Why are so many Millennials moving to San Diego?

Denia Ray
March 8, 2018

Looking for an incredible live-work-play environment? Look no further than San Diego.

Nobody realizes this quite like Millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and 2000. Millennials, who are now aged between 18 and 34, are flocking to San Diego in droves.

A recent  study finds that nearly one-third of San Diego’s population consists of Millennials. That equates to more than 1 million Millennials living in San Diego County, and earns San Diego the  #2 spot in terms of cities with the largest share of Millennial residents – behind only Austin, TX.

Millennials are largely to thank for San Diego’s population growth in recent years. Between 2010 and 2017, San Diego’s population swelled by 7.5 percent.

The bulk of people moving to San Diego are young, working professionals in search of a high quality of life. For those considering where to live, San Diego checks all of the boxes: robust employment opportunities, relatively affordable rents, an abundance of amenities, and year-round weather that can’t be beat.

Employment Opportunities

Between 2010 and 2017, San Diego-area employers added 160,000 jobs to their payrolls. The city’s unemployment rate at the end of last year – below 4 percent – was the lowest it had been in a decade. Bank of America recently surveyed Millennials: More than half (53%) of those living in San Diego cite employment opportunities as one of the city’s biggest draws. Nationally, only 39% of Millennials ranked the job market as a top benefit to where they live.

Biotech, defense and engineering are among the industries driving employment growth in San Diego. And in recent years, San Diego has really established itself as a hotbed for tech startups. Entrepreneurs have started to realize that office space in San Diego is a fraction of the cost of space in San Francisco or Silicon Valley. The changing nature of work makes it easier to work from anywhere in the world. Participating in the tech economy no longer requires a physical presence in the Bay Area. People can live in San Diego and if need be, hop on a plane and be in the Bay Area in less than an hour.

San Diego also has a highly skilled workforce. UCSD, San Diego State University and the University of San Diego have impressive entrepreneurship, biotech/life sciences, IT and engineering programs. These schools are constantly churning out qualified, eager-to-learn grads so entrepreneurs need look no further than their own backyards for talent as their companies grow.

Housing Costs

It’s a stretch to say San Diego rents are affordable—but we can say, with confidence, that San Diego rents are relatively affordable when compared to other coastal cities. Millennials, when evaluating where to live, will find that rents in San Diego are still significantly less than rents elsewhere. This is particularly true when comparing rents within California.

“Compared to other California markets, San Diego is a relatively cheaper alternative with a high standard of living,”  explains JLL senior research analyst Patrick Ashton. “For example, apartment rents and housing costs are lower, as compared to San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Other California cities’ apartment rents range from $2,500 to $2,800, while San Diego’s average is at $1,900 a month.”

Amenities Galore

Millennials are a generation that tends to prefer experiences over things, and San Diego has so much for them to experience. The city is home to a long list of  art and cultural institutions, including Balboa Park. Balboa Park, often referred to as the “Smithsonian of the West,” is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. and features 17 different museums. Over on the waterfront is the USS Midway Museum, which Trip Advisor has named one of the top museums in the country.

Aside from the more formal arts and cultural institutions, San Diego also hosts a variety of festivals, concerts, and theatrical performances throughout the year. Whether you’re into film or folk rock, there’s always something to do.

And that only scratches the surface. With more than 150 craft breweries (and counting!), San Diego has rightfully earned its reputation as the craft beer capital of the U.S. In recent years, a surge of new, eclectic restaurants has helped to revitalize downtown. Now, the downtown is truly a vibrant place attractive to Millennials wanting to live in the urban core.

Enviable Weather

Millennials are moving to San Diego for what the U.S. Weather Bureau has  described as “the closest thing to perfect weather in America.” Warm, sunny days are more often the norm than not. The weather makes it easy for Millennials to live active lifestyles. Surf before work. Hike on endless trails. Or just soak in the sun on San Diego’s world-class beaches. It’s up to you.

While San Diego already offers a strong quality of life, the weather is the icing on the cake. For Millennials in search of their next adventure, the weather in San Diego usually cooperates.

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Now, the question remains: will Millennials stay in San Diego? Affordability is going to be a major factor. Despite assumptions to the contrary, Millennials still  place a high value on owning a home – particularly as a means of achieving financial security. Yet over the past decade, San Diego County experienced the second largest millennial homeownership rate drop among the nation’s largest 50 metros. Less than 20% of San Diego-area Millennials own a home.

We expect this number to increase as Millennials age, pay down debt, and become more established in their careers. Unless the underlying market fundamentals change, San Diego will remain an attractive place for Millennials to live, work, and play.

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