What has San Diego contributed to American culture?

by on January 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm in History, The Arts | Permalink

In honor of the AEA meetings I was going to do “My Favorite Things San Diego” but frankly I came up with what is more or less a total blank.  Eddie Vedder?  I like Tom Waits.  Lots of athletes.  What else?

San Diego, by population, is the eighth largest city in the United States.  Yet it seems to have had hardly any cultural influence.  What gives?

Movie, set in: Almost Famous, or perhaps A Day Without a Mexican.

End of story, unless you can tell me more.  I’m sure to enjoy the weather, though I’ll look longingly at Tijuana just across the border.

john personna January 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm

The Spirit of Saint Louis was built by Ryan Airlines in San Diego, California,

msgkings January 2, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Anchorman, arguably the funniest movie ever made.

But that’s a movie set in and about SD, not made by SD natives (I don’t believe). As far as someone from SD contributing to the culture? http://tourguidetim.com/blog/2008/list-of-notable-san-diegans/

Raquel Welch, Annette Bening, Bill Walton…it is a thin list.

Willitts January 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Something we can agree on.

msgkings January 2, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Common ground! Gotta start somewhere… :-)

Reminds me of Bruno (the Sasha Baron Cohen character) trying to broker Mideast peace starting with the shared regional love of hummus.

William Gadea January 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Not even the funniest movie made in San Diego! That would be Some Like It Hot.

msgkings January 3, 2013 at 1:38 am

Hey, big ups to Some Like it Hot, my favorite post Marx Brothers black and white comedy….but I still gotta pick Anchorman…

rz0 January 3, 2013 at 9:46 am

Might have been made in San Diego, but in the plot, the murders are in Chicago, and the hotel is in Miami.

William Gadea January 3, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Quite right! I don’t know about the rest of the movie, but the scenes from the last half were shot in the Del Coronado hotel in San Diego.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Simon and Simon? Or at least their crossovers with Magnum P.I.

Andrew' January 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Then again, your favorite thing San Diego could just be…San Diego.

RR January 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm


Willitts January 2, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Which of course, in German, means “a whale’s vagina.”

Henrico Otto January 2, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Setting for Three’s Company.

kiwi dave January 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm

that was just a rip-off of Man About the House (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_About_the_House).

Adrian January 2, 2013 at 2:22 pm

That was Santa Monica.

Mark Thorson January 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Comic-Con yet.

Dangerman January 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

This was immediately my first thought.

Gabriel Rossman January 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Sea World.
I’m not kidding, it has two other locations and did a lot to establish a sort of mainstream eco-tourism.

Uhaf Gottabekittigme January 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Sea World. Eco-tourism. Good one!

V January 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Paging Steve Sailer…I think he has a oft stated answer to Tyler’s question

msgkings January 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm


RR January 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm

He would probably say : the fact that its on the right side of the border!

John Durant January 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

How about defending American culture? San Diego is like the bouncers and security guards at concerts and museums.

Joel January 3, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Defending it from what? Mexico? The pacific ocean?

me January 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

ahem, has no one here heard the phrase, “there goes the great hitter that has ever lived”?

msgkings January 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Just another sports guy to Tyler perhaps. But I tip my cap, nice reference.

utah street January 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Ted Williams grew up on my street and his house is still standing at 4121 Utah St. Anyone else think that the baseball field down the street should be named Ted Williams Field?

Orange14 January 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Hoover High School baseball field is named after him. My mom graduated Hoover four years after Teddy ballgame did and was in the same class as Ray Boone who had a decent MLB career.

geez January 4, 2013 at 7:51 am

The fact that Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn share a strong connection to San Diego is slightly awesome

NNM4 January 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm


msgkings January 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Also, SD is 8th largest in population in the city limits, but that’s because it’s one of those sprawling sunbelt cities with most of the people it its metro area in the city itself (like Austin TX or Jacksonville FL). It’s only 17th in the list of metro areas.


kiwi dave January 2, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Beat me to the punch.

Adam Calhoun January 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm

No no, that’s more or less a complete list. Except maybe add Tony Hawk, and maybe something about surf culture happened here?

If you go to National City you can find some cool old bars/restaurants that Hollywood celebrities would visit when needing an extra stop before/after a Tijuana visit.

And why not go to Tijuana? That’s what the free nights are for.

Dave January 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Anchorman, clearly. Also Traffic, which is partially set in San Diego because its proximity to the Mexican border makes it ideal for drug dealers. And Top Gun, I think.

joris January 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm

some great punkrockbands coming out of san diego. rocket from the crypt were/are probably the best known. drive like jehu is earlier (and some of the same people) and more obscure but probably my favourite.

slothtosser January 3, 2013 at 11:44 am

great call on both. i was worried this could devolve into a discussion on ratt.

John Durant January 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Frank Zappa spent his adolescence in San Diego, where he joined his first band.

Orange14 January 2, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Not true, Antelope Valley HS was where he formed his first band.

Diego January 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm
Ben Hughes January 2, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Saying San Diego is the eighth biggest city in the country overstates the cultural importance you *would expect it to have* because the city borders are wide – it’s distortionary in the context of this discussion. Technically San Diego is bigger than San Francisco, but no one has been to both would reasonably conclude San Diego seems like a “bigger city”.

Ahrash January 2, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Raymond Chandler spent the later portion of his life in San Diego and he actually died in La Jolla. What is widely regarded as his best novel (“The Long Goodbye”) was written there.

celestus January 2, 2013 at 12:57 pm

8th biggest city is misleading, obviously, as it must have been nowhere near the 8th biggest city 20-30 years ago.

As for cultural contributions…no Carmen Sandiego references yet? I must be one of the younger (or, gasp, older) commenters here.

libert January 2, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Don’t be surprised. The rest of the commenters are simply gumshoes.

David January 2, 2013 at 1:53 pm


San Diego has been in the top 10 since 1980. It’s importance is definitely overstated by its size rank, though. It’s really basically a big Navy town, a big college town, and a big border town rolled into one, with a lot of suburbs all included inside city limits.

celestus January 2, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Dang. I’ll get the Moron Bat.

Thomas January 2, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Cameron Crowe/Fast Times at Ridgement High. (It’s possible to think Ridgemont is set in suburban LA, not SD.) Fast Times more than Crowe, though Crowe has certainly had some impact outside of that work.

The 8th largest bit significantly overstates SD’s size. Look at MSA size instead, and you’ll see they’re just above Tampa. I’m guessing they’re having about the same cultural impact.

albert magnus January 2, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Tampa also has produced a lot of popular atheletes, but none that compare to Ted Williams.

David January 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (i.e., Jurassic Park II)

Max January 2, 2013 at 12:59 pm

It’s the birthplace of naval aviation. That ought to count for something.

JWatts January 2, 2013 at 1:07 pm

“It’s the birthplace of naval aviation. That ought to count for something.”

I assume you meant US naval aviation. But even in that case it’s not really correct. Virginia was the birthplace of naval aviation. I would say that San Diego was the crib of naval aviation.

“U.S. naval aviation began with pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss who contracted with the Navy to demonstrate that airplanes could take off from and land aboard ships at sea. One of his pilots, Eugene Ely, took off from the USS Birmingham anchored off the Virginia coast in November 1910. Two months later Ely landed aboard another cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay, proving the concept of shipboard operations. However, the platforms erected on those vessels were temporary measures. The U.S. Navy and Glenn Curtis experienced two firsts during January 1911. On January 27, Curtiss flew the first seaplane from the water at San Diego bay and the next day U.S. Navy Lt Theodore G. “Spuds” Ellyson, a student at the nearby Curtiss School, took off in a Curtiss “grass cutter” plane to become the first Naval aviator.”

tt January 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

maybe you should leave the city before you insult it

Peter Garst January 2, 2013 at 1:03 pm

The zoo and the wild animal park, in addition to sea world. That’s why my family visited.

Chris Brooks January 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm

The Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture was developed in San Diego as the design aesthetic for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915.

babar January 2, 2013 at 1:07 pm

i remember seeing an official sign that said “END SCENIC DRIVE” during a visit to SD

vanderleun January 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm

“San Diego, by population, is the eighth largest city in the United States. Yet it seems to have had hardly any cultural influence. What gives?”

Well, take a look at the demographic and reflect that the majority of San Diegans come from a culture whose most notable contribution of late is the bouncing car.

Noumenon72 January 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Look at the demographic yourself. San Diego is 77% white, 5.6% black.

TGGP January 5, 2013 at 11:20 pm

White persons, percent, 2011 (a) 77.0%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino Origin, percent, 2011 (b) 32.5%
White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2011 48.0%

So vanderleun and Noumenon72 were both wrong. One didn’t bother to look up the data, and the latter is either ignorant as to who “bouncing cars” are associated with or failed to notice their category in his link.

Jan January 2, 2013 at 7:14 pm

VD, you gonna take that?

OneEyedMan January 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Introduced the fish taco into the USA, or at least popularized it.

