San Diego has a rich history that dates back centuries before the Europeans arrived in what is now America, and long before San Diego became one of the most sought-after places to live, work and play. As we celebrate the 250 years that built up the region, we take time to reflect on the key milestones that helped pave the way in creating the San Diego of today.
7,000 BCE – The Kumeyaay inhabit the region
Long before the European’s came to America, the Kumeyaay people inhabited the region dating back at least 12,000 years.
1542 – Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo drops anchor
Spanish explorer Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo makes contact with the Kumeyaay people after sailing into what is now known as the San Diego Bay.
1769 – Mission San Diego de Alcalá founded
On April 11 the first seaborne contingent of Spanish settlement arrived at a quiet harbor in San Diego aboard the San Antonio. Father Junípero Serra founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá three months later, the first of 21 California missions which would anchor colonization of the region.
1835 – San Diego officially becomes a pueblo (town)
Under Mexican Rule, San Diego recognized as a pueblo (town) with early settlers establishing the community now known as Old Town.
1850 – California becomes the 31st state
Following the Mexican-American War, California enters the Union as the 31st state and the County of San Diego is incorporated with a population of 650.
1867 – Alonzo Horton purchases land establishing “New Town”
Known as the “The Father of San Diego” Alonzo Horton purchases 960 acres for $265, for what would become modern-day downtown San Diego.
1868 – City Park (Balboa Park) established
Originally dubbed “City Park,” city leaders earmark 1,400 acres overlooking downtown. Known today as Balboa Park, it is still the largest urban cultural park in America.
1871 – New Town (today’s downtown) replaces Old Town as city center
Alonzo Horton’s plot of land replaces Old Town as San Diego’s central hub, due to its convenient location for arriving ships.
1884 – First transcontinental railroad reaches San Diego
The transcontinental railroad reaches San Diego doubling the city’s population to 40,000.
1888 – Hotel del Coronado opens its doors
Debuting as an architectural masterpiece, Hotel del Coronado opens its doors to the country’s elite.
1915 – Panama-California Exposition
Celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal, the fair is held in Balboa Park and showcases the city on an international stage.
1916 – San Diego Zoological Society founded
Founded by Dr. Harry Wegeforth, the Zoo is created to house the exotic animal exhibitions abandoned after the Panama-California Exposition.
1923 – Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) opens
Advocated for by Col. Joseph Pendelton, the Marine Corps Base San Diego is established.
1925 – Ryan Aeronautical and Airlines builds the “Spirit of St. Louis”
Flown by Charles Lindbergh, the plane completes the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927.
1928 – Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s new municipal airport dedicated
The airport is named to celebrate Charles Lindbergh’s first solo transatlantic flight.
1932 – Anza Borrego State Park created
Championed by George Marston, and named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, the 600,000 acres park remains the largest in the continental United States.
1941 – WWII and San Diego’s military and defense industries
World War II transforms San Diego from a sleepy town into a military and defense powerhouse.
1955 – Salk develops first Polio vaccine
Dr. Jonas Salk creates the first successful Polio vaccine after more than 20 years of researching a cure.
1957 – Cat in the Hat published
Long-time La Jolla resident, Theodor Geisel publishes The Cat in the Hat under the pseudonym Dr. Suess.
1962 – Unified Port of San Diego established
The California legislature creates the Unified Port to manage San Diego Bay and tidelands.
1962 – Voters approve bonds to create Mission Bay
With the help of $12.6 million in bonds, Mission Bay becomes the largest man-made aquatic park in the country including SeaWorld San Diego which opens on the Bay in 1964.
1969 – Coronado Bay Bridge connects San Diego and Coronado
Designed by architect Robert Mosher, the bridge is constructed with the military in mind making it tall enough for an aircraft carrier to pass underneath.
1970 – First Comic-Con convention held in San Diego
Created by San Diegans Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger and Mike Towry, the Golden State Comic Book Convention is held at the U.S Grant Hotel with 300 in attendance. Today, more than 130,000 people from all over the world attend Comic-Con at the Convention Center yearly.
1994 – USS Midway Museum opens on San Diego Bay
Named for the 1942 Battle of Midway, the longest-serving carrier in the 20th century, decommissioned in 1992, opens as a museum on San Diego Bay.
2017 – Chicano Park murals named National Historic Landmark
Born out of protests in 1970, and home to the largest collection of outdoor murals in the U.S., Chicano Park is designated a National Historic Landmark.