Dos and Don’ts

Atmosphere: San Diego is an easy-going, welcoming city with relaxed cultural mores. “Expect to be smiled at by passersby and hugged by people you’ve only known for five minutes.”—Marael Johnson, author, National Geographic’s San Diego guidebook.

Attitude: “Having a bad attitude or acting like a New Yorker won’t get you very far.”—David Nelson, San Diego restaurant critic, Westways.

Location: The city is larger than many visitors expect—choose the location of your hotel carefully. “Don’t be lured into the Gaslamp Quarter as the be-all, end-all San Diego experience. The Gaslamp is convenient to eat and hear music, but it’s so overpriced.”—David Coddon, associate editor, Night&Day, San Diego Union-Tribune.

Transportation: San Diego’s public transportation is not efficient for getting between the major sights, especially if your hotel is in the beach areas or La Jolla. However, visitors staying downtown will find buses to all major attractions, and the San Diego Trolley is ideal for travel from downtown to the Tijuana border crossing, Old Town, and Mission Valley.

Cultural Fabric: Don’t make assumptions based on ethnicity. One third of San Diego’s population is made up of people of Hispanic origin, most of whom are legal residents and an important part of the city’s cultural fabric. Many shops and restaurants have employees fluent in Spanish, partly due to the influx of wealthy visitors from south of the border.

Tijuana: The city of Tijuana, 17 miles (27 kilometers) south of downtown San Diego, is not the Mexico many people dream of. It can be a fun day trip for souvenir shopping, but keep your wits about you. There is an overflowing transient population, poverty, drug crime, and pollution, plus safety issues for American tourists. Before crossing la frontera verify current passport requirements for the trip back north (, and note that northbound border waits of an hour or more are common.

Phrase Book

Hola: Hello, in Spanish. Pronounced O-la.

P.B.: Pacific Beach.

O.B.: Ocean Beach.

T.J.: Tijuana.

State: San Diego State University, also known as SDSU.

Black’s: Short for Black’s Beach, the city’s nudie strand just north of La Jolla Shores.

The Cove: La Jolla’s iconic beach.

The Del: Hotel del Coronado.

The Globe: The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

The Cross: A 29-foot (8.8-meter) white Latin cross atop Mt. Soledad, above La Jolla, erected in 1954, to honor Korean War veterans. The site has been a subject of litigation since 1989 (for being a religious icon on public property).

May Grey: Cloudy weather that embraces coastal areas many mornings and afternoons in May.

June Gloom: The same cloudy May weather that continues to cover the coast in June.

Zoni: Summer visitor from Arizona, usually in search of a more temperate clime.

Hell Lay: A city to the north of San Diego.

North County: San Diego region north of the city limits, including the coastal communities of Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside leading up to Camp Pendleton, with Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Santa Fe, and Escondido just inland.

Uptown: The area north of (and up the hill from) downtown, encompassing Hillcrest and adjoining neighborhoods.

Pill Hill: Hillcrest, home to two major hospitals and numerous doctor’s offices.


About San Diego and the United States

  • <p>Photo: Downtown San Diego</p>

    San Diego

    Get travel tips, see photos, take a quiz and more with National Geographic's Ultimate Guide to San Diego.

  • <p>Photo: Colorado River flowing through canyon walls</p>

    United States

    Explore the United States through facts and photos, related features, a country map, and more.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Join Nat Geo Travel's Communities

2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

  • Picture of a volcano on Reunion Island

    Who Will Win?

    Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Get Social With Nat Geo Travel