What is San Diego known for?

What is San Diego Known For?

San Diego, also known as America’s finest city, is one of the most beautiful cities in California. Located right on the West Coast and close to the Mexican border, the city attracts millions of visitors every year. Whether you are on a US romantic road trip or simply visiting the West Coast, San Diego is generally considered one of the mandatory stops of any itinerary. And for good reasons!

Although most visitors know San Diego for its zoo and being the home of Legoland, there are many things that San Diego is known for! From offering beautiful walks in Balboa Park to being one of the most unique airports in the world, San Diego has got many aces up its sleeve!

In this post, you’ll learn about 25 things that San Diego is famous for from historical monuments and architecture to famous attractions and natural sites. 

Check: Best day trips from San Diego to Mexico

What is San Diego known for?

San Diego is a stunning city on the coast just two hours south of Los Angeles. San Diego is known for its surfing culture, year-round sushine and countless outdoor opportunities like hiking, camping and biking.

Whether you enjoy spending tie indoors or outdoors, San Diego has got the perfect mix of activities. As a mix of city and nature, San Diego is famous for being home to Balboa Park, a culture and nature center, white sand beaches including those of La Jolla Cove, and many museums or natural reserves like Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Visiting Balboa Park is one of the best things to do in San Diego

25 Things That San Diego Is Known For

San Diego is known for many things. If you’re wondering what San Diego is known for, you’ll find the top must-know facts about the city on this list.

1. Balboa Park

Balboa Park is probably one of the best things to do in San Diego and it’s no wonder that it is one of the most famous places in the city.

Located in the heart of San Diego, just a few streets away from the seafront, Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre park that is home to many things including sixteen museums, gardens, several theatres, a large pond, and San Diego Zoo.

The park is named after the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa and has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century.

The park is well known as San Diego’s backyard due to its size and the many activities and events that take place here. It is built in a mix of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival styles which you can see at the visitor center near Lily Pond.

For all these reasons, Balboa Park is one of the best places to visit in San Diego when visiting the US West Coast

2. Gaslamp Quarter

San Diego is also known for the Gaslamp Quarter, this is one of San Diego’s most trendy neighborhoods. One of the most surprising things in the Gaslamp Quarter is the Victorian architecture which isn’t what visitors would typically expect from a large American city. there are about 100 Victorian buildings in this neighborhood. 

During your visit to this historic district, you can head to the Gaslamp Museum which is located in the Davis-Horton House to learn more about its history. After your visit, you can head to one of the numerous restaurants in the quarter!

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3. Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado is the iconic hotel in San Diego, that draws visitors from all over the world. Often referred to simply as “The Del,” is an iconic and historic beachfront hotel located in Coronado, a peninsula just across the bay from downtown San Diego, California.

This hotel was built in 1888 and is recognizable by its pointy orange-colored roofs and its white walls. 

4. Coronado Island

Coronado Island is a small heaven of peace located in the marina of San Diego. There are many things to do on the island which makes it one of the things that San Diego is famous for. The island is also home to a couple of golf courses along with a beautiful beach, boardwalks, and shopping areas.

Due to its architecture, beautiful beach, and proximity to San Diego, Coronado Island is one of the best places to elope in California if you don’t want to adventure too far away. 

The island is accessible by the San Diego Coronado Bridge or by ferry from the marina. 

San Diego is one of the best cities to visit in South California

5. San Diego is the birthplace of California

San Diego is also famous for being the birthplace of California.

In 1769, a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá and Father Junípero Serra established the Presidio of San Diego and the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, marking the beginning of European settlement in California.

This event is often regarded as the birthplace of California because it was the first permanent European settlement in the region.

The establishment of the presidio and mission in San Diego was part of Spain’s efforts to colonize and Christianize the area. Over time, San Diego has grown into a major city and remains an important historical and cultural center in California.

6. A one-runway airport, one of the things that San Diego is known for

San Diego is also a famous foreign home to the San Diego International Airport, which is the busiest single-runway airport in the world.

