Money Matters

Pros and Cons of Retiring in San Diego

When you consider your retirement years, what do you envision? Many soon-to-be retirees imagine spending their time close to family, traveling, and pursuing new and exciting activities. If you already live here, you know why people from all over the country flock to the quality of life offered in California, and specifically, wish to retire in San Diego. 

A top ten U.S. destination, San Diego is home to the largest concentration of military globally, over 20 colleges and universities, and a large tourism sector, attracting over 35 million visitors annually. It is also a prime location for access to quality health care and jobs in fields such as education, IT, and cybersecurity. It’s so great that many people never want to leave. 

San Diego offers retirees many ways to remain active and explore different interests because of a warm, year-round climate; various fine dining, cultural, and outdoor activities; and professional and college sporting events. The city also has affordable, accessible healthcare options and a wide array of living options. In addition, retirees have their pick of new and established senior living communities, trendy condos in every area of town, and a geographically diverse landscape where the beach, mountains, and desert meet. The appeal is apparent, but is America’s Finest City the best place to retire for you? Before you decide, let’s review some of the pros and cons of retiring in San Diego.

A Five-Year Outlook for Retirement Planning in San Diego

For residents and non-residents alike, many factors go into deciding if you’ll ultimately want—or can afford—to retire in San Diego. It can pose challenges, especially for those considering moving from a different part of California or anywhere else in the country. When providing retirement planning advice, we like to guide our clients through a five-year process to thoroughly weigh their options. Proactive retirement income planning and determining the lifestyle you want will ensure you’ve considered the tax impact, cost of living, and quality of life benefits that make up your ideal retirement years. We’ll share the most significant factors you should consider before putting a stake in the ground in San Diego.

Cost of Living and Retiring in San Diego

Without the proper research and preparation, all the benefits we mentioned above may come with a hefty price tag. Overall, San Diego has a 47 percent higher cost of living than the rest of the country. High taxes are another concern. California has a high state income tax and is one of a handful of states that taxes military and private retirement income. The cost of living can be a staggering transition for many who have a fixed retirement income or come from regions where expenses are historically lower. Based on Social Security alone, San Diego residents over 65 require more than two times their monthly Social Security income to make ends meet.

The high cost of living can also pose an issue for retirees wishing to stay close to their loved ones. If you envision spending time with family, you must know whether your children and grandchildren can afford to live in San Diego too, and communicate your wishes to them. It’s also critical to discuss your plans with a financial advisor two to three years before your retirement to ensure your retirement income, after taxes, can sustain living in the city. 

San Diego Housing Options for Retirement

While the cost of living is higher than the national average, there is one expense that ultimately becomes a deciding factor for most—and that’s housing. With an average home price of nearly $1 million and monthly rent tracking just above $3,000, housing in San Diego is 122 percent higher than the national average. In fact, over 30% of residents 65 and older spent more than 30% of their income on housing, while over 60% of renters spent around the same. If you’re already a resident, you’ve cleared one of the biggest hurdles for those who want to retire here by holding equity in your home or falling under previously passed legislation that has kept your property taxes low. Still, there are options to offset the high cost of living once you’ve stopped working, even if you are a long-time resident. For example, you may consider downsizing, refinancing, or paying down your current mortgage two to three years out from your retirement.

If you’re a non-resident, determining where you want and can afford to live is one of the challenges that will take the most thought and planning. We suggest initially renting for a minimum of six months in your preferred location. Most of San Diego County’s over three million residents live in neighboring regions like La Jolla, La Mesa, and Del Mar. You may consider a surrounding community for options more suitable for you while still benefiting from proximity to everything a San Diego retirement has to offer.

Renting can give you the lay of the land and help you avoid regret from committing to an expensive purchase. For example, beach living may sound like paradise. But after you experience the lack of parking, increased tourist traffic, and a younger demographic concentrated there, you may think twice—and be happy you didn’t plunge into buying in a beach community. 

Exploring San Diego and its neighborhoods by living here, not just visiting, will help you make an informed decision about your long-term options and provide a sufficient period to shift your arrangements if things don’t go according to plan.

