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The internet writers gang up on San Diego

The accusations: thin skin, customer service, road rage, unfriendliness

“The vision of San Diego taking her place among the great cities of the earth is so clear and vivid now that even the dullest mind cannot fail to see it.”
“The vision of San Diego taking her place among the great cities of the earth is so clear and vivid now that even the dullest mind cannot fail to see it.”

The Marina District is one of San Diego’s more prestigious addresses. Once consisting mostly of warehouses and vacant lots, the 343-acre area on the west side of Downtown is now a cluster of apartments, high-rise condos and townhomes. The district is credited with igniting the revitalization of the Gaslamp Quarter by bringing the residential element to the city’s center, beginning in 1982 with the Marina Park and Park Row condominiums. According to the San Diego Condo Mania website, the average price of a Marina District condo (as of December 2021) was $2,173,130; the average price per square foot comes out to $1,813.

But despite the prestige and price, according to a September 2021 story on the News Break website, which bills itself as “The Nation’s #1 Intelligent Local News App,” the Marina District is one of San Diego’s five most dangerous places to live. “It’s one of San Diego’s most expensive areas,” the article states. “Don’t be fooled though; it’s also among the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Diego, with a crime rate of 556% greater than the San Diego average. Any resident in Marina has a 1 in 9 chance of becoming a crime victim, so it’s advised to avoid exploring the area alone or moving in the area if you’re a family with kids.” Little Italy, the reborn Italian-American community now known for its high-end restaurants and elegant pedestrian mall, fared no better in the News Break story: “Police patrols are rare, while property crime and thefts occur frequently, especially around public transit areas. And although the crime rate has been on the decline over the past few years, it’s still deemed an unsafe area for families, women, and solo travelers.” The top danger zone in San Diego, the article maintains, is East Village: “Heroin addicts and drug-addicted people fill up this neighborhood, often living on the streets. Petty crimes and muggings often take place as well.” Also on the list are Horton Plaza (“Exploring the neighborhood alone, especially at night times, is deemed greatly unsafe”) and Kearny Mesa (“a vast majority of Kearny Mesa’s crime is in petty thefts and muggings, which mainly occur in public means of transport”).

The USA ESTA Online website, run by a privately owned service provider specializing in Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications, published a story on dangerous San Diego neighborhoods in July 2020. The writing appeared to be generated by a computer, or by someone using bad translation software. At the top of this list: Kearny Mesa. “This neighborhood of 3,664 people has a vast majority of its crime in petty thefts,” the website said. “Bus transits and other public means of transport are thus not safe.” East Village, according the website, is filled with “heroin addicts and drug-addled homeless…. Strangely enough, there are tons of police patrolling this neighborhood regularly. This neighborhood is not a safe one for walks or bike journeys, especially at night times…. Females and visitors are encouraged to travel lighter, in terms of cash handling. This is to avoid being mugged. Residents are doubtful about the safety of public commutes or hotels.” And Oak Park, the website said, “has a slight gang situation and car stealing fetish…. Going around Oak Park gets sketchy, so walking or strolling should quit at daylight hours. Preferably, female solo travelers would need to be escorted at nights through these seedy areas.”


Ah, San Diego! For years, our humble burg received little media coverage, and most of what was written consisted of travel stories that pegged San Diego as a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. In a 1925 cover story for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, John Steven McGroarty wrote, “It is a strange thing, indeed, that the world has been so slow to find its way to San Diego. It has always been a wonder to us – this strange thing. A spot so surpassingly alluring in its beauty, so glamorous with romance, and that was ever so potential in its commercial position of strategic mastery. But, the world has a way of learning at last. And now it is making a pathway to San Diego’s door – to its puerta del sol, the doorway of the sun…. The vision of San Diego taking her place among the great cities of the earth is so clear and vivid now that even the dullest mind cannot fail to see it.”

“Time and the time again, San Diego makes the list as having one of the highest homeless populations in the country”

Nearly 20 years later, World War II brought San Diego into the national spotlight for its military presence. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote in 1942, “You can’t help but feel war when you are in San Diego…. The streets are jammed with soldiers, sailors and Marines. In some ways it is like a college town…. Since I was here last spring, more housing projects have gone up [and] vast new trailer camps for the workers have been established…. This is a city living on war. It will be a chaotic day here when the war ends and all this terrific war structure begins to crumble. Unfortunately, it probably never can crumble clear back to the good old sleepy San Diego of ten years ago.” A year later, in his syndicated column, H.R. Baukhage mentioned “that fabulous city of San Diego, once a pleasant, sleepy town which seemed to move lazily with the pelicans that flew over the bay or the whispering palms. The pelicans have been replaced by planes and it’s a 24-hour town, with a 336 percent increase in the use of its busses and trolley cars.” But when the war ended, so did the media attention, and the mentions that San Diego did get consisted mostly of snide comments about a sleepy Navy town living in the shadow of Los Angeles.

