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    What to Expect When You PCS to San Diego

    Located just north of the Mexican border in California sits the sunny city of San Diego, a dream PCS destination for many military families. San Diego is home to a number of military bases, which you can see from the list below:

    What to Expect When You PCS to San Diego

    Despite over 9,000 homes available throughout 48 privatized military neighborhoods in the San Diego area, the demand for military rentals and homes for sale remains large, particularly as the warm and welcoming city attracts so many military families back after the end of their military career. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why San Diego holds such great appeal for military families.

    What to Expect When You PCS to San Diego (1)


    San Diego Housing and Commuting Options

    Organized as a city of villages, San Diego offers a wide variety of housing options, but you should expect a commute to work. According to the 2018 American Community Survey, the average commute in the U.S. is 26 minutes each way for full-time workers. San Diego is not far behind with an average commute of almost 25 minutes.

    If you’ve lived in other big cities where public transportation has allowed you to live further from work to save money, know that this isn’t one of those cities. The primary mode of transportation is by car (84%), less than one percent commute by bike, and just over 10 percent commute by bus. Trains aren’t an option, and given that the average commute by bus is 125 minutes (eek!) to include walking to the bus, waiting for the bus, and the bus ride itself, the bus isn’t a good option for most military families either.


    San Diego houses can be a little pricey. The average family spends over 30 percent of their income on their mortgage or rent. And though military families calculate housing expenses differently than civilian families, this is a figure to keep in mind if you’re planning to rent or sell after you PCS from the area. 

    As for rental prices, an average price for a three-bedroom apartment outside City Centre is approximately $2,782/month, while it costs approximately $372 per square foot to buy a similar apartment. To get a better idea of how much you can expect to spend on housing in San Diego, here's a sampling of California BAH rates for 2020:

    • E-5 with Dependents: $2,382
    • E-8 with Dependents: $2,907
    • O-3 with Dependents: $3,015
    • O-6 with Dependents: $3,246

    Military Spouse Employment

    San Diego military spouse employment

    Thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of jobs in the city are directly related to the defense industry. Home to much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, San Diego is also headquarters to a large number of defense contractor companies. As with Orlando, Florida, the defense industry has taken up residence in a tourist haven, as cruise ships and the city’s many attractions entice tens of millions of tourists each year.

    As of November 2019, the unemployment rate in San Diego sits at 2.9%, which is lower than the unemployment rate of 3.7 throughout the U.S, making this a better than average location for military spouses to find employment.

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    Things to Do in San Diego


    Though known for its great coastline, the beach isn’t the only great geographical attraction in San Diego! One of the predominant features of the San Diego landscape is its hills, which make for great hiking. San Diego also has one of the best park systems in the U.S., making it an attractive place for military families who love the outdoors.

    But don’t overlook the man-made attractions! With incredible shopping, exquisite restaurants, and places like Legoland, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park, Balboa Park, and more, the opportunity for fun and adventure is limitless. 

    San Diego also has one of the best park systems in the U.S., making it an attractive place for military families who love the outdoors. If you’re looking for activities in the San Diego area, MilitaryByOwner keeps military families informed of events and activities through the San Diego Military Lifestyle Facebook page.

    Learn more about this amazing area!

    Download MilitaryByOwner's free Military Family Guide to San Diego to find out everything you need to know before you make the PCS move to this exciting golden state city.

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    Karina Gafford


    Karina Gafford

    Originally from Ireland, Karina has been a proud U.S. citizen since 2010. She and her husband have lived together in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, and Texas. Karina is a Realtor with Keller Williams City View in San Antonio and an active member in her military spouse community. She has served on many military spouse committees.

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