Earth : North America : United States of America : California : Southern California : San Diego County : San Diego
San Diego is a large and pleasant coastal city right on the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It's home to 1.3 million citizens and the second-largest city in the state with many universities and good swimming beaches. It's also known for its ideal climate, bio and communications technologies, long history, nightlife, outdoor culture and ethnic diversity.
The city sits just north of the Mexican border, across from Tijuana. Though a large city, San Diego has a somewhat slower paced atmosphere and, when visiting, some may find it provides a soothing break from the typical hustle-bustle of a city of its size.
San Diego is seamlessly divided into districts comprising each of charming individual neighborhoods.
This list of districts is by no means an official breakdown of the city, but one that is meant to make sense from the standpoint of a visitor, based on the number of attractions the average visitor will find in each area.
The area was long inhabited by the native Kumeyaay people (also known as the Diegueño by the later Spanish settlers), who lived off the land and created a proud culture. The first time Europeans visited the region was in 1542, when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sailing under the Spanish Flag, claimed the bay for the Spanish Empire and named the site San Miguel.
In November of 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent to map the California coast. Arriving with his flagship "San Diego", Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and what is now Mission Bay and Point Loma, renaming the area for the Spanish Catholic Saint, St. Didacus (more commonly known as San Diego).
San Diego was established in 1769 as the first Spanish mission in California, at the present site of Old Town. However, due to the poor nature of soils in the Old Town area, the mission was eventually relocated about five miles up river in Mission Valley.
In the 19th century, San Diego passed from Spanish to Mexican to American hands. In 1850, a few years after the United States gained control of California, San Diego was officially designated a city. But with much of the westward expansion to California centered on the gold rush and San Francisco, American influences were slow to come to San Diego. Eventually they did, however, and in the later decades of the 19th century the railroad came to San Diego, resulting in further growth of the city and the establishment of Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The U.S. Navy discovered San Diego in the early 20th century, and constructed a coaling station on Point Loma in 1907. Ten years later, the Naval Air Station on Coronado island was established, and in later years the Navy would take on an increasingly important role in the city's economy. Today San Diego is home to the Navy's Pacific Fleet, and is a favorite leave location for sailors.
San Diego has 1.3 million people and serves as a hub for bio technologies and communication tech. San Diego's also benefits from tourism and conventions. The city is also becoming a favorite for those who are looking to take advantage of the climate for athleticism, and using a bicycle as a means of transportation, see By Bike section.
The San Diego area can be an incredible place to visit almost any time of the year, with its mild Mediterranean climate. With coastal temperatures around 75 degrees (24°C) most of the time, the weather is ideal, with very low humidity. The climate of Southern California is rather complex, however, and temperatures change rapidly as one travels from the coast eastward. In the summer during the day, the temperature might increase as much as one degree Fahrenheit for each mile going east. In the winter, especially at night, eastern areas are usually relatively cooler. Some valleys and other areas have significantly different weather due to terrain and other factors. These are often referred to as "micro-climates".
If you're coming to San Diego expecting sunny weather, avoid coming in May or June, when San Diego is covered in clouds most days, a phenomenon referred to by the locals as "May Grey" or "June Gloom". September is usually the hottest month of the year in the daytime. Mid-September through October are labeled as the most at-risk months for wildfires, because of the long absence of any substantial rainfall. Along the beach during the warmer half of the year, it can get surprisingly cool after dark, even when it's not too cold a short distance inland. The months of March and April typically see the strongest winds. Along the coast, fog is most common September through April; it is not uncommon to experience 3-7 foggy days per month.
During the late summer and fall there is a reversal of the usual climate conditions, when hot, dry air blows from the desert to the coast. These winds are called the Santa Ana winds. Milder Santa Ana winds can result in excellent dry air conditions, but powerful ones can last days on end, significantly raising temperatures, creating tremendous fire danger, and making the outdoors unpleasant.
