Where should we live in San Diego?
February 15, 2012 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Tell me where to live with a toddler in San Diego that's not too far from UCSD and isn't crazy expensive. Moving from North Carolina and everything seems so pricey.

We're moving from North Carolina to San Diego this summer and are having trouble figuring out a good place to live. We need to be within a reasonable (15-25 minute) commute of UCSD and ideally pay around $1,500 in rent for a 2 bedroom place. Our daughter will be two when we move and is in full-time daycare now. We'd like to find a spot in San Diego within 5-10 minutes of good, affordably-priced childcare because our toddler still isn't a huge car fan. I called childcare places near UCSD and found that prices varied from $1,100 to $1,600. The lower-cost options had impressively long waiting lists. The university daycare has a 2-year waiting list. Yikes! We can afford around $1,000/mo.

We've spent time in downtown San Diego pre-baby and loved it but I'm not sure that it would be as much fun with a little one. Does anyone have recommendations for a walkable neighborhood near UCSD? We would like to have a park and running/biking possibilities nearby. I'd also love to be able to walk to a family-friendly restaurant where we weren't the only table with a kid. It would be great to be near the water as well, but I'm guessing that's impossible in our price range

If you have any recommendations for good daycares/preschools in San Diego, I'm all ears. Trying to find a good place from across the country is hard.

I've read through the other threads on moving to San Diego and have definitely ruled out Carlsbad. Del Mar/Solana Beach seem nice but too expensive for us.

Thanks in advance!
posted by JuliaKM to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
San Diego is awesome but walkability near UCSD is probably just not going to happen. As far as cheaper housing goes, in that area I'd look in to either PB, south of La Jolla, or the areas just on the other side of the 5 (between the 5 and the 805, Balboa Ave, and Nobel Drive on this map).

If you were willing to commit to a longer (~30 min in traffic, I think) drive to UCSD I'd recommend checking out Loma Portal, Ocean Beach, or Point Loma farther south. All great neighborhoods but I'm not sure what the pricing is like.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that your budget for housing and childcare is too low. If you want the kind of walkability that you're discussing, it is going to be more. And as you've already discovered, childcare is expensive too. Get on the cheaper place waitlists, but IMHO you get what you pay for with childcare.

And not to be Debby Downer, but also factor in that household goods are more expensive in California. Yes, you can get fresh produce all the time, but a gallon of milk is more than most other places.

(If you wonder how Californians can afford all this, there are a number of explanations, but regardless, it makes it hard for people not in the California system to make it work.)

I think that you need to consider living further from where you want to be that has cheaper housing and childcare. Or you need to up your budget. Sorry. :(
posted by k8t at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I spent ten years living in Chula Vista with my three sons (when I moved there I was pregnant with my third and had two toddlers). East Chula Vista (the further east from the 805, the nicer it is) is really nice. We had loads of parks for walking and biking, family friendly neighborhoods, great schools, daycare all over the place, and while it isn't an area known for its great restaurants, there were plenty of decent spots. Housing was much more affordable than in the spots closer to SD (I looked into moving closer to La Jolla once, to be closer to work, but the rentals were way out of my range).

I lived about 25 miles from UCSD - so to drive it would be roughly the same distance (and direction) from Chula Vista as one of the jobs I had when living there. When I worked graveyard shifts, I could make it to work in 20-30 minutes, but when I switched to days (9-5ish) it was nothing less than brutal. Some nights it took me two hours to drive each way, although it usually hit around an hour.

The time of day you'll be driving makes a huge difference in the length of the commute, as does the direction. I lived south of SD, and a lot of the jobs seemed to be up in the north end of SD, so the big rush was always north in the morning and south in the evening/afternoon, with the other side of the freeway always nearly empty.

You may need to adjust either what you can pay for rent, or the commute times you're willing to accept. When I saw this question, I thought about asking some friends out there, and then I realized all my friends with kids live in Chula Vista or make way more money than I do (and so live in Carlsbad, La Jolla, etc).
posted by routergirl at 12:55 PM on February 15, 2012

I still like living in Mira Mesa. It's not swanky, but you won't be driving completely across San Diego to go to school either. I live near the intersection of MM Blvd and Camino Ruiz, where there's shopping and parks and enough schools nearby that there's probably a number of daycares. The farmer's market is at the high school on Tuesdays, and the food trucks park at the Epicentre by the park on Mondays. All of those things are inside that circle in the middle of the map.

