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Outdoor lounge space at Broadstone in Little Italy

Outdoor lounge space at Broadstone in Little Italy

Intro and neighborhood guides by Randy Dotinga

There’s more to San Diego than sun and surf, although the nation’s eighth-largest city loves to boast about a mild climate considered by many to be the best in the U.S. With (mostly) easy access to beaches, mountains and deserts, San Diego is a recreation lover’s paradise.

Attractions like the jewel of Balboa Park (home to the San Diego Zoo), Legoland California and SeaWorld keep tourism booming, and the highly rated University of California at San Diego has spawned a healthy biotech industry. Meanwhile, a diverse, ever-gentrifying urban population is upending the city’s reputation as a conservative Navy town.

Here’s the catch: San Diego comes with what locals call a “sun tax.” It’s pricey to live in “America’s Finest City” and the surrounding county, and the region perennially ranks among the most expensive in the country. It’s often a landlord’s market on the apartment front, and home prices are well beyond what many locals can afford. Still, millions of people manage to make San Diego their place in the sun.

We spent more than 30 hours conducting extensive research on San Diego’s apartments, neighborhoods and residential options. We looked at more than 80 apartment complexes in the San Diego area, categorizing them by location and comparing them with a set list of criteria. Besides basic information such as year constructed, number of units and average rent prices, we factored in community amenities such as outdoor spaces and fitness facilities.

We delved into the interior design, looking for features such as hardwood flooring, stainless steel appliances, balconies and other modern features. We also placed strong consideration on Walk Scores and accessibility to their respective neighborhoods, all to make confident decisions to determine the best of the best.

From the wealthy enclaves of La Jolla to the bustling bars of Pacific Beach, we explored 10 of the most popular San Diego neighborhoods. Whether you’re looking to move to the city or just checking out the hot spots, we hope this apartment guide helps steer you to your next home.

Neighborhoods Covered in This Guide to San Diego Apartments:

La Jolla/University City

La Jolla is San Diego’s ritziest neighborhood, a kind of Beverly Hills-by-the-sea filled with sprawling mansions and epic estates plus less-extravagant homes. Just to the east is its sister community of University City, whose businesses like to borrow the luxe La Jolla name.

University City boasts an eclectic mix of office towers, 1970s-era houses, apartments and condos. The University of California at San Diego bridges the two communities, peppering their neighborhoods with professors and plenty of college students, especially in University City.

Moving into the future, La Jolla looks to be as refined as ever — with an attitude to match — while University City stays more down to earth, thanks to its student population. Both neighborhoods will continue to benefit from UCSD’s sterling international reputation and nearby biotech companies.

Things To Do

La Jolla’s downtown, centered around Prospect Street and Girard Avenue, is full of shops and restaurants catering to tourists and the well-to-do. Check out an author’s reading at Warwick’s, said to be the nation’s oldest family-owned and -operated bookstore, then enjoy a meal with a stunning ocean view at the three-story George’s at the Cove Restaurant. Make sure to head down to La Jolla Cove for a spectacular ocean view.

In University City, the sprawling Westfield UTC shopping mall offers dozens of stores, including an Apple Store, Godiva Chocolatier and Geppetto’s Toys.

Transportation

La Jolla likes to play hard-to-get-to: You can’t easily reach its downtown and beach areas via freeway. There’s no convenient public transportation, either, although a trolley link is in planning stages. University City, however, conveniently sits in the “Golden Triangle” between Interstate 805, I-5 and Route 52.  

