The Best Suburbs in San Diego County

A Quick Guide to the Top Suburbs of San Diego County

Surf Spot in Encinitas, California
Studio One-One/Getty Images

San Diego County is the land of suburbs and bedroom communities, and though I've visited them all, I haven't lived in them. So this is going to be a subjective list from my own observations. Here is my list of the best suburbs in San Diego County. 

  • 01 of 10

    Poway is a formerly rustic community off of I-15 just past Mira Mesa that still holds onto some of that rustic charm. In recent years, it has grown up to be a desirable incorporated city with lots of outdoor recreation, family-friendly neighborhoods, plenty of amenities, and one of the best school districts around.

  • 02 of 10

    It's the second largest city in the county, with over 165,000 residents, and it's probably the fastest growing due to some of the last available open space for new housing in the eastern portion of the city. Those developments in the Otay Mesa area have also changed the complexion of commuters, making the South Bay commutes one of the toughest. But Chula Vista still has small time charm, and the Eastlake area has good schools and family-friendly neighborhoods.

  • 03 of 10

    La Mesa is one of my favorite cities in the county. Close to everything, but has that small-town charm that makes it so appealing. Oh sure, there are areas that smack of faceless suburbia, but the charming downtown village area is the anchor in La Mesa's charm and appeal. Lots of parks and amenities, good schools, and old neighborhood character. La Mesa is a pretty neat place to live.

  • 04 of 10

    If you work in San Diego, then you have to deal with a nightmare daily I-5 commute if you live in Carlsbad. That said, the (mostly) coastal city of Carlsbad is a nice place if you prefer the North County coastline. Housing is quite pricey, but worth it if you can swing it. The golf industry is based in Carlsbad (Callaway, Taylor Made, Titleist), and it's home to Lego Land as well. The downtown village area is the place to go for nightlife and dining.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Santee is an East County San Diego city with a bit of a rural feel. From what I hear, the people who live in Santee love living there, and it is growing in amenities, housing, and establishments so its residents don't really have to venture beyond the city limits for activities. The SR 52 and 125 freeways now make commuter access easier, as well. But it does get warm out there in the summer.

  • 06 of 10

    Escondido is the granddaddy of North County suburbs, and its sprawl as the county's biggest city makes it somewhat problematic. But it is a self-sufficient city of its own, with arts (California Center for the Arts), shopping, industry, recreation and even still some agriculture. However, it's also where the southbound I-15 morning commute bottleneck always occurs. Everything else in inland North County seemingly springs from Escondido, making it a convenient location for many entertainment options, services, and businesses. 

  • 07 of 10

    If Escondido is the big hulk of North County,​ then San Marcos (and by default neighboring Vista) is the young upstart. San Marcos is one of the fastest growing cities in California, and with new housing, retail and industry continually cropping up along the SR78 corridor, including the Carlsbad-bordering master-planned community of San Elijo Hills, San Marcos is becoming an increasingly desirable place to live. Plus, it has a budding academic reputation because it's the home to CSU San Marcos, as well as Palomar College. San Marcos High School also got an impressive remodel. 

  • 08 of 10

    Back in 1986, the city of Encinitas swallowed up the quaint seaside communities of Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Leucadia, as well as Olivenhain, and it became a bigger Encinitas. Yet, it still manages to hold onto a laid-back, surfer-town feel. Like neighbor Carlsbad, Encinitas has both coastal and inland appeal, and the old Coast Highway business district lends some nightlife and gourmet restaurants. You still have to deal with the I-5 commute if you work downtown, though. 

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10


    One of the last bastions of true rural living within commuting distance of San Diego, Ramona is kind of a cowboy/farmer town, with a quaint downtown district, homes on acre lots, and residents with livestock as pets. But development is creeping in, and as you enter town, you'll notice the plethora of fast-food and retail chains lining the main highway. But for those seeking a respite from urban life, Ramona can still provide it.

  • 10 of 10

    Coronado/Rancho Santa Fe/Del Mar

    If you can afford to live in any of these cities, you're one of the lucky few. But the rest of us can dream, can't we? (And visit these gorgeous suburbs!)

Updated by Gina Tarnacki on May 23, 2016.

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