Trying to Live the California Dream – Why San Diego is a Great City

Fall has started in the U.S. and here I am lying in my bikini on a California beach…

This beach, as I just discovered, is within walking distance of the overpriced room I rent in an ancient, tiny apartment with dripping taps and cracked walls so thin I know exactly who wants a 7AM “Large vanilla latte with soy milk” at the drive-through coffee shop next door.

Is This Living the California Dream?

Where it is normal to still rent a room instead of owning a home in your thirties, where you easily pay upwards of $1000 for that room but where you get a comfortable climate and a good looking city with a lot to offer in return?

I am in San Diego and I have been coming here for extended stays for over a year now. And yes, it is a great city: not too big and overwhelming but with a lot of activities going on, numerous completely different neighborhoods to explore, a beautiful coastline on one side and the mountains on the other side.

Also Read: What to Do in San Diego – Top Things Not to Miss

I like San Diego. I clearly do because it’s one of the few places I have ever visited that I actually make an effort to go back to.

“California Dream is the psychological motivation to gain fast wealth or fame in a new land.” – Wikipedia
As a result of the California Gold Rush after 1849, California’s name became indelibly connected with the Gold Rush, and fast success in a new world became known as the “California Dream”

Still, I Am Not Convinced About Living This California Dream

If you ask anyone living in San Diego what they think of this city they will without fail tell you it is great and “the weather is just perfect”. But really? In winter I freeze my butt off at night because all these old, poorly constructed properties get so cold.

Public transport is horrible so everybody drives everywhere (getting American friends to walk places is my ongoing challenge) and I have almost stopped drinking because I simply can’t get myself to spend $10 or more on a glass of wine – I used to live in Spain, anything over $3 was considered outrageous!

But I guess it’s exactly that what is my problem: I compare. We all tend to compare.

Americans coming from cold, northern states love the year-round warm days and Americans from the humid south-east love the low humidity here.

But I compare San Diego with completely different places. With Europe; overflowing with culture, history and numerous affordable countries within easy reach to travel to and explore. I compare San Diego with the Caribbean, where the water is actually warm enough to swim in without a wetsuit and with Asia where the food is cheap and delicious…

I shouldn’t do that though. I know better than most that no place is perfect, and I have to say, San Diego has so much going for it. And that is what I want to share with you here:

Highlights of San Diego

Why San Diego is the best
View from one of the rooftop bars in San Diego – highlights of San Diego

1. San Diego & Nature

Parks, beaches, hiking trails, coves, lakes, estuaries, nearby mountains, bays… Those are definitely some of the highlights of San Diego.

The city has a lot to offer any type of nature lover and many people here like to boast how “you can drive up the mountains to go skiing in the morning and be sunbathing on the beach in the afternoon”.

2. San Diego & Arts and Culture

San Diego is home to Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the U.S.A. It features 15 museums, numerous art galleries, beautiful gardens, the Tony Award-winning Globe Theaters, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

From art galleries to Symphonies, live theaters to operas, San Diego has a lot to offer. Add to this the exploding culinary arts scene with more than 7000 restaurants and counting.

3. San Diego & Neighborhoods

why san diego is the best place to live
Image source: – why San Diego is the best place to live

San Diego County is spread out over 4,500 square miles that include so many neighborhoods that you could be born and raised in San Diego and never see all of them.

It is a city of eclectic villages each with their own vibe, lifestyle, and fun. From the amazing food and drink in North Park and Little Italy, to the nightlife and recreational options in Pacific Beach and The Gaslamp Quarter… There is something here for everyone’s taste.

Also Read: The Best Rooftop Bars in San Diego

4. San Diego & The Beach

This is my personal favorite: San Diego comes with 70 miles of coastline!

And this coast offers a wide variety of beaches: family beaches, party beaches, scenic beaches, surf beaches, resort beaches, snorkeling beaches, dog beaches, and even a nudist beach.

So whatever your favorite type of beach is, you will be able to find it here.

5. San Diego & Events

There seems to be something happening in San Diego every weekend, not to say every single day.

Whether it’s a beer fest, a large fair, live bands, a major sporting event or horse races… You will never be able to say there is nothing going on in this city!

6. San Diego & Family Fun

San Diego has a lot to offer families: SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo and Legoland to name a few.

But also an adorable seaside amusement park on the boardwalk, called Belmont Park, and an artificial surf wave generating machine at Wave House.

Or go to Seaport Village for waterfront eateries, shops, and entertainment for all ages.