Winter in the city is also very pleasant, but you might need to bring a jacket, especially for the night. Low temperatures are around 50°F (10°C) and high ones around 65°F (18°C). Also, keep in mind that almost all precipitation falls from November to March and that the coldest month is December not February. Despite being at the same latitude as Atlanta and Dallas, snow is extremely rare in the San Diego metropolitan area, having been observed only 5 times in recorded history (the most recent involved flurries that reached the upper areas of El Cajon in 2008). Light snowfalls do occur almost every year in the surrounding mountains and may ocassionally be seen in inland places with low altitudes, but in the downtown it almost never happens. The lowest recorded temperature is 25°F (-4°C).
When Spaniard Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed his ship into the area on September 28, 1542, he and his crew became the first Europeans to set foot on what would eventually become part of Southern California. Prior to his arrival, San Diego was home to around 20,000 Native Americans from various tribes. Today, Native Americans account for less than 1% of San Diego's population.
For several centuries after Cabrillo's arrived and claimed San Diego for Spain, San Diego's population grew and shrank and grew again. In that time wars were fought, various armies came and went, emigrants began to arrive from Central and South America and elsewhere in the United States, economies boomed and went bust, and San Diego was passed from Spain to Mexico and eventually to America.
Today, San Diego is home to over one million people and is considered one of the more ethically and culturally diverse places in the United States. The majority of people (close to 60% of the population) identify as being White.
People of Hispanic and Latino origins comprise much of the remaining population. San Diego also has a strong community of Mexican laborers who commute from their home in Mexico to their jobs, typically as farm workers or domestics. A sprinkling of Asians, African Americans, Pacific Islanders and those identifying as being "Other Race" make up the rest.
San Diego's cultural diversity does not translate into religious diversity. Catholicism is the dominant religion at 32%, with 22% identifying as Protestant. Over a quarter the people in San Diego however, claim not to affiliate with any religion.
English is the primary language spoken, with Spanish coming in a strong second. While not as common, it's also not unusual to hear conversations in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and a variety of other Asian languages.
San Diego is also a relatively young city, at least as far as residents' ages are concerned. The median age of those who call San Diego home is 35.6. Slightly over 11% of the population are over the age of 65.
San Diego has a rich culture and a storied past. It's a place that has inspired writers throughout the centuries.
San Diego International Airport, better known as Lindbergh Field,(IATA: SAN) is 2.5-3 miles (4-4.8km) NW of downtown San Diego and is less than 10 minutes drive (or taxi ride) along Harbor Dr to get to downtown. The descent into the airport from the east is remarkably close to downtown buildings, which can be a bit alarming for first-time visitors. It is served by:
Currently direct international flights are offered by British Airways from London; Japan Airlines from Tokyo Narita; from Toronto and Vancouver by Air Canada; from Calgary on Westjet and from several cities in Mexico with Spirit, and Alaska.
Southwest, Alaska/Horizon and Frontier are at Terminal 1; and everything else including international flights are at Terminal 2.
To get into downtown San Diego from the airport locally:
Beware that even discounted coach airfares between San Diego and Los Angeles (about 120 miles/190 km) can cost nearly as much as a trip to the east coast. Flying will usually be greatly discounted or even free for connecting flights if it's part of the overall routing, but you must leave LAX within four hours for domestic flights or 24 hours for international. Direct fixed point ground transportation between LAX and San Diego is extremely limited and taxi/van service is more costly than flying (except for groups of about six or more).
If arriving into Los Angeles (LAX) here are a couple of options to get to San Diego without flying and without a car:
Tijuana Gen. Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport (IATA: TIJ) in Mexico is in the vicinity of San Diego, and may be an option as it offers numerous flights and recently added long-haul service from Shanghai. This allows many tourists from the Pacific Rim the option of bypassing the Los Angeles or San Francisco airports and putting them closer to San Diego or to transit from the Pacific Rim to Latin America to avoid the extra bureaucratic hassles associated with entering the US (which is required to even transit). However, closer is not necessarily easier. As this airport is not in the United States, travellers need to make sure that they have the proper documentation such as passports or visas for their respective nationality to traverse through Mexico into the United States. Also, one should be aware that border crossing by private vehicle from Tijuana to the United States involves very lengthy waiting lines. As such, changing planes in Los Angeles or San Francisco then continuing on to San Diego is usually the easier option for travel. Likewise travel from Mexico City (and/or other Mexican cities further south) to Tijuana may be a cheaper option as a domestic flight then as an international flight to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
With the opening of the Cross Border Xpress bridge and terminal, Tijuana is now the only airport in the world to have terminals in two countries. Passengers can walk across a bridge spanning the U.S.-Mexico border between the terminal on the U.S. side and the main facility on the Mexican side. This allows air travelers using the Tijuana Airport the option to clear US customs and immigration at a separate US Terminal building thus avoiding crossing the border at either Otay Mesa or San Ysidro. To use it you must have in your possession an airline boarding pass, passport (and/or visa where required), and a CBX ticket which can be either purchased online or via their website. There are also car rental offices and taxi services available at the US terminal plus there is a shuttle service from the CBX Terminal to San Ysidro (cost is $5.00 USD) and Downtown San Diego at the Santa Fe Train Station (cost is $10.00 USD).
Private pilots will prefer the nearby general aviation airports, Montgomery Field (ICAO: KMYF) in Clairemont Mesa, Gillespie Field (ICAO: KSEE) in El Cajon, or Brown Field (ICAO: KSDM) east of San Ysidro. There are several more in the North County. If flying to the San Diego area from the east, be aware of the 5,722 foot (1,744m) Volcan Mountain near Julian. Private aircraft have flown straight into the mountain at night, often with deadly results. Some air taxi and air charter firms offer specials to the San Diego area from local airports, including from many smaller Los Angeles airports and from the San Luis Obispo area.
Amtrak, Santa Fe Depot @ 1050 Kettner Blvd, ☎ +1 800 872-7245, . Amtrak operates from the historic Santa Fe Depot, located in downtown at 1050 Kettner Blvd. The station is the southern terminus of Amtrak's frequent Pacific Surfliner  route, which runs north to Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. The depot is within walking distance of downtown hotels and situated near San Diego Bay. The city operates a bus line (Route 992, the "Airport Flyer") between the train depot and San Diego International Airport.
There is also a secondary rail station located at the Old Town San Diego Historic Park. It is used mainly for travel within San Diego County, although Amtrak also serves it on weekends and holidays.
The other rail service is COASTER, ☎ +1 800 262-7837, , a commuter train that runs north from downtown along the coast through northern San Diego County all the way to Oceanside where it meets the Metrolink (Orange County Line) rail service from Los Angeles and the Sprinter  rail service from Escondido. Service is mostly limited to the weekday rush hours, with limited service on Saturdays and Sundays. Fares are based on how far you ride; a one-way fare will be in the range of $4-$5.50. Tickets must be purchased from the ticket vending machines located at each station.
The Blue Line Trolley  goes between downtown and the US/Mexican border in San Ysidro via National City & Chula Vista. SENTRI pass (for locals who cross everyday) helps you bypass the lines. All others have to wait in line to get through immigration. The stop for the Blue & yellow Line Trolley is across the street (Kettner Blvd) at the American Plaza. The Green Line Trolley going northeast to Santee and southeast to PetCo Field stops along the other trains at the Santa Fe Depot.
San Diego is easily accessible by car using any one of the three major interstate roadways, the 5, 8, and 15 Freeways.
Additionally, there are numerous other freeways that crisscross the county, making access to most places in San Diego relatively easy. However, be advised that traffic is frequently congested during the weekday morning and evening commuting hours.
Unfortunately, there is no central bus terminal nor are they located next to each other in the same area. Each company have their own stop(s) or station all over the city. In San Ysidro there is a SDMTS transit center & taxi stand (including light rail stop) just north (or after walking out) of the US immigration & customs station. The long distance bus station is behind McDonalds to right (east) when exiting the border station. Major operators include:
The Cruise Ship Terminal  in downtown San Diego currently only services excursions departing from San Diego to Baja Mexico and Los Angeles. These include dinner cruises, three-day gambling cruises and 'party excursions' to the Mexican coastal ports of Baja.
Although alternatives are being created, San Diego is Southern California, so renting or having a car available will increase your enjoyment to this city if you really want to cover some distance. If you would like to use public transportation, it can be done. Some buses run late into the evening, but this doesn't apply to all routes! Trip planning is advised; read the Bus section below. Taking the bus will also increase the amount of time you spend traveling from place to place however you will be able to get a great feel of this remarkable city by traveling with the locals.
The San Diego metropolitan area is sprawling. Car travel is the most efficient way of getting around the metro area. Throughout the downtown and beach communities, on-street parking is metered. Parking meters accept coins, pre-paid Parking Meter Cards, and some newer meters accept credit cards. For more information parking meters and enforcement, or to purchase a pre-paid meter card please visit the City of San Diego Parking Administration  website. Gas/petrol prices tend to be higher than much of the U.S. The outlying communities of El Cajon, Santee, Lemon Grove, Poway, and Chula Vista are the least expensive in the area for filling your tank.
All the major rental car companies operate at the San Diego Airport, though most require you to take a shuttle which goes behind the terminal and runway (about 2.5 miles). To get to the I-5 freeway, turn right at Sassafras Street, then cross the railroad tracks. Do not mistake the railroad crossing for Kettner Blvd./I-5 south as a few visitors have done (mostly after dark) over the years. These tracks are heavily used by Amtrak and other rail services, and there's a good chance of being hit by a train if you make a wrong turn.
By public transit
The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS)  operates bus service to large portions of the county, although service in many areas is sparse and infrequent. The weakest points in the transit system are suburb-to-suburb travel and poor links between some of the individual coastal communities, both of which often require long trips to one of the transit hubs, then back out. If you will be mainly in the areas around downtown, the bus may be suitable, but service generally gets weaker the farther you are from the central area.
There is bus service every 15 to 30 minutes or so (at least on weekdays) between downtown San Diego and a number of tourist-oriented destinations. These include the airport, the zoo, and neighborhoods such as Hillcrest, North Park, and La Jolla, check a routing website for timetables. There is adequate service to Sea World from the Old Town Transit Center, where the trolley stops. Service from downtown to Coronado and Ocean Beach is about once every 30 minutes.
The fare is $2.25 for local/neighborhood routes, $2.25 for urban routes, and $2.50 for express routes. Transfers are not available. Day passes (which also include rides on the Trolley and a $2 discount on Coaster fares) cost $5. All downtown buses intersect with Broadway at some point. During the day many locals and tourists alike will be taking the bus. At night some people might feel a little less comfortable, but generally not unsafe on the main parts of downtown. The MTS has offices in downtown, on Broadway.
Trolley (light rail)
The San Diego Trolley  is a light rail system operated by the MTS which mainly serves tourists and people living in the southern and eastern parts of the city that need to get to downtown areas. There are three trolley lines: blue, green, and orange. The Blue Line operates from the US-Mexico border at San Diego/San Ysidro and runs to Old Town, via Chula Vista, National City, and Downtown. The Green Line travels from Old Town east to Santee, via Mission Valley and SDSU. The Orange Line connects the eastern cities of El Cajon and La Mesa with Downtown (generally not as usable for tourists except for getting around parts of downtown). Trains run from at least 5AM-12AM every day. Frequency varies, but the trolley usually runs every 15 minutes, with service reduced to every 30 minutes for late-night, weekend, and holiday service.