La Jolla/University City Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $2,084

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Contemporary kitchen at Regents La Jolla

Contemporary kitchen at Regents La Jolla

Regents La Jolla

  • Year Built: 1999
  • Number of Units: 335
  • Number of Layouts: 9
  • Rent: $2,144-$3,360
  • Highlights: Bright, contemporary eat-in kitchens with granite counters are the focal point of these apartments, as well as the 14-foot ceilings and hardwood flooring available in select units. Residents have access to amenities such as multiple heated swimming pools and spas, a large fitness center, entertainment lounges and concierge service.
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Bright kitchen and breakfast bar at Ocean House on Prospect

Bright kitchen and breakfast bar at Ocean House on Prospect

Ocean House on Prospect Apartment Homes

  • Year Built: 1970
  • Number of Units: 61
  • Number of Layouts: 6
  • Rent: $3,754-$6,783
  • Highlights: Ocean House on Prospect is two blocks from the picturesque La Jolla Beach to the west and upscale shopping and dining to the east. On-site amenities include indoor/outdoor fitness space, a saltwater pool and a sundeck with an ocean vista. Many apartments have sweeping water views, as well as features such as modern kitchens, wood flooring and walk-in closets.
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Kitchen and dining area at Avana La Jolla

Kitchen and dining area at Avana La Jolla

Avana La Jolla

  • Year Built: 1986
  • Number of Units: 312
  • Number of Layouts: 5
  • Rent: $1,779-$2,886
  • Highlights: Close to the Rose Canyon Open Space Park as well as several grocery, retail and dining selections, Avana La Jolla offers a resort-like setting with manicured grounds, a large pool and a fitness center. These pet-friendly units include private balconies and patios, wood-plank flooring and vaulted ceilings.

The Runners Up

East Village/Marina

Downtown San Diego hit a home run in 2004 when it welcomed Petco Park, the San Diego Padres’ baseball stadium, to the East Village neighborhood. The ballpark spurred big-time growth, giving downtown a new hot spot for art, education and nightlife.

Residential towers woo young professionals to East Village, where they’ll find San Diego’s sparkling new central library, the bustling San Diego City College, and institutes devoted to architecture and fashion. But the area still has downtown-style grittiness amid the growing glitz. San Diego’s homeless congregate near the ballpark and roam the neighborhood, mixing uncomfortably with residents, businesspeople and tourists.

Just a couple blocks away to the west, the Marina neighborhood hugs San Diego Bay and offers spectacular waterfront views from sky-high residential towers. The Marina is home to the touristy Seaport Village shopping mall and the San Diego Convention Center, best known for drawing Hollywood stars and costumed fans during the annual Comic-Con.

East Village has room to grow, and the city is trying to vanquish the homeless problem. Meanwhile, there’s talk of expanding the convention center to bring in more crowds of (non-costumed) conventioneers to the Marina district.

Things To Do

Enjoy the salty ocean air and take in the public art and bayside views while you walk along the Embarcadero. After catching a game at Petco Park, sample South American specialties at Samba Brazilian Cuisine. Be sure to look around while you’re enjoying a burger at The Corner; it’s housed in the historic Carnation Milk Factory building.

Transportation

Conveniently, you can catch all four San Diego Trolley lines at the 12th & Imperial Transit Center in East Village. Alternatively, grab the Orange Line at the Convention Center or Gaslamp Quarter stations. The north-south I-5 freeway marks the East Village’s eastern boundary, but beware of rush-hour traffic into downtown in the morning and out in the evening.

East Village/Marina Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $2,112

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Bright, spacious interior at Pinnacle on the Park

Bright interior at Pinnacle on the Park

Pinnacle on the Park

  • Year Built: 2015
  • Number of Units: 484
  • Number of Layouts: 10
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: Climbing 45 stories into the San Diego skyline, the new Pinnacle on the Park apartments embrace life in the clouds. Units have window walls and bright interiors, including gourmet kitchens with two finish options. Community features include a lap pool and spa, a swanky clubhouse and a massive green space dubbed Fault Line Park.
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Living space at Strata

Strata

  • Year Built: 2010
  • Number of Units: 163
  • Number of Layouts: 21
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: These luxurious apartments offer views of the surrounding city as well as gourmet kitchens with espresso cabinetry. Residents can see Petco Park from the resort-style pool deck, work out in the fitness center and enjoy other on-site amenities including Starbucks and Zipcar.
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Comfortable living room at Harborview

Living room at Harborview

Harborview Apartments

  • Year Built: 1992
  • Number of Units: 387
  • Number of Layouts: 15
  • Rent: $1,720-$2,695
  • Highlights: These contemporary apartments in the Marina feature spacious floorplans from studios to lofts, all with hardwood-style flooring and European cabinetry. The rooftop is home to a large outdoor pool and spa, and there is a fitness center and a business center on site.