7. San Diego & Golf Courses

San Diego golf courses - Why is San Diego a great city?
Image source: – San Diego highlights

San Diego and the surrounding area features over 80 golf courses, making it a renowned golf vacation destination.

8. San Diego & Beer

San Diego is often called The Craft Beer Capital of America.

There are over 100 licensed craft breweries and brewpubs in San Diego county. Its beer culture is definitely one of the highlights of San Diego and a draw for tourism, particularly during major festivals such as San Diego Beer Week and the San Diego International Beer Competition.

San Diego County breweries like AleSmith Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Company, and Ballast Point are consistently rated among the top breweries in the world.

9. San Diego & Mexican Food

Ok, nothing beats Mexican food in Mexico, but San Diego probably boasts some of the best Mexican food in the USA.

And, it’s available 24 hours a day on almost every corner. You will find Taco Tuesday signs all over the city and this is the perfect opportunity to try out cheap and delicious tacos!

10. San Diego & Traffic

Like almost anywhere in the USA, San Diegans drive everywhere. Surprisingly though traffic is not too bad here. Yes, you will hear some complaints about San Diego traffic and during rush hour it can get a bit frustrating.

But, if you compare it to nearby Los Angeles, traffic here is a breeze and driving around while being surrounded by palm trees and with great views of the ocean, beautiful bays and an attractive skyline is actually a treat!

11. San Diego & Climate

In my personal opinion it gets too cold here in winter and the water is definitely too cold year-round.

But, more people will probably agree with these sources: The United States Weather Bureau describes San Diego’s weather as the closest thing to perfect in America. Holiday Magazine described San Diego as the “only area in the United States with perfect weather.” Pleasant Weather Rating Service Poll voted San Diego as the best year-round weather in the nation, and the second-best in the world.

12.San Diego & Lifestyle

San Diego highlights

San Diego has a very laid-back, “no worries” lifestyle and that is probably why San Diego is the best place to live according to many.

People show up to business meetings in shorts and brag about how you can wear flip-flops almost year-round. The climate surely helps here and seems to make people a lot more relaxed and friendlier than in many other cities around the world…

San Diegans are also surprisingly fit and healthy. Yes, you can find a McDonald’s, a Burger King and all the others without even trying, but at the same time there are a lot of healthy alternatives and most San Diegans seem to prefer those.

And then there are all the sports they enjoy… Whether you’re into surfing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, hiking, off-road racing, kayaking, snorkeling, biking, fishing, yoga, kick-boxing, or just walking along the scenic boardwalk, it’s available in San Diego.

Living the California Dream – the Good and the Bad

I feel very fortunate that I get to be in San Diego and experience this life that so many people talk about.

I am lucky enough to be able to afford my overpriced room (even though only barely), to drive my rental car and live in one of the best areas of the city.

But at the same time I see homeless people every day, a lot of poverty and shocking inequality. So could I ever call it a dream or the best place to live in the world? No, sorry San Diego, I will give you a lot of praise but I can’t give you that.

What I will give you though is this: San Diego, you are without a doubt one of the nicest places I have ever lived in. With all you have to offer you seem to be great at keeping me from getting bored with you. Your skyline I enjoy every time I get a chance to stare at it and your beaches and blue skies do a good job at lifting my mood every day. For that I thank you!

Moving to San Diego

I hope my list of highlights of San Diego has showed you what a great city this is!

Have you decided to move to San Diego? Feel free to ask me for tips or my very honest opinion about the pros and cons of this Californian city!

Also Read:


Like this article about living the California dream and the highlights of San Diego? Pin it!

Why San Diego is a great city - my experiences trying to live the California Dream. In this article I share what I like and dislike about San Diego and why I think it is a great city to travel to or maybe even move to. #SanDiego #CaliforniaDream #visitCalifornia #travelCalifornia

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.

23 thoughts on “Trying to Live the California Dream – Why San Diego is a Great City”

  1. It’s an amazing blog, Every traveler should read this blog, Here I find many travel tips, those tips will help me to enjoy my tour properly. San Diego is a popular place for all the traveler. Every traveler should read this blog, and I am sure they will be inspired to travel in this great city, My next trip will be here, I want to taste this great city. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.

  2. You couldn’t have said it any better. Finally someone who agrees that winter is just a little too cold here 😉 thanks for sharing your awesome opinion! I couldn’t agree more.

  3. I too live in a high cost of living place. For me it is worth it. But it is so very different from California. Thanks for sharing such a complete picture.

