San Diego long ago shed its reputation as stiff, stodgy, socially conservative and rock-ribbed Republican. The San Diego of today is one of the most thriving cities in the country, its port one of the world's busiest, a cultural hub, and a very active nightlife.
And why not? Many agree it has the most pleasant climate —seldom too hot or cold but a Goldilocks-perfect balmy. Its extensive beaches could beat any city of comparable size for natural beauty. It has the world’s most famous zoo, one of the best urban parks (Balboa), and unique attractions like the Museum of Man.
Then there’s the Navