With an average temperature in the 70s and few days when the sun isn’t shining at full strength, San Diego risks being pigeonholed as just another paradise on the Pacific. But America’s Finest City—as locals like to call it—is so much more than good weather. It’s a culturally rich metropolis that encompasses 18 cities, towns, and neighborhoods, each with its own distinct flavor.
European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first to stumble upon San Diego’s miles of white-sand beaches in 1542. He christened the area San Miguel, but a second wave of explorers arrived six decades later and renamed it San Diego in honor of one of their vessels. The new name stuck, and widespread settlement began in 1769. After a brief stint under Mexico’s rule, San Diego joined the United States along with the rest of California in 1850.
San Diego still retains close ties to Mexico, and the city even shares a border with Tijuana. Together, the two cities form a metropolitan area in which 1.3 million people reside on the San Diego side alone. Mexican culture still pervades neighborhoods such as Old Town, where five ancient buildings remain from the city’s time as a Mexican pueblo.
Some of Old Town’s modern shops also pay homage to the past. At Toby’s Candle & Soap Shop, you can make your own candles the old-fashioned way, and Covered Wagon sells a wide array of Native American jewelry. Neighborhood eateries such as Barra Barra Saloon reflect the city’s Mexican heritage, but others highlight its diversity with Italian, Thai, and Japanese cuisines.
The Gaslamp Quarter is another colorful neighborhood that strikes a balance between modern and historical entertainments. Lined with restored Victorian-era edifices, the Quarter lures in outsiders with its seemingly endless array of locally owned boutiques, eclectic restaurants, bars, and art galleries. The Chuck Jones gallery exemplifies the neighborhood’s diversity and showcases sketches of some of the artist’s most famous characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.