Walkable Neighborhoods in San Diego

walkable neighborhoods
Walking La Costa Neighborhoods

by Roberta Murphy

I’m embarrassed to admit that like most in San Diego, I hop into the car to shop for groceries, pick up dry cleaning, take the dog for grooming–and of course, to buy more gas. Many more miles are driven previewing homes for sale, showing homes, photographing homes and neighborhoods, and listing homes.

I find myself longing for walkable neighborhoods.

Most activities require a car–especially those related to our San Diego real estate business. But in the last few weeks, I’ve discovered the fun of walking a few purposeful miles a day (purpose is important to me, for some reason)–and have discovered that our local Sprout’s Market is just a mile from our home–as is the Saturday Farmer’s Market at La Costa Canyon High School, PetSmart, the Coffee Bean, Mexico Viejo, a hand-crafted pizza place, a nail and beauty salon, doctor and dentist offices–and other places I might choose to visit. Perhaps La Costa is a walkable neighborhood after all!

I’ve also discovered that three pounds of groceries carried in each hand provides good exercise for arms on the mile walk home.

This year, we’ll forego the post office for the stack of post cards I want delivered. Instead, son and partner Scott and I are going to briskly walk our La Costa neighborhoods and hand-deliver them. We might even get to meet some neighbors–and can once again extoll the beauty of walkable neighborhoods and share a family story that I originally posted on Luxury Home Digest.

Our grandfather, Adolph Michelson emigrated at the age of 7 with his family from Norway to Deadwood, South Dakota. It was a long, hard journey taken by steamship, train and wagon to arrive at their eventual home in the steep hills above Deadwood. It was there that they lived with other poor immigrants and Indians, sharing magnificent views and boot camp workouts as they trudged up and down that steep, steep hill to get to town for work, school, food and other supplies.

Views be damned. This was where the poor people lived.

As soon as the Michelson family could afford to do so, they moved their big family into a home in town, where shopping, school and employment were within easy walking distance. Their decision to move was not based on home features, the quality of the stove, or the number of closets–or even neighborhood amenities. It was based on that single and most basic real estate dynamic:


It is only since the advent of sprawling suburbias and each family having multiple automobiles that we strayed from distinct town and country living. The wealthy may have had homes in both locations, but the average family lived near employment. There were no school buses and gasoline stations were pretty rare at the turn of the that other century. Which all leads me to wonder:

What might be the top priority for the home of the future when gas prices reach $6, $8, $10 or even $12 per gallon?

How about the radical choice of living walkably-close to employment, shopping and schools? Or living near a bus stop or transit center where one can commute for work, school and fun?

I am eying real estate differently these days–and am coming around to my ancestor’s way of thinking. Location trumps views, walkable sidewalks trump big back yards and a bicycle pump beats a gas pump–at least for kids who drive or are driven to school (ever seen the long lines of mini vans idling outside our schools at arrival and departure times–or high school parking lots?). Might a more urban lifestyle offer some solutions that would allow for a saner lifestyle?

I am also wondering if Carol Lloyd’s prediction of suburbs turning into Slumburbia might also come true–sooner rather than later due to rising fuel costs? In her SF Gate article, she notes, “In Europe, where the cities never died, the suburbs have long been the homes of last resort for the poor and the marginalized.” This is already occurring in and around sprawling urban centers like Houston, where home prices in and close to downtown Houston are selling at a premium, while homes in once-affluent suburbs are selling at prices far below replacement costs. It is a scenario being repeated all over the country, with slightly different configurations along the coasts.

In San Diego County, where I live and work, we are anecdotally seeing a surge of buyers seeking to live within walking distance of restaurants, theaters, dry cleaners and food or farmer’s markets. They no longer want to battle freeway gridlock, and would happily trade their road warrior status for the peace of riding a train to work. They are also seeking more open communities, where neighbors stroll by and greet one another, where not so much of life is lived in and for cars–or behind mortgaged garage doors.

And though we live in La Costa suburbia with creeping commercialization, it is a delight to discover that we actually live in a walkable neighborhood. I just need to lace up my walking shoes, click on the RunKeeper app, and hit the sidewalk. A mile or two or three isn’t such a formidable walk, after all.