SAN DIEGO TraveL Guide
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San Diego City Guide for Travel Nurses

Nurses starting their travel nursing journey often ask where the best places are to work and live as a travel nurse. I am pretty sure that every traveler I have ever met wanted to go to San Diego at some point in time. Who wouldn’t? A few hours south of Los Angeles and just over the US/Mexican border,  San Diego is known for its year-round beautiful weather, dry air, warm beaches, and laid-back city life. It is also known for its high cost of living, especially if you want to live on or near the beach. North of San Diego is the playground that is the great state of California. You can be at a ski mountain in under 3 hours or enjoying the gorgeous Malibu beaches. Travel nurses frequently take an assignment here and stay permanently.

Where to Live: Best Neighborhoods

San Diego Apartment
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  1. Ocean Beach: This is quintessential San Diego living. Surf life vibes, walk-able streets with enchanting shops, tasty food spots, and plenty of beach to go around. Sunset Cliffs are a short walk or ride away.
  2. Normal Heights: Deeper in the city and full of unique businesses. Coffee shops, antique shops, hip bars, and a cool atmosphere. Recommended more for younger professionals. More affordable than accommodations that are closer to the beach.
  3. Little Italy: Close to the lively Gaslamp Quarter but full of quaint old school Italian neighborhoods and streets that smell like meatballs and sauce. Prime location and close to the airport and many of San Diego’s attractions.
  4. La Jolla: The jewel of San Diego’s neighborhoods with the prices to match. La Jolla has beautiful seaside cliffs and tropical looking scenery along its streets. The beach location combined with easy access to shopping, local food and drink, and over 1000 acres of State Reserve land makes the cost of living here worth every dollar more.
  5. North Park: Probably the most affordable location on this list. I have two friends that were travel nurses and paid $1100-$1500 per month for adorable Airbnbs in this neighborhood. They love to reminisce about their banana and lemon trees in the backyard. Locally owned coffee hangouts and breweries are a part of the scene here and nightlife is chill and friendly.

Areas to avoid living: Basically, you want to stay to the left of that red line on the map- north of Chula Vista and west of Interstate 5. Neighborhoods tend to have lower ratings the closer you get to the border.  The Gaslamp Quarter has tons of places for a fun night out, but if you like peace and quiet then avoid living in that area.

Cost of Living in San Diego

San Diego’s high cost of living is renowned, but it is not impossible to find something affordable if you are willing to make a few compromises. Living on or near the beach is most likely going to cost you upwards of $1900 per month for a studio. Anything larger is going to be more than $2000 (probably closer to at least $2500) and square footage is limited.  Check out for facts about San Diego cost of living.

The farther you get from the beach and the more the neighborhood is developed, the lower the cost of rent. As usual, rent will always depend on what you can accept for amenities, how many people are living with you, and whether you not you have pets.

Travel Nursing Hospitals in San Diego

I will not discuss pay at these hospitals because depending on specialty and trends in travel nursing, it can vary greatly. I will say pay is usually higher than other locations due to the higher cost of living. Make sure you browse Vivian travel nursing jobs in San Diego to get a great indication of the pay range.


Do not work at any hospital that describes itself as “prime location on the Mexican Border”- that is a special kind of adventure.

Scripps Hospitals: The size and trauma level of this San Diego healthcare system can vary, but work environments are reported to be great. Scripps Green Hospital is mentioned frequently among travelers as an especially nice place to work.

Kaiser Permanente Medical Center: Kaiser facilities are known for taking travelers in California. They are also a great place to start your travel nursing career because they accept first time travel nurses. Level III trauma center. There are several medical centers, but both are central to San Diego. Note that American Mobile Network (AMN) is the managed service provider (MSP) for Kaiser facilities in California. Meaning, they have an exclusive contract with Kaiser. But, AMN has many sister companies or ‘sub-vendors’ that help supplement the staffing needs of Kaiser.

Sharp Healthcare: Another regional healthcare organization that provides access to healthcare in many different types of neighborhoods. Sharp Memorial and Sharp Grossmont are the most frequently reported facilities that take travelers.

UC San Diego Medical Center and Associate Facilities: UC San Diego is a major teaching hospital in the city. The Medical Center is a level I trauma center with 381 beds.

In Town Attractions

Sunset Cliffs– Named appropriately. Go during sunset, you won’t be disappointed. And if you time it right you can walk to the open ceiling rock. The tide has to be a negative tide (-1 or more) for you to safely see this awesome piece of rock. And even then, the water may be knee deep–so be prepared. Go down to the end of Luscomb’s Point and take the trail down that the surfers use to access the water. DO NOT ATTEMPT the slippery, steepy, shady trail from the cove.

Balboa Park– Located closer to the city center, this green space is filled with elegant historical buildings, gardens, and museums. It’s also adjacent to the famous San Diego Zoo. If you are motivated, you can definitely squeeze both into one day if you get up early and avoid the weekends! There is also a Sea World park in San Diego that is essentially on its own island. It’s a huge park and fun to visit if you are into that sort of thing.

Point Loma– If you have a car or know someone that does, this scenic drive ends at a gorgeous monument with an amazing view of the Pacific. During low tide you can walk over to the tide pool area on the west side of the park. Public transport is no longer available to this attraction.

