Culture of San Diego

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The culture of San Diego, California is influenced heavily by American and Mexican cultures due to its position as a border town, its large Hispanic population, and its history as part of Spanish America and Mexico. San Diego's longtime association with the U.S. military also contributes to its culture. Present-day culture includes many historical and tourist attractions, a thriving musical and theatrical scene, numerous notable special events, a varied cuisine, and a reputation as one of America's premier centers of craft brewing.

2007 Corso degli Artisti Street Painting Festival in San Diego's Little Italy.


Tourism has affected the city's culture, as San Diego houses many tourist attractions, such as SeaWorld, Aquatica San Diego, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, Belmont Park, Balboa Park, and nearby Legoland. San Diego's Spanish influence can be seen in the many historic sites across the city, such as the Mission San Diego de Alcala, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, and Balboa Park. Cuisine in San Diego is diverse, but there is an abundance of wood fired California-style pizzas, and Mexican and East Asian cuisine. Annual events in San Diego include Comic-Con, the San Diego/Del Mar Fair, San Diego Pride, and Street Scene Music Festival.


San Diego has been a military town for more than 100 years. Present-day reflections of that tradition include tributes to military history such as the USS Midway Museum and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, as well as numerous smaller memorials throughout the city. Annual events celebrating the military include Fleet Week and the Miramar Air Show.



Fish Taco

Because of its ethnic and cultural mix, San Diego has a wide range of cuisines. One can find Mexican, Italian, French, Spanish, Filipino, Vietnamese, Greek, Latin, German, Indian, Central and East Asian, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander food throughout the city.[1] In addition, there are numerous seafood restaurants and steakhouses. The city's long history and close proximity to Mexico has endowed the area with an extensive variety of authentic Mexican restaurants. Regional homemade specialties, border fare and haute cuisine are all readily available.

San Diego's warm, dry climate and access to the ocean have also made it a center for fishing and for growing fruits and vegetables. Long a center of the tuna industry, San Diego benefits from an abundant supply of seafood.

Many of the most popular restaurants can be found in the Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, La Jolla, Hillcrest and Old Town.

Local specialties include:

  • Mexican (carne asada, street tacos, California burritos,[2] fish tacos, enchiladas, carne asada fries, and ceviche)
  • Wood-fired, California-style pizza
  • Southeast Asian specialties of all kinds
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Local wines (San Pasqual Valley, Rancho Bernardo, Julian)
  • Locally produced (from the mountains near Julian) hard and sweet apple cider and Julian apple pie
  • Various fruits and vegetables (including avocados, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, eggplant, oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, grapefruit, grapes, apples, pomegranates, persimmons, and melons)

Several chain restaurants made their start in San Diego. These include Jack in the Box (1951), Pat & Oscar's (1991), Souplantation (March 1978), Rubio's (1983), Roberto's Taco Shop (1964), Alberto's (1975), and Anthony's Fish Grotto (1946).


San Diego County has a vibrant craft brewing community featuring more than 100 active local brewpubs and/or microbreweries.[3] The city and county of San Diego are sometimes referred to as "America's craft beer capital".[4][5] San Diego was listed first in the "Top Five Beer Towns in the U.S." by Men's Journal,[6] and the Full Pint said that San Diego is "one of the country's premier craft beer destinations" with a "thriving brewing culture".[7] San Diego brewers have pioneered several specialty beer styles, most notably the American Double India Pale Ale (Double IPA). Three San Diego County breweries are consistently rated in the Top 10 breweries in the world: AleSmith Brewing Company, Pizza Port/Port Brewing Company/Lost Abbey, and Stone Brewing Co.

None of San Diego's original 20th century breweries (such as Aztec Brewing Company which was closed in 1953) survived the spread of big national brewing companies. The first of the new wave of local breweries and brewpubs was the Karl Strauss Brewing Company which opened in 1989. A second wave of microbrew companies was led by Port, Stone (now the largest local brewer) and Alesmith.[8] Annual events celebrating San Diego's beer culture include San Diego Beer Week in November[9] and numerous local craft beer festivals.


San Diego has a small, but growing art scene. "Kettner Nights" at the Art and Design District in Little Italy has art and design exhibitions throughout many retail design stores and galleries on selected Friday nights. "Ray at Night" at North Park host a variety of small scale art galleries on the second Saturday evening of each month. La Jolla and nearby Solana Beach also have a variety of art galleries.

Several art museums, such as the San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Gallery, the Mingei International Museum featuring folk art, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the Museum of the Living Artist are located in Balboa Park. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is located in an ocean front building in La Jolla and has a branch located at the Santa Fe Depot downtown.

Balboa Park hosts dozens of museums and gardens, including the Museum of Man, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum (formerly the Aerospace Museum). The San Diego Children's Museum is located downtown. The Columbia district on San Diego Bay is home to the Star of India and seven other floating museum ships and boats belonging to the San Diego Maritime Museum, as well as the unrelated San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum featuring the aircraft carrier USS Midway .


The San Diego Symphony performs on a regular basis at Symphony Towers and other venues. The San Diego Opera at Civic Center Plaza, directed by Ian Campbell, was ranked by Opera America as one of the top 10 opera companies in the United States. The San Diego Master Chorale performs both alone and with the San Diego Symphony. Other musical organizations include the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, La Jolla Music Society, the Greater San Diego Chamber Orchestra, the San Diego Concert Band, and the music departments of San Diego State University, University of California at San Diego, University of San Diego, and Point Loma Nazarene College. Free concerts of organ music are presented regularly at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the world's largest outdoor pipe organ, in Balboa Park.

San Diego boasts one of the most eclectic local music scenes in California. Once dubbed the "Next Seattle" during the independent rock craze of the early to mid-1990s, San Diego's clubs and cafe's have produced such pioneering rock acts as Blink-182, Stone Temple Pilots, Pierce the Veil, P.O.D., Switchfoot, As I Lay Dying, Three Mile Pilot, Rocket From the Crypt, Pinback, Thingy, Drive Like Jehu, Unbroken, Swing Kids, Creedle, Battalion of Saints, Manual Scan, Beat Farmers, The Paladins, The Bigfellas, Morlocks, Crash Worship, Greyboy Allstars, Boilermaker, The Black Heart Procession, The Album Leaf, Tristeza, and Pitchfork, among countless others. Singer-songwriter Erika Davies is a notable lounge music local act.


The Old Globe Theatre at Balboa Park has been in operation for more than 70 years and produces about 15 plays and musicals annually. The La Jolla Playhouse at UCSD produces both original and touring works and is directed by Christopher Ashley. Both the Old Globe Theatre and the La Jolla Playhouse have produced the world premieres of plays and musicals that have gone on to win Tony Awards on Broadway. More than three dozen local productions have gone on to Broadway; four have won one or more Tonys.[10] In 1984 the Old Globe Theatre received the Tony Award for best regional theater,[11] and the La Jolla Playhouse received the same award in 1993. The Joan B. Kroc Theatre at Kroc Center's Performing Arts Center is a 600-seat state-of-the-art theatre that hosts music, dance and theatre performances. The San Diego Repertory Theatre at the Lyceum Theatres in Horton Plaza produces a variety of plays and musicals. Serving the northeastern part of San Diego is the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, a 400-seat performing arts theater. Other professional theatrical production companies include the Lyric Opera San Diego, specializing in comic operas, operettas, and musical comedies, and the Starlight Musical Theatre, presenting musical comedies in the outdoor Starlight Bowl. Both the Lyric Opera and Starlight sought bankruptcy protection in 2011 and are currently inactive. Starlight is now under new management and being rebuilt to operate as an event space. There are also numerous semiprofessional and amateur theatrical productions throughout the year by such groups as the Cygnet Theatre, Christian Community Theater, Vanguard Theater, Lamb's Players Theater, Diversionary Theatre, and San Diego Junior Theatre.