In 1967, Los Angeles Times sports columnist John Hall marveled over San Diego’s new football stadium in Mission Valley, which he called “the newest and perhaps plushest joint of them all.” “San Diego, that sleepy place where they have the zoo and where all they used to do was sail around and lie around in the sun, may have at last outdone us city slickers.” A Chicago Tribune travel story from 1971 talked up San Diego as a “pleasant place in which to live,” but also noted that historically, the city “became a place where old sailors faded away and good admirals went to retire.” Then-Mayor Pete Wilson tried to lift the city’s national profile in 1972 when, shortly after the city lost out on hosting the Republican National Convention, he coined the nickname, “America’s Finest City.” But few outside San Diego even noticed. In a 1972 article on President Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China, the New York Times referred to San Diego as a “palisade of palm trees and political conservatism.” Three years later, the Honolulu Star-Telegram wrote an article about a new World Team Tennis franchise in “San Diego, the Navy town.”

A rare exception was a story on San Diego and its many recreational opportunities that was published in the December 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated, in which the author branded San Diego “Sports Town, USA.” But some of his passages are hyperbolic, if not laughable. He wrote of “the streams of people who pour out of City Hall and downtown offices at noontime and hoof it to nearby Balboa Park for group jogging sessions; judges and lawyers over there, secretaries to the left, dentists to the right.” At Mission Bay, the writer observed, “along with countless swimmers, sail surfers, water skiers and jet skiers, the waters were brimming with an armada of pleasure craft: kayaks, sloops, sculls, cabin cruisers, pontoon barges, paddle boats, catboats, catamarans, hydroplanes, hydrofoils — you name it, it was afloat and moving. Ashore, scattered across 27 miles of bayfront that meanders around a maze of coves, peninsulas and islands, park-goers were bicycling, skateboarding, fishing, practicing karate, sailing Frisbees, batting whiffleballs and playing badminton, volleyball, kickball and touch football. And everywhere there were joggers, including one fast-stepping woman towing a tot on roller skates.” The author also noted that “on a back road leading to the University of California, San Diego, one can see regaily attired equestrians on one side, while on the other, motorcycles, dune buggies and comical all-terrain vehicles skitter across the hills like jackrabbits.” (We have no idea to which “back road” he is referring.)

Only with the rise of the internet — and the proliferation of “ranking” features, designed more than anything else to generate clicks — has San Diego been getting the media attention the city has craved for so long. But those of us who see San Diego as paradise and wouldn’t contemplate living anyplace else might be surprised to find that not everyone shares our rosy-eyed view of California’s second-biggest city. On travel blogs and discussion boards, San Diego routinely gets knocked for cost of living and expensive housing. We get dinged for lack of culture, too-laid-back ways, our traffic and our restaurants — even our weather, which some say is too gray in May and June and too boring the rest of the year. Even on the various “best places” lists, San Diego typically doesn’t place nearly as high as we locals believe it should. San Diego’s media went gaga in October when U.S. News & World Report, in its annual ranking of 150 metro areas, pegged San Diego as No. 1 on the “30 Most Fun Places to Live” list. But what the media didn’t mention was that on the overall “Best Places to Live” ranking, San Diego didn’t even make the Top 25. That elite group consisted of such dynamic metropolises as Ann Arbor, Michigan; Huntsville, Alabama; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Omaha, Nebraska — the latter, home of the Reuben sandwich and Duncan Hines cake mix.

You could blame San Diego’s failure to crack the top 25 on the cost of living and affordable housing, but then, how does one explain the fact that San Francisco, where everything is even more expensive than down here, finished at No. 15? And just where, exactly, did San Diego place? Number 97. Yep, Number 97. Ninety-seven! That’s six spots below Birmingham, Alabama, which for years has had one of the highest murder rates in the country, nearly three times that of Chicago.

In October, Liveability.com published its annual ranking of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live in America.” Madison, Wisconsin was No. 1, followed by Ann Arbor, Michigan at No. 2; Overland Park, Kansas, at No. 3; Frederick, Maryland, at No. 4; and Charlottesville, Virginia, at No. 5. Only a handful of California cities made the list, including Oxnard at No. 68 and Riverside at No. 82. (When my middle son, Conner, went to orientation day at Cal State Channel Islands a few years ago, a police officer warned the incoming freshmen: “Stay away from Oxnard!” And Riverside — well, what really needs to be said?) As for San Diego, well, America’s Finest City didn’t even make the list, with the final spot, Number 100, reserved for — get ready — Anchorage, Alaska.

A News Break story deemed Little Italy an unsafe area for families, women, and solo travelers.

San Diego was shut out of Money magazine’s 35th annual 50 Best Places to Live, which was topped by the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, Minnesota, praised by the publication for its “gorgeous outdoors, musical history (the city was home to Prince), and an appealing growth trajectory.” Rounding out the top five: Carmel, Indiana; Franklin, Tennessee; Flower Mound, Texas; and Ashburn, Virginia. And the hits keep coming. In July 2018, British journalist Robert Hull came to San Diego for Comic-Con and wound up writing a travel story for The Guardian, one of the top British newspapers. He described San Diego as “a city often in the shadow of its Californian neighbour, Los Angeles (a two-hour drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway),” but raved about Torrey Pines State Park, Cabrillo National Monument and even Chicano Park. The Gaslamp Quarter, on the other hand, didn’t impress Hull: “The Gaslamp Quarter is ‘the historic heart of Downtown’ with its Victorian-era buildings,” he wrote. “In reality, it’s a nightlife hub that feels too engineered.”

On the Housely.com website, contributor Camille Moore wrote an undated article titled “5 Of The Worst Things About Living In San Diego, California.” At the top of her list: “San Diego is what some would describe as overcrowded. Not only do lots of people come to visit San Diego, but many people relocate there, which has led to an increased number of residents. With that being said, it’s nearly impossible to avoid crowds in San Diego, especially at places like the beach.” Other “worst things” include traffic, the high cost of living, the weather (“The city has lots of ‘gray’ days and the weather can have long periods of being cloudy and muggy”) and “constant construction,” which Moore maintains “can get pretty annoying.”

A January 2021 YouTube video is titled “The Top 10 reasons You Should NOT move to San Diego.” Among the reasons: too many tourists (“a bunch of entitled visitors who tend to be jerks”), “awful drivers,” boring always-the-same weather, and fire danger. In a November 2021 story on the Embrace Someplace travel blog, an article explores the pros and cons of living in San Diego. Among the latter: The high cost of housing, taxes, the lack of public transportation, and homelessness — a rather surprising dig, considering that the website is based in Portland, Oregon. “Time and the time again, San Diego makes the list as having one of the highest homeless populations in the country,” the article maintains. “And it’s true, you can’t walk around the city streets without seeing the detrimental effects of homelessness around you... The discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots is painstakingly clear on the streets and practically impossible to avoid.”

Back in 2002, on the Fodors travel forum, the question was posed, “What are the worst things about San Diego?” Dozens of respondents ticked off traffic, the high cost of living, low wages and the lack of public transportation. One, whose online name was New York Exile, complained that “in addition to the previously mentioned negatives (traffic, high home prices, no public transportation, low wages), as a New Yorker, you will notice that the few theater productions here are second-rate touring groups, the restaurants don’t compare to New York’s (and bring your own corned beef and bagels — the delis and bakeries are really sad), classic culture (ballet, symphony) is almost non-existent, and the schools leave much to be desired. While the weather is better than New York’s, be sure to find out about May Gray and June Gloom if you’re thinking about living near the coast. And if you’re thinking about living inland, plan on super-high electricity bills in the summer because of the air-conditioning (assuming there are no black-outs). And did I mention the forest fires if you live further out to get a cheaper house? So welcome to San Diego!” Another, “John,” wrote a checklist: “Most residents are transplants, so no ‘traditional sense;’ people are quite superficial; weather is very same and predictable; lack of cultured feel; everything is super casual all the time, which is great most times, but not at all times; tax base being eroded continually; huge illegal immigrant population; schools don’t compare well nationally. There’s no perfect place. I’ve lived all over the country. You just have to find what works for you. For me, SD wasn’t it.”

“Every year while home for the holidays in SD I witness that it has increased in population, that more land has been developed into endless condos, the traffic is worse, the crime is worse and 90% of the people are not Californians.”