It’s quite surprising that for an international airport, in such a big city, you’d be met with only one runway. But that’s the case in San Diego. The reason for this interesting fact is simply geographical. There is not enough space adjoining the airport area, known as Lindbergh Field, to build a second runway.

In 2019, the runway saw 25.2 million passengers landing and taking off from Lindbergh Field which makes this airport the busiest single-runway airport in the world. 

7. Top Gun filming location

One of the best movies of all time, called Top Gun, had made San Diego even more famous than it was. Indeed, San Diego is the primary filming location of the 1986 Tony Scott movie.

The movie’s filming locations in San Diego include Kansas City Barbecue at 610 W. Market in the Gaslamp Quarter and the cottage on 102 Pacific Street in Oceanside which was used as Charlie’s House. Some outdoor scenes of the movie were also filmed at Liberty Station.

La Jolla is one of the most popular spots in San Diego

8. La Jolla Cove

If you’re wondering what San Diego is known for outside the city, the answer is La Jolla Cove! This beautiful beach is a small strand of white thin sand located just north of San Diego in La Jolla.

The beach is surrounded by ocher-colored cliffs and features tall palm trees in the background. With the stunning views it offers and the intimacy of the small beach, it makes it one of the best locations for a romantic beach date.

La Jolla Cove is also quite famous for being home to a colony of seals and sea lions which you can see from quite up close at certain times of the year. 

10. Comic Con

Comic-Con is another one of the things that San Diego is known for. Comic-Con is an international comic book convention that has been held every year in San Diego since 1970. Though different versions of Comic-Con are held regularly in different countries, the one in San Diego is considered a big deal.

In 2022, it is estimated that over 135,000 people attended the Comic-Con convention which illustrates the importance of that event.

11. San Diego Padres and Petco Park

This list of things that San Diego is famous for would not be complete without the mention of the San Diego Padres and Petco Park.

The San Diego Padres are a Major League team in baseball and make San Diego shine in every competition. The team was founded in 1969. it has had really good players such as Randy Jones who became the first Padre to win the National League Cy Young Award.

You can learn more about the Padres at Petco Park, where you can join a guided tour, learn about the history of the team and visit the backstage.

12. Craft Beer

Many places are famous for crafting their beer and San Diego is no exception. Some even call San Diego the modern craft beer movement. San Diego is home to over 150 breweries which is not always something visitors expect! 

13. Whale and dolphin-watching hub

What’s better than hopping on a boat to go observe big mammals in their natural habitat? Well, if you easily get seasick, many things may come to your mind but if you don’t and would like to try one of the attractions San Diego is famous for, then you’ll love going on a whale-watching or dolphin-watching tour.

Many tours can take you out to sea to spot some of the animals that make San Diego famous. For example, you can see California Gray whales, Blue whales, orcas, and more! 

14. Cameron Diaz

If you’re wondering what San Diego is known for, let’s hear about this fun fact! San Diego is famous for being the birthplace of Cameron Diaz. Cameron Diaz is an American actress who’s known worldwide for having played in movies such as Knight and Day and The Holiday. 

Though Cameron Diag was raised in Long Beach, Cameron was born in San Diego.

San Diego is well known for its surfing culture

15. Surfing Hub

Another one of the things that San Diego is known for is being a surfing hub. With its gorgeous 70 miles of coastline, San Diego offers endless opportunities for surfers. Whether you’re looking to learn on small waves or are looking for the real deal, beaches like Swami’s Beach, Black’s Beach, or even La Jolla make San Diego famous for its surf! 

16. USS Midway Museum

San Diego is known for its military culture. Indeed, the city has one of the greatest concentrations of military personnel in the country making it one of the largest military hubs. 

Due to its seafront location and connection to the sea, San Diego is even more famous for its naval military presence. To get a closer look at its military naval history, visiting the USS Midway Museum is a good start. The museum is located in the Midway aircraft carrier at Navy Pier. 

17. Old Town San Diego

Old Town has got to be one of the things San Diego is most famous for. This is the area of San Diego that displays most of the historic architecture of the city. It’s known for being the center of Mexican culture and offering a range of restaurants and shopping opportunities.