I'm pretty sure that all the apartment complexes by the park/ballfields have apartments in your range, and there's some townhouses as well that might be worth checking into. A house would be hard to find around $1500, but take into consideration that you won't need to run air conditioning most (or any, we don't have one) of the year and so might have some leeway on rent.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2012

I think La Jolla is still about the priciest community in SD, so it's not hard to get cheaper. I'd suggest going either eastward or northward. To the east are a bunch of super suburban pre-planned neighborhoods that have strip malls and parks and bike paths kind of built into them. I'm thinking Mira Mesa, Clairmont Mesa, maybe Carmel Valley. They are nice toddler-friendly suburban neighborhoods, if you're into that sort of thing.

If you're in the area, I'd suggest checking out neighborhoods going east on the 56 freeway. If you get to the 15, then it'll be way too far away. Same thing with the 52 freeway.

You know what, if you want to head south and closer to the city, also take a look at Hillcrest. It's a cool little enclave.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:26 PM on February 15, 2012

(BTW, when I say "not swanky", I mean it's a lot of old people and Marines. The only gang in my neighborhood are the retirees waiting for the casino shuttles.)
posted by Lyn Never at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If one or both of you are UCSD graduate students, you should get on the list for Mesa housing. It's cheap, on the UCSD bus route and a lot of families live there. I believe there is also a daycare on the premises, though I assume the wait list is even longer than that for Mesa housing.

If not, you might want to consider University Heights. It's about 20 minutes to UCSD during traffic if you take 805N. I live in University Heights near the intersection of Park Blvd and Adams Ave, and it seems like all of my neighbors are young professionals or young families. My rent is $1300/mo. for a two bedroom, one bath apartment. I live within walking distance of a playground that is popular with dog owners and families on the weekends. I am a short drive to most of the interesting urban areas and Balboa Park/the San Diego Zoo. Unfortunately, I can't help you with childcare information.

Feel free to message me if you have other questions.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

This isn't San Diego specific advice, but throughout my daughter's life (she is now almost 11) we have had great success with in-home child care arrangements. You probably have to wait until you are local to start finding these situations, but they can be vastly cheaper than center-based care and can provide a sort of second family for your little one. The woman we found to watch her on days off from school once we moved to NC has a daughter the same age as Girl Steady, and the two of them are kind of like sisters now.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

If by "walkability" you mean "urban", then you're stuck with the beaches and downtown. If you mean "actually has sidewalks" (this is nowhere near a given in SD), then you might want to consider Tierrasanta, which is at the outer limit of your desired commute distance/time. It has lots of green space/trails, but it is decidedly suburban. So basically you could walk around your neighborhood, and maybe to a park, but walking to a restaurant would be too long.

Clairemont is looked down by some--it's not as young as downtown or South Park or the beaches or the like, and it's also not full of manicured identical houses. That said, it's a suburb with plenty of families and restaurants, some degree of diversity, and it's pretty close to everything, including UCSD. We like it. Looks like rents are within your limits as well, although I don't have personal experience with this (just did a quick search).

When I went to UCSD I sometimes commuted from La Mesa, and it was 30 minutes (granted, I drove faster then). So you might have more leeway than you think.

If I recall correctly UCSD had a reasonably priced daycare on campus (as many schools do, often staffed by education majors, etc.) I believe it was located at the grad student housing. Don't know what you're going to be doing at UCSD or the qualifications but you might want to look into that.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:43 PM on February 15, 2012

Have you looked at La Mesa? If you want walkability, a low traffic neighbourhood, supermarkets, a local farmer's market/antique stores/bookstores/restaurants/cafes, public transport links (both bus and trolley), a place to run/bike/fish/boat (Lake Murray) plus smaller parks for kids to play in, then we have that all over here. I don't have a kid yet (only 18 weeks gestated), but there are at least two local daycare places to look at (plus an elementary school) and lots of apartment buildings nearby that just might scrape your budget.