On the Quora question-and-answer website, two questions were asked about what people don’t like about living in San Diego. Of the more than forty responses, at least half complained about the high cost of housing and the low-wage job market. A woman named Leslie Slavens, who described herself as a fourth-generation San Diego native now living in New York, penned a lengthy diatribe in September 2018 about what she doesn’t like about her former hometown. “I did not like that the changing seasons were hardly noticeable and Christmas just didn’t have the right atmosphere,” she wrote. “I found it culturally limited as more tax funds and public interest seemed to go toward arenas and stadiums over libraries and museums. I disliked the obsession with the physical, which drove plastic surgery and tanning salons to take over magazine ads, mini malls and main streets while the intellectual was starved and ignored by the mainstream culture. These and many other little things like increased traffic, crowds, homeless, too many conservatives all inspired me to move to New York…. Every year while home for the holidays in SD, I witness that it has increased in population, that more land has been developed into endless condos, the traffic is worse, the crime is worse, and 90% of the people are not Californians. They bring their preconceived ideas of California with them and slowly change the state to something very different from my memories of 1970s San Diego…. San Diego is heaven to those who have only known life in the middle of wheat fields or Midwest tract homes, [but] I’m sure it’s not so great to those visiting from the Riviera, rather filthy and dangerous for someone from say Sag Harbor, and a bit boring to most NY city dwellers….”

Isaiah Howard, a former San Diegan who now lives in Houston, blasted San Diegans in April of 2020 for their thin skins: “Criticize anything about it, and I mean anything — even the increasingly bad homeless situation or increasingly bad traffic — and your name is s__t in a social circle, neighborhood, or workplace pretty quickly. Imperfections are ignored in SD in a manner so blatantly closed-minded that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world, except maybe the rural American South….” A third respondent complained that “90% of all restaurants are Mexican food,” while a fourth opined, “It isn’t all that visually appealing. The skyline sucks and the city itself is, for the most part, a sprawl of chain stores and ugly stucco buildings.”

Another Quora question asked, “What’s it like to live in San Diego?” Ca Ri, in March 2021, wrote, “I hate San Diego! I really wanted to come here and was optimistic about everything. I have been here almost 8 years and am counting the days until I can move that is 13 months from today exactly…. What don’t I like? It’s mostly the people. I have lived in 4 states and this is the only place I have ever had a hard time talking with people, making or keeping friends. Every conversation with anyone here is like a first date. It’s all small talk and no matter how many times you talk to them, the conversation is still shallow small talk. This place has the most aloof people anywhere in the U.S. I have ever seen. Most the time, I think I may be a ghost because no one ever acknowledges me in anyway. I consider this a lonely paradise…. Homeless people have no boundaries like in other cities, they will camp out in your carport and yes they have tried in mine or they will sit in your car or break your car windows to take a quarter. They also love to get in the dumpsters and throw it all over the alley. They even argue that they should get to stay in your carport because it’s cold outside, you know like 60 degrees.”

The top danger zone in San Diego is East Village.

San Diego has even gotten some nasty reviews on Yelp. In 2016, Encinitas resident K.C. wrote a lengthy piece titled “I’m not ‘clicking’ with San Diego. Like, at all.” K.C. wrote, “I like every place else I’ve lived … until San Diego.” Her biggest complaint: “Its surprisingly rude, cold, aloof, and unfriendly population… In only six months in SD (I live in North County and work in the city), I’ve experienced:

*Indifference in customer service. Even the Berliners seem to be better at this customer service thing!

*Road rage directed at me numerous times, which I have not instigated, engaged or fueled (I honestly didn’t experience this in L.A. or the Bay Area!) And, disclaimer: I’ve driven on the 405 in L.A., Highway 880 in Oakland, I-75 in Cincinnati/Dayton, and ain’t none of those drivers got the road rage y’all got!

*Going out in PB, OB, and La Jolla, which has introduced me to the wide range of douchebags that San Diegans seem to love to rag on L.A. for supposedly having. If you leave Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, L.A. folks are actually pretty normal.”

In October of 2016, author Sara Morris wrote on the website Thrillist that after four years in San Diego, she moved to Nashville. Good riddance, she writes. A key reason: “I missed the four seasons. Living in a never-ending summer sounds like paradise, but if I had to wake up to another perfect, sunny, cloudless day I was going to freak out. I know, I know — spoken like a true transplant. Sure, the entire month of June is sort of gray, but I enjoy the occasional gloomy day at other times of the year, or having an afternoon thunderstorm that doesn’t cause complete chaos in the streets just because it’s a little wet outside. Feeling the crispness of the air in fall and seeing the leaves change color is one of my favorite things in life. In SoCal, the changing of seasons is much more abrupt. It seems like the leaves die and fall off of the trees overnight then suddenly, it’s winter (if you can even call it that). The 70 degree ‘winter’ weather is not exactly conducive to wearing the cozy sweaters and coats that I love and have had to keep in storage for the last 4 years. Sorry/not sorry, ladies of PB, but rocking Uggs and a scarf with a mini-skirt and a tank top does not qualify as winter wear.”

But one of the saddest comments is on the Baby Center website, under a thread for military spouses. “i hate san diego :(,” writes Ellie16. “It’s depressing and expensive and it’s awful. I’ve never lived somewhere that just made me feel so sad and alone. I can’t wait to leave.”

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“The vision of San Diego taking her place among the great cities of the earth is so clear and vivid now that even the dullest mind cannot fail to see it.”
“The vision of San Diego taking her place among the great cities of the earth is so clear and vivid now that even the dullest mind cannot fail to see it.”

The Marina District is one of San Diego’s more prestigious addresses. Once consisting mostly of warehouses and vacant lots, the 343-acre area on the west side of Downtown is now a cluster of apartments, high-rise condos and townhomes. The district is credited with igniting the revitalization of the Gaslamp Quarter by bringing the residential element to the city’s center, beginning in 1982 with the Marina Park and Park Row condominiums. According to the San Diego Condo Mania website, the average price of a Marina District condo (as of December 2021) was $2,173,130; the average price per square foot comes out to $1,813.

But despite the prestige and price, according to a September 2021 story on the News Break website, which bills itself as “The Nation’s #1 Intelligent Local News App,” the Marina District is one of San Diego’s five most dangerous places to live. “It’s one of San Diego’s most expensive areas,” the article states. “Don’t be fooled though; it’s also among the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Diego, with a crime rate of 556% greater than the San Diego average. Any resident in Marina has a 1 in 9 chance of becoming a crime victim, so it’s advised to avoid exploring the area alone or moving in the area if you’re a family with kids.” Little Italy, the reborn Italian-American community now known for its high-end restaurants and elegant pedestrian mall, fared no better in the News Break story: “Police patrols are rare, while property crime and thefts occur frequently, especially around public transit areas. And although the crime rate has been on the decline over the past few years, it’s still deemed an unsafe area for families, women, and solo travelers.” The top danger zone in San Diego, the article maintains, is East Village: “Heroin addicts and drug-addicted people fill up this neighborhood, often living on the streets. Petty crimes and muggings often take place as well.” Also on the list are Horton Plaza (“Exploring the neighborhood alone, especially at night times, is deemed greatly unsafe”) and Kearny Mesa (“a vast majority of Kearny Mesa’s crime is in petty thefts and muggings, which mainly occur in public means of transport”).

The USA ESTA Online website, run by a privately owned service provider specializing in Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications, published a story on dangerous San Diego neighborhoods in July 2020. The writing appeared to be generated by a computer, or by someone using bad translation software. At the top of this list: Kearny Mesa. “This neighborhood of 3,664 people has a vast majority of its crime in petty thefts,” the website said. “Bus transits and other public means of transport are thus not safe.” East Village, according the website, is filled with “heroin addicts and drug-addled homeless…. Strangely enough, there are tons of police patrolling this neighborhood regularly. This neighborhood is not a safe one for walks or bike journeys, especially at night times…. Females and visitors are encouraged to travel lighter, in terms of cash handling. This is to avoid being mugged. Residents are doubtful about the safety of public commutes or hotels.” And Oak Park, the website said, “has a slight gang situation and car stealing fetish…. Going around Oak Park gets sketchy, so walking or strolling should quit at daylight hours. Preferably, female solo travelers would need to be escorted at nights through these seedy areas.”


Ah, San Diego! For years, our humble burg received little media coverage, and most of what was written consisted of travel stories that pegged San Diego as a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. In a 1925 cover story for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, John Steven McGroarty wrote, “It is a strange thing, indeed, that the world has been so slow to find its way to San Diego. It has always been a wonder to us – this strange thing. A spot so surpassingly alluring in its beauty, so glamorous with romance, and that was ever so potential in its commercial position of strategic mastery. But, the world has a way of learning at last. And now it is making a pathway to San Diego’s door – to its puerta del sol, the doorway of the sun…. The vision of San Diego taking her place among the great cities of the earth is so clear and vivid now that even the dullest mind cannot fail to see it.”

“Time and the time again, San Diego makes the list as having one of the highest homeless populations in the country”

Nearly 20 years later, World War II brought San Diego into the national spotlight for its military presence. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote in 1942, “You can’t help but feel war when you are in San Diego…. The streets are jammed with soldiers, sailors and Marines. In some ways it is like a college town…. Since I was here last spring, more housing projects have gone up [and] vast new trailer camps for the workers have been established…. This is a city living on war. It will be a chaotic day here when the war ends and all this terrific war structure begins to crumble. Unfortunately, it probably never can crumble clear back to the good old sleepy San Diego of ten years ago.” A year later, in his syndicated column, H.R. Baukhage mentioned “that fabulous city of San Diego, once a pleasant, sleepy town which seemed to move lazily with the pelicans that flew over the bay or the whispering palms. The pelicans have been replaced by planes and it’s a 24-hour town, with a 336 percent increase in the use of its busses and trolley cars.” But when the war ended, so did the media attention, and the mentions that San Diego did get consisted mostly of snide comments about a sleepy Navy town living in the shadow of Los Angeles.

