Nicknamed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego embodies laid-back Southern California culture at its best. From the charming downtown Gaslamp quarter to its beach communities, the city’s arts, culture, events, and nightlife will ensure that you’ll never be bored. With its gorgeous outdoor scenery, beach-side setting, year-round warm weather and warm people, and great food, San Diego will steal your heart.
Something for Everyone
Blue skies and blue sea is what first greets visitors who arrive in San Diego. A pristine cosmopolitan paradise, San Diego has something for everyone. There are many reasons to love “America’s Finest City,” so just keep reading!
The San Diego Lifestyle
The first and most obvious reason to love San Diego, of course, is the weather. Due to its mediterranean climate the area receives little rainfall, and year-round warm weather. San Diego gets over 300 days of sunshine! San Diegans are a very active, outdoorsy people who make the most of their great weather and bountiful natural settings. Most San Diegans occupy their free time as one, several, or all of the following: surfers, runners, swimmers, cyclists, golfers, skateboarders, hikers, yogis, and crossfitters. Nutrition and an active lifestyle are very important to San Diegans, who believe in making the most of every day. The “vibe” here is unpretentious and a bit friendlier when compared to California’s other major cities, particularly Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Food-lovers will revel in San Diego’s many great options for Mexican and Asian cuisine, thanks to its large Latino and Asian communities. In addition, San Diego was recently ranked the #1 city in the United States for pizza (source: TripAdvisor). Furthermore, San Diego, the beer capitol of the United States, is home to over 33 popular breweries that brew strong and bitter, but drinkable, ales.
Culture and Communities
San Diego has been called a “fine arts powerhouse” by the New York Times, which gave a nod to its opera, symphony, museums, and galleries. San Diego is home to many delightful and fun neighborhoods each with its own charming character and unique bars, restaurants, shops, and other attractions. The “Gaslamp” area of downtown is a hip and modern neighborhood that always has something going on, and will delight any urbanite. Downtown San Diego’s East Village is a local’s delight and home to the recently-built Petco Park, and San Diego’s brand new and architecturally-impressive public library. Along the San Diego marina, one finds the charming Seaport Village and San Diego convention center, which hosts Comic-Con, the largest annual convention in San Diego, and the “largest convention of its kind in the world” (Forbes).
One can cross the bridge or take a ferry from downtown and be delighted by Coronado, a vacationer’s paradise offering a charming “small-town” village area, stunning beaches, the historic Hotel Del Coronado, and loads of fun activities. North and east of downtown lie three neighborhoods: Cortez Hill, Banker’s Hill, and Golden Hill, which all offer stunning unobstructed views of downtown, the harbor, and beyond. Little Italy is an art and design mecca, and Mission Hills is home to unique ethnic cuisine, independent film cinemas, and luxury homes. Hillcrest, San Diego’s gay village, hosts vibrant shopping and nightlife. Just east of Balboa Park lie North and South Park, hipster communities which are home to many of San Diego’s top breweries.
Along the coast, Point Loma stretches along a vast expanse of the Pacific in an area known as “Sunset Cliffs.” North of Point Loma lies Ocean Beach, a popular area for hippies, surfers, and an hub of unique beach culture. Past Ocean Beach lies Mission Bay, a vast saltwater lagoon which is also home to Seaworld. Mission Bay is a popular spot for wakeboarding, jet skiing, sailing, and camping. With its miles of light color sandy beaches, the bay is also ideal for walking, jogging, roller skating, and cycling. Mission Beach, a narrow peninsula surrounded by water on both sides, is home to the Mission Beach rollercoaster and the popular “WaveHouse” where youths ride waves on its artificial wave machine. Just beyond lies Pacific Beach, where the many bars, restaurants, and exceptionally laid-back vibe provide what is probably the most popular community for young transplants to San Diego.
San Diego – Rich in History
The San Diego area was first discovered by Spanish explorers in 1542, and became the seat of the first European civilization in California. In 1769, a historic “presidio,” or fort, was constructed high on a hill overlooking the new settlement. In addition, the same year, Father Junipero Serra constructed the very first of the Californian Franciscan missions at Mission San Diego de Alcalá, which still stands today as a historical landmark.
The Spanish left San Diego after losing the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, and the period afterwards was characterized by a romantic “pueblo” period where San Diego was controlled by wealthy land-owning Dons living in adobe-haciendas situated on large ranchos. Much of San Diego’s “old town” is still preserved and visitors can visit the centuries-old adobe estates and read about the inhabitants of that period and history. Stories passed down from that time tell of an age of music and dance, lavish parties, gun duels, fiery romances, and rambunctious personalities. California at that time was a new and unspoilt land of opportunity, and San Diego was no exception either. After Mexico lost the Mexican-American War and gold was discovered in California, San Diego, the sleepy Mexican pueblo, grew from 500 to an estimated 80,000. It was the end of the pueblo era as new American settlers from the east bought out the Mexican ranchers and re-settled the lands.
It was the end of the rancho era, and the start of San Diego’s modern area. To turn the pueblo town into a proper city, a “New Town” was built closer to the harbor, on the site of what is currently downtown. However, San Diego’s transition from “Old Town” to “New Town,” led by Alonzo Horton, was far from seamless. Old Town residents stubbornly refused to relocate San Diego’s municipal center. In 1871, the California Supreme Court ordered the county court and its records to be moved to the New Town. Old Town politicos refused to comply, and posted a contingent of cannons and armed guards in front of the building that housed the county’s records. But one night, Horton’s allies staged a daring coup, rolling into Old Town on express wagons and forcibly removing the court’s records. This was the end of the Old Town San Diego era and the beginning of San Diego’s modern era. Ever since that historic night, San Diego’s future as the “city on the bay” was established.
Settlers of the new city went about in earnest to build and beautify their beloved new seaside home. The new government set aside 1,400 acres of hillside land overlooking the new town and the harbor for construction of a city park. San Diego became just the second city to dedicate a large park after New York’s Central Park. Local horticulturist Kate Sessions established a nursery in the new city park, and worked tirelessly to enrich the park. She set about planting 100 trees a year, importing varieties from all over the world. Many of the old trees seen in Balboa Park today were planted by Sessions.
At about the same time, between 1904 – 1914 a historically important event occurred when the United States government completed the Panama Canal in Central America to link the world’s two great oceans. The Panama-California Exposition was planned at the park to celebrate this historically and economically important feat of engineering. The park was named “Balboa Park” after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to cross Central America and see the Pacific Ocean. In anticipation of the exposition, San Diego’s city leaders hired architect Bertram Goodhue as lead designer and site planner. Known for his Gothic Revival Styles, Goodhue constructed a number of buildings on the property in the fashion of Spanish Baroque architecture, cultivating in a “Spanish Colonial Revival Style.” His work was so well-received by the public and designers in California that this style became the reigning architectural style throughout California.
San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition opened in 1916 and was a resounding success, drawing over 3.7 million visitors over the next two years including Henry Ford, William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. President Woodrow Wilson opened the ceremonies, and even Pennsylvania’s Liberty Bell made a three-day appearance in November of 1915. Roosevelt lauded the buildings’ architecture, recommending that the “buildings of rare phenomenal taste and beauty” be left as permanent additions. This event brought much national recognition to San Diego, and several of the buildings constructed at that time have been restored and preserved.
Today Balboa Park is one of the most popular urban parks in the United States. This bucolic paradise is packed with an array of attractions, museums, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.