The Runners Up

Little Italy/Core-Columbia

Little Italy, big profile. Once an obscure neighborhood that catered to San Diego’s small Italian population, Little Italy is now one of the city’s culinary capitals. Along with the Core-Columbia community next door, it’s drawing young single professionals who appreciate the convenience to downtown and easy access to public transit. Little Italy hugs the I-5 freeway northeast of downtown San Diego, while Core-Columbia encompasses the skyscraper-shaded core of downtown — hence the name.

Each neighborhood experienced a housing boom in the early 2000s, so there’s plenty of newish condos. Both neighborhoods have fairly few families and plenty of single people. You’ll find more ethnic diversity in these neighborhoods than many other parts of San Diego, and more people who get by without cars. That’s due to easy access to public transportation and a lack of places to park.

Things To Do

Little Italy is full of popular Italian restaurants, including Buon Appetito (rustic), Bencotto (artisanal) and Filippi’s (basic and family-friendly). On Saturdays, drop by the Little Italy Mercato farmer’s market. While you’re there, enjoy the view of the County Administration Building, an art-deco landmark, and take the kids to the fantastic new Waterfront Park, a popular free attraction with play equipment, grassy lawns and fountains to jump around in.

To the south, just past the the Core-Columbia neighborhood, you’ll find the USS Midway Museum on an aircraft carrier preserved for posterity.

Transportation

Local freeways include the I-5 and Route 163. Amtrak and the Coaster, a local train service, depart from the Mission-style Santa Fe Depot, while the San Diego Trolley has stations at County Center/Little Italy (Green Line), Santa Fe Depot (Orange/Green Lines) and America Plaza, Civic Center and Fifth Avenue (Orange/Blue Lines).

Little Italy/Core-Columbia Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,990

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Dining with a view at Current

Dining with a view at Current

Current

  • Year Built: 2008
  • Number of Units: 144
  • Number of Layouts: 44
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: From the exquisite lobby to the heated pool on the roof deck, Current emits luxury from bottom to top. The private patios and community terraces offer residents plenty of places to take in views of downtown, and interiors include hardwood and slate flooring, walk-in closets and high ceilings.
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Cool Italian-inspired interiors at Broadstone

Italian-inspired interiors at Broadstone

Broadstone Little Italy

  • Year Built: 2014
  • Number of Units: 199
  • Number of Layouts: 22
  • Rent: $2,705-$4,273
  • Highlights: This ultra-chic building overlooking the Marina flaunts a modern Italian style with architecturally cool details. Kitchens feature clean lines and rich wood, while the community spaces offer cozy lounge furniture and plenty of room for entertaining. Other amenities include a golf simulator, a private yoga room and a zero-edge pool with underwater speakers.
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Panoramic views from the kitchen at Vantage Point

Views from the kitchen at Vantage Pointe

Vantage Pointe

  • Year Built: 2009
  • Number of Units: 679
  • Number of Layouts: 82
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: With vaulted ceilings, walk-in closets and views of the bay and mountains from private balconies, these high-rise apartments have both the location and community perks to impress residents. The 10th floor has a pool and terrace, while other amenities include a health-club-style gym, clubhouse, 24-hour concierge service and on-site retail that includes a beauty salon and coffee shop.

The Runners Up

Pacific Beach

Several of San Diego’s beach communities have their own stereotype: La Jolla is Thurston Howell III, Ocean Beach the stoner surfer, Mission Beach the frat-boy bro. What’s Pacific Beach? All of those and more.

Just north of Mission Bay and south of La Jolla, Pacific Beach has one of the most eclectic mixes of residents in the city, although it’s not diverse ethnically and tends to be oriented toward people without kids. You’ll find college students in apartments near the busy bars on Grand Avenue, Garnet Avenue and Mission Boulevard. Families live in homes on sleepy tree-lined streets farther from the coast, including some who’ve lived in pricier abodes on the southern slope of Mount Soledad for decades.

