Orange County vs San Diego 🤷 | Comparison, Pros & Cons, Which Is Better?

Want to live the California dream? Orange County and San Diego are two of the best places to live in Southern California without the crime, horrendous traffic, sprawl, and high-speed life of Los Angeles. Both are known for their beaches and great attractions, but what sets them apart? To help you decide between the two, here’s a comprehensive look at the top points to consider to compare Orange County versus San Diego.

Pros & Cons of Living in Orange County vs San Diego

Want a more suburban lifestyle close to beaches and the excitement of the big city or do you prefer to be closer to attractions and nightlife without giving up the beach lifestyle? Here are the top advantages and disadvantages of Orange County vs. San Diego, CA.

Living in Orange County Pros

Orange County Is Close to Both San Diego and Los Angeles!

Orange County is ideally located to enjoy everything Southern California has to offer! While San Diego is as far south as you can go in California and 120 miles from Los Angeles, one of the major pluses of living in Orange County is you aren’t far from either city. Orange County is just 36 miles south of Los Angeles and 87 miles north of San Diego for the best of three worlds.

Orange County Is a Collection of Small Cities to Explore

Why settle for living in one city when you can enjoy the unique atmosphere of many fun downtowns next to each other? OC is made up of many smaller cities that are fairly close together and each has its own flair. Laguna is known for its artsy vibe while Huntington Beach boasts an amazing surf culture. Hit Brea for a trendy downtown area or Santa Ana for a modern downtown with a fun nightlife.

Tons of Attractions in Orange County

Outside of its beautiful beaches, Orange County offers endless entertainment. There’s always something happening in the OC! Anaheim is home to Disneyland and you’ll definitely want a season pass. You’ll also enjoy Knott’s Berry Farm for bigger thrill rides. You’ll find other advantages of living in Orange County like shopping at Downtown Disney, exploring breweries and cocktail bars, or riding the OC Wine Trolley.


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You’ll also benefit from tons of cultural attractions in Orange County like the Discovery Cube in Santa Ana, Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine, and the Orange County Museum of Art.

Living in Orange County Cons

You Might Long for a Dense Urban Environment

Want to live somewhere really walkable where you can ditch the car and explore? Do you like the idea of biking to work, walking to amazing restaurants from your home, or using public transit to get around? Orange County is mostly smaller cities with a suburban, relaxed atmosphere and a strong beach vibe. You won’t get the big-city lifestyle in most areas of Orange County.

Living in San Diego Pros

San Diego Has Endless Cultural Attractions

You don’t have to love the beach to adore everything San Diego has to offer. This cultural hub boasts everything from the opera and symphony to world-class museums, galleries, and venues. Of course, San Diego is famous for Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban park home to gorgeous open spaces, gardens, museums, theaters, and the San Diego Zoo. While some city attractions really only appeal to tourists, Balboa Park is beloved by residents and visitors alike.


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San Diego Has a Huge Craft Beer Scene

San Diego bills itself as the Craft Beer Capital of America and it definitely lives up to the name. There are more than 200 craft breweries and tasting rooms in the city with many breweries that have earned global accolades. You’ll quickly find out why the New York Times said San Diego is becoming America’s “best craft beer scene” with local favorites like the Coronado Brewing Company and Mother Earth Brew Co.

Living in San Diego Cons

Getting Around Can Be Challenging

There’s no doubt about it: public transportation in San Diego isn’t much to brag about. In some San Diego neighborhoods, you can walk to restaurants, shopping, and attractions. For the most part, however, you’ll be driving and dealing with traffic.

Getting out of San Diego can also be a challenge. A drawback of living in San Diego is its small and high-cost airport. You may be surprised to learn that many San Diego residents make the long drive to Los Angeles for flights for lower prices at LAX and better connections. When you compare Orange County versus San Diego, you’ll definitely find it a huge perk to be so close to LAX in the OC!

Cost of Living in Orange County vs San Diego

San Diego and Orange County are both fairly expensive places to live. After all, they have it all: perfect weather year-round, beautiful beaches, and excitement at every turn. But how do Orange County and San Diego compare and contrast when it comes to cost of living?

