7 San Diego Nicknames That Will Surprise You

4 min read

Destguides may receive commissions from purchases made through affiliate links in this article.

Benches by a boardwalk with the city skyline in the background
San Diego is called by many nicknames, all with interesting background stories

San Diego is one of the most popular destinations in California. Blessed with stunning beaches and numerous attractions, it's loved by locals and visitors alike. But did you know that there are many alternate names for the city?

This article covers seven San Diego nicknames, some more well-known than others. From the City in Motion to the Birthplace of California, there's a lot to learn about! Read on to discover the most famous nicknames linked to this Californian city.

7 Nicknames for San Diego

A white church near a tree under a clear blue sky
The first European settlements in California were founded in San Diego

Birthplace of California

San Diego is called the Birthplace of California because it was where Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo established the first permanent European settlement in California. The area is now located in Old Town San Diego.

In 1542, he firmly planted the Spanish flag and named the area San Miguel. An interesting California fact relating to Cabrillo is that his expedition along the West Coast continued until he died in 1543.

Additionally, in 1769, Spanish missionaries led by Junípero Serra founded the first of 21 missions established in California by the Spanish. The missions played a major role in the colonization of California and the spread of Christianity in the area. These significant events marked the beginning of modern-day California, making the Birthplace of California moniker understandable.


While not at the forefront of San Diego names, the city is still referred to as Padres because of the Spanish Franciscan friars who founded it in 1769. The word "padres" is Spanish for "fathers" or "friars."

One of these friars, Father Junípero Serra, established Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, a famous San Diego landmark. It is still operating as a Catholic Parish in Mission Valley.

The name "Padres" was also used by the minor league baseball team in San Diego from 1936 to 1968. Additionally, the city's MLB team, founded in 1969, is named the San Diego Padres to honor the city's history and connection to the Spanish Franciscan friars.

A boat on the sea near a city with skyscrapers
Plymouth of the West is one of the San Diego nicknames attributed to its history

Plymouth of the West

While not certain, many historians say that the name Plymouth of the West dates to the 1800s. This moniker draws comparisons between San Diego (in the west) and the Plymouth Colony of New England (in the east).

Plymouth was the home of the 1620 Pilgrim settlers who colonized the area, making it the first permanent English colony in the New World. San Diego earned the comparison with Plymouth as it was the first permanent European settlement in California.

As mentioned, what is now California was first settled in 1542 by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. If you want to learn more about this explorer, make sure you visit the Cabrillo National Monument, a famous California landmark dedicated to him.

City in Motion

In the 1960s, the mayor, Frank Curran, and ex-mayor Charles Dail applied the nickname City in Motion to San Diego. It was created because the city had been called "Bust Town, U.S.A." by Time magazine. The intention was to prove the publication wrong.

This name showed that the city actually had a growing economy and was becoming a tourist hotspot and bustling West Coast destination. The nickname has stuck, and it is still used today.

America's Finest City is one of the popular San Diego nicknames
America's Finest City was an iconic slogan in the 1970s

America's Finest City

In the 1970s, Pete Wilson, the Mayor at that time, was responsible for a well-known San Diego slogan. It was his response to the city losing the opportunity to host the 1972 Republican National Convention.

To save face, he named the week of the event "The week of San Diego, America's Finest City." Surprisingly, America's Finest City became popular as it seemed to lift the spirits of the San Diegans. It is now a widely recognized San Diego state nickname.

The Tuna Capital of the World

Another name for San Diego is the Tuna Capital of the World. Located on the Pacific Ocean, it's home to a large tuna population, which led to the tuna canning industry booming in the early 20th century.

The first tuna cannery in San Diego opened in 1911. By the 1940s, the majority of tuna consumed in the country was canned in the city. Sadly, the last tuna cannery in San Diego closed in 1984 due to overfishing, competition, and rising costs.

However, you can still find remnants of the industry in the city today. The former "Tuna Capital" is home to Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, which sells a variety of fresh fish. San Diego also hosts the Tuna Harbor Fishermen's Festival, celebrating its tuna and fishing heritage.

A concrete walkway near palm trees and the beach shore
San Diego is called the Beach Paradise as it has approximately 30 beautiful beaches

Beach Paradise

The origin of the term Beach Paradise as a nickname for San Diego is not well documented. However, the slogan California's Beach City is used to promote San Diego, and the reason is clear.

The city has over 70 miles of coastline and around 30 clean, safe beaches. San Diego truly is a beach paradise with its beautiful shorelines, mild climate, and many other seaside attractions.


San Diego has a colorful history and culture; its nicknames reflect its unique character. From the Birthplace of California to the City in Motion, San Diego's nicknames tell a story of its history and charms.

No matter what you call it, San Diego has something to offer everyone. It's a truly special place with its beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, and a vibrant culture.

Give us feedback about this article

Written by Audrey Wilson

AudreyMW FORMER WRITER Born and living in South Africa, Audrey has lived in four countries extensively and traveled to many others across the globe. Travel is in her blood, and she plans to see more of the world.

Want to keep exploring?

Subscribe for discounts on tickets and hotels and our latest guides.

Thank you for subscribing

We will be in touch soon with discounts on tickets and hotels and our latest guides.

Want to keep exploring?

Subscribe for discounts on tickets and hotels and our latest guides.

Thank you for subscribing

We will be in touch soon with discounts on tickets and hotels and our latest guides.

Want to keep exploring?

Subscribe for discounts on tickets and hotels and our latest guides.

By entering your email address you agree to our terms and conditions, Privacy policy, and consent to receive emails.