“Yes, I would say San Diego is definitely a safe city. 

That doesn’t mean there is no crime and you don’t have to be careful as you would in any city, but I never feel unsafe here.

As in most American cities, we drive everywhere so walking at night is not a thing you have to think about all that much.

There are some less affluent areas on the outskirts of the city and there I’d be more careful as a woman alone at night. And I wouldn’t take public transport alone at night either.

But, compared to many other major cities in the United States I would say San Diego is definitely a place you’ll feel safe and comfortable to move around as you please.”

What is Your Favorite Thing to Do in San Diego?

San Diego living - the beaches
Mission Beach – living in San Diego

“I cannot possibly pick one thing…

I love going to farmers markets for fresh produce grown in San Diego. We have the largest number of small farms in the entire US here.

The restaurants, craft breweries, and wineries are always calling out to me, especially those with outdoor patios so I can hang out with my dogs.

The Pacific Ocean is my zen place especially when I am in an Outrigger Canoe or body surfing. I must admit I do miss the warmth of the Indian Ocean in Mombasa though!

San Diego also offers lots of opportunities to learn almost anything you want to. This is a huge deal for me. I am a serial entrepreneur and it excites me to be able to keep growing my skills.”

What is Your Favorite Place to Hang Out in San Diego?

“Garden Kitchen in Rolando for awesome Farm to Table Cusine with chef Coral Strong.

All things Sushi with chef Davin Waite at Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside and my new love, wine from Jack Simon Winery.”

What is the Expat / International Community Like in San Diego?

“The expat community in San Diego is pretty big.

There are regular expat events and many nationalities have their own groups in San Diego, organizing regular get-togethers.

As far as a Kenyan community here; my Kenyan friend Edward roasts Kenya Coffee and there is Kenyan and Ethiopian food available too, which is absolutely delicious!

No matter where you are from, you will most likely find others from your country living in San Diego.”

Any Tips for Moving to / Living in San Diego?

“Win the lottery? Have a Trust Fund? San Diego is beautiful, but it comes at a price.

Come and check out the different areas and see what appeals to you. San Diego has several very distinct neighborhoods so it’s worth spending some time finding out which neighborhood fits your criteria, and your budget, best.

San Diego’s economy is booming right now. There are loads of opportunities in almost all industries, but San Diego is most renowned for its biotech and technology sector.”

Any Resources You Found Useful During the Process of Moving to and/or Building a New Life in San Diego?

This Newcomers guide to San Diego, from San Diego Magazine, is quite useful.

Stay at Airbnbs (check out VRBO as well for good deals) and get to know the locals. That’s the best way to find the intel on this city.

I am happy to help as well with any questions you may have about life in San Diego. My email is brainstormgiraffe@gmail.com.”

Is There Something You Just Have to See or Do When You are in San Diego?

“Check out Coronado, La Jolla, Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. These are all lovely beach towns around San Diego with plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants and of course beautiful beaches.

Spend a day at the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park, and go surfing or take at least one surfing lesson.

Lastly, definitely try some tacos! The best day for that is Tuesday when restaurants throughout the city offer special ‘Taco Tuesday’ deals.”

Also Read: The Best Things to Do in San Diego

About Naz
expat living in San Diego
Naz at the farmers market in Carlsbad

Naz is from Mombasa, Kenya and has called San Diego her home for over twenty-five years.

Her fierce determination is to design businesses around connecting with customers emotionally. And letting the customers’ voices be heard loud and clear throughout her clients’ businesses is her mantra.

About San Diego

Moving to or visiting San Diego

San Diego is a large coastal city in Southern California.

The city sits just north of the Mexican border, across from Tijuana and approximately 120 miles (190 km) south of Los Angeles.

San Diego is home to around 1.4 million people, which makes it the second-largest city in California and the eighth-largest city in the USA.

Though a large city, San Diego has a somewhat slower-paced atmosphere with distinct neighborhoods with completely different atmospheres – from the hippy vibe in Ocean Beach to chic and pedestrian-friendly Little Italy.

San Diego is known for its ideal climate, wide range of beaches, nightlife, outdoor culture, and ethnic diversity.

It’s a city many Americans aspire to move to.

Are You Thinking About Visiting San Diego or Even Moving to San Diego? Then Also Read:


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interview about living in San Diego

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Sanne Wesselman

Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing.
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this website to share "the good, the bad and the ugly" of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.

4 thoughts on “Ask an Expat: Living in San Diego, California, USA”

  1. There is a huge U.S. military population in and around San Diego. They are more transient, by nature, and from all over the U.S.
    Outdoor sports are abundant in the area. Californians are generally very health-conscious.
    California is known for its freedom as it has the most liberal laws in the U.S. San Diego offers tons of social services compared to most U.S. cities. And there are a great many colleges and universities in the area. Living near a college or university is a good place to begin your life in San Diego. Rents can be more reasonable and there are more activities available than one can imagine almost. Students tend to be very friendly so it’s easy to meet new people and engage socially.


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