20 San Diego

PopulationMetro: 3,250,477
The Southern California ideal now powers urban excellence and economic innovation.

Our World’s Best Cities ranking holds plenty of surprises, none more intriguing than San Diego’s #3 finish, just behind Tokyo and Barcelona, in our multilayered Place category. The city finished #20 overall globally, yet dominated in the subcategories of Place—including Weather (#9 globally) and Parks & Outdoor Activities (#5). The ranking speaks volumes about visitor and local perceptions of the Southern California ideal that America’s Finest City has in spades.

Its lauded perch on the extreme, sunny, Pacific-kissed bottom left of the country has long attracted surfers, adventurers and other residents who understand that making a living and cavorting with Mother Nature on school nights are not mutually exclusive.

How can they be? Year-round sun and ocean sports, golf and the beguiling Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are just the tip of a verdant, expansive public park system that’s the envy of the country. Accessibility to the outdoors is a point of local pride—from baby waves in Pacific Beach’s Tourmaline Surf Park designed to hook unsuspecting beginners on the sport to urban mountain biking in Balboa Park.

San Diego Bay

Even the long-urbanized downtown is embracing a lifestyle that worships the Pacific, with new residential development—the first new towers in over a decade—adding new housing stock to an in-demand waterfront location.

On its way to a strong finish for sense of place, San Diego ranked very low in Crime (third-lowest for all large cities), tops in Parks & Outdoor Activities, #5 in Weather and #4 in Neighborhoods & Landmarks.

Place 86
Product 19
Programming 13
People 75
Prosperity 53
Promotion 21

Tourism has always ruled in San Diego, which has drawn more than 30 million visitors annually for the past few years. But it’s the city’s brawn—one of the largest concentration of military in any city on the planet—that also fuels its increasingly powerful economic engine. Perhaps it’s this sense of security that has long allowed San Diego to embrace the cultural and economic bounty of Mexico, just a short drive away.

You need only to look at the symbiotic relationship with sister city Tijuana—one that continues to grow in today’s protectionist froth, allowing local companies to tap into cross-border innovation. This is a living business and trade lab watched closely by entrepreneurs—and prospective residents—across the country.