Travel Lifestyle & Culture

The Ultimate Travel Nurse's Guide to San Diego

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN
July 5, 2023
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Are you a travel nurse or allied health professional considering a new assignment in sunny San Diego? If so, you're in for a treat! This vibrant city, known as "America's Finest City," offers an unrivaled blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and a laid-back, sun-soaked lifestyle that is truly infectious.

Whether you're a foodie looking to explore diverse culinary landscapes, an outdoor enthusiast craving sunny beaches and picturesque hiking trails, or a culture vulture excited to dive into the city's vibrant arts and music scene, San Diego has something for everyone.

So, pack your sunscreen, get ready to enjoy some of the best tacos you've ever tasted, and prepare yourself for a journey filled with amazing experiences! By the end of this guide, we're confident you'll be counting down the days until your San Diego adventure begins. Let's dive into what makes this city so special and why it's an absolute paradise for traveling healthcare professionals! 

Living in San Diego: Cost of Living

Welcome to the sun-kissed paradise of San Diego, where the cost of living comes with a touch of that delightful "sunshine tax." Sure, living here is about 44% higher than the national average, but trust us, it's worth every penny! Picture yourself strolling along the stunning beaches, basking in year-round sunny weather, and enjoying a laid-back lifestyle that's simply infectious.

Housing costs might be on the higher side, soaring 123% above the national average. Some of the pricier neighborhoods include North City, La Jolla, and Little Italy. But here's the silver lining: compared to the hustle and bustle of New York City, San Diego offers rent that's approximately 20.3% lower! So, get ready to find your perfect one-bedroom apartment near downtown for around $2,900 per month. And the best part? Our San Diego travel nurse jobs come with generous stipends to ease your lodging worries!

When it comes to getting around, San Diegans love their cars. And the good news is that parking isn't as big of a hassle as it is in denser cities. Many homes, condos, and apartments come with free street or garage parking. Even downtown, you can score some free parking spots, and metered parking will only set you back $1.25 per hour.

Do be aware that fuel costs in San Diego are on the steeper side, running about $1 to $1.75 more per gallon than the national average, but California as a whole sees higher fuel costs.  On average, you're looking at about $5.50 per gallon. But don't let that get you down. When you're cruising along the scenic coastline with the windows down and the ocean breeze in your hair, it's all worth it!

Being a Nurse in San Diego: Education and Salary Expectations

If you've ever chatted with a travel nurse about their favorite work locations, chances are, San Diego has made their list. And why not? With its enviable weather, stunning beaches, and a high demand for healthcare professionals, San Diego has become somewhat of a mecca for travel nurses.

One of the many perks of being a nurse in the Golden State is the attractive compensation. California, on average, offers one of the highest salaries for registered nurses in the country, with an impressive annual average of $133,340, or $64.10 per hour. While San Diego may trail behind the Bay Area and Los Angeles, the pay is still quite handsome. Typically, a nurse in San Diego can expect to earn around $56.86 per hour or $118,270 annually. In 2023, travel nurses have been making a remarkable average of about $4,000 per week!  Keep in mind that travel nurse pay is always fluctuating based on market supply and demand- you can keep an eye on salary data by using our Nurse Salary Explorer.  

If you're considering embarking on your nursing journey in San Diego, you're in for a treat. The city hosts some of the top nursing programs in the country. Schools like the University of San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene University, and San Diego State University offer excellent nursing programs that set the foundation for a successful career.

The decision to pursue nursing jobs in San Diego is a smart one, indeed. California consistently deals with a nursing shortage, making it relatively easy to secure a long-term position once you've completed your education. In fact, studies reveal that California has only managed to produce 50% of the nurses they need to reliably staff their healthcare systems. On the bright side, this translates to ample job opportunities for nurses in San Diego.

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your sunscreen, don your adventurous spirit, and join us as we unlock the secrets to living your best life in San Diego!

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

San Diego Dining Guide: Top Restaurants 

Morning Glory: Perhaps the most instagrammable brunch spot in the city, Morning Glory, located in Little Italy, is a breakfast and brunch haven that offers a playful twist on traditional morning fare. Beyond its feminine, vibrant décor featuring plush booths, marble floors, and a champagne vending machine, you'll discover a cheeky edge of skulls and dark accents. Their culinary delights include contemporary favorites like avocado toast, shakshuka, and soufflé pancakes. Not to be missed is the dirty scallop slice—a golden fried rectangle of potatoes au gratin drenched in rich sausage gravy. Be sure to make a reservation for this hotspot! 

