With year-round sunshine and some of the finest beaches in the country, San Diego draws visitors from all over the world. We look at some little-known facts about “America’s Finest City.”
1. San Diego’s biggest employer is the US Navy.
The city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report cites the US Navy as its top employer, with 29,948 employees as of 2015.
This figure isn’t surprising, considering that San Diego Bay has a rich naval history and continues to play an important role in American defense. For one, the city is home to the US Pacific Fleet.
The US Navy established Naval Base San Diego in 1919 as a docking and repair base, and it became a destroyer base in 1922. In 1942, fleet training schools and an amphibious training unit were opened.
Today, the base consists of 13 piers and operates 24 hours a day, controlling and coordinating complex naval operations, managing airspace and surveillance, and training new naval recruits.Most of the year the base is closed to visitors, except for Fleet Week in the fall,when it opens to the public for tours of military ships and other activities.
In addition to Naval Base San Diego, the area is also home to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in the northern part of San Diego County. One of the largest Marine Corps bases in the US, Camp Pendleton was established for training purposes during World War II.
2. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovered San Diego Bay in 1542.
The Spanish explorer was searching for a mythical water route across North America, known as the Strait of Anian. Many had searched for it, and many continued the search after him, but this passage across the North American continent did not exist. Cabrillo was repeatedly stymied after following any inlet that looked like it might be the strait.
Cabrillo set sail from Mexico’s West Coast in June 1542. He reached what is now California before any other European explorer and successfully mapped California’s coast up to the mouth of the Russian River, about 60 miles north of present-day San Francisco. However, Cabrillo—along with many subsequent European expeditions—unknowingly sailed past the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the largest estuary in North or South America on the Pacific Ocean. Still, many locations in California, including parks, schools, and roads, bear his name.
3. San Diego has more farms than any other United States city.
There are over 7,000 farms within San Diego’s city limits. In addition, San Diego County is the United States’ number-one producer of avocados and the second-largest producer of macadamia nuts, limes, pomegranates, and guavas. This natural abundance translates into a wealth of restaurants serving fresh, farm-to-table food.
San Diego also has more small farms than any other county in the United States. Its Mediterranean climate makes it an ideal place for agriculture. Though water and land are expensive in San Diego, farmers skillfully manage precious resources to produce a variety of high-value crops.
4. The city was once known as the tuna capital of the world.
Tuna fishing was once big business in San Diego. Thousands of people once worked on the city’s fleet of fishing boats and in local canneries. San Diego’s tuna industry took off in the 1880s, when Portuguese settlers began fishing for albacore from small boats. Any leftover fish not consumed locally were pickled in barrels and shipped to San Francisco, then the state’s largest city.
Sardine canner Alfred Halfhill first had the idea to can tuna in 1903. He found that by steaming albacore, the fish turned white and tasted a bit like chicken—prompting the now-familiar nickname “Chicken of the Sea.” Preserved in olive oil, canned tuna quickly became popular, with vast amounts of tuna shipped out across the country. Canned tuna became particularly popular with New York’s growing Italian immigrant community.
5. San Diego is home to America’s first drive-in restaurant.
In 1941, Robert Oscar Peterson opened Oscar’s, America’s first drive-in restaurant. Carhops took orders and delivered food to customers as they sat in their cars.
A decade later, Peterson founded the fast-food chain Jack in the Box by converting the Oscar’s at 63rd Street and El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego into a drive-thru restaurant. At the time, other restaurants had experimented with drive-up windows where customers could order and receive food. However, Peterson’s Jack in the Box was among the first to use a two-way intercom that allowed one car to order at a speaker, while the car ahead received its food from the drive-up window. From its humble beginnings, Jack in the Box went on to become an industry giant, and the drive-thru concept became standard in the fast food industry.
6. More than 35 million people visit San Diego each year.
San Diego enjoys an enviable reputation as America’s Finest City for its weather, hospitality, and abundance of attractions. Visitors flock to the city for its blend of cosmopolitan chic and laid-back beach atmosphere.
From the historic Gaslamp Quarter to beachfront boutiques and cafés, San Diego is the perfect vacation destination. Further afield, the county’s landscape is incredibly diverse, from scenic stretches of coastline to mountains forests and lakes. Whether you are looking for a relaxing retreat or somewhere to party into the night, San Diego has something for everyone.