San Diego, California
United States of America


San Diego, city in the southwest corner of California and seat of San Diego County. It is the second largest city in California (after Los Angeles) and the seventh largest in the United States. Known for its superb climate and recreational attractions, San Diego also has one of the largest concentrations of military personnel in the nation. The city is located on San Diego Bay, one of the finest natural harbors in the world. Along its shores is the principal West Coast base of operations for the United States Navy and a busy commercial port.

The Pacific Ocean tempers the local climate. The summers are relatively cool and the winters are warm in comparison to other locales at the same general latitude. In fact, a national magazine once called San Diego “the only area in the United States with perfect weather.” Annual precipitation averages just 251 mm (9.9 in), with most of it falling from November through March. In January temperatures average a high of 19°C (66°F) and a low of 9°C (49°F); in July the highs average 25°C (76°F) and lows 19°C (66°F).

The city takes its name from the nearby bay, named by Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602 in honor of a 15th-century Franciscan, San Diego de Alcalá (Saint Didacus). In 1769 a presidio (military fort) and mission were established, the first Spanish settlement in what was to become California.

San Diego and its Metropolitan Area

The city of San Diego covers a land area of 838.9 sq km (323.9 sq mi). The city’s growth has followed the contours of the land, sprawling away from the harbor and encompassing many distinct communities.

The historic heart of the city is a colorful 16-block district known as the Gaslamp Quarter, where restored Victorian-era buildings house shops and restaurants. On the west side of the district is Horton Plaza, a modern shopping and dining complex with six landscaped open-air levels. The plaza marks the spot where San Diego developer Alonzo Horton founded in 1867 what once was called “New Town.” Just to the north of this historic district is the San Diego Concourse, a multipurpose convention and performing arts complex. Along the city’s waterfront is an art deco-style cruise ship terminal, serving the most popular cruise ship port on the West Coast; the San Diego Maritime Museum, showcasing the 18th-century windjammer Star of India; and the architecturally distinguished San Diego Convention Center. North of the downtown area is Balboa Park, home of the world-class San Diego Zoo.

Northwest of the downtown is Old Town, site of the original Spanish settlement. Extending northward along the coast are popular oceanfront communities, including Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. Mission Valley follows the San Diego River, and its rim is lined with luxury homes and condominiums. Farther north is La Jolla, home to the San Diego campus of the University of California, leading research institutes, and an upscale shopping district called the Golden Triangle. On the peninsula forming San Diego Bay is the independent resort city of Coronado, connected to downtown San Diego by a long bridge.

The San Diego metropolitan area, coextensive with San Diego County, covers a land area of 10,889.6 sq km (4,204.5 sq mi). Nearly half of the area’s population lives in the city of San Diego. Other major cities are Chula Vista, Oceanside, Escondido, El Cajon, Vista, Carlsbad, and National City.


San Diego experienced massive population growth in the late 20th century. It ranked as the nation’s eighth largest city in 1980 and became seventh largest in 2000. Its population was 1,223,400 in 2000. The surrounding communities also grew rapidly, as newcomers were attracted by the region’s climate and economic opportunities. The population of the San Diego metropolitan area increased from 1,861,846 in 1980 to 2,813,833 in 2000.

The ethnic diversity of the region also continued to increase. According to the 2000 census, whites constitute 60.2 percent of the population, Asians 13.6 percent, blacks 7.9 percent, Native Americans 0.6 percent, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.5 percent. People of mixed heritage or not reporting race are 17.2 percent of the population. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 25.4 percent of the people.

Education and Culture

The largest educational institutions in the city are two state-supported universities: San Diego State University (founded in 1897), and the University of California, San Diego (1959). Associated with the University of California since 1912 is the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. Other schools offering four-year degrees include the University of San Diego (1949), United States International University (1952), National University (1971), and Point Loma Nazarene College (1902). Also in the city is the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, founded by Jonas Salk, the developer of a vaccine for polio, to conduct basic science research on human health.

The cultural heart of San Diego is Balboa Park. Located there are the San Diego Museum of Art, with a permanent collection of works from the Italian Renaissance, and the San Diego Natural History Museum, emphasizing the American Southwest. The San Diego Museum of Man explores the origins of humans, while the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center has numerous hands-on exhibits. Other of the park’s many attractions include the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Timken Museum of Art, and museums devoted to sports, railroads, and automobiles. The park also is the home of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, with its 4,445-pipe Spreckels Organ.

San Diego’s premier historic attractions are Mission Basilica San Diego Alcalá, the first of the Spanish missions constructed along the California coast, and the Hotel del Coronado. In Old Town San Diego State Historic Park are some of the city’s original buildings. Cabrillo National Monument, near the tip of Point Loma, marks the spot where the West Coast was claimed for Spain in 1542; it also affords a vantage point to observe the gray whale migration.

