You could say that San Diego is where California began. It was here that Spanish settlers established the very first mission in 1769, on a hillside overlooking what is currently known as Old Town San Diego. Two hundred and fifty years later, this city of 1.4 million is one of the fastest growing in the U.S.
Its #2 ranking in our deep Place category—second only to New York’s safety, quality of neighborhoods and landmarks, and parks and outdoor activities recommended by locals and visitors.
Near-perfect temperatures year round, 70 miles of beaches, globally lauded attractions and a dizzying spectrum of dining and nightlife options consistently rank California’s Beach City in the middle of our Top 10 America’s Best Large Cities year after year.
And 2019 is a year of celebrations. Old Town San Diego is hosting lectures, festivals and other family-friendly activities that mark and celebrate significant moments throughout the history of the city. Not to be outdone, LEGOLAND California celebrated its 20th anniversary in spring and continues to do so throughout the year by giving all children aged 12 and under free admission on their birthday.
In January 2018, the San Diego Zoo announced a brand-new, $69-million children’s zoo to be named after Denny Sanford, a San Diego philanthropist who donated $30 million to this endeavor, the largest single gift the San Diego Zoo has ever received. Designed in ways to help children develop empathy and better understand and identify with wildlife, this reimagined 2.3-acre space will feature more than 100 species and four ecosystems, giving kids greater opportunities to discover the natural world through play. Unsurprisingly, San Diego nabs the top spot in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory in the nation.
Then there’s the uniquely fluid cultural identity of the city: the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) links San Diego with Tijuana and services more than 6,000 ticketed airline passengers daily. CBX was designed to streamline international travel as the first-ever U.S. facility to connect directly into a foreign airport terminal. Designed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection, the 390-foot-long enclosed pedestrian skybridge connects a state-of-the-art passenger building in San Diego directly to the Tijuana International Airport (TIJ). This December, CBX will celebrate its fourth year of service.
Meanwhile, the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, the new home of the La Jolla Music Society, will serve as the cultural heart of La Jolla, offering arts activities, education and community events. Featuring a 513-seat concert hall with orchestra pit, 1,600-square-foot flexible-use space, reception room, central courtyard and state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment, the Conrad plans to host a wide range of conferences, corporate meetings and private events.
Not content with ranking #9 in both our Attractions and Museums subcategories, San Diego also ranks #8 in our Neighborhoods subcategory by continuing to create a sense of place across the city. A good example is in the heart of Little Italy, where the highly anticipated Piazza della Famiglia opened in fall 2018 as a central public gathering place to host farmers’ markets, concerts, cultural events and more. Two mixed-use apartment buildings include 125 apartment homes, while the plaza features 16,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, a food hall and underground parking for both restaurant customers and the general public. Piazza della Famiglia serves to unite an already thriving area with its 11,000-square-foot European-inspired courtyard, rooted in the history and authenticity of the neighborhood, and dedicated to the past, present and future families of San Diego’s Little Italy.
Over on Convoy Street, the food thoroughfare affectionately known as San Diego’s Asian Restaurant Row, a new 1920s-era inspired speakeasy called Realm of 52 Remedies transports guests with elements that reflect the owners’ Asian heritage, including a lotus-shaped booth among its seating options, a dragon painted on the ceiling above suspended cloud sculptures and hanging lights crafted from dumpling steamer baskets illuminating a chinoiserie-wallpapered hallway.
San Diego’s latest culinary destination, Liberty Station, is home to El Jardín, which was featured on the “Best New Restaurants in America” lists in both Esquire and Food and Wine magazines when it opened in June 2018. The menu by Top Chef contestant chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins features regional Mexican fare refined and reinterpreted with both indigenous Mexican ingredients and local produce alongside an extensive selection of tequila and mezcal. San Diego ranks eighth for Programming, which includes the subcategories of Nightlife (#7), Restaurants (#6) and Culture (#9).