Top gun.

hippdoghipp January 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Yes on Fish Tacos.
And Top Gun.

vanderleun January 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Oh yes…. add to that the burrito, aka “tomorrow’s turd today.”

kiwi dave January 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm

A couple of points to bear in mind:

1. San Diego might be the eighth largest *city* by population, but it’s only the 17th most populous metropolitan area in the US. Given how arbitrary city definitions can be, MSAs are more relevant in determining how much cultural heft we should attribute to a city (city in the colloquial, not legal sense). Like San Antonio, the fact that San Diego’s city boundaries take up a lot more of its hinterland than many other American cities tends to make its city ranking misleadingly high. But since we tend to attribute things that happen in outside parts of metro areas to the core city (e.g. things happening in Cambridge get attributed to Boston; Burbank and Beverly Hills to LA etc.), the MSA should matter more.

2. San Diego, like some other sun-belt cities, was very small pre-WWII and experienced extremely rapid growth in the post-war decades. Possibly these new cities haven’t had the time or the historical roots to develop a distinctive and notable culture (e.g., in 1950, San Diego was the 31st biggest city: http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab18.txt, and was only 18th in 1960: http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/tab19.txt; into the 1970s it was smaller than Indianapolis and Milwaukee).

3. More generally, I suspect San Diego is subsumed into a LA-dominated southern California culture that it is not really independent of.

(also, I will second Anchorman.)

lemmy caution January 2, 2013 at 2:05 pm

“I suspect San Diego is subsumed into a LA-dominated southern California culture that it is not really independent of.”

I agree with this. San Diego is not that far from LA. LA is probably the cultural center of the world if you go by cultural products that people actually consume.

Chad January 2, 2013 at 1:10 pm

With weather that nice, who needs “culture” to stay entertained?

Brian January 2, 2013 at 3:47 pm

This says it all.
oh, and don’t forget the fish tacos!

Luke January 3, 2013 at 10:48 am

So, basically the municipal equivalent of the “restaurant full of beautiful smiling people” from An Economist Gets Lunch?

Also, does Dr. Seuss count? Geisel was born in MA, but wrote most of his well-known children’s books in La Jolla.

Careless January 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm

ok, that sounds like a good one.

max January 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Stone Temple Pilots are often thought to have come from Seattle, but in fact are from SD.

Sammler January 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Stone IPA.

Kunal Patel January 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Yup. The leading craft-brewery in the world and probably one of the major drivers of the microbrew movement that has bubbled up the past 10 years.

Donoby January 2, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Yes. And also Green Flash, Port, Alpine and AleSmith, to name a few. The West Coast IPA is America’s contribution to beer culture,

Jacob AG January 2, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Invisible Children is headquartered there.

There’s also this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otIjo9Wyslg

CC January 2, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I came here to post that.

Ben January 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Depends on your opinion of Louis Kahn, but the Salk Institute is pretty renowned architecturally.

boba January 2, 2013 at 6:33 pm

The Salk is in La Jolla.

Gimlet January 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm

La Jolla is an unincorporated subdivision in the city of San Diego.

lemonverbena January 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm

La Jolla is a neighborhood in San Diego.

TyGuy January 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Somebody’s got to be nobody. The quality of a nation is dtermined by it’s nobodies, not it’s somebodies.

Vanderleun January 2, 2013 at 1:26 pm

And they got a pretty spiffy and tidy Mormon temple right by the freeway!

vanderleun January 2, 2013 at 1:27 pm

“The quality of a nation is determined by it’s nobodies, not it’s somebodies.” That’s soooo racissssst!

Peter Schaeffer January 2, 2013 at 1:29 pm

“What has San Diego contributed to American culture?”

CDMA of course as in Qualcomm. The history of CDMA is more complex of course. However, Qualcomm did commercialize the technology.

Is technology culture? American culture? I would say yes.

TexasCardinal January 2, 2013 at 3:09 pm


Technology and innovation has to be seen as part of culture. They interact.

US has, in general, lagged in mobile technology. The origins of the recent renaissance by US in mobilte technology has to be traced back to Qualcomm’s successful commercialization of CDMA (which became the basis of both flavors of 3G mobile technology, not forseen by Nokia etc. during 2G days).

This added mobile hardware technology into the technology catalogue of California …. creating a bunch of innovative entrepreneurs and helping Apple etc. for example. So, it can be argued to have helped in maintaining the “culture of technological innovation” that California is known for.

Peter Schaeffer January 2, 2013 at 5:09 pm


How about Project Orion? La Jolla is close enough to San Diego to qualify. See http://discovermagazine.com/2005/feb/grandest-rocket-ever#.UOSv76z-3jU

Gimlet January 2, 2013 at 8:16 pm

La Jolla is in the city of San Diego. La Jolla isn’t a city – it’s more of a designated community or something.