The Simon Edison Centre for the Performing Arts in Balboa Park presents performances throughout the year on three stages, including the Old Globe Theatre. The performing arts include the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Opera, San Diego Repertory Theatre, and California Ballet Company. Among the city’s annual events is the Mainly Mozart Festival, in June.


San Diego is a popular year-round resort city. In Balboa Park is the San Diego Zoo, one of the nation’s largest and home to more than 4,200 animals, including representatives of 78 species considered endangered. Sea World of California (Mission Bay) features a killer whale and the world’s largest collection of sharks. San Diego Wild Animal Park (Escondido) is a wildlife preserve that presents more than 3,000 animals in open-range exhibits.

Qualcomm Stadium is the home of the San Diego Padres, playing major league baseball, and the San Diego Chargers, playing major league football. Major sporting events in the city include a professional golf tournament in February, hydroplane races on Mission Bay in late summer, and the Holiday Bowl postseason college football game in December.


The total value of all the goods and services produced in San Diego make it one of the most powerful economies in the world. The key to San Diego’s economic success is its diversity, with a healthy mix of manufacturing, trade, tourism, fishing, and agriculture. An important component of the economy is the presence of numerous facilities of the U.S. Navy. Leading manufactured products include electronic and electrical equipment, aircraft, and industrial machinery. The city is also home to a large number of biotechnology firms and communications companies. Import and export trade with Mexico is of growing importance to the city, spurred by the North American Free Trade Agreement. San Diego County also ranks highly among the nation’s most productive agricultural counties, and leads all others in the production of avocados.

Military installations in the area include the San Diego Naval Station, the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego Naval Submarine Base, and numerous training, command, and logistic facilities. The United States Marine Corps operates the massive Camp Pendleton to the north of the city. Formed in 1962, the Port of San Diego handles a wide variety of maritime cargoes, berths cruise ships, and operates the San Diego International Airport.

San Diego is an important transportation center, served by three interstate freeways and several federal and state highways. The Metropolitan Transit System operates buses, ferries, and a downtown trolley line. The historic Santa Fe Depot is the Amtrak terminal. Northwest of downtown is San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Field.


San Diego is governed by an eight-member city council and a mayor. The voters of San Diego elect the council members in district elections and the mayor on a citywide basis. All serve four-year terms. The council appoints a city manager to serve as chief administrative officer. The city of San Diego is also the seat of government of San Diego County, governed by a five-member board of county supervisors.


The San Diego area has been inhabited for thousands of years. The first people lived in small bands and harvested the natural abundance of the land and sea. Spanish missionaries named these Yuman-speaking people the Diegueño.

European contact began in 1542 when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, arrived in San Diego Bay. Permanent European settlement did not occur until 1769 when Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, and Gaspar de Portolá, the governor of Baja (lower) California, founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá and a presidio. This constituted the first Spanish settlement in what is now the state of California.

San Diego, as the settlement came to be known, was under Mexican rule from 1821 until it was captured by U.S. armed forces during the Mexican War (1846-1848). It incorporated as a city in 1850.

Entrepreneur Alonzo Horton vitalized the area in 1867 when he began developing land south of the original settlement. Following a devastating fire in 1872, settlers and businesses migrated to Horton’s “New Town.” The area boomed following the arrival of the first railroad in 1885. Three years later, the Hotel del Coronado opened for business.

San Diego grew steadily during the early 20th century. By 1910 the city had 40,000 inhabitants. San Diego hosted the Panama-California Exposition (1915-1916) and the California Pacific International Exposition (1935-1936), international fairs that brought worldwide attention to the city.

The two world wars in the first half of the 20th century contributed to the military importance of San Diego. Naval bases were constructed and local defense industries expanded production. The aircraft and electronics industries became leading employers. By 1950 the city’s population had climbed to 334,387. During the following decade San Diego’s population grew by a remarkable 71 percent.

Several slumps in the aerospace industry prompted a move to diversify the local economy. The biggest jolt came in the early 1990s. Reduced spending for defense, a result of the end of the Cold War, hit San Diego’s aerospace industry particularly hard. Local employment in aerospace plummeted from 27,800 in 1989 to only 9,300 in 1995. The region benefited, however, through the closure of military installations elsewhere in the nation and the reassignment of functions to bases in the San Diego area. One of the area’s unsolved problems is the high cost of living. In the 1990s it cost about one-fifth more than the national average to live in San Diego. In 1997 the city adopted an innovative approach toward balancing growth and conservation. Some undeveloped sections of land, primarily in the city’s eastern side, will be acquired and permanently set aside to protect wildlife and plants. In exchange other sections of land will be freed for unrestricted development. The agreement will preserve some of the region’s most important habitat while meeting the housing needs of a growing population.