Vista was listed as the seventh-best place in the United States for family life, based on factors such as jobs and business opportunities, education, climate, and cost-of-living in a 2008 review.
Vista houses both the courthouse and the jail for northern San Diego County.
Vista and nearby San Marcos had a large Japanese American community since the late 1800s. Older sections of Vista are predominantly Latino (Mexicans in particular). And there are several thousand American Jews now living in Vista, a small part of the community's multiplicity of religions and cultures. Demographers stated Vista has a "minority-majority" population as Non-Hispanic whites are under half the city's population.
There were 28,877 households out of which 40.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.7% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.0% were non-families. 20.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.03 and the average family size was 3.48. The FBI crime index for 2005 was 32.9 for every 1000 residents.
In the city the population was spread out with 29.7% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 32.7% from 25 to 44, 16.2% from 45 to 64, and 10.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 99.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $42,594, and the median income for a family was $45,649. Males had a median income of $32,936 versus $25,812 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,027. About 10.0% of families and 14.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.0% of those under age 18 and 6.1% of those age 65 or over.
Vista was mentioned in The LA Times when the Vista Unified School District's school board was taken over by a Christian fundamentalist group which tried to implement creationism into the curriculum in the 1990s,
Biola University has a branch campus in Vista.
Vista houses one movie theater, a Krikorian Cinema which opened in fall 2003.
There is a lot of open land in Vista, especially in the north, and much of it is dedicated city parks. The two most well-known within the city are Brengle Terrace Park and Guajome County Park. Brengle Terrace Park houses the Moonlight Amphitheatre, a baseball field, a senior center, a playground, and the city community center, where the main offices of the city's day camps are held. Guajome County Park has 557 acres (2.3 km²) of land; part of this is in Vista and part is in nearby Oceanside. It features campsites, horse trails, and the Rancho Guajome Adobe, a National Historic Landmark.
Rancho Guajome Adobe and Rancho Buena Vista are two ranchos in and near Vista, built in the mid-nineteenth century. Both offer tours detailing the history of the ranchos and talking about life during the time they were built. Both landmarks are also available for special occasions.
The city's Parks and Recreation Department runs the Wave Waterpark, a small but well-equipped waterpark near the downtown area open from mid-spring to early fall. Vista also features the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum, an open-air museum featuring various pieces and demonstrations of agricultural equipment from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Vista is home of a Japanese-American Cultural Center and Buddhist Temple, one of only two in California, and over 75 other churches and temples of various denominations.