Tacos el Gordo: A Tijuana-transplant, Tacos el Gordo has two San Diego locations and has a reputation for the best and most authentic tacos in town. Tacos el Gordo does not disappoint, serving up a variety of tacos to locals and visitors alike. Whether you're a fan of spicy adobada or prefer the classic carne asada, your taste buds are in for a treat. Quick service, bustling ambiance, and delectable tacos make this a must-visit spot for any taco lover.

Buon Appetito Restaurant: Nestled in San Diego's Little Italy, Buon Appetito is a charming culinary gem with a cozy vibe. Known for its impeccable service and intimate setting marked by exposed brick, wine barrel tables, and walls adorned with wines, the restaurant specializes in delectable homemade dishes like ravioli, lasagne, risotto, and gnocchi. The menu highlights include Linguine Allo Scoglio, featuring fresh seafood, and the tender Osso Bucco. The enticing flavors, coupled with the warm ambiance, make Buon Appetito a cherished favorite among locals and a standout pick in Little Italy

The Taco Stand: The Taco Stand in La Jolla is a local spot that epitomizes the laid-back, beachy vibes of San Diego. This eatery is famed for its fresh fish tacos, but also offers a variety of options like tender carne asada and a vegetarian-friendly cactus taco. It's not uncommon to see surfers stopping by for a post-wave meal, their boards casually propped up against their trucks. 

Mitch’s Seafood: If you're looking for some stellar seafood, check out Mitch's Seafood in Point Loma. This super chill, authentic, seafood shack sits right on the docks and was started by a bunch of local fishing families. They serve up the freshest fish caught right in San Diego and Northern Baja waters. It's the real deal! You can kick back on the patio, take in the view of fishing boats and the city skyline. Just keep an eye on your plate – the seagulls there are pretty cheeky!

George’s at the Cove: Perched atop La Jolla Cove, George's at the Cove is the perfect spot to enjoy a nice sunset dinner after visiting with the seals and sea lions that call La Jolla Cove home. With a prime view of the shimmering Pacific Ocean from its rear and the bustling Prospect Street at its front, this restaurant perfectly blends the vibrancy of the city with the tranquility of the coast. 

OB Noodle House: With its vibrant energy and mouth-watering Asian fusion cuisine, the original OB Noodle House is a hotspot in Ocean Beach. Just a stone's throw away from the beach, you can find surfers and food enthusiasts alike being drawn in by the aroma of pho and an array of vegan-friendly noodle dishes. Featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives," OB Noodle House is known for its quality food, energetic environment, and pocket-friendly prices. So whether you're wrapping up a day of surfing or seeking a lively spot for happy hour, OB Noodle House is a flavorful cornerstone of the Ocean Beach community.

Wake Up in San Diego: Best Coffee Shops in the City

Better Buzz: Better Buzz Coffee is a San Diego gem that lives by the mantra "Life's better buzzed." Famous for their small-batch roasted coffee, this trendy cafe is a hot spot for locals and a must-visit for any caffeine enthusiast passing through town. It's not just about the coffee, though; each of their (many) locations, especially the one in Hillcrest, radiates a vibrant, Instagrammable energy that perfectly complements the buzz from your cup. They deliver fresh, quality coffee with friendly service in a fun and welcoming atmosphere. Better Buzz is more than just a coffee shop - it's a San Diego experience.

James Coffee: Nestled in Little Italy, James Coffee Co. is the embodiment of a family-first business built on a shared passion for coffee. Founded by two brothers and named after their father, the James Coffee experience began in a hot metal shop in Poway, where the brothers first explored the art of coffee roasting, producing flavors that were unlike anything they had ever tasted. Today, their vision has evolved into a vibrant business operating from a warehouse, which not only houses James Coffee Co., but also serves as a hub for independent designers. So come have a sip, shop around, and watch the planes zoom by overhead as you enjoy your morning brew.

Communal Coffee: A vibrant neighborhood caffeine hub in Southern California, Communal Coffee is known for its beautifully designed spaces, craft coffee, and seasonal food. Each location offers a unique experience, from a vintage trailer patio in South Park to a flower shop in North Park. Alongside perfectly roasted Sightglass Coffee, they offer unique drinks like honey lavender lattes, and guests can explore artisanal home goods or craft mini-bouquets at the Native Poppy flower shop. With its appealing and Instagrammable spaces, Communal Coffee is the perfect spot to have a sip and feel that you’re a part of the local community.

Unwind in the City: Best Places for Drinks in San Diego

Mister A’s: An enduring symbol of San Diego's fine dining scene, Mister A's offers a blend of classic elegance and modern flair. Situated atop the Manchester Building in the Bankers Hill area, it's been a cocktail and dining destination since 1965, attracting both locals and celebrities. Its wrap-around balcony presents breathtaking 180-degree views, where you can marvel at the sunsets and watch jets glide into the city as you enjoy perfectly crafted cocktails.

Kettner Exchange: An award-winning architectural marvel, Kettner Exchange is a hotspot in Little Italy for both food and drink. The building is a blend of indoor/outdoor spaces, with a perfect photoshoot awaiting you at every turn. The sunlit main dining area leads to the open rooftop patio, which is a perfect spot to mingle with one of their inventive cocktails in-hand. 

Karl Strauss Brewing Company: Established in 1989, Karl Strauss Brewery is a must-visit for beer enthusiasts in San Diego. What started as a dream between two friends and a master brewer cousin, Karl, has now become a well-known craft beer institution with a flagship location in Pacific Beach and 11 additional spots across Southern California. It's not just a brewery; it's a community hub where you can take a full tour, and of course, taste their stellar lineup of beers. From classic IPAs to robust stouts, there's a brew for every palate. 

Polite Provisions: A cocktail lover's paradise, you can find Polite Provisions nestled in the heart of San Diego. They serve up an array of meticulously crafted cocktails that stand out in the city's bustling bar scene. The ambiance is a delightful blend of classic soda fountain nostalgia and modern sophistication, with eye-catching elements like the marble bar counter, velvet-dressed stools, and charming bronze statues. Whether you're into spirit-forward drinks or prefer something on the lighter side, Polite Provisions has got you covered.  

Sycamore Den: It’s retro, it’s relaxed, it’s Sycamore Den! Stepping into Sycamore Den in Normal Heights is like taking a fun trip back to the 70s, complete with a groovy ambiance and a killer cocktail menu. The highlight of the venue is the Wolf Ticket, a crowd-pleaser that never disappoints. 

Noble Experiment: Tucked away behind a seemingly ordinary keg stack in the bustling Neighborhood restaurant, you'll find our favorite speakeasy- Noble Experiment. Navigating past the secret entrance (only if you have reservations!), you're treated to an atmospheric haven, filled with white leather booths and a tastefully gothic design—think a striking wall adorned with brass skulls, Rembrandt-inspired paintings, and an elegant chandelier. The vibe here is intimate and exclusive, so much so that you'll need a reservation in advance to secure your spot. The real star of the show? Their superbly crafted cocktails, striking the perfect balance between strength and subtlety. The Noble Experiment is a unique blend of mystery, artistry, and exceptional mixology. 

The Waterfront: Steeped in history and brimming with character, the Waterfront Bar stands as San Diego's oldest tavern, and is our favorite dive bar, tucked away in Little Italy. From the days of the thriving tuna industry to the present day, the Waterfront has remained a bastion of authenticity, welcoming all who seek good food, strong drinks, and camaraderie. As it approaches a century of operation, the tavern continues to hold its charm, capturing countless memories within its cozy confines. The Waterfront Bar isn't just a place—it's an experience, where food and drinks are savored, friendships are forged, and good times are always on the menu.

San Diego Spotlight: Can’t Miss Attractions

Little Italy Farmers Market: Filling six city blocks, the Little Italy Saturday Farmer’s Market is the county's largest market, teeming with a cornucopia of California-grown produce, fresh-from-the-ocean fish, artisanal breads, and gourmet sauces. But the offerings extend beyond just edibles—handpicked local artisans showcase exquisite jewelry, boutique clothing, and a selection of lush plants perfect for your home garden. Operating year-round, rain or shine, with a cadence of live music enriching the ambiance, the market is a can’t-miss community event.

Balboa Park: Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre cultural gem in San Diego, is a vibrant blend of art, nature, and history. Housing 17 museums, an array of beautiful gardens, and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, it's a must-visit spot. Its striking architecture offers a look into San Diego's rich history. Established 150 years ago, Balboa Park stands as a testament to San Diego's diverse and dynamic culture. Just a few blocks from downtown, it's a perfect escape to experience the city's past and envision its future.

