The 5 Best San Diego Suburbs for Affordability and Commuting

The 5 Best San Diego Suburbs for Affordability and Commuting

Posted on Aug 25, 2023

San Diego is renowned for its balmy weather, beautiful beaches, and ample career opportunities. The cost of living has skyrocketed, though, and the average home now comes with a $890,000 pricetag. For many families and young professionals, no amount of saving and eating in is going to allow them to make those mortgage payments. 

Not surprisingly, this has led to increased interest in the best suburbs near San Diego. Many people are okay with not living in the city proper so long as they have access to the beaches, can get downtown on the weekend for fun, and can commute into the city as needed for work.

Here’s our list of five small towns near San Diego worth checking out.


Lemon Grove, CA

Lemon Grove is a family-friendly town thanks to its suburban feel. For people tired of the dense urban environment and noise of the city, Lemon Grove is a quiet oasis where more affordable housing options abound. Although there won’t be as many options for nightclubs and fancy bars, there’s still plenty of evening entertainment ranging from Zest Wine Bistro to Lemon City Taphouse. And downtown San Diego is only 25 minutes away by car, or 45 minutes away if you take the Orange Line trolley.

“Lemon Grove is a small and cute city. It has a lot of good food options, nice parks, and everything is very close to each other,” notes one local. Read more reviews of Lemon Grove on Niche.

  • Median home sale price: $689,000
  • Median rental price: $1,880


National City, CA

Being close to the Mexican border helps keep the cost of housing a bit lower in National City. It’s an advantageous location for people who want to be close to San Diego - and make use of its opportunities - without necessarily getting caught up in the high cost of real estate there. It’s only a 12-minute drive to downtown San Diego, or a 12-minute direct trolly ride on the Blue line - and you’ll be close to the ocean as well. 

National City is a diverse city, and this is reflected in the cuisine there - locals can dine on Filipino adobo, Hawaiian poke, or Vietnamese pho depending on their mood. 

“I love that National City is a small community. Everyone is kind with one another; people still know each other. I think that national city is a little underdeveloped and we could use some more job opportunities,” notes one local. Read more National City reviews on Niche.

  • Median home sale price: $720,000
  • Median rental price: $1,850

Santee, CA

A smaller town with a tight-knit community: that’s Santee, CA. Located Northeast of San Diego, Santee is further out from the coast and closer to the mountains. It’s located about 25 mins (by car) from San Diego, and is bordered by multiple parks.

This town boasts a range of outdoor recreational opportunities. Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is a popular destination for fishing, boating, camping, and picnicking. Mission Trails Regional Park, known for its hiking and natural beauty, is also nearby.

“I like that it has a small-town feel. Almost everything you need is within a small radius. Most people seem friendly and there are a lot of hiking trails. The close proximity to the San Diego proper, beaches, and mountains is a huge plus,” notes a local. Read more reviews of Santee on Niche.

  • Median home sale price: $767,500
  • Median rental price: $2,360


El Cajon, CA

It’s easy to get from El Cajon to San Diego by taking the 1-8, making commuting to work a breeze. Although it’s more of a sleepy town than a nightlife-heavy metropolis, the action and adventure are never more than an Uber ride away. If you’re into Middle Eastern cuisine, you’re in luck - El Cajon is the place, with plenty of options to fit your cravings for doner kebab or shawarma.

Compared to the real estate market in San Diego, you’ll have an easier time finding a home with a pool here if you need to cool off. Because El Cajon is located further from the coast, expect hotter temperatures and a drier climate overall. You will likely need a car to live here, as it’s not a very walkable area.

“Easy access to the beaches, desert and mountains. Not far from Santee, Mission Valley and other shopping areas… The housing costs are lower than anywhere near the beaches or downtown. Not much nightlife in El Cajon; there are some dive bars which are pretty cool, but if you're looking for dancing or late night partying, there is not too much,” reads one local’s recent review. Read more local reviews of El Cajon on Niche.

  • Median home sale price: $728,000
  • Median rental price: $2,160

Winter Gardens, CA

Nestled in the hills of Southern California, Winter Gardens is a staple for local families looking for a relaxing place to live. There are plenty of options for hiking nearby, such as the Rattlesnake Mountain Preserve, and the area experiences a coastal desert climate. And for people looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, suburban areas like Winter Gardens have lower levels of noise and traffic congestion.

One downside of Winter Gardens is that it’s a bit further from San Diego - about 25-30 minutes by car. Public transportation from Winter Gardens to San Diego is prohibitively indirect, taking over an hour’s journey. 

“There is a lot of construction currently being done to the area which is annoying, but it shows that they are working towards improvement... and I can't wait to see how it looks in the end,” notes one local review. Read more Winter Gardens reviews on Niche.

  • Median home sale price: $810,000
  • Median rental price: $2,157

Small towns near San Diego: Finding the right one for you

So, what should you consider while searching for the best San Diego suburbs? Here’s what local real estate experts suggest taking note of:

  • Commute time. Test your daily commute during the times you would actually take it, if possible. Traffic can be variable.
  • Wildfire risk: approx. 55% of homes in San Diego have some risk of being affected by wildfire in the next 30 years. Is the home made of fire-resistant building materials, and what will the home insurance look like as a result?
  • Closing costs: in California, closing costs average 1% of the purchase price. So if the home you buy is worth $700,000, expect to pay $7,000 in closing costs.

Exploring California? Check out our post: 5 of the Cheapest Places to Live in Southern California


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