  4. I love how you depicted the Cali dream perfectly, and since I’ve lived in a city where it’s almost exactly the same way of living, I totally get your point. People are so relaxed, stress free and enjoy every moment of their life. They have a healthy lifestyle and as a Parisian, this lifestyle is really what I’m trying to achieve and reason why even tho you stated some bad reasons, there so much good reasons to pick this lifestyle over another one! But I get it, San Diego is nice and they do yoga and eat healthy, but it’s your choice, and no matter what, pick the one you’re enjoying most!

  5. I love your feature picture, and it depicted the California dream perfectly! I road-tripped through the mainland USA( I was living in Hawaii that time) in 2011 and ended up in SD in November. Must say the weather is close to perfect just as you described, and I loved ocean there. Some of my friends moved from Hawaii to SD and they absolutely loved it. Of course, no place is perfect but we are lucky at least we can realize our American dream.

  6. Every place has its pros and cons and any comparison man not be really fair on all. But personally I feel the best place is where the heart is. The most beautiful place in the world turns to nought if your heart and soul are not in it and vice versa.

  7. Your cover photo is amazing. It makes me want to recreate it but in reality I would not be able to pull it off 🙂 It has been a long time since I was in California (11 years) but I remember San Diego well. Especially The cheese cake factory which I naively thought was a one off restaurant, not a chain. I have very fond memories of the city. Great post and a great choice of photos.

  8. You make me yearn for San Diego! Every place is a mix of experience and often our attitude helps us tide over the downs.Your post gives a fair idea what a new comer can expect.

  9. Oh my god, I love the picture on the top of the page. What a great idea! I haven’t been to California myself, nor I’ve been to USA. Never felt attracted to this part of the world.

    • I felt the same for many years: I always said there were more “exotic places” to visit and only first ended up going to the USA to visit a friend. But I have to say, it’s well worth visiting! The USA is surprisingly diverse and has a lot to offer almost any type of traveler.

  10. I love your insight. For me, I feel like as long as I have a roof over my head, I’m living the dream if I’m within walking distance of gorgeous beaches/trails/paths since most of my time will be spent outdoors rather than inside! But then again, I am renting in Toronto and am pretty sure with the rates of the houses, I won’t get my beachfront house anytime soon!

  11. I visited my best friend in LA a couple of years ago. I’m from Alaska so I hated it! Lots of traffic and too many people. I would LOVE to visit San Diego, though! I have a few friends from San Diego who hope to never leave. I plan on visiting Disneyland for the first time over the summer with a few girlfriends! Excited to see an area other than LA.

    • I am very happy you are giving California a second chance Kortnee! And I completely understand your opinion of LA: it is a busy, fast paced city with serious traffic issues… Thankfully San Diego is quite different and I am loving the slower pace of life combined with city facilities here.

  12. Great insights, I feel the same as you sometimes – I live in Whistler and the overpriced rent and groceries really gets to me sometimes, but then I just have to shake myself and think about how many people would love to have the freedom to be living here in this ‘bucket-list-worthy’ town. Am dying to visit San Diego too by the way, so your tips are so helpful!

    • Thanks Aimee! And you are so right: I sometimes need to remind myself as well that I do get to be in a ‘bucket-list-worthy’ place… And then I do feel very privileged again! I hope you make it to San Diego, it’s well worth it and if you want any more tips on where to go or what to do, let me know!

  13. Although I’m partial to the east coast (where I live all my life), I feel like I’m missing something if I do not visit CA at least once every few years. I happen to come from a place where it’s easy to own a home. I’ve been a homeowner since age 25. Making my mortgage payments is no problem, but most of my extra money is spent traveling to places like California. Personally I feel like if you had to move into my place you would enjoy the first few hours until you decide “hey I want to go do something.” Then you would learn that the nearest train station is 90 minutes away, the nearest Peruvian restaurant in an hour away, etc. The part about American friends not wanting to walk is hilarious. I’m proud to say that my last 3 trips to California were carless!

    • Carless in California?? Wow, that makes you very unique! 😉 I took public transport in San Diego yesterday, for the first time in quite a while, and immediately remembered why I spend so much money on renting a car… It’s simply not efficient but at least they do have something so it could be worse.
      But I completely understand what you are saying about the options in California: I love how much there is to do here, all the events, all the different restaurants, different outdoor activities, that does make it into a great place!

  14. I think we always compare, but if you decide to live in a certain place, you just have to make the best out of it. With all the good and the bad.

  15. I think your insights are spot on. I spent some extended time in San Diego last year and may be going back for a job again. It has its pros and cons which I think you covered fairly. I like it enough to go back to for a time, I’m not sure I like it enough to stay forever. But it definitely is a great city with a lot to offer!


Leave a Comment