San Diego Healthcare Options in Retirement

A significant benefit of living in San Diego is its access to high-quality medical care. Home to a number of biotech companies, university research facilities, and professionals dedicated to innovative solutions, it comes as no surprise that San Diego provides some of the best medical technology and treatments in the country. There are numerous options for care and hospitals specializing in various needs. For example, Sharp Memorial Hospital and UC San Diego Health-Jacobs Medical Center, both located in San Diego, are considered some of the best hospitals in the country. 

If you or a loved one require services and support for conditions like dementia or a chronic disease, there is also a range of long-term care options. Based on your needs and income, in-house care, adult day healthcare, and assisted living facilities are available with annual costs ranging from around $21,000 to more than $70,000—and only expected to rise. Ensure you consult with your insurance carrier to determine your coverage needs, in-network providers, and options for long-term services.

San Diego Travel and Transportation During Retirement

Does part of your ideal retirement include more travel? Convenient, affordable travel is another challenge for San Diego residents. The city still doesn’t have as many direct flight options as other major hubs in the country, which increases the expense and hassle of regular travel for retirees. San Diego also lacks convenient public transportation compared to other cities in the country. You’ll most likely still need a car if you wish to get to the airport and easily commute throughout the city without a headache. For all these factors, you may determine San Diego may be more practical as a secondary or vacation home option for you during your retirement planning.

What Retirees Can Do in San Diego

However, what San Diego may lack in public transportation and travel access, it more than makes up for in leisure activities. With something for everyone and an average annual temperature in the 70s, residents can enjoy a diverse array of outdoor and water activities, museums, and multicultural events year-round. San Diego gives residents and visitors endless options to stay entertained, active, and inspired. 


  • Over 30 beaches and 17 miles of coastline
  • Over 20 university and college campuses, including the University of California, San Diego, and San Diego State University
  • Trails, wildlife, and ocean views at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
  • Balboa Park, a National Historic Landmark with museums, gardens, and more, sitting on 1,200 acres
  • USS Midway & Museum

Stay Active:

  • Swimming, sailing, snorkeling, and other water activities in the Pacific Ocean
  • Hiking, biking, rock climbing, and golf
  • Paragliding and skydiving


  • Catch a San Diego Padres game
  • Celebrate Pride Week
  • Visit the renowned San Diego Zoo
  • Salute our military and San Diego’s rich military ties and history during Fleet Week
  • Delight the grandkids at SeaWorld and Legoland

Retire in San Diego: Build Your Ideal Retirement Plan

Comprehensive retirement planning, in general, already requires careful thought and decision-making. However, retiring in a place like San Diego comes with a separate host of challenges and factors to consider. You want to retire when and where you choose and ensure your retirement funds last as long as possible. A financial advisor should walk you through the questions and scenarios that will ultimately form your retirement years, including:

  • What does your ideal retirement look like; what are your must-haves?
  • Can you afford to live and retire in San Diego?
  • Where will your children and grandchildren live? 
  • Does the quality of life offered in San Diego outweigh the high cost of living? 
  • How long will your retirement income last in San Diego?
  • What can you do to improve the possibility of retiring in San Diego?

Discussing the pros and cons of retiring in San Diego, or any dream destination, are conversations we have with clients every day at CCMI. If you’re ready to start your retirement conversation, learn more about the retirement planning services we provide, or contact our team. We can begin building a personalized strategy to help you maximize your retirement benefits, reach your goals, and sail into retirement with more confidence. 

PLEASE SEE IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION at https://myccmi.com/important-disclosures/

CCMI provides personalized fee-only financial planning and investment management services to business owners, professionals, individuals and families in San Diego and throughout the country. CCMI has a team of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals who act as fiduciaries, which means our clients’ interests always come first.
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Matt Showley is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Accredited Estate Planner®️ who advises individuals, families, and business owners on portfolio management, financial planning, tax and estate planning, real estate, cash-flow modeling, and education planning. In addition to his role as principal and owner, Matt continues to oversee the firm’s operations and work with new and existing clients. Matt joined CCMI in 2006 and has contributed significantly to the firm’s wealth management and financial planning processes and client relationships.

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