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Anchor industries

San Diego is home to a number of thriving industries, but these in particular create a lot of local jobs.

Defense and military

San Diego actually has the largest naval fleet in the world. There are several prominent military bases located throughout the city. Not only that, but the number of military personnel in the city is expected to rise, which could help lend to steady employment numbers. As of 2020, the defense and military industry provided almost one-quarter of the total jobs in San Diego.


San Diego’s renowned attractions and moderate climate make it a prime spot for tourism. Each year, visitors flock to sites like the famed San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld. Many tourism jobs were likely lost during the pandemic, but in normal times, it’s a steadier industry.


San Diego is home to a number of well-known colleges and universities that make up a lot of the area’s jobs. The University of California San Diego is one of the city’s top employers, and as of 2019, it employed almost 35,000 people. Meanwhile, the San Diego Unified School District employed 13,559.


Healthcare is another thriving industry in San Diego. As of 2019:

  • Scripps Health employed 12,348 people.
  • Kaiser Permanente employed 5,349.
  • Sharp HealthCare employed 18,736.

Schools of note

San Diego is home to a number of renowned colleges and universities that not only bolster the city’s economy but create a need for student housing, as well as housing for visiting academic professionals. They include:

  • San Diego State University: San Diego State University’s main campus is located within a 15-minute drive of downtown San Diego and is also within 10 miles of numerous beaches. This public college has a total enrollment of 35,081.
  • University of California — San Diego: The University of California’s San Diego campus is located in the neighborhood of La Jolla, bordered by the communities of La Jolla Shores, Torrey Pines, and University City. As one of the world’s leading public research universities, the school has a total enrollment of 38,396.
  • San Diego Mesa College: San Diego Mesa College is the largest community college in the city of San Diego, with a total enrollment of 22,284. It’s located in the Clairemont Mesa neighborhood, which is loaded with restaurants and coffee shops.

Neighborhoods of note

San Diego has dozens of unique neighborhoods potentially suitable for real estate investors to target. Here are a few worth digging into.

Mission Valley

Located east of Downtown San Diego, Mission Valley is a shopping and entertainment hub. Its proximity to San Diego State University means there’s a perpetual need for student housing as well as housing for professors and other university staff. The median home value in Mission Valley is $518,367, and 61% of the people who live in the neighborhood rent their home rather than own one. The median rent for a home in Mission Valley is $2,121.


Located just a few minutes north of Downtown San Diego and near Balboa Park, the Hillcrest neighborhood offers great nightlife, a wide array of restaurants, and walkable, pedestrian-friendly streets. Located near San Diego State University, it’s a great bet for real estate investors who can capitalize on the need for student and academic housing. The median rent for a one-bedroom home in Hillcrest is $1,895. It’s this lower price point that makes Hillcrest such a draw for students and younger professionals, though that price represents a 12% increase from a year ago.

University City

University City’s economy is anchored by the University of California’s San Diego campus. The neighborhood is also home to a large number of corporate offices that have, in recent years, relocated from Downtown San Diego. As such, University City is a good bet for real estate investors, as it attracts not only students and academics but a host of professionals who want to be close to their respective offices.

In University City, 67% of residents rent their homes, and the median rent is $2,149. The median home value in the neighborhood is $617,666. Most University City residents are in their early 20s, followed by those between 25 and 30 years old, according to 2013 census information. That, too, works to investors’ advantage, since younger professionals are more likely to need rentals and less likely to be in a position to buy a home of their own.

College Area

The aptly named College Area is located in central San Diego and situated around San Diego State University. The area is home to a wide variety of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and parks, all of which draw students, considering the neighborhood’s proximity to a major university. The median home value in the neighborhood is $561,147, while the median rent is $1,658. Notably, 64% of residents in the neighborhood rent their homes rather than own.

The bottom line on San Diego

San Diego is a city with the potential to appeal to the masses. Investors with a heavy budget for income properties may do quite well buying homes in key neighborhoods that offer access to the city’s academic scene in particular. Of course, San Diego is also a great place to raise a family, and the high price point of real estate means lots of residents have no choice but to rent a home rather than buy one. As such, there’s a world of opportunity for real estate investors to buy in San Diego and enjoy a nice, steady stream of income for many years to come.