In 1967, Los Angeles Times sports columnist John Hall marveled over San Diego’s new football stadium in Mission Valley, which he called “the newest and perhaps plushest joint of them all.” “San Diego, that sleepy place where they have the zoo and where all they used to do was sail around and lie around in the sun, may have at last outdone us city slickers.” A Chicago Tribune travel story from 1971 talked up San Diego as a “pleasant place in which to live,” but also noted that historically, the city “became a place where old sailors faded away and good admirals went to retire.” Then-Mayor Pete Wilson tried to lift the city’s national profile in 1972 when, shortly after the city lost out on hosting the Republican National Convention, he coined the nickname, “America’s Finest City.” But few outside San Diego even noticed. In a 1972 article on President Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China, the New York Times referred to San Diego as a “palisade of palm trees and political conservatism.” Three years later, the Honolulu Star-Telegram wrote an article about a new World Team Tennis franchise in “San Diego, the Navy town.”

A rare exception was a story on San Diego and its many recreational opportunities that was published in the December 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated, in which the author branded San Diego “Sports Town, USA.” But some of his passages are hyperbolic, if not laughable. He wrote of “the streams of people who pour out of City Hall and downtown offices at noontime and hoof it to nearby Balboa Park for group jogging sessions; judges and lawyers over there, secretaries to the left, dentists to the right.” At Mission Bay, the writer observed, “along with countless swimmers, sail surfers, water skiers and jet skiers, the waters were brimming with an armada of pleasure craft: kayaks, sloops, sculls, cabin cruisers, pontoon barges, paddle boats, catboats, catamarans, hydroplanes, hydrofoils — you name it, it was afloat and moving. Ashore, scattered across 27 miles of bayfront that meanders around a maze of coves, peninsulas and islands, park-goers were bicycling, skateboarding, fishing, practicing karate, sailing Frisbees, batting whiffleballs and playing badminton, volleyball, kickball and touch football. And everywhere there were joggers, including one fast-stepping woman towing a tot on roller skates.” The author also noted that “on a back road leading to the University of California, San Diego, one can see regaily attired equestrians on one side, while on the other, motorcycles, dune buggies and comical all-terrain vehicles skitter across the hills like jackrabbits.” (We have no idea to which “back road” he is referring.)

Only with the rise of the internet — and the proliferation of “ranking” features, designed more than anything else to generate clicks — has San Diego been getting the media attention the city has craved for so long. But those of us who see San Diego as paradise and wouldn’t contemplate living anyplace else might be surprised to find that not everyone shares our rosy-eyed view of California’s second-biggest city. On travel blogs and discussion boards, San Diego routinely gets knocked for cost of living and expensive housing. We get dinged for lack of culture, too-laid-back ways, our traffic and our restaurants — even our weather, which some say is too gray in May and June and too boring the rest of the year. Even on the various “best places” lists, San Diego typically doesn’t place nearly as high as we locals believe it should. San Diego’s media went gaga in October when U.S. News & World Report, in its annual ranking of 150 metro areas, pegged San Diego as No. 1 on the “30 Most Fun Places to Live” list. But what the media didn’t mention was that on the overall “Best Places to Live” ranking, San Diego didn’t even make the Top 25. That elite group consisted of such dynamic metropolises as Ann Arbor, Michigan; Huntsville, Alabama; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Omaha, Nebraska — the latter, home of the Reuben sandwich and Duncan Hines cake mix.

You could blame San Diego’s failure to crack the top 25 on the cost of living and affordable housing, but then, how does one explain the fact that San Francisco, where everything is even more expensive than down here, finished at No. 15? And just where, exactly, did San Diego place? Number 97. Yep, Number 97. Ninety-seven! That’s six spots below Birmingham, Alabama, which for years has had one of the highest murder rates in the country, nearly three times that of Chicago.

In October, Liveability.com published its annual ranking of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live in America.” Madison, Wisconsin was No. 1, followed by Ann Arbor, Michigan at No. 2; Overland Park, Kansas, at No. 3; Frederick, Maryland, at No. 4; and Charlottesville, Virginia, at No. 5. Only a handful of California cities made the list, including Oxnard at No. 68 and Riverside at No. 82. (When my middle son, Conner, went to orientation day at Cal State Channel Islands a few years ago, a police officer warned the incoming freshmen: “Stay away from Oxnard!” And Riverside — well, what really needs to be said?) As for San Diego, well, America’s Finest City didn’t even make the list, with the final spot, Number 100, reserved for — get ready — Anchorage, Alaska.