If you’re looking for peace and quiet, the endless partying in some parts of Pacific Beach may not be your speed. The congested surface streets are another frustration, forcing many residents to spend extra time in their cars getting to I-5. But “PB” is plenty walkable, and there are few more vibrant neighborhoods in San Diego. It isn’t expected to grow, but it will remain popular among those can appreciate its beauty and bustle.

Things To Do

For recreation, just walk west: You’ll hit the 3.5-mile Mission Beach-Pacific Beach Boardwalk. People-watch, take a dip in the ocean, take a load off in one of several grassy parks or grab a bite at restaurants such as Kono’s Surf Club Cafe (breakfast and lunch only). Walk farther south into Mission Beach and you’ll arrive at Belmont Park, home of the famous Giant Dipper roller coaster.  

Transportation

You can get around Pacific Beach by foot, bike, car or bus. The I-5 freeway is at the neighborhood’s eastern edge, and it will take you to places north and south.

Pacific Beach Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,538

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Whimsical living space at AVA Pacific Beach

Whimsical living space at AVA Pacific Beach

AVA Pacific Beach

  • Year Built: 1969
  • Number of Units: 564
  • Number of Layouts: 10
  • Rent: $1,475-$2,440
  • Highlights: AVA is within walking distance to the bay, parks and numerous shops and restaurants. The on-property amenities deliver as well: there is a fitness center, a 40-person whirlpool, volleyball courts and lush landscaping throughout the grounds. The building strives for energy efficiency, though that hasn’t had a negative impact on design. The interiors are bright and updated with all the modern necessities.
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White kitchen at The Pacific

White kitchen at The Pacific at Mission Bay

The Pacific at Mission Bay

  • Year Built: 1971
  • Number of Units: 114
  • Number of Layouts: 4
  • Rent: $1,649-$2,250
  • Highlights: These apartments feature sliding glass doors to private patios, bright kitchens, and tasteful design throughout the units and community spaces. In addition to the pool and gardens on the grounds, The Pacific is close to the Rose Inlet and Mission Bay, as well as the surrounding park space.  

Mission Valley East

Are you ready for some football? How about some football proximity? As long as the Chargers stay in San Diego, they’re likely to keep playing in Mission Valley East. The presence of the NFL team does contribute to traffic congestion in Mission Valley East, which is full of 1980s- and 1990s-vintage townhomes and condos.

The good news: The centrally located neighborhood — hugging I-8 between I-163 and I-15 — is one of the best places in the city for access to freeways, shopping, restaurants and public transit. It tends to be wealthier and less diverse than the rest of the city, and residents are more likely to be single professionals. More homes are slated to be built in Mission Valley East, although locals worry about even more congestion.

Things To Do

Mission Valley East is home to the Westfield Mission Valley mall (featuring Macy’s, Nordstrom Rack and a super-sized Target); Fenton Marketplace (anchored by Ikea, Costco and Lowe’s; and Hazard Center mall (Barnes & Noble). Fashion Valley, another major mall, is just past the western edge of Mission Valley East.

Transportation

I-163 and I-15 mark the western and eastern edges of Mission Valley East, while I-8 and I-805 go right through it. Pick up the San Diego Trolley’s Green Line at the Hazard Center, Mission Valley Center, Rio Vista, Fenton Parkway, Qualcomm Stadium and Mission San Diego stops.

Mission Valley East Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,630

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Refined cooking and dining space at West Park

Kitchen and dining space at WestPark

WestPark

  • Year Built: 2015
  • Number of Units: 332
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: Love amenities? WestPark has an impressive list, including three saltwater pools, a 10,000-square-foot fitness center with a climbing wall and half-mile jogging loop, a juice bar, a game room and gourmet kitchens inside and outside. The apartment interiors continue to check boxes, with designer finishes in kitchens and bathrooms, high ceilings and private balconies in some units.
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Spacious indoor and outdoor entertainment areas at Circa37