Peter Schaeffer January 2, 2013 at 11:50 pm


Good point. Makes Project Orion even more part of San Diego.

Tyson Brown January 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Does the setting for “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” count as a cultural contribution?

Widmerpool January 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Carne asada fries.

lemonverbena January 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm

California Burrito! (carne asada, fries, guac/salsa inside a burrito). + Burritos in general.

Moira Mac January 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Hello! Motherf*cking San Diego Comic Con! I get the chills of anticipation walking down the Gaslamp district just thinking about the convention. It’s there where I found myself walking behind Stan Lee. It is there where I stood only 8 feet away from the Original Mr. Spock. It’s where Mark Hamil and Kevin Conroy held a panel for Arkham Asylum before anyone gave two shits. And this city has one of the most beautiful skylines ever. Seriously. Stand on the top of the Hilton Parking Structure and you’ll see…

Scott Miller January 2, 2013 at 1:38 pm

SD has a great disc golf course that is immaculately landscaped and manicured like a regular golf course (at least it was 10 years ago when I visited). Fantastic weather and fantastic course.

Winthrop Bastin January 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I’m glad you haven’t found anything you like. We are full up anyway. As I say to every tourist I meet: “Welcome to San Diego, now go home.”

Eric S. January 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Denver and Portland called and want their zippy slogan back.

Anon January 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Urbanized area is a much better measure than MSA, which has to respect county boundaries. Look at the Las Vegas or Riverside MSA, for example. SD is 15th in urbanized area population.

For culture, SD is, along with Denver and Portland, the most important craft beer city in America.

Kelly January 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm

California burrito / carne asada fries
Fish Taco
Dennis Conner / America’s Cup racing

Jesse F January 2, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Great, now I have “Kokomo” stuck in my head. :(

Arik January 2, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Some I’m surprised haven’t been mentioned:

Ocean beach, which was and still is an important hippie waypoint.

Surfing, especially the beaches in la jolla (see beach boys references)

The earliest European contact in the west coast (see cabrillo national monument, and old town which has become over touristed)

Tuna (home of the major canned tuna manufacturers)

The border crossing to Tijuana (the busiest?)

Major military presence with several large bases in town.

Scripps school of oceanography (maybe the most important oceanography school alongside woods hole in mass)

Orange14 January 2, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Tuna industry has been gone for some time now. Military has been wound down as well (Naval Training Center was closed in one of the first base closure approvals).

Bradley Gardner January 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm

My favorite things San Diego:

1. The Zoo – Mostly because it has one of the largest captive bonobo populations in the world.

2. The Beer – Stone brewery is solid, and there are others. (Though it’s definitely not my favorite beer town)

3. Proximity to Mexico – A plus for the cuisine.

The town has nice beaches if you like that sort of thing. I don’t.

Tom Waits is from East of Los Angeles not San Diego.

Bradley Gardner January 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Though it seems Tom Waits went to High School there.

Diesel January 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Holy Crap. You complain about lack of culture in San Diego and gaze longingly at TJ? TJ – home of woman vs donkey shows and knocking shops on every corner…..if that’s the culture you like it splains a lot 😉
What’s the old line – Nobody is FROM San Diego – it’s a city of immigrants (legal and otherwise) so most of what goes on around here came from other places. But in its defense . . . .
San Diego’s World Famous Zoo & Animal Park
Scripps Institute for Oceanography
Sea World
Veronica Mars (that’s a stretch, but KRISTEN BELL!!!!!)
Jim Croce
Pizza Port, Stone, Karl Strauss, Green Flash, Lost Abbey etc
Old Globe Theater
Many shows that end on Broadway start in San Diego
blink 182
Tom Waits

Go Kings, Go! January 2, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Best selling authors Marcus Luttrell and Mark Owen wrote extensively about their time in San Diego. Mark Owen’s No Easy Day supplanted the execrable Fifty Shades of Grey as NYT #1.

The Coronado 4th of July parade might top all the others.

In the same vein, S.D. is the only West Coast pro-military town left.

ralph ruben January 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm

San Diego attracted talented people like Jonas Salk, Leo Szilard, Jacob Bronowski and Francis Crick. And the Navy SEALS train on its beaches. Moving to a beautiful area, quietly pursuing your own interests while helping mankind is a fine contribution to American culture. It’s a great model patriotic town.

Howl January 2, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Best answer of thread.

Jed Sundwall January 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Three cheers for this response.

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