Standard one-way fares run from $1.25 to $3 depending on how far you travel. Day passes (which include bus service) run at $5, and there are 2, 3 and 4 day passes available. Tickets have to be purchased from the vending machines at the station before you board the train. The fine $120 for not having a ticket. Although it is not available today, the trolley system will eventually connect with the airport.
The weather in San Diego is ideally suited for bicycle riding, and bikes are a good way to explore the beach side communities. Many of the beach side community's residents use bikes to get around as it is ideal weather and a good way to alleviate finding parking. The beach areas are flat and some beach cruiser rental spots can be found along the boardwalk areas in Mission/Pacific Beach. In other parts of the city, cycling has not been prioritized until the 2030 San Diego regional transportation plan (SDRTP) is implemented, starting [insert date] . Cycling around the greater city area is not recommended for the tourist until the SDRTP has been implemented, but is possible for a habitual cyclist. A bicycle map of San Diego is available.
Like much of California and the Southwestern United States, English is the predominant language with Spanish the second most widely spoken. Store signs are written in English or both languages, and many businesses have bilingual employees that speak both English and Spanish.
See San Diego with children for travelers with children.
A couple of discount passes offer admission to a number of places:
From historic landmarks to world-class zoos and parks, San Diego has a lot to see.
Parks and Beaches
Zoos and Aquariums
San Diego is a museum lover's dream. Travelers can walk with the dinosaurs at the San Diego Natural History Museum, or soar into space at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park, catch a wave at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside or reclaim childhood at The New Children's Museum in Downtown.
Many visitors come to San Diego to visit its famous attractions, tour the museums and get a glimpse of history. Those looking for a little more action and adventure can explore San Diego by air, land or sea.
San Diego Sky Tours offers scenic sightseeing tours, biplane rides, aerobatics thrill rides and dog fighting air combat rides in the San Diego skies.
Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla offers those wishing they had wings the chance to try paragliding and hangliding.
Activities on Land
Universities & military (training) installations in the area:
San Diego is a major technology and defense hub of California and the United States. Major industries include defense, telecommunications, technology, biotechnology, computers and scientific research. With five major military bases located within fifty miles of San Diego, defense related services and support are a key part of San Diego's economy.
For those who prefer brand names like Bloomingdales, Gucci and Apple, Old Town-Mission Valley has an open-air mall that covers 1.7 million square feet. Old Town-Mission Valley, located at the western end of Mission Valley, is an ideal spot if you're searching for items related to San Diego's history. Much of what San Diego has to offer shoppers can be found by strolling the streets of its various districts. Each district offers souvenir hunters a wealth of unique shops to explore and treasures to be found. Owing to its warm weather and sunny climate, even most of San Diego's traditional shopping centers are set in beautifully-landscaped settings.
Souvenir hunters, eclectic buyers and even window shoppers will all find something to appreciate when they wander the streets of Downtown. The famous Gas Lamp Quarter offers everything from unique boutiques to mainstream fashion brands. The Maritime Museum of San Diego and USS Midway Museum are great places to find gifts with a nautical theme. Take a stroll through Little Italy for a bit of everything — this section of Downtown offers everything from jewelry and antiques to art and furniture.
Continuing the theme of the unique and the eclectic, Balboa Park-Hillcrest boasts a varied array of shopping options. This is the place to find stores offering vintage books and clothes mixed in amongst those with more current offerings. Nearby [[Balboa Park|Balboa Park-Hillcrest] is stuffed with museums and attractions, each offering its own gift shop and unique brand of toys, gifts and souvenirs.
The upscale shopper will enjoy spending time browsing in La Jolla. This is where buyers will find high-end clothing stores, fanciful toy stores, a variety of art galleries and even a boutique pet store for those who need to bring a gift home for furry family members.
Antique hunters and lovers will want to head over to Point Loma-Ocean Beach. This district offers its own antique shopping area known as Ocean Beach Antique District.
When your stomach starts rumbling, it's time to decide what type of food will satisfy. Practically every district in San Diego offers bits of everything, from Thai to tacos.
