San Diegan 101: A how-to guide for new residents

From how to register your car to finding your favorite taco shop, this overview will give you everything you need to know to get established as a San Diego resident.

Our skyline looks expensive, but this view is free.

Our skyline looks expensive, but this view is free. | Photo via Canva

Table of Contents

Picture this: You just moved to San Diego, California, and you need some help with the practicalities of life (we can’t just sit back and go to the beach all day, unfortunately). That’s where we come in. Keep reading for San Diegan 101, our guide to all things San Diego citizenship.

SD Election Day

Get out and vote, San Diego.

The essentials

Voter registration
Make sure you’re eligible and registered to vote, find your polling location, and preview upcoming elections and sample ballots here.

Driver’s licenses and vehicle registration
If you already have a valid driver’s license that was issued in another state but are a new San Diego resident in need of a California driver’s license, you will need to complete an application and visit a DMV office.

You’ll need to provide your Social Security number, prove your identity with an acceptable identity document, and provide acceptable residency documents. You’ll also have to pay the driver’s license fee, have your thumbprint scanned, pass a vision exam, have your photo taken, and pass the knowledge test — which you have three attempts to pass.

To register your car in the state of California, you’ll need to fill out the DMV’s Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) and pay the applicable fees. Forms are available online, by mail, or at any local DMV field office.

Use these tools to calculate your registration fees.

You can make an appointment at any of San Diego County’s offices to obtain a California driver’s license or register your vehicle, too.

SD Scripps Memorial La Jolla Hospital

Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla is one of your options for local health care.

Photo via Scripps Health

Health Care

Establishing yourself with a primary care provider is one of those things you’ll be glad you did when you need one. Reach out to the professionals at Sharp HealthCare, Scripps Health, or UC San Diego Health,to name a few. Pro tip: Websites like DocSpot filter physicians by location, patient reviews, insurance, language, and more.

The headquarters and offices of the San Diego Unified School District

San Diego Unified School District is the second largest school district in California.

Educational needs

School registration
Prepare your student for the school year by registering them with one of the 42 school districts in San Diego County. Here, you’ll find your school zone (based on your home address). Once you determine your student’s school district and respective school, gather all required documents and immunization records, and fill out a student registration form.

If your child is attending school in the San Diego Unified School District — the biggest district in San Diego — check out this school finder tool and follow these enrollment guidelines. For some schools, enrollment may be completed online in English or Spanish.

For information on San Diego’s private schools, check out this list via San Diego Consortium of Independent and Private Schools.

SD San Diego Central Library

The San Diego Central Library in downtown San Diego.

Library card registration
If you think libraries are only for renting the occasional book, think again. Register for a library card at your nearest San Diego Public Library or San Diego County Library branch. You can also apply for a temporary card (and then stop by a branch to pick up your physical card) to take advantage of these resources and more:

  • Library events
  • Homework help
  • Digital materials
  • Seasonal reading challenges
  • Electronic databases
  • Online classes
  • Library computers
  • Veterans’ resources
  • California State Parks passes

To get your card, you’ll need a valid photo ID and proof of current address. San Diegans of any age can apply for a free card to be used at any San Diego Public Library or San Diego County Library branch. The San Diego Public Library even offers the “My First Library Card” for children ages 5 and under.

SD trash bins

The trio to bins you’ll see outside of local households.

Image via Get It Done app

Home necessities

Thanks for thinking green. For everything you need to know about recycling in San Diego, from where to place your bin to pickup times and accepted materials, check out the city’s website. Also, we’ve got the 411 on the city’s new food and yard waste rules.

Moving is exciting, but no one wants to unpack by candlelight. Establish your services with San Diego Gas & Electric by creating an account or updating your address in your existing account. Pro tip: You can complete a free home energy survey to help you identify energy inefficiencies in your home that could be costing you money. Also, here are some savings tips.

Internet providers
No connectivity issues here. Check out some of the local internet providers:

  • Cox Communications | High-speed internet starting at $49.99 per month
  • Spectrum | Internet, advanced WiFi, and mobile bundles starting at $49.99 monthly for 12 months
  • AT&T | Fiber and high-speed internet starting at $55 per month
  • T-Mobile Home Internet | 5G internet at a locked rate of $50 per month
  • Viasat | High-speed internet starting at $35 per month for 12 months
Pacific Beach SD

You loved reading about some of our pristine local beaches — you’ve got great taste.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

The ultimate San Diegan initiation

Having a California driver’s license and a 619 (or 858) area code may qualify you on paper, but you’re not officially a San Diegan until you’ve taken part in some local fun that is only found in America’s Finest City.

Local beaches
The best part about living in San Diego is being able to visit our incredibly beautiful beaches pretty much year-round — and you have a lot of options. Hit La Jolla Shores (named one of San Diego’s best beaches by SDtoday readers) and take a shoreline stroll to Scripps Pier, spend the day in Ocean Beach, or take in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines.

Balboa Park
With its gorgeous gardens, beautiful trees, walking trails, and many museums, this landmark is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed by all San Diegans. Don’t forget to visit the colorful Spanish Village (and grab the best coffee from Daniel’s Coffee Cart), read the interpretive signs detailing the area’s history, and take a ride on the mini railroad. The historic carousel is a must-see, too; it’s been undergoing restoration and is set to reopen soon.

Stroll the Embarcadero
The views of San Diego Bay along the Embarcadero are epic, so incorporate those strolls along the bayfront boardwalk into your local routine. During your trip, admire the art, grab some lunch along the waterfront, and check out the USS Midway Museum. When it warms up, enjoy a concert at The Rady Shell.

San Diego Brewers Guild Festival

San Diego Beer Week — and the Guild Fest — is in November.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Drink local craft beer
With 180+ independent brewing facilities across San Diego County, it’s no wonder our region is dubbed the “Capital of Craft.” Find your favorite local craft breweries, try San Diego-themed beer or West Coast-style IPAs, or look for brews that have won accolades. Oh, and if you’re looking to get schooled in craft beer now that you’re a San Diegan, our city’s cup of local beer education runneth over.

SD Tuetano Taqueria birria

The birria and bone marrow tacos are Tuetano Taqueria’s specialty.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Embrace that taco shop life
California burritos. Fish tacos. Carne asada fries. Birria. Learn these words quickly and embrace the plethora of incredible taco shops at your fingertips as a San Diegan. You’ll have several favorites, and that’s OK — each one has their specialty. We suggest trying some icons first: Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan, Tacos El Gordo in downtown San Diego and Chula Vista, Lucha Libre Taco Shop in Mission Hills and North Park, and Tuetano Taqueria at Old Town Urban Market.

Is there something you’re still left wondering about to get you properly established in America’s Finest City? Ask us your question and we’ll do our best to answer it for you, like a good neighbor.

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