The coastal suburbs of San Diego are special in that they don't really feel like suburbs -- they feel like relaxing beach towns. Read on and find out how they differ and which one is best for you to live in or visit.
Oceanside is a medium-sized city located at the north end of San Diego County, tucked in next to Camp Pendleton. Oceanside has had a history of strife, but the past decade has seen the city rapidly turning its sometimes tarnished reputation around and today more and more people are moving north to Oceanside to take advantage of a vibrant downtown area, gleaming harbor and fun beaches (complete with a pier). Oceanside also offers a more affordable housing alternative compared to the other North County coastal suburbs, making it an ideal location for those on a budget that want to be close to the beach.
The downside? Parts of Oceanside can still be a bit rough around the edges so do your homework before choosing a place to live. It’s also a long commute if you have to work south.
Though not as large as Oceanside, Carlsbad is also a medium-sized city, meaning several different areas are available to reside in depending on the lifestyle you’re looking for. Families will enjoy the community-minded neighborhoods of La Costa and Aviara while young professionalsl will enjoy the shopping, nightlife and beachside ambiance of the Village (Carlsbad’s vibrant downtown area). The schools in Carlsbad are highly rated and the beaches wide and clean. The only main drawback of life in Carlsbad is if you have to work in downtown San Diego during usual business hours.
The I-5 Freeway gets horribly crammed during rush hour going south and you’ll be commuting at a crawl for most of the drive.
Encinitas and its southern subsidiary community of Cardiff takes the win for the hip coastal suburb of San Diego. The downtown area stretches for a few miles along the Coast Highway and is flanked by gastropubs, surfer-inspired cafes, boutiques, high-end restaurants and dive bars. Encinitas feels like a little neighborhood you stumbled upon in a big city, yet has million dollar homes in family-oriented neighborhoods, highly rated schools and ocean views for miles.
Solana Beach feels tiny compared to the cities to the north, but it packs a lot into its borders. It’s a shoppers dream thanks to the Cedros Design District, which has a variety of home, clothing and gift shops. The atmosphere of the beaches switches between cliff-facing and secluded to wide-open and active. Solana Beach has several bars and restaurants located along the coast and is known for being a high-end area to live.
Del Mar gives Solana Beach a run for its money when it comes to high-end living and is likely more comparable to the ritzy San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla to its south. Del Mar has a lushly landscaped downtown area with gourmet restaurants and 5-star resorts and spas. It is expensive to live in Del Mar, but if you can afford it you’ll have access to some of the best schools in the county and proximity to gorgeous ocean views. Del Mar is also a tiny city, which gives it almost a small-town vibe at times if you’re often out and about (which may be good or bad depending on your personality).
After passing National City and Chula Vista on San Diego Bay, you’ll get back to the wide open ocean and find the city of Imperial Beach before arriving at the Mexico border. Imperial Beach has a different vibe from its North County beach suburb counterparts, but has its own unique coastal flair. Imperial Beach is a great option for those who want the beach life outside the San Diego city limits, but are on a tight budget. It also has an easier commute into downtown San Diego compared to all those going south on the I-5.