Many restaurants in San Diego specialize in Cali-Baja, a style of cooking unique to San Diego. The "Cali" is derived from the fact that California chefs are beginning to place a premium on using fresh local ingredients. And San Diego County has more small farms than any other county in the nation. As a result, chefs are able to source many of their ingredients direct from the growers themselves.
"Baja" may be a bit of a misnomer since this part of the trend originated in Tijuana, a Mexican city just south of San Diego's border. It was in Tijuana that chefs revolutionized Mexican cooking. They took traditional Mexican ingredients and mixed them with the flavors and bounty of the Mediterranean. This new style cuisine came to be known as Baja Med. Cali-Baja, therefore, combines the use of fresh, local produce with the flavors and techniques developed by Baja Med chefs.
Like most metropolitan cities, San Diego has its fair share of clubs and bars. On any given night, travelers looking to slake their thirst can do so while listening to jazz, rubbing shoulders with local biker gangs, or drinking and dancing in themed nightclubs that rival anything the Las Vegas Strip has to offer. Here's a secret that only locals typically know — in San Diego, it’s all about the beer.
Beer and Breweries
When the New York Times calls a city a “sunny haven for suds lovers,” craft beer drinkers everywhere take note. Prior to the 1980s, visitors to San Diego could find places that offered beer, but it was the same beer typically found anywhere in the United States. Craft beers and microbreweries, which were starting to come on the radar elsewhere, were unheard of in San Diego. Entrepreneurs Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner were determined to change things. The two teamed up with Chris’s cousin, award winning master brewer Karl Strauss and together they opened Karl Strauss Brewery. This was the first time San Diego had seen beer locally brewed and created since Prohibition. And the trend took off. Those interested in sampling history can head to La Jolla to visit the Karl Strauss Brewery, and taste their offerings.
Today, San Diego has over 100 breweries. The biggest clusters of breweries are in Downtown in general and The Gaslamp Quarter in particular, and in Mission Valley and Old Town. Stone Brewing's location in Point Loma, Ballast Point and Half Door Brewing Co. in Downtown are considered worthwhile stops.
Clubs and Cocktails
As with the breweries, Downtown in general and The Gaslamp Quarter' in particular offer the most options for visiting night owls. This section of San Diego teems with clubs offering both live and recorded music, rooftop bars where drinkers can sip cocktails while enjoying the view, and places with decor that ranges from the basic to the sublime and the utterly strange. If you're looking to see and be seen you'll want to drop in at The Tipsy Crow, Onyx Room or Fluxx. Those looking to recreate the experience of the speakeasies of yore — and drink some amazing cocktails in the bargain — need to search out Noble Experiment. Reservations are by text message only and patrons will first need to find the secret and rather cleverly-hidden entrance.
Travelers might also enjoy drinks with a view. Perched 22 stories above the ground, ALTITUDE Sky Lounge is the highest bar in San Diego. Rooftop600 offers not just drinks and views, but also a pool and the option of a private cabana.
Wines and Wineries
Wine and wineries might get less attention than their hoppy brethren, but San Diego has close to 100 wineries. While the majority of the wineries are situated away from the tourist attractions in San Diego’s North and East Counties, [Vin De Syrah] in The Gaslamp Quarter consistently makes the list of top wine bars.
San Diego offers an immense range of accommodations. You will find everything from hostels — perfect for backpackers on a budget — to five star luxury resorts. Accommodations in all districts boast access to something San Diego has to offer. You can choose to be walking distance from Balboa Park, sleep in the historic Gas Lamp Quarter or find a place that lets you watch the surfers from your bedroom window.
Most of the truly upscale hotels and resorts are clustered in San Diego's Downtown or in and around the district of La Jolla. If location is more of a concern than luxury, visitors have their pick of hotels that offer easy access to SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the Gas Lamp Quarter and La Jolla. There are also multiple accommodations that feature stunning views of San Diego's famous beaches. Mission Bay and Ocean Beach are two such beaches that boast seaside accommodations.
If you're looking for a more intimate setting, you can choose from amongst San Diego's vast selection of Bed and Breakfasts. These Bed and Breakfasts are more scattered than their hotel counterparts, but they can be found in almost all of San Diego's districts. If experience is more important than location, guests can choose to stay in B&Bs that range from converted houseboats to Victorian mansions.
Students, backpackers and those on a tight budget can stay at one of San Diego's hostels. Many are accessible by public transportation. Others recommend taking Super Shuttle to reach them. While a couple of hostels can be found in Point Loma-Ocean Beach and Balboa Park-Hillcrest, the bulk of San Diego's hostels are situated in Downtown. This makes them easily accessible to Balboa Park and are walking distance from a wide assortment of restaurants and shops.
Rentals are also available for families who want kitchens, people with pets or travelers looking for more home-like accommodations. Rentals are found primarily in Mission Beach-Pacific Beach and La Jolla. Rental companies abound in San Diego and travelers can use them to find the perfect spot.
For those who prefer to bring their own accommodations, Mission Beach-Pacific Beach offer RV Parks.
The most common area code for San Diego Metropolitan area, including downtown, the southbay and the eastern suburbs is 619. North of I-8/Mission Valley uses 858, and the far northern suburbs (Escondido, Oceanside, Encinitas, etc.) use 760. Be sure to look when dialing a phone number that may be in a different area code. Most public telephones and hotel phones have the area code next to the phone number on the actual device.
There are numerous Wi-Fi hot spots in San Diego, many of which are at internet cafes. The San Diego Public Library system also offers wireless internet at many of its locations .
San Diego is considered to be one of the safest cities in California. Though crime is present, violent crime is on an overall decrease, but property crime still exists. You can now view real time crime reports of the area you plan to visit . One should use the same precautions as you would in any large metropolitan area. Avoid walking in Southeast San Diego or Barrio Logan (near or under the Coronado bridge) at night. If you do or must, avoid walking down dark alleyways or approaching unknown people. Most people do not encounter any problems if they avoid buying illegal drugs or prostitution. In addition, gangs are not as present as they are in Los Angeles, but they still exist.
In an emergency (immediate danger to loss of life or limb), call 911. Be aware that if you call from a cell phone, 911 calls are currently directed to the California Highway Patrol, which can result in delays in contacting city police. (911 calls made from land-line telephones are directed to the appropriate local agency.)
In many cases, when within the city limits, it may be more appropriate to directly dial the San Diego non-emergency number, (619) 531-2000. For example, to report a crime in progress when you are not in direct danger, it is probably best to call the San Diego Police (or other local municipality) directly.
San Diego is served by a professional police force  as well as a county sheriff department. Additional protection is offered on the major highways by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). To report a non-emergency within city limits, call (619) 531-2000 otherwise call 9-1-1 to report an emergency or a crime in progress.
The city of San Diego fire department offers fire protection, emergency medical care, hazardous waste cleanup, and search and rescue functions. If you dial 911 for an emergency the first responders will be the San Diego Fire Department. Urban brush fires are always a risk during the summer and fall, but rarely affect tourists.
Rip currents are notorious in San Diego for their strength and sudden appearance. Do not go out in the water without lifeguard supervision or at night. At La Jolla Shores, rip currents can be so strong that people standing (not swimming) in waist-deep water have been pulled out over their heads -- sometimes with deadly results (especially for non-swimmers). Except for sunbathing, avoid low tide like the plague at this beach. (This means the largest of the two daily tide cycles. Check newspaper weather page for Scripps Pier, or view the Weather Channel.) All of the major beaches have lifeguards on duty in the summertime, with only the more popular beaches having lifeguards year round.
Many of the ocean cliffs are made of a compressed sandstone and are prone to collapse, even in dry weather. If walking along the cliffs at the beach, try to be as far away from them as is practical. Obey all signs. Heavy rain may cause rising bacteria and chemical levels in the ocean waters. Care should be taken to read the newspapers or call the county health office to see if the water is safe for swimming. The Department of Enviromental Health recommends that people stay out of the water at the beaches for 72 hours after rain and to check water quality conditions on their website at www.sdbeachinfo.com.
Access to the beaches is safely made by using any of the public stairways provided; they are well maintained (except at Black's Beach) and free. The stairs at Black's Beach are in disrepair, so use at one's own risk. Wear sturdy shoes, and don't try unless you are in very good physical condition and able to climb the 300 ft. (100m) back from the beach. Beware of the false trails going down the cliffs, as every year a few people get stuck (or worse!). The trailhead begins at the southern corner of the unpaved glider port parking lot. Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the area and observe where others are going. Though a long walk, you can also get in from the north via Torrey Pines State Beach. (Parking $8 in the lot or free along the highway.) High tide will cut off this route, so plan ahead.
The bridge that connects Torrey Pines (north of Black's Beach) with Del Mar (former Hwy US 101) is old and in need of repair. Avoid walking directly underneath, as pieces of concrete occasionally fall off. It's still considered safe enough to drive over for now. If concerned, access this area from the south via I-5 and Genesee Avenue (exit #29) which soon becomes N. Torrey Pines Rd. Always supervise children very closely at places such as Sunset Cliffs and the Torrey Pines Glider Port above Black's Beach. It may be necessary to hold their hand at all times. If you have unruly kids, don't go there.
Thefts do occur at the beach and can ruin a perfectly wonderful day. Do not leave any purses or other personal items of value alone on the beach or in an open car. Vehicle burglaries are more prevalent in most beach communities and take place in broad daylight. If possible, do not leave anything of value in your car even when locked. Most kayak and beach rental shops offer safe boxes free of charge, and will store your valuables while renting.
In addition, take caution when around certain beach areas, as you may wander (inadvertently) onto a military instillation, where security is tight and beaches are either reserved for military patrons and their families or training centers.
Also note that as of November 2009, a temporary ban of alcohol on all public beaches and coastal parks in the city of San Diego was made permanent by San Diego voters. Violators can be given up to a $250 fine, with repeat offenders fined up to $1,000 and six months in jail. The alcohol ban applies also to any sidewalk or street in the city of San Diego.
There are numerous public and private hospitals in San Diego. These range from state funded institutions such as UCSD-Hillcrest and Thorton to private, world-renowned hospitals of Scripps La Jolla and the Children's Hospital. Non-profit Sharp Health Care also owns several hospitals, and has many "Urgent Care" centers for non-serious injuries such as a broken arm (daytime and early evening only). First-rate, world-class medical care can be found at any of these hospitals, as well as interpreters for more than a dozen languages.
San Diego is home to some of the most cutting edge health research in the country. The University of California, San Diego Medical Center is known for it's world class research. Some residents head to Mexico for cheaper health care, but this can be risky, and it would be more wise to use San Diego hospitals and clinics. Many of the institutions have doctors of all nationalities so language may not be a problem for some whose English skills may not be so good.
Smoking is banned in all restaurants, bars, public offices, and other places by order of California law. Although in tobacco shops and in coffee shops where tobacco is sold, you may smoke within these premises. There is a county wide ban on smoking in all state parks and there are city wide bans in San Diego, Del Mar, and Solana Beach that forbids smoking on public parks and beaches. El Cajon bans ALL outdoor smoking in public places. A new law enacted in January of 2007 prohibits smoking within 25 feet of any MTS transit station or bus stop. Beginning July 1, 2007 those caught smoking near transit facilities will face a fine of $75. Marijuana has long been part of San Diegans vibrant cultural and economic history. Regardless of heavy fines, the population is peacefully smoking/trading marijuana in public: (beaches, parks, sidewalks). Smoking laws are enforced only to grant law enforcement with probable cause, for otherwise unreasonable search and seizure.