As a general rule, Orange County is a bit more affordable than San Diego. Of course, it depends on which OC city you are thinking about calling home. Irvine, for instance, is close to San Diego in terms of cost of living. Anaheim and Santa Ana are a bit more affordable. Rent is 11% lower in Anaheim, Orange County vs San Diego, and restaurant prices are 7% lower.

What can you expect in terms of housing costs? The median home price in San Diego is $654,000. A positive of living in Orange County is you may pay less:

  • Anaheim: $606,500 median
  • Huntington Beach: $728,000 median
  • Santa Ana: $534,500 median
  • Irvine: $843,500 median

Additional Things to Consider Between Orange County Versus San Diego

Orange County vs San Diego Population

With both San Diego and Orange counties, you can choose to live within a fairly densely packed urban community or in the suburbs. Both Orange County and San Diego are largely suburban with similar populations. While San Diego County is mostly defined by the city of San Diego with several smaller suburban cities, Orange County has several mid-sized cities instead.

San Diego County is the second-most populous in California with 3.34 million people. The city of San Diego has a population of 1.43 million.
By comparison, Orange County has a population of 3.18 million. The largest cities in Orange County are Anaheim (352,000), Santa Ana (333,000), Irvine (283,000), and Huntington Beach (200,000).

Sports in Orange County vs San Diego

How do Orange County and San Diego compare and contrast when it comes to sports? If you’re a big sports fan, you’ll probably find more benefits of living in Orange County compared to San Diego.

San Diego only has one major professional sports team, the San Diego Padres (MLB). Orange County has far more to offer for sports fans thanks to several large cities.


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Anaheim is home to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, who won the 2007 Stanley Cup, and the MLB’s Los Angeles Angels, formerly the Anaheim Angels, who won the World Series in 2002. Outside of major league sports, Huntington Beach hosts the U.S. Open of Surfing and AVP Pro Beach Volleyball. There’s also a professional soccer club, Orange County SC, plus a rugby team, the Orange County Outlaws.

Crime in Orange County Compared to San Diego

Considered about crime when comparing Orange County and San Diego? It depends on which city you’re thinking about moving to.
The San Diego crime rate is 19% lower than the California average. Here’s how major Orange County cities compare:

  • Anaheim crime is 4% below the California average
  • Santa Ana crime is 11% below the California average
  • Irvine crime is 51% lower than the California average
  • Huntington Beach crime is 19% below the California average

Orange County’s Irvine and Huntington Beach are among the safest cities in Southern California along with San Diego. In fact, one of the perks of living in Orange County is its safety. Irvine has been ranked the safest city of its size for 15 years running!

Beaches in Orange County vs San Diego

Orange County and San Diego are both known for their surf culture and world-famous beaches. Which county has better beaches is really a matter of opinion as the entire region south of LA to San Diego is known for its picturesque beaches. You’ll find everything from tiny cove beaches and large sandy beaches in both counties.


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Some of the top beaches in Orange County include:

  • Corona del Mar State Beach
  • Huntington City Beach, the epicenter of Surf City with an adjacent dog beach
  • San Clemente Pier Beach
  • Dana Strand Beach with a secluded cove

In San Diego, top spots include La Jolla Cove Beach, the world-famous Coronado Beach, and Pacific Beach or PB.

Orange County to San Diego Distance

If you have trouble choosing between one region over the other, keep in mind they aren’t too far from each other! San Diego is located right at the Mexican border while Orange County is close to Los Angeles. The distance from Orange County to San Diego is only 87 miles along I-5!

Orange County vs San Diego: Where Are You Moving?

Both Orange County and San Diego offer the Southern California lifestyle at its finest. However, they definitely have different vibes. San Diego is definitely the place to be for culture, beautiful parks, and an amazing food scene, while Orange County offers a more relaxed atmosphere with smaller cities and towns. Which one is calling to you?

If you’ve settled on moving to Orange County, call the friendly movers at SafeWay Moving & Storage for a free estimate! We look forward to helping you settle into your new home in Orange County to enjoy everything that life has to offer here.


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