18. Seaport Village

Seaport Village is another area of San Diego that makes the city famous. The neighborhood can be found along the seafront. With cobblestones, small pathways, and gardens, the village is built to resemble an actual…village. Because of that, its architecture can surprise visitors who are never too sure what to expect!

19. Little Italy

Little Italy gets its name from historic developments. Back in the day, this area was the heart of San Diego’s tuna fishing community. This is where Italian families settled to set up their fishing businesses and have quick access to the sea. 

Nowadays, the area kept the name but has transformed into a buzzing neighborhood with lots of dining and shopping options. From breweries to cafes, there is an array of possibilities in Little Italy. 

20. Mission Beach

With white thin sand and a laid-back atmosphere, Mission Beach is a seafront community that prolongs the relaxed vibe of San Diego’s beach culture. Here you’ll find plenty of walking opportunities along with Belmont Park. There’s even a rollercoaster for those who are looking for some thrills!

21. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Located about 15 minutes from Downtown San Diego, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is one of the areas that San Diego is most famous for.

With over 60 acres of land, the park encompasses a range of arches, caves, cliffs, and coastal bluffs. The mix of proximity to the sea, greenery, and beautiful views makes it the perfect place for sunset, as its name indicates. 

22. Cabrillo National Monument

As mentioned above, San Diego is known as the birthplace of America due to the Spaniards first settling, in 1542, in San Diego, on the West Coast. The Cabrillo National Monument celebrates this!

This monument stands at the Point Loma Peninsula. There is a visitor center that tells more about the whole story and how Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo came to this point. 

San Diego is called America's finest city

Where to stay in San Diego 

For a perfect trip to San Diego, we recommend the following hotels. 

Low-budget stay

With an outdoor pool and modern rooms, Lamplighter Inn & Suites is a great budget option to stay at in San Diego. The hotel is located only 20 minutes from the airport and the zoo making it a great location as well.


Mid-budget stay

With modern rooms, great service, and an indoor swimming pool, the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse is a great mid-budget option! Note also that the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse is located right downtown just under a mile from Balboa Park.


Luxury stay

For a luxury spa and hotel experience, we recommend staying at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa. Located in one of the areas San Diego is famous for, La Jolla, this luxurious hotel offers spa treatments from massages to an on-site fitness and wellness center.


What is San Diego known for: FAQ’s 

What is San Diego known for?

What industry is San Diego known for?

The main industry San Diego is known for is the defense and military industry. San Diego is also known for craft brewing and the research industry.

What food is San Diego known for?

San Diego is mainly known for its wood-fired California-style pizzas but also its Mexican-influenced dishes.

Why is San Diego called America’s Finest City?

In the 70s, San Diego was struggling with its reputation and even lost the opportunity to host the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. The vice president of the SD Chamber of Commerce claimed that San Diego was America’s Finest City in an attempt to render it more attractive. The slogan was first used by Look Magazine which had called San Diego, “One of America’s finest cities”.

Why do people love San Diego so much?

People love San Diego mostly due to its pleasant climate and the array of activities it offers for anyone of any age whether you prefer outdoor or indoor activities.

What is San Diego’s nickname?

San Diego’s nickname is “America’s Finest City”.

What is San Diego known for historically?

San Diego is historically known as the birthplace of California as this is the first area that Europeans settled in on the West Coast. 

Why is San Diego nicer than LA?

San Diego is generally considered to be smaller and more manageable than Los Angeles. San Diego has beautiful beaches with a more laid-back atmosphere, and some people prefer them over the crowded beaches in parts of LA.

What is unique about San Diego?

Due to its proximity to the Mexican border, San Diego has a strong Mexican influence, which is evident in its cuisine, cultural events, and the overall atmosphere of certain neighborhoods.

Why is there Little Italy in San Diego?

Little Italy appeared in San Diego to allow Italian fishermen ad their families to run their tuna businesses and be able to live close by with their families.

What is San Diego Known For: Final Word

As you can see, San Diego is known for many things from natural reserves to family attractions and quirky architecture. It’s a fantastic city to visit on the West Coast, one that may make you want to stay a bit longer after all!