Hotel Del Coronado: Affectionately known as "The Del”, Hotel del Coronado is a beacon of timeless grandeur on the edge of San Diego's stunning coastline. This iconic, 130+ year-old Victorian marvel has played host to a cavalcade of celebrities and presidents, while captivating visitors with its majestic architecture, luxurious amenities, and sweeping ocean views. The Del's charm extends beyond its lush accommodations and renowned dining, offering an array of unique activities from seaside yoga to ice skating at Christmas, all set against the backdrop of the shimmering Pacific.

La Jolla Sea Lions: Nestled between sandstone cliffs, La Jolla Cove is a charming seaside inlet that is a favorite playground for California sea lions who can be found basking in the sun, playfully barking, or frolicking in the waters. You should keep a safe distance, but you can witness these wild creatures' antics from close by. The lions can be a bit smelly at times, but the sight of these playful pinnipeds in their natural habitat is an unforgettable spectacle. Once you’ve gotten a good look, pop up to the stores and restaurants that line the streets of La Jolla above! 

Petco Park: A jewel of downtown San Diego, Petco Park is more than just a baseball stadium—it's a hub of entertainment. Since its inauguration in 2004, it has served as the home of the San Diego Padres, offering panoramic views of the San Diego skyline and bay, but that’s not all. The stadium also hosts an eclectic mix of events, from concerts to monster truck rallies, and even professional golf tournaments. Be sure to check out their events calendar!

San Diego Outdoors: Adventure & Natural Wonders

Sunset Cliffs: If you’re a sucker for a good sunset, you can’t miss Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach. Chances are, you’ve already caught a glimpse of this scenic view in your San Diego research.  These cliffs offer visitors breathtaking ocean views and sunset memories you won’t forget, so grab a lawn chair or a blanket and grab a spot to watch the sun go down.

Kayak With Leopard Sharks in La Jolla: Immerse yourself in the underwater world of La Jolla as you kayak or snorkel alongside leopard sharks.  Adorned with a distinctive pattern of dark spots on a silvery-gray backdrop, akin to a leopard's coat, these sharks add a touch of wild beauty to the ocean. Although the peak season runs from June to late September or October, a smaller resident population of around 100-200 can still be observed throughout the rest of the year. 

Potato Chip Rock Hike: A popular San Diego photo op lies at the top of this 7.4 mi round-trip hike.  This trail is a great workout and offers amazing views along the way.  At the top is the iconic photo opportunity on a strikingly thin rock formation that eerily resembles a potato chip, hence its name. Be prepared for a challenging yet rewarding adventure, bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and enjoy!

Cowles Mountain Hike: If you're up for a good workout and killer views, check out this quick 3 mile hike! It's a straight shot to the highest point in San Diego. It gets a bit rocky and steep as you near the top, but the view is totally worth the huffing and puffing. From the top, you can see downtown San Diego, North County, Mexico, and even Orange County if it's a clear day. The trail can get pretty busy, so if you're not into crowds, try to head out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. 

Cedar Creek Falls Hike: If you're after something a bit more challenging and love the reward of a waterfall, you've gotta try the Cedar Creek Falls hike. This is a 5.5 mile round-trip hike to an epic 80-foot waterfall with a pool at the bottom. It's like something out of a postcard! But, here's the catch: it's so popular that you need a permit to hike it. You need to grab it before you go from It'll cost you $10 and can cover up to 5 people. They're serious about these permits, with rangers checking them and IDs. But we promise, it's totally worth it! 

Volleyball at Mission Beach: If you enjoy beach volleyball, then you've gotta hit up the courts at South Mission Beach. This spot is basically volleyball central and there's always some action happening. You can show up and play from 8:00 a.m. until sunset- it's all first come, first serve. Fair warning, these courts get packed! So if you wanna get a good game in, try to swing by before 10 AM. The vibe is great, and it's an awesome way to enjoy the beach. So grab your volleyball and get out there!

SoCal Calls: Your San Diego Assignment Awaits!

So, there you have it - your ultimate guide to living it up in San Diego as a travel nurse or allied health pro. San Diego's got it all - from gorgeous beaches, to a buzzing city vibe, to a rich cultural scene. But remember, this guide is just your starting line. The real fun starts when you hit the streets and start exploring!

Don't forget to hang out with the Trusted Community to make friends with other nurses in the San Diego area. Friendships in the nursing world are pure gold, and at Trusted, we're all about helping you make those connections. Stay tuned for the next Trusted event in San Diego to help you meet new people!

So, are you stoked to start your San Diego journey? Sign up with Trusted today!

*Special thanks to our very own Cait H, a nurse and Trusted Clinical Operations Manager, for contributing many of these awesome San Diego recommendations!*

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