Indoor and outdoor entertainment areas at Circa 37

Circa 37

  • Year Built: 2012
  • Number of Units: 306
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: $2,000-$3,130
  • Highlights: This resort-style community in East Mission Valley hosts an impressive number of amenities on the property, including a saltwater pool, outdoor entertainment space, a fitness center, a lounge with a demonstration kitchen, and a Starbucks on the ground level. The apartments themselves include hardwood-plank flooring and modern kitchens. Most units include covered patios.
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Kitchen and breakfast bar at Aquatera

Kitchen and breakfast bar at Aquatera

Aquatera

  • Year Built: 2009
  • Number of Units: 254
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: Life at Aquatera is all about the community features, ranging from a clubroom with a gourmet kitchen, a 24-hour sports club and a saltwater swimming pool surrounded by cabanas and fire pits. Apartment units include modern kitchens with cherry cabinetry, luxurious baths and tech-enabled features throughout, many of which aid Aquatera’s commitment to eco-friendly living.

The Runners Up

La Mesa

Locals used to joke that everybody’s grandparents live in sleepy La Mesa. Now, the “Jewel of the Hills” is turning around its reputation as a low-key community. Just to the east of bustling San Diego State University, it’s bordered by San Diego’s Mid-City neighborhoods: El Cajon, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley.

Here you’ll find student-friendly apartment complexes, ranch-style homes and hillside abodes. AC is a definite plus, since La Mesa can broil on summer days. With newfound energy represented by downtown revitalization, La Mesa is poised to become the next local hipster hot spot.   

Things To Do

La Mesa’s walkable downtown, called The Village, is centered around La Mesa Boulevard. Look up and you might see hometown hero and legendary basketball player Bill Walton, who still lives nearby.

Go shopping for antiques at the 5,000-square-foot Park Estate Co., then have a healthy brunch at Swami’s or a burger at The Hills. Further afield in La Mesa, enjoy upscale seafood at the Brigantine and Sicilian specialties at Antica Trattoria.

La Mesa’s Oktoberfest is famous, but beer’s always on tap at Bolt Brewery. Work off your meal with a stroll or hike at Lake Murray, Mount Helix or Cowles Mountain.

Transportation

Rush-hour traffic stacks up on I-8 and Routes 125 and 94. The San Diego Trolley will take you to San Diego State, Qualcomm Stadium, downtown San Diego and the Mexican border. The Orange Line stops at Spring Street, La Mesa Boulevard and Grossmont Transit Center, where you can also pick up the Green Line.

La Mesa Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,288

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Luxurious open floor plan at SETA Apartments

Open floor plan at SETA Apartments

SETA Apartments

  • Year Built: 2015
  • Number of Units: 198
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: $1,821-$2,985
  • Highlights: These brand-new apartments reflect a modern coastal style, with horizontal-grain European kitchen cabinetry and other high-end finishes including granite countertops, crown molding and oversized baths. The central plaza has a pool and plenty of room to soak up the sun. Other on-site offerings include an extensive business center, 24-hour fitness center, and numerous indoor and outdoor lounge areas for cooking, socializing and unwinding.
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Unique and functional kitchen at Alterra

Kitchen at Alterra

Alterra Apartments

  • Year Built: 2010
  • Number of Units: 297
  • Number of Layouts: 6
  • Rent: $1,641-$2,472
  • Highlights: Spacious and inviting, these LEED Gold-certified apartments are fully optimized for saving both energy and water. Kitchens include features such as breakfast bars, pantries and built-in cutting boards, while French doors and Roman tubs continue the high standards throughout. The community has a courtyard pool and spa, and it is steps from Grossmont Transit Center and local universities.
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Bright living room at Pravada

Living room at Pravada

Pravada Apartments

  • Year Built: 2009
  • Number of Units: 230
  • Number of Layouts: 7
  • Rent: $1,641-$2,532
  • Highlights: With the Grossmont Trolley right at the front door, Pravada Apartments are easily within reach of all of San Diego. Modern interiors in the LEED Gold-certified apartments include cherry-finish kitchen cabinetry and energy-efficient appliances, with ceilings up to 11 feet high. Besides excellent transportation options, Pravada residents also enjoy an on-site pool, business center, workout facility and high-tech clubroom.