Mission Beach– Take a stroll or go rollerblading on the boardwalk and live that California life. This is a great place to people watch, make friends, and get a nice tan. There are 3 miles of fresh food, fried fair food, an amusement park, shops, and fun in the sun.

Take a Surf Lesson– San Diego is the perfect spot to take that first step towards surfing your way into being a legend. Pacific Beach has an array of shops that offer lessons for all levels of surfers. If you’re just not sure about that surf life, go watch other surfers for a little while and go from there. The people who work in those surf shops are usually super friendly and understanding that you may be nervous.

Foodie Spots

There is SO MUCH scrumptious food in San Diego. I’ve only picked out a few places for you to choose from when you just can’t make up your mind. ?

TACOS: that deserves all caps, right?  I have heard from multiple people that Puesto Tacos is where it is at. This a favorite spot that travel nurses LOVE to frequent. One location is in La Jolla and the other is on West Harbor Drive. They have all sorts of tacos including their special octopus tacos.  If you go to the La Jolla location, you can walk over and see the seals before you eat. They stink a little but are pretty cute. Make sure to wash your hands before you eat. ?

Hipster Foodie Food: Herb and Wood is a lush yet cozy place in Little Italy with an ever-changing farm to table menu. Items like truffle topped pizza, oxtail gnocchi, roasted chicken, and a variety of vegan or vegetarian options make this a fantastic spot to enjoy a night of delicious food.

Finer Dining: Juniper and Ivy keeps coming up in conversations. There are “finer” places to dine in San Diego where you will pay much more of your dinner and drinks. But, Juniper and Ivy serves a menu that is changed frequently by the chefs who have an eye for beautiful and delectable plates. They serve dinner nightly and brunch 10am-2pm on Sundays. They also have lovely a bar and lounge.

Bars and Nightlife

The Gaslamp Quarter is recognized as the nightlife spot. I personally prefer a quieter atmosphere but maybe that’s because I am an ancient 35-year old lady ? . I can appreciate the charming preserved historical buildings from the Victorian Era and the trendy vibes radiating from the rooftop bars and stylish lounges.

The weekdays tend to be quieter than the weekends, but a good time is always had in this picturesque part of San Diego. There are 16 blocks to explore and discover nightclubs with DJs, live music, burlesque shows, jazz clubs, and more. A lot of travel nurses come to this area to meet people and make friends!

Polite Provisions is a wonderful cocktail bar near the North Park area of San Diego. There menu of cocktails changes often. They have wine on draft and some seriously good-looking beers.

Wonderland Ocean Pub is a waterfront pub in Ocean Beach with floor to ceiling windows that stare out at the Pacific. The food is plentiful, and the drinks are flowing until at least 12AM every day. Come here to watch a sunset and have a drink with your travel nursing friends ?.

If you are willing to pay some cash, you can get into the trendy clubs but this usually requires bottle service at the very least. There are also pool parties and club crawls for your entertainment. San Diego nightlife can be as chill or as wild as you want it to be.

Day Trips and Exploring

As mentioned above, San Diego is the southern entry to the park that is the state of California. There is so much to do and see in this state, and a lot of it can be reached within a few hours drive of San Diego. Los Angeles and Joshua Tree National Park are both 2.5-3 hours driving time from San Diego. You could easily explore LA for a day, see the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, shop in Melrose, etc., and return home that night. Try to leave before or after rush hour traffic. There is a bus or train option with a transport time of 2.5-3 hours and drops you off  in the middle of downtown LA.


Joshua Tree National Park is like a nature reserve designed by Dr. Seuss. You can find small Airbnbs near the park that are unique and fun for an overnight trip.

Big Bear Mountain Ski Resort is a little over 3 hours away from San Diego and is fun during the winter. You can have snow and sand in one day. Pro tip: If you plan on making frequent winter time trips to Big Bear, buy a pass before the season begins to save on lift tickets!

For a longer getaway, take a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. It starts a bit north of San Diego in Dana Point and ends way up in northern California above San Francisco in Mendocino County. Obviously, you do not need to drive the whole highway. South of San Francisco is Big Sur. This beautiful bit of nature is a highlight of California. If you have a car and the time, I highly recommend making a visit.

Public Transportation

There are buses and trolleys that run through the central parts of San Diego, but to get out of the city you would need to take a train or a car. The public transport serves the area mostly to the left of the line on the map above. Los Angeles can be reached by bus, but any place north of that such as Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo (both great to visit!) are places I would recommend taking a car so you can explore at your leisure.

During the summer months there is a waterfront shuttle in San Diego for the influx of tourists. For a few dollars you can hop on and off it all day.

Weather and Best Time to Take a Travel Nurse Job in San Diego

The weather is always fine in San Diego! The temperatures average between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit and the lowest average is just below 50 degrees during the month of December. Ocean water temperatures are highest during August.

If I were going to travel to San Diego I would go during the off season. Summer tends to be the busiest time for tourists (common in all popular tourist areas in US because of school break). A contract that is April-June or September-December may be ideal.

Next Stop: Denver, Colorado

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton has been a critical care nurse since 2007. She grew up in the northeast but enjoys every corner of the country. Her passions are people and travel, so travel nursing allows Rachel to both meet amazing people and satisfy her wanderlust - and she loves inspiring other nurses to do the same.

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