San Diego, California

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This article is about San Diego, California. For other uses of the term San Diego, please see San Diego (disambiguation).
San Diego night skyline in 2020.

San Diego is a large city in California (second only to L.A.). It is located on the Pacific coast near the southwestern corner of the state and is the seat of San Diego County.


The city is named for San Diego de Alcalá (St. James of Alcalá), also known as St. Didacus, a Spanish Franciscan lay brother (c. 1400-November 7, 1463, canonized 1588 [1]). Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino chose the name after his ship, the San Diego, sailed into San Diego Bay on Didacus’s feast day, November 12, 1602. (For the previous 60 years, the Spanish had called the area “San Miguel.”) [2]

San Diego’s nickname, “America’s Finest City,” appears on the city government’s web site, and the phrase “America’s Finest” appears on city police cars and badges – an allusion to other cities’ police department slogans, such as “New York’s Finest,” as well as to San Diego’s slogan.


Although there are several geological faults under the city -- the largest one being the Rose Canyon Fault, which runs under Interstate 5 approximately from La Jolla southward to Mission Bay -- San Diego does not experience earthquakes at all as frequently as some other parts of California.

The altitude of San Diego ranges from sea level at the coast to 1,592 feet at Cowles (pronounced "coals") Mountain in Mission Trails Regional Park.


The area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. Acorns, fish, and small game provided food for area residents. Descendants of some of the indigenous inhabitants, including the Kumeyaay nation [3], still live in San Diego today. European explorers Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Sebastian Vizcaino visited the area in 1542 and 1602, respectively, and Spain claimed it as part of its empire. Serious colonization did not get underway until 1769, when Junipero Serra established the first mission in what is now California, Mission San Diego de Alcalá. San Diego was part of Mexico when that country became independent from Spain in the early 19th century, but was taken over by the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.

Until the 1860s the center of San Diego had been located a few miles to the north of the current downtown, in an area now known as “Old Town.” Real-estate developer Alonzo Horton, however, successfully promoted an area closer to the harbor as the new center of commercial activity.

The first military base was established in 1907, and during the two World Wars the military presence in the city grew.



Among the largest industries in San Diego are manufacturing (defense, space, electronics), tourism, agriculture, biotechnology, financial services, software and telecommunications. [4]

The largest employers in the area (including all of San Diego County) are the military and other Federal, State, and local government agencies and school systems. The largest private employers include several hospitals and health-care providers, Qualcomm Inc., Sempra Energy, AT&T, and Science Applications International Corp. [5]

Cultural resources


Many airlines as well as Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses carry passengers to and from San Diego. The city has a large network of freeways, including Interstate highways 5, 8, 15, and 805, as well as several state-maintained freeways. Public transit includes many bus routes, three trolley lines, and an intercity commuter rail line (the Coaster). A ferry boat carries pedestrians across San Diego Bay to Coronado, and there is a cruise-ship terminal.

There are two international border crossings connecting San Diego with the Mexican city of Tijuana.

Citizens and local governments in the area are currently debating whether San Diego International Airport, also called Lindbergh Field, should be moved to another location, such as an airfield currently used by the Marine Corps, or a site in the desert East of the city, or should be left in place and expanded.

Military presence

Military bases in San Diego include Coast Guard Air Station San Diego, Naval Station San Diego, Naval Base Point Loma, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (on the site of the former Navy “Top Gun” academy), the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), headquartered in an old B-24 aircraft factory. Naval Air Station North Island lies mostly within the city of Coronado but parts of it are in San Diego. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is located north of the city.


San Diego’s largest universities are San Diego State University, which is part of the California State University system, and the University of California, San Diego (both public), and the University of San Diego (a Jesuit institution). There is a three-campus community college system, as well as several smaller universities and colleges, including Alliant International University, Point Loma Nazarene University, and California Western School of Law.

The San Diego Unified School District provides public primary and secondary education to 133,000 students; some outlying parts of the city are served by other public school districts. There are also a number of private schools, including The Bishop’s School (Episcopal), La Jolla Country Day School, and a system of Roman Catholic schools

Government and politics

San Diego has a mayor-and-council form of government, with eight council members elected by districts and a mayor elected citywide.

The current mayor, former police chief Jerry Sanders, admits on the city’s official web site that “Our city government is broken, there's no other way to put it.” [6] The municipality faces serious financial problems because of a pension-fund scandal. The city’s handling of these problems led Time Magazine in 2005 to name then-mayor Dick Murphy as one of the three “worst big-city mayors” in the U.S.; [7] a few days later Murphy announced his resignation.



  1. John J. Delaney, ‘’Dictionary of Saints’’ (Garden City: Doubleday, 1980), p. 178.
  2. James R. Mills, ‘’San Diego: Where California Began’’ (San Diego: San Diego Historical Society, 1960), revised edition online at, chapter 2.
  3. See
  4. City of San Diego, ‘’Economic Development: Economy,’’, referenced 2007-11-30.
  5. San Diego Daily Transcript, ‘’San Diego County Largest Employers,’’, referenced 2007-11-30.
  6. City of San Diego, ‘’Mayor Jerry Sanders,’’, accessed 2007-11-30.
  7. Terry McCarthy, ‘’The Three Worst Mayors in America: Dick Murphy / San Diego,’’ ‘’Time’’ magazine, April 25, 2005. The other two "worst mayors" named by Time were Detroit's Kwame Kilpatrick and Philadelphia's John Street.