The Runners Up

Carmel Valley

Soccer moms (and dads) of the world, Carmel Valley has your number. A wealthier neighborhood at San Diego’s northwestern edge, Carmel Valley draws families looking for sea breezes, good schools and suburban living. Less than 2 miles from the ocean, Carmel Valley has earned its reputation as a quiet and upscale bedroom community far from San Diego’s urban core.

Carmel Valley is a newer neighborhood, with almost all of its homes — half of them single-family houses — built since the 1980s. Carmel Valley is one of the least ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city and among the richest, most educated and most family-oriented. The city of San Diego has approved new development in Carmel Valley, so the bedroom community has more growth on the horizon.

Things To Do

Nature lovers will appreciate Carmel Valley’s location just blocks from hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, surfing at Torrey Pines State Beach (which has a secluded clothing-optional area called Black’s Beach) and canine excursions at Del Mar’s Dog Beach, officially known as North Beach.

The Del Mar Fairgrounds is nearby, offering the hugely popular San Diego County Fair in the early summer and horse racing in the late summer.  

Transportation

Carmel Valley is a commuter community, and many of its residents head south to downtown San Diego each morning on the often-congested I-5 at the neighborhood’s western edge. Others head to points north and south by picking up the Coaster train at the nearby Sorrento Valley or Solana Beach stations. If you’re looking to go north to Orange County or Los Angeles, catch Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner train at the nearby Solana Beach station.

Carmel Valley Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,860

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Stylish kitchen and dining room at Ocean Air

Kitchen and dining room at Ocean Air

Ocean Air

  • Year Built: 2014
  • Number of Units: 100
  • Number of Layouts: 12
  • Rent: starting at $2,652
  • Highlights: These one-, two- and three-bedroom townhomes offer direct-access private garages, expansive deck space and large master baths. Shaker-style kitchen cabinetry is complemented by granite countertops and designer finishes. Within walking distance to prestigious schools and with easy highway access for commuting, this complex also features an outdoor lounge and grilling area.
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Contemporary kitchen at Carmel Creek

Kitchen at Carmel Creek

Carmel Creek

  • Year Built: 2000
  • Number of Units: 348
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: $2,089-$2,778
  • Highlights: As units in this building undergo continuing renovation, the results include gourmet kitchens with finishes such as quartz countertops and tile backsplashes. The high ceilings are adorned in crown molding, and most units include patios. The community itself recently completed a new sundeck and fitness center, in addition to the already existing pool, dog park and clubhouse (available for event rentals).
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White kitchen at Torrey Gardens

Kitchen at Torrey Gardens

Torrey Gardens

  • Year Built: 2014
  • Number of Units: 384
  • Number of Layouts: 6
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: On the western edge of the Carmel Valley, Torrey Gardens is an amenity-rich community that features a pool, fitness center, pilates studio, kids’ activities and on-site retail. The French contemporary architecture flows into apartment interiors, where bright kitchens include quartz countertops. From private balconies, residents can take in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

The Runners Up

Oceanside/Carlsbad

The Oceanside/Carlsbad region, at the northwestern corner of San Diego County, is big and varied: You’ll find gated senior communities, apartment complexes, condo developments, summer beach rentals and low-income inner-city neighborhoods. The challenge is to take it all in and figure out where you belong.

Both cities have populations of more than 100,000, and both hug the beach. Oceanside is bigger and more varied, known for its big military population (thanks to Camp Pendleton at its northern edge), its pockets of poverty and its many middle-class neighborhoods. Carlsbad residents are wealthier, older and less ethnically diverse than their counterparts to the north in Oceanside. Carlsbad also boasts a much lower crime rate.

Both cities enjoyed huge growth in the 1980s and early 1990s; Carlsbad has more than doubled in population over the past three decades. Housing growth has slowed in Oceanside, but Carlsbad is still expanding. Both cities should continue being busy housing markets, thanks to the military presence and the opportunities for coastal living.