Cultural Enclaves in San Diego[edit]

Little Italy, San Diego
Cultural Enclaves of the San Diego Metro Area and County
Enclave Name Neighborhood Community Represented Official Recognition or Dedicated District
Thematic Enclaves
Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District Marina, San Diego & Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego Historical Chinese-Mission Revival Fusion Yes, 1987
Egyptian Quarter Between Hillcrest & North Park, San Diego Egyptian Revival Architecture Abandoned
European Ethnic Enclaves
Little Italy Little Italy, San Diego Italian Americans Yes, 1996
Little Portugal CBD Avenida de Portugal, Roseville-Fleetridge, San Diego Portuguese Americans No
Olivenhain Olivenhain, Encinitas German Americans Yes, 1890s
Asian Ethnic Enclaves
Little Saigon City Heights, San Diego Vietnamese Americans Yes, June 4, 2013
Cambodian Americans No
Convoy District (Convoy Pan Asian Cultural & Business Innovation District) Kearny Mesa, San Diego Asian Americans
  • Taiwanese (Northwest)
  • Chinese and Korean (Central)
  • Japanese (East)
  • Southeast Asian (South)
Yes, October 20, 2020
National City, California & Paradise Hills, San Diego Filipino Americans No
Manila Mesa Mira Mesa, San Diego No
Little India (Center) Black Mountain Road, Miramar, San Diego Indian Americans No
Linda Vista, San Diego Southeast Asian American No
Golden Hill, San Diego No
East Clairemont Mesa Thai Americans No
Chollas View, San Diego Laotian Americans No
Pacific Islander Ethnic Enclaves
Little Samoa Oceanside, California Samoan Americans No
Oceanside & Vista Pacific Islander Americans No
Mission Beach, San Diego No
Spring Valley, San Diego County, California No
Middle Eastern Ethnic Enclaves
Little Baghdad El Cajon, La Mesa, & Spring Valley, CA Iraqi Americans, Assyrian Americans, and Chaldean Americans No
La Jolla Eruv La Jolla Jewish Americans Documented
University City Eruv University City, San Diego Documented
College Area Eruv College Area, San Diego Documented
San Carlos Eruv San Carlos, San Diego Pending
African and African American Ethnic Enclaves
Little Moghadishu / Little Somalia City Heights, San Diego Somali Americans No
Sudanese Americans & South Sudanese Americans No
Southeast San Diego African Americans No
Latin American/Caribbean Ethnic Enclaves
Barrio Logan, San Diego Mexican Americans & Chicano Yes, 2017
San Ysidro, San Diego No
Logan Heights & Shelltown, No
City Heights, San Diego Salvadoran Americans No
Escondido, California Mexican Americans & Central Americans No
El Cajon, California Puerto Ricans No
Native American Ethnic Enclaves
Hatam's Village (Hata'am) Balboa Park (San Diego) Native Californians & Native Baja Californians Dismantled 1900s
Kumeyaay Reservations Various places in East County San Diego Kumeyaay & other Yuman-speaking groups Various
Cupeño & Luiseno Reservations Various places in North County San Diego Payomkawichum (Luiseño) & Kuupangaxwichem (Cupeño) Various
LGBTQ Enclaves
Hillcrest Gayborhood Hillcrest, San Diego LGBT Americans No
Alpine, California Lesbian Americans No

Sites of interest[edit]


(* An asterisk designates National Historic Landmarks)

Annual events[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Ian Pike (3 October 2012). "The California Burrito, Part 1: Potatoes?". San Diego Reader. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  3. ^ "SD Brewing Industry Watch". West Coaster. Archived from the original on 2 May 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  4. ^ American Craft Beer Week, May 17-23 Archived 2013-12-07 at the Wayback Machine, San Diego Union Tribune, May 18, 2010
  5. ^ Glassman, Bruce, San Diego's Top Brewers: Inside America's Craft Beer Capital, Chef's Press, San Diego, 2011, ISBN 978-0981622231
  6. ^ The Top Five Beer Towns in the U.S. Archived July 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Men's Journal, October 5, 2009
  7. ^ San Diego kicks off first-ever Beer Week, The Full Pint, August 17, 2009
  8. ^ San Diego: America's Beer Capital, San Diego Magazine, March 2010
  9. ^ San Diego Beer Week website
  10. ^ San Diego Union Tribune, November 22, 2009
  11. ^ San Diego News Network, April 4, 2010 Archived February 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine