Is El Cajon Safe? Crime Rates & Safety Report

Updated On February 17, 2022
El Cajon, United States
Safety Index:
* Based on Research & Crime Data

El Cajon, California, AKA “The Box”, is east of the San Diego downtown area and nestled in a Southern California valley.

This is a vibrant, diverse community that lacks any beachfront property but makes up for it with more affordable options and invigorating nightlife.

Pronounced “El Cuh-HOWN”, the city hosts an annual America on Main Street celebration for the diversity of its community and the American Dream.

This is the hometown of NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson and also home to one of the biggest parades in the San Diego area each Thanksgiving weekend with the Mother Goose Parade.

I-8 splits the city through the center, giving easy access to other Southern California destinations.

While El Cajon literally translates from Spanish to mean “The Box”, the name comes from the box-shaped valley that surrounds the city.

This will be an important point as we move on with the safety advice for visiting the city.

Warnings & Dangers in El Cajon

Overall Risk


There's a low overall risk in El Cajon. This is a city of 106,000 people who make an average of $20,000 less than the California norm. It's a more affordable option to live in while giving travelers a welcome discount from those beachfront budget breakers.

Transport & Taxis Risk


The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is the best way to get around the area by bus. Routes go throughout El Cajon and into the greater San Diego area. There are regulated taxis and rideshares available too. A rental car would be a good idea to get the most out of a visit to El Cajon, but whatever you choose there's low risk.

Pickpockets Risk


Ten pickpockets and purse snatchings were reported in 2020. That's a low risk. Of the 1203 thefts that happened, the majority were from vehicles or shoplifting.

Natural Disasters Risk


The biggest disaster that could happen in El Cajon is a major earthquake, which is possible at some point, but not likely day-to-day. Immediate concerns come with extreme heat and flash flooding. Overall, there's a low risk, but there could be major natural disasters that happen, so just be aware of basic safety for those events.

Mugging Risk


I went back a couple of years on statistics for this one, because 2020 (the latest year FBI data is available) was very low, which suggested to me that it was pandemic-related. Sure enough, highway robberies were higher in previous years. Robberies peaked in 2019 with 201 robberies and almost half of them were highway robberies. Out of an abundance of caution, and to remind you to never fight with your life for your stuff, we'll give this a medium risk.

Terrorism Risk


Large population areas, especially one like San Diego with a big military presence, are always going to be a medium risk.

Scams Risk


There are no reported scams on the Better Business Bureau website for El Cajon that give pause to a tourist, and local news reports show scams mostly target locals. That's a low risk.

Women Travelers Risk


Rape reports have been trending down in the past 5 years, with 33 reported in 2020. Women should have a low risk here, but you've got to follow basic safety protocol to stay safe.

Tap Water Risk


One of the biggest fights over tap water in California is always going to be having enough of it as the "Water Wars" wage on. The water that is available in El Cajon meets all necessary requirements and has a low risk.

Safest Places to Visit in El Cajon

Check out what’s going on at The Magnolia performing arts center when you visit, as this is the central entertainment venue for El Cajon.

There’s great history to explore here.

The Knox House Museum was a popular hotel in the 1870s and still stands for tours.

The Olaf Wieghorst Museum and Western Heritage Center celebrate the art of the old west through the eyes of an artist who called El Cajon home for 44 years.

Put on your aviator glasses and visit the El Cajon annex of the Air & Space Museum on the north side of town.

You can see aircraft from years gone by on a walking tour.

Feeling lucky?

Check out the Sycuan Casino Resort.

There are slots, table games, and bingo waiting for big winners.

You can also play golf here or just enjoy a day at the spa.

This is a great way to get that Las Vegas feel without driving to Nevada.

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to see El Capitan Reservoir.

While this is a beautiful body of water surrounded by mountains, you can’t swim or boat here.


I asked the same thing.

It’s because this reservoir supplies drinking water to the region, so minimal body contact is required.

You are allowed to fish and kayak, but no standup paddleboards (SUP).

For more outdoor freedom, head to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about 30 minutes east of El Cajon.

You can also be beachside in San Diego within 30 minutes (plan extra time for traffic during rush hours).

Places to Avoid in El Cajon

As with most cities with a major interstate running through it, the neighborhoods along the I-8 corridor have the most crime reports according to crime maps based on 2020 data.

The El Cajon Police Department does have updated real-time crime maps on its website, so you should check your hotel or neighborhood rental before booking.

If El Cajon is “The Box”, then locals tell me it’s smart to stay on the outside of the box and avoid the center.

At least, be more cautious when going to the center of the box.

The center of town is Magnolia and Main Street, and some of the places I just told you to go to are in this area.

It’s normal for a downtown area to have more crime.

You should just avoid wandering off the business path and into neighborhoods you don’t have any business in being in any way.

Safety Tips for Traveling to El Cajon

  1. If you notice a non-emergency crime while in El Cajon, or if you are a victim, you can file a report quickly online for; lost passport, stolen license plate, theft, vandalism, and vehicle burglary. There’s also a tip sheet form to fill out if you witness something sketchy.
  2. Get your smartphone ready for travel. Get all the specifics of your phone written down in a safe place, like make/model, the serial number, and any specific identifying information in case it gets stolen. Activate tracking software before you arrive as well. There has been a trend of stolen mobile devices in El Cajon, so keep the phone out of sight when you aren’t using it.
  3. The city of El Cajon is dealing with a meth and heroin problem. Using these drugs can lead to more crimes. Tourists should avoid anyone who is showing signs of meth or heroin impairment such as hyperactivity and disorientation while being short of breath with constricted pupils.
  4. There’s a chance you might feel an earthquake in El Cajon. For people who live in southern California, this is as normal as a thunderstorm in the Midwest. Most times, with an earthquake, it’s over before you can ask “Is that an earthquake?” If you do get caught in a long quake, stay outside if you are there and get away from buildings and debris. If you are inside, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and cover your head.
  5. You will see homeless people in downtown El Cajon and they might ask for money and could even get aggressive about it. Always firmly say “No” and keep walking. If you feel threatened at all, call 911. If you notice a bunch of trash left behind by the homeless, call 619-441-1658.
  6. It’s going to help if you know basic or conversational Spanish. El Cajon has 44% of residents who speak Spanish as their native language.
  7. If you are traveling around the San Diego area, check the 511 San Diego website. It covers all travel by car, bus, bike, foot, and even goes into details of crossing the border. It’s a traveler’s best friend for a getaway in El Cajon.
  8. Wildfires are a concern in the dry climate of Southern California. The InciWeb site provides real-time data and updates from firelines to keep people informed. Fires can lead to evacuations and quickly diminish air quality.
  9. If you are going to be fishing in the reservoir, you’ll need a license from the California Department of Wildlife, which you can complete online before you go.
  10. If you are heading to the beaches, go early in the morning. Interstate 8 is known for its bumper-to-bumper traffic. You should be on the freeway no later than 6:30 a.m for the smoothest ride.

So... How Safe Is El Cajon Really?

The most concerning crime statistic I saw was the number of highway robberies, which is “a robbery committed on or near a public highway usually against travelers.”

With an average of 200 robberies a year and almost half those being highway robberies, that’s enough to make you think.

The reality is, that’s still a 1 in 1062 chance of being robbed.

The violent crime rate is lower than the California average with a 1 in 206 chance of being a victim.

The reality is, El Cajon isn’t as affluent as some of its neighboring cities.

It’s a working-class community with 20% of people living in poverty.

There’s going to be more drug and gang activity here than you might like in a vacation getaway, but you also generally won’t see that underbelly unless you go to a bad neighborhood, and that can be hit or miss throughout El Cajon.

Always go with your gut and stay on the main roads.

Lock your car doors and hide personal belongings from plain sight.

How Does El Cajon Compare?

CitySafety Index
El Cajon86
Washington DC56
New York City67
San Diego67
Calgary (Canada)82
Buenos Aires (Argentina)60
Vancouver (Canada)82
Cordoba (Argentina)61
Toronto (Canada)81
Melbourne (Australia)80

Useful Information



You'll take care of the Visa requirements at the airport or when you cross the border. If you do plan on going to Mexico while visiting, you'll need a passport or proper ID to get across and back into America.



You'll use the U.S. Dollar here and it's wise to use credit cards for all purchases or buy things ahead of time on your mobile device. There is little need to carry cash around here and you certainly shouldn't let people see your cash stash in public.



You're going to get a pretty warm climate throughout the year. The lowest average in winter is 69°(F) with lows only getting into the upper-50s. Summers average in the upper-80s with lows in the 60s. You should always have a jacket for those cooler nights, but a heatwave in the summer could bring temperatures closer to 100°(F).



The only airport in El Cajon is a private one. The San Diego airport is about 30 minutes west and that's your best option without having to drive to the Los Angeles or Orange County area.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

You'll want travel insurance for your trip to El Cajon in case weather or technical issues happen.

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El Cajon Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 14° C
Feb 14° C
Mar 16° C
Apr 17° C
May 19° C
Jun 22° C
Jul 24° C
Aug 25° C
Sep 24° C
Oct 21° C
Nov 16° C
Dec 13° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec

California - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Chino Hills82
Chula Vista81
Costa Mesa83
Daly City76
El Cajon86
El Monte76
Garden Grove78
Huntington Beach78
Lake Forest83
Long Beach63
Los Angeles56
Mission Viejo85
Moreno Valley82
Mountain View87
Newport Beach84
Palm Springs65
Rancho Cucamonga91
Redondo Beach88
Redwood City85
San Bernardino63
San Diego67
San Francisco61
San Jose58
San Leandro78
San Luis Obispo88
San Mateo84
Santa Ana71
Santa Barbara72
Santa Clara82
Santa Clarita76
Santa Cruz94
Santa Monica64
Santa Rosa91
Simi Valley84
South Gate63
Thousand Oaks86
Union City88
West Covina88

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