Things To Do

Take a stroll out on the Oceanside Pier in the walkable harbor, then head over to the California Surf Museum for a look at the gnarly history of surfing. Carlsbad’s quaint and walkable downtown — known as Carlsbad Village — features the kid-friendly Museum of Making Music, which spotlights musical instruments. Other popular Carlsbad attractions include Legoland California Resort and The Flower Fields.  

Transportation

I-5 passes through both cities, providing access to Los Angeles and Orange County (to the north) and San Diego (south). Route 78 heads east to Vista, San Marcos and Escondido, as does the Sprinter light-rail train, which stops at several Oceanside stations. Commuters can grab the Coaster train to San Diego at the Oceanside Transit Center (also home to Amtrak), Carlsbad Village and Carlsbad Poinsettia stations.

Oceanside/Carlsbad Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,459

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Contemporary galley kitchen at Pacific View

Galley kitchen at Pacific View

Pacific View

  • Year Built: 2004
  • Number of Units: 451
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: $1,860-$2,935
  • Highlights: These recently remodeled apartments feature direct-access private garages, gas fireplaces and French doors that open wide to private patios. True to its name, residents can also enjoy ocean views from the grilling and lounge area. Other amenities include two swimming pools, extensive fitness options and several lounge areas throughout the property.
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Open living and dining space at Marabella

Living and dining space at Marabella

Marbella

  • Year Built: 2007
  • Number of Units: 143
  • Number of Layouts: 5
  • Rent: $1,850-$2,595
  • Highlights: Close to the retail and dining of the Carlsbad Westfield Shopping Mall as well as the beach, Marbella’s location is just one benefit to living in this luxurious community. Apartment interiors include direct-access private garage space, gourmet kitchens and stylized finishes including crown molding and modern gas fireplaces. There is also a saltwater pool, gym and business center on-site.
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Open layout at Windrift

Open layout at Windrift

Windrift Apartments

  • Year Built: 1987
  • Number of Units: 404
  • Number of Layouts: 4
  • Rent: $1,478-$2,140
  • Highlights: With amenities ranging from a fitness center and swimming pool to a rock-climbing wall and basketball court, there is plenty to keep residents busy at Windrift. Units feature high ceilings and wood flooring, and large windows and balconies have pool or hillside views. There are also plenty of social spaces, including a clubhouse and grilling area.

The Runners Up

Chula Vista

Charles Dickens, call your agent: There’s a Tale of Two Cities situation in Chula Vista. The second-largest city in San Diego County doesn’t feel like a single place. Instead, it’s two towns in one.

The oldest part of the city hugs the coast west of I-805 and features apartments and older houses dating back decades. The western neighborhoods run from cozy to gritty, though the city overall is blessed with extremely low crime rates.

East of I-805, Chula Vista is dominated by the sprawling Eastlake master-planned community and neighboring developments built over the past 30 years. These neighborhoods are especially popular among families.

Chula Vista plans to revitalize its waterfront and build more homes in the older western section, where working-class types will find the lowest housing prices.

Things To Do

While it’s one of the nation’s 80 largest cities, Chula Vista has few major attractions and little nightlife. Still, kids and adults will enjoy the Living Coast Discovery Center, a hands-on wildlife facility spotlighting coastal animals such as stingrays, turtles and eagles. The 155-acre U.S. Olympic Training Center offers tours and a Team USA Shop.  

Popular retail meccas include Chula Vista Center on the west side of town and the indoor Westfield Plaza Bonita in neighboring National City. Many locals like to cross the border nearby and enjoy the shops, restaurants and nightlife in Tijuana, Mexico.

Transportation

Chula Vista’s city streets and freeways (I-5, I-805, Route 54, Route 125, Route 905) can be jammed, especially during rush hour. Its public transit is fairly weak, although the San Diego Trolley’s Blue Line does stop at the Bayfront/E Street, H Street and Palomar stations, all near I-5.  

Chula Vista Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,240

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Modern kitchen at Pulse

Modern kitchen at Pulse Millenia

Pulse Millenia

  • Year Built: 2015
  • Number of Units: 273
  • Number of Layouts: 10
  • Rent: $1,885-$3,318
  • Highlights: From the modern, funky design to the world-class amenities, Pulse Millenia makes a welcome addition to the Otay Ranch Town Center area of Chula Vista. The complex’s central plaza contains a sparkling pool deck, outdoor fireplaces and bocce ball courts, while inside there’s a gym and more social space. Sophisticated apartments come in two different finish options, both with designer built-ins and spa-inspired master baths.  
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Large kitchen at Tavela

Kitchen at Tavera

Tavera

  • Year Built: 2014
  • Number of Units: 187
  • Number of Layouts: 8
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: For a townhouse feeling in a superb location, Tavera’s spacious interiors have high ceilings and and gourmet kitchens. The community clubhouse, poolside cabanas and outdoor grilling lounge are all popular hangouts for residents, as is the pet park for four-legged friends.
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Urban outdoor space at Rosina Vista

Balcony at Rosina Vista

Rosina Vista

  • Year Built: 2012
  • Number of Units: 278
  • Number of Layouts: 5
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: Central to the best shopping, dining and school districts in Chula Vista, as well as extensive hiking and biking trails, Rosina Vista serves as a great home base, with high ceilings, crown molding and plenty of deck space. A dry/wet sauna and community clubhouse also are on the property.

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San Marcos

San Marcos was once a bit player in the suburban sprawl of the San Diego region’s North County. Now, this city between Vista and Escondido is developing a reputation as a hub for higher education and — a rarity for San Diego — transit-friendly living.

San Marcos has a quintessential North County mix of the old (homes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s) and new (homes built during the go-go ’80s and ’90s). Neighborhoods north of Route 78 tend to be older, but there are plenty of modern apartment complexes and sprawling upscale housing developments.

South of Route 78, Cal State San Marcos has sparked a boom over the past two decades. The city is drawing raves for focusing new development near transit stations served by the Sprinter light-rail system.

Like other North County cities, San Marcos suffers from a gang problem. But residents enjoy pretty views of local hills, and they face less of the oppressive summertime heat that stifles areas farther inland.

Things To Do

The beaches in Oceanside and Carlsbad are just a short car ride to the west, while the nearby Escondido area’s San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park) offers elephants, hippos and more in a cage-free, savannah-like environment.

The quaint Old California Restaurant Row is home to 15 restaurants, including Fish House Vera Cruz (seafood), King & I (Thai) and Old California Mining Company (steak).

Transportation

Route 78, which links I-5 and I-15, is notoriously congested. You can travel east and west on the Sprinter light-rail system; it links to the Coaster train that takes commuters to downtown San Diego.

San Marcos Apartments

Average 1-Bedroom Rental Price: $1,500

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Entertainment-friendly kitchen at Palomar Station

Kitchen at Palomar Station

Palomar Station

  • Year Built: 2014
  • Number of Units: 370
  • Number of Layouts: 16
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: Step into luxury at Palomar Station, where modern interiors mean dark hardwood cabinetry and flooring balanced with crisp white accents throughout. Walk-in closets and high ceilings add to the appeal inside, while community amenities include two pools and fitness centers, an outdoor movie theater and a pet “spaw.”
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Clean, spacious living room at eaves San Marcos

Living room at eaves San Marcos

eaves San Marcos

  • Year Built: 1987
  • Number of Units: 184
  • Number of Layouts: 3
  • Rent: $1,515-$2,390
  • Highlights: Sleek interiors at the newly renovated eaves San Marcos feature espresso-cabinetry and designer fixtures. Light floods in from sliding glass doors that lead to private patios, though the pool is a great place to catch some rays as well. On-site fitness amenities include a basketball court, tennis court and gym.
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Bright, functional cooking and dining areas at Prominance

Cooking and dining areas at Prominence

Prominence Apartments

  • Year Built: 2002
  • Number of Units: 568
  • Number of Layouts: 18
  • Rent: Call for pricing
  • Highlights: Bright, contemporary interior design defines California cool in these spacious apartments, consisting of loft-style units with balconies and expansive kitchens. This complex also has a fitness center, tennis courts, theater and swimming pool, as well as cooking and fitness classes available for residents.

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