A News Break story deemed Little Italy an unsafe area for families, women, and solo travelers.

San Diego was shut out of Money magazine’s 35th annual 50 Best Places to Live, which was topped by the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, Minnesota, praised by the publication for its “gorgeous outdoors, musical history (the city was home to Prince), and an appealing growth trajectory.” Rounding out the top five: Carmel, Indiana; Franklin, Tennessee; Flower Mound, Texas; and Ashburn, Virginia. And the hits keep coming. In July 2018, British journalist Robert Hull came to San Diego for Comic-Con and wound up writing a travel story for The Guardian, one of the top British newspapers. He described San Diego as “a city often in the shadow of its Californian neighbour, Los Angeles (a two-hour drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway),” but raved about Torrey Pines State Park, Cabrillo National Monument and even Chicano Park. The Gaslamp Quarter, on the other hand, didn’t impress Hull: “The Gaslamp Quarter is ‘the historic heart of Downtown’ with its Victorian-era buildings,” he wrote. “In reality, it’s a nightlife hub that feels too engineered.”

On the Housely.com website, contributor Camille Moore wrote an undated article titled “5 Of The Worst Things About Living In San Diego, California.” At the top of her list: “San Diego is what some would describe as overcrowded. Not only do lots of people come to visit San Diego, but many people relocate there, which has led to an increased number of residents. With that being said, it’s nearly impossible to avoid crowds in San Diego, especially at places like the beach.” Other “worst things” include traffic, the high cost of living, the weather (“The city has lots of ‘gray’ days and the weather can have long periods of being cloudy and muggy”) and “constant construction,” which Moore maintains “can get pretty annoying.”

A January 2021 YouTube video is titled “The Top 10 reasons You Should NOT move to San Diego.” Among the reasons: too many tourists (“a bunch of entitled visitors who tend to be jerks”), “awful drivers,” boring always-the-same weather, and fire danger. In a November 2021 story on the Embrace Someplace travel blog, an article explores the pros and cons of living in San Diego. Among the latter: The high cost of housing, taxes, the lack of public transportation, and homelessness — a rather surprising dig, considering that the website is based in Portland, Oregon. “Time and the time again, San Diego makes the list as having one of the highest homeless populations in the country,” the article maintains. “And it’s true, you can’t walk around the city streets without seeing the detrimental effects of homelessness around you... The discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots is painstakingly clear on the streets and practically impossible to avoid.”

Back in 2002, on the Fodors travel forum, the question was posed, “What are the worst things about San Diego?” Dozens of respondents ticked off traffic, the high cost of living, low wages and the lack of public transportation. One, whose online name was New York Exile, complained that “in addition to the previously mentioned negatives (traffic, high home prices, no public transportation, low wages), as a New Yorker, you will notice that the few theater productions here are second-rate touring groups, the restaurants don’t compare to New York’s (and bring your own corned beef and bagels — the delis and bakeries are really sad), classic culture (ballet, symphony) is almost non-existent, and the schools leave much to be desired. While the weather is better than New York’s, be sure to find out about May Gray and June Gloom if you’re thinking about living near the coast. And if you’re thinking about living inland, plan on super-high electricity bills in the summer because of the air-conditioning (assuming there are no black-outs). And did I mention the forest fires if you live further out to get a cheaper house? So welcome to San Diego!” Another, “John,” wrote a checklist: “Most residents are transplants, so no ‘traditional sense;’ people are quite superficial; weather is very same and predictable; lack of cultured feel; everything is super casual all the time, which is great most times, but not at all times; tax base being eroded continually; huge illegal immigrant population; schools don’t compare well nationally. There’s no perfect place. I’ve lived all over the country. You just have to find what works for you. For me, SD wasn’t it.”

“Every year while home for the holidays in SD I witness that it has increased in population, that more land has been developed into endless condos, the traffic is worse, the crime is worse and 90% of the people are not Californians.”

On the Quora question-and-answer website, two questions were asked about what people don’t like about living in San Diego. Of the more than forty responses, at least half complained about the high cost of housing and the low-wage job market. A woman named Leslie Slavens, who described herself as a fourth-generation San Diego native now living in New York, penned a lengthy diatribe in September 2018 about what she doesn’t like about her former hometown. “I did not like that the changing seasons were hardly noticeable and Christmas just didn’t have the right atmosphere,” she wrote. “I found it culturally limited as more tax funds and public interest seemed to go toward arenas and stadiums over libraries and museums. I disliked the obsession with the physical, which drove plastic surgery and tanning salons to take over magazine ads, mini malls and main streets while the intellectual was starved and ignored by the mainstream culture. These and many other little things like increased traffic, crowds, homeless, too many conservatives all inspired me to move to New York…. Every year while home for the holidays in SD, I witness that it has increased in population, that more land has been developed into endless condos, the traffic is worse, the crime is worse, and 90% of the people are not Californians. They bring their preconceived ideas of California with them and slowly change the state to something very different from my memories of 1970s San Diego…. San Diego is heaven to those who have only known life in the middle of wheat fields or Midwest tract homes, [but] I’m sure it’s not so great to those visiting from the Riviera, rather filthy and dangerous for someone from say Sag Harbor, and a bit boring to most NY city dwellers….”

