Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of San Diego and get you in the mood for travel


Almost Famous (2000)
Writer-director Cameron Crowe (who grew up in San Diego) tells this sweet autobiographical story of a 15-year-old’s foray into rock-and-roll writing in the 1970s, leading to a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Will Ferrell plays a self-absorbed but top-rated San Diego news anchor who bears a more than passing resemblance to a local anchorman of the 1970s.

Some Like it Hot (1959)
Though set in Florida, San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado served memorably as a backdrop for most of this matchless Billy Wilder romp starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis.

The Stunt Man (1980)
The other movie filmed at the Hotel del Coronado, this little-known black comedy about a fugitive hiding out on a movie set is a small masterpiece about the nature of reality and illusion, starring Peter O’Toole in an Oscar-nominated performance.

Top Gun (1986)
Tom Cruise shot to stardom with this slick, high-octane fly-boy hit, much of which was shot at Miramar Naval Air Station.

Traffic (2000)
Steven Soderbergh-directed drama centered around the drug trade, largely set in San Diego and Tijuana. Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Benecio del Toro star; the film went on to win four Academy Awards.


Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography, by Judith & Neil Morgan (1996)
An upbeat biography of the bestselling La Jolla-based children’s book author, who viewed the world “through the wrong end of a telescope.”

I Cover the Waterfront, by Max Miller (1932)
A hard-drinking newspaper reporter canvasses the Depression-era harbor for vignettes on fishermen, brothels, and bootleggers. Written by a San Diego Sun columnist, the bestseller became a hit movie starring Claudette Colbert.

The Pump House Gang, by Thomas Wolfe (1968)
This collection of 15 essays is anchored by the titular story, named after lollygagging surfers who ride the waves at La Jolla’s Windansea Beach, capturing the counterculture generation in the process.

San Diego Legends: The Events, People, and Places That Made History, by Jack Scheffler Innis (2004)
The stories and characters that define San Diego, from mission-builder Father Junípero Serra to Wyatt Earp to millionaire C. Arnholt Smith’s rise and fall, with particular note paid to the development of San Diego Bay.

Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, by Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew, and Jim Miller (2003)
Dissects the city’s evolution over the past century, especially the military economy, its right-leaning political machinations, and the city’s power structure.

The Fallen, by T. Jefferson Parker (2006)
This riveting thriller follows a San Diego homicide detective trying to solve a murder set against widespread city corruption; named best mystery of 2006 by Southern California Booksellers Association.

Playback, by Raymond Chandler (1959)
The last completed Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep) detective story, this vintage noir is set in a fictionalized La Jolla, where Chandler spent his last 13 years of life.

Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson (1884)
Perhaps the first novel about Southern California, the author—inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin—depicts the treatment of Native Americans during the rancho era. The romanticized book has had more than 300 reprints and was made into three movies and an opera.

Tijuana Straits, by Kem Nunn (2004)
Set in a surfer’s wasteland between San Diego and Tijuana, this moving novel encompasses many of the issues that define today’s border politics: crime, drugs, greed, and pollution, with American-owned maquiladora factories as a backdrop.

Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1841)
Based on a diary Henry Dana, Jr. kept at sea, the book provides vivid descriptions of the California coast before the Gold Rush transformed the region, with noteworthy stops in Old Town and Point Loma.



Blue Pacific, Michael Franks (1990)
Smooth-jazz singer Michael Franks’ 1990 album is an autobiographical celebration of his hometown, La Jolla, and one of his best works.

Brushfire Fairytales, Jack Johnson (2001)
The debut album by Hawaii-born singer-songwriter Jack Johnson in 2001 features gentle surf music crafted during his brief time in the San Diego area.

Greatest Surfing Songs!, The Beach Boys (1992)
Features a dozen Southern California surf sound classics, including "Surfin’ U.S.A.", "Surfin’", and "Catch a Wave." Listen for mentions of La Jolla, Del Mar, and other San Diego locales.

The Heart of Saturday Night, by Tom Waits (1974)
Master singer-songwriter Tom Waits grew up in National City, the rough suburb south of downtown. This 1974 album’s tracks were performed extensively around town in the early 1970s.

Classic Songs:

From folk singers to mellow jazz artists, musicians have been inspired by San Diego. Here are some tunes to take you there:

1. “Balboa Park” by Bruce Springsteen
2. “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by The Beach Boys
3. “San Diego Serenade” by Tom Waits
4. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles
5. “They Go to San Diego” by Mel Torme
6. “30 More Miles to San Diego” by Dean Martin
7. “Rosalita” by Bruce Springsteen
8. “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” by Bing Crosby
9. “Deckchairs and Cigarettes” by The Thrills
10. “My Town” by Buck-O-Nine


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