[FoRK] What can you tell me about San Diego?

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Tue Jan 13 12:23:51 PST 2009

On Jan 12, 2009, at 7:52 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:
> So, who can tell me useful things about San Diego?  Why would I want  
> or not want to go there?

I lived there a number of years and have quite a bit of family there.  
It is a very pleasant metro to live in, and even though they are in  
close geographical proximity, San Diego has relatively little in  
common with the wasteland that is much of Los Angeles, where I have  
also lived.  Whether or not it is for you depends on how you like to  
spend your time.

Some major observations, in no particular order:

- Everything you have heard about the weather is true, it has as close  
to an ideal climate of any place I have ever been.  Sunshine and blue  
skies all but a few weeks a year, low humidity despite being on the  
ocean, and a surprisingly narrow temperature band that keeps it  
pleasant all year. On very rare occasion, you get a tropical storm. It  
gets its weather from a different place than the rest of California.  
No significant smog problem outside of fire season.

- Biotech and med-tech is to San Diego what software is to Silicon  
Valley, also a lot of electrical systems and RF engineering, but the  
entrepreneurial environment and culture is significantly different,  
probably due to the high capital requirements of the types of  
technology ventures that are common there. Not geeky like Silicon  
Valley or the Pacific northwest.

- Spending a lot of time outdoors is de rigueur. San Diego has  
unusually good parks for a city, perhaps due to the superior weather,  
and has beaches that are actually meant to be used and lived on,  
unlike the rest of California.  If you like outdoor activities, San  
Diego is a great city to live in, and there are many popular past- 
times and activities somewhat unique to the city that are based in  
part on the unusually good year-around weather. The outdoor culture is  
one of the things San Diego has that few US cities can match, which is  
a major positive in my book.

- There is quite a bit of wealth in San Diego, and distributed pretty  
widely throughout the metro and population, but it has a more subtle  
profile than in many other cities.  While the city is ethnically  
diverse, it is culturally more homogeneous than the San Francisco or  
even Los Angeles region.  You do not have the visible populations of  
fringe nutters that have taken over small cities and districts like  
you do in northern California; you have the same kinds of cultural  
districts, the people just put less effort into being visibly extreme  
and different.  It lacks the media celebrity fetish of Los Angeles,  
the large collections of leftover hippies like the San Francisco area,  
or even much of a snooty "old wealth" culture despite the numbers of  
wealthy people.  Less cultural diversity, but the prevailing culture  
is pretty good as such things go.  Despite the pervasiveness of  
Mexicans in the population, the culture adopted some very English  
affectations (as opposed to more generic European) in a way you rarely  
see in the US.  It is not an homage to heritage or anything like that,  
just something that somehow was incorporated into the local scenery.

- Very mountainous and distributed metro, with no real city center to  
speak of. The nominal city center really isn't, despite being the only  
truly urban area of the city that I can think of, and there are other  
very nice mini-centers scattered throughout the metro.  It is  
unavoidably a driving city.

The primary caveats that come to mind:

- There is a very large naval presence in the San Diego area, and  
consequently the parts near military bases have a decidely "military  
town" feel to them and are among the least nice sections of San  
Diego.  Fortunately, it is pretty easy to never set foot in those  
parts of town.  Of course, all cities have these kinds of areas.

- While San Diego has all the restaurant diversity one might expect of  
a city of its size and history, I personally think it has a relative  
dearth of very high-end restaurants that I find surprising.  On the  
other hand, the ubiquitous indigenous cuisine is the wonderful (and  
healthy) coastal Mexican food that you really cannot get anywhere else  
in the US -- it is one of the things I miss most about San Diego.

- It is not a city you go to for super-deep or eclectic cultural  
experiences.  On the other hand, San Diego has retained vestiges of  
old Spanish-ness that you do not see in many other cities, and parts  
of it are unusually old for a western US city.  The city first  
underwent explosive growth in the early and mid 19th century, and  
parts of that are still around.

- I have not lived there in a while, though I do spend some time there  
most years. Some of my impressions may no longer reflect reality, but  
are probably generally valid.

Overall, I have always found San Diego to be one of the most pleasant  
places to live in the US, and would rather go there than most other  
American cities. It is missing the diversity of eclectic local culture  
that you find in some other major cities, but compared to suburbs like  
Silicon Valley it may actually be an improvement.


J. Andrew Rogers

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