Isaiah Howard, a former San Diegan who now lives in Houston, blasted San Diegans in April of 2020 for their thin skins: “Criticize anything about it, and I mean anything — even the increasingly bad homeless situation or increasingly bad traffic — and your name is s__t in a social circle, neighborhood, or workplace pretty quickly. Imperfections are ignored in SD in a manner so blatantly closed-minded that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world, except maybe the rural American South….” A third respondent complained that “90% of all restaurants are Mexican food,” while a fourth opined, “It isn’t all that visually appealing. The skyline sucks and the city itself is, for the most part, a sprawl of chain stores and ugly stucco buildings.”

Another Quora question asked, “What’s it like to live in San Diego?” Ca Ri, in March 2021, wrote, “I hate San Diego! I really wanted to come here and was optimistic about everything. I have been here almost 8 years and am counting the days until I can move that is 13 months from today exactly…. What don’t I like? It’s mostly the people. I have lived in 4 states and this is the only place I have ever had a hard time talking with people, making or keeping friends. Every conversation with anyone here is like a first date. It’s all small talk and no matter how many times you talk to them, the conversation is still shallow small talk. This place has the most aloof people anywhere in the U.S. I have ever seen. Most the time, I think I may be a ghost because no one ever acknowledges me in anyway. I consider this a lonely paradise…. Homeless people have no boundaries like in other cities, they will camp out in your carport and yes they have tried in mine or they will sit in your car or break your car windows to take a quarter. They also love to get in the dumpsters and throw it all over the alley. They even argue that they should get to stay in your carport because it’s cold outside, you know like 60 degrees.”

The top danger zone in San Diego is East Village.

San Diego has even gotten some nasty reviews on Yelp. In 2016, Encinitas resident K.C. wrote a lengthy piece titled “I’m not ‘clicking’ with San Diego. Like, at all.” K.C. wrote, “I like every place else I’ve lived … until San Diego.” Her biggest complaint: “Its surprisingly rude, cold, aloof, and unfriendly population… In only six months in SD (I live in North County and work in the city), I’ve experienced:

*Indifference in customer service. Even the Berliners seem to be better at this customer service thing!

*Road rage directed at me numerous times, which I have not instigated, engaged or fueled (I honestly didn’t experience this in L.A. or the Bay Area!) And, disclaimer: I’ve driven on the 405 in L.A., Highway 880 in Oakland, I-75 in Cincinnati/Dayton, and ain’t none of those drivers got the road rage y’all got!

*Going out in PB, OB, and La Jolla, which has introduced me to the wide range of douchebags that San Diegans seem to love to rag on L.A. for supposedly having. If you leave Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, L.A. folks are actually pretty normal.”

In October of 2016, author Sara Morris wrote on the website Thrillist that after four years in San Diego, she moved to Nashville. Good riddance, she writes. A key reason: “I missed the four seasons. Living in a never-ending summer sounds like paradise, but if I had to wake up to another perfect, sunny, cloudless day I was going to freak out. I know, I know — spoken like a true transplant. Sure, the entire month of June is sort of gray, but I enjoy the occasional gloomy day at other times of the year, or having an afternoon thunderstorm that doesn’t cause complete chaos in the streets just because it’s a little wet outside. Feeling the crispness of the air in fall and seeing the leaves change color is one of my favorite things in life. In SoCal, the changing of seasons is much more abrupt. It seems like the leaves die and fall off of the trees overnight then suddenly, it’s winter (if you can even call it that). The 70 degree ‘winter’ weather is not exactly conducive to wearing the cozy sweaters and coats that I love and have had to keep in storage for the last 4 years. Sorry/not sorry, ladies of PB, but rocking Uggs and a scarf with a mini-skirt and a tank top does not qualify as winter wear.”

But one of the saddest comments is on the Baby Center website, under a thread for military spouses. “i hate san diego :(,” writes Ellie16. “It’s depressing and expensive and it’s awful. I’ve never lived somewhere that just made me feel so sad and alone. I can’t wait to leave.”

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