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This Southern California city has all the Pacific Coast perks: coastal living, sparkling weather, temperate climate, ocean views and golden sandy beaches. It is also one of the sunniest cities in the United States, ranking in the top 10 for clear days. Around 120 miles south of Los Angeles, the metropolis is the second largest in California, and has all the benefits of big city living but with a relaxed appeal that attracts visitors, college students and potential residents from all over the country.

What is it known for?
The city – the first permanent Spanish settlement in what is now California – is home to a number of missions, such as the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, California’s first church, as well as museums and cultural institutions. Many of these are centred around Balboa Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2015 and is the location of the famous San Diego Zoo, a draw for animal lovers from around the world. 

San Diego Bay is the home port of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet, and the city is home to the University of California San Diego as well as a growing biotech industry. Just 20 miles from the Mexico border, San Diego has a large Latino community and culture. The city’s downtown core has been regenerated in the past decade, especially areas like the Gaslamp Quarter, which has become an essential part of the urban fabric with its buzzy restaurant and nightlife scene; and the East Village, whose domed Central Library opened in September 2013. “San Diego is a great place to work and live,” said Lynn Glatzl, an accountant and five-year resident. “There’s great cultural diversity, wonderful schools and it is a very family-oriented and friendly city.”

Where do you want to live?
San Diego is considered a city made up of many distinctive villages or neighbourhoods. “Downtown has become home to many San Diegans over the past several years, from the high-end Marina district to the more affordable East Village to the lively Gaslamp Quarter,” said Leslie Kilpatrick, president-elect of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors. Other areas close to Balboa Park and downtown – such as North Park, Hillcrest, University Heights and South Park – are also very desirable “because of their walkability, independent restaurants, charming older homes and easy access to the city, parks and public transportation”, Kilpatrick added.

To the north is La Jolla, a ritzy beach town with art galleries, boutiques and expensive houses, and further north, popular suburbs stretch from Del Mar along the coast to Carmel Valley and inland to Poway, with great schools and larger houses. South of the city, Chula Vista and the South Bay “have come roaring back from the housing bust and provide excellent value in vibrant communities”, Kilpatrick said. 

Side trips
Many San Diegans head to the desert for a short break or a weekend away. The resorts, golf courses and modernist architecture of Palm Springs and Palm Desert are roughly 125 miles northeast of the city.

“For a day trip, the town of Julian is great, especially in fall and winter,” said Glatzl. Historic Julian, just 60 miles to the east, is a former gold mining town known for its four seasons, autumn colours and apple orchards. In the winter, local ski resorts such as Big Bear and Mountain High are a draw for skiers and snowboarders. The coastal route that the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner follows from San Diego to Los Angeles has spectacular scenery, and arriving at Union Station is a novel and beautiful way to enter LA.

Located just north of downtown, the San Diego International Airport has non-stop flights to many domestic and international destinations. It is a nearly six-hour flight to both Hawaii and New York, and London is an 11-hour flight away.

Practical info
Generally speaking, the housing market is on an upswing. “Prices over the past 12 months are up 20% to 30%,” said Linda Lee, president of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors. However, the numbers of sales has remained stable due to low inventory. Rents are high and buying can prove to be the better deal in some cases. “Given the very low interest rates and tax incentives, if you stay in San Diego for more than three and a half years, it is less expensive to buy than rent, if the buyer can make a down payment,” Kilpatrick said. Foreign buyers come primarily from Mexico, Canada and more recently China.

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