My tip would be to look around the La Mesa Blvd/Lemon Avenue area. One of the reasons we bought our house here is because it's the only neighbourhood I could find that provided everything we needed within a one mile radius - I'm English (there's also a British store, eee!) and I really wanted a neighbourhood I didn't have to drive two miles out of to see any kind of human life. Areas like Mira Mesa and Clairemont are truly soulless in comparison (and Mira Mesa traffic is truly horrible during rush hour). When the kid arrives, I'll be able to walk to either of the stores (Sprouts, bit like an affordable Whole Foods, or Ralphs) or local pharmacy, go to the bookstore, thrift, take it to the park, visit Lake Murray (birds and stuff!) or just walk around the neighbourhood. I love it here. It's the only part of San Diego county I can truly say I love.

The only thing I can't say is whether it would meet your commute time or budget exactly. It definitely ticks all the other boxes though - at the very least the money you'd spend on rent would be saved elsewhere, just by having all the local amenities to hand.
posted by saturnine at 2:42 PM on February 15, 2012

I'll back exactly what millions of peaches said. We, too, live in University Heights, only near Meade and Campus Avenue. It's not a terrible commute to UCSD depending on the time of day and you have more than one option to get there: check Google Traffic before leaving and you increase your chances of not getting stuck in a traffic mess.

It's a good family neighborhood, walkable to the above-mentioned park and the mixed-use field at Birney Elementary (which is open to the public weekends and evenings), walkable to shops and restaurants, some very close, some further but walkable on University Avenue, as well as to a solid, large weekly farmer's market, AND it's dead-simple to get on the freeways from here. We even walk to the zoo, which is about 40 minutes on foot pushing a stroller. Refreshing!

We pay under $1400 for a two-bedroom, one bath, with a parking space, and an outdoor garage-like space we use for an office and storage. No yard worth mentioning. Decent neighbors, good extra parking when you need it, quiet neighborhood, fairly safe.

I marked the first two posts on this thread as good because I agree with the idea that you're not willing (able?) to pay enough for either childcare or housing, given your very specific criteria. You're going to make incredible sacrifices: a small bad apartment, in a shoddy development, on a nothing street, with no walkability, and poor security, and iffy neighbors, and crummy parking just to meet that price and be near UCSD and daycare.

I realize your child does not like cars, but what you'd get here is not having to be in a car to go EVERYWHERE. We go entire days without having to use the car, which for California is as close to a miracle as you're likely to find. And, as noted in the thread you linked, your child will grow out of the car dislike. Ours did.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:46 PM on February 15, 2012

Will you be attending UCSD as a student? Grad housing is nice. MeMail me. I can tell you more about the neighborhood I know most about.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:07 PM on February 15, 2012

The open secret to living somewhere cool and walkable while working at UCSD is the Hillcrest Medical Center shuttle. It leaves from there every ~10-30 min on weekdays and goes straight to campus in about 20 minutes. You might be able to find something to rent within your price range in walking/biking distance of the Hillcrest shuttle stop.

Childcare is just expensive, and I can't help there, but I'd look for other ways you can downsize so that you can afford the daycare. Take the shuttle to save on gas, cut down the baby accessories to only what's strictly necessary, and consider a nannyshare at home with other staff and faculty at the university.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:34 PM on February 15, 2012

Thanks for all of the advice. We'll definitely check out PB, Clairemont, Mira Mesa, and University Heights.

Unfortunately, we won't qualify for grad housing.
posted by JuliaKM at 7:55 AM on February 16, 2012

I had not thought of University Heights. Definitely the most walkable of the neighborhoods discussed here; probably the only truly walkable area in the city (along with Hillcrest) other than downtown.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:16 PM on February 16, 2012

Thanks for all of the great advice! We've upped our housing budget to $1,800 and the options don't look as bleak anymore. I'm hoping to spend up to $1,200 on preschool/daycare.

Right now, I'm thinking that the following neighborhoods look good: North PB/Crown Point, Clairemont, Hillcrest/University Heights/Normal Heights, and Mira Mesa/Carmel Valley.
posted by JuliaKM at 5:21 AM on February 28, 2012

And Tierrasanta too.
posted by JuliaKM at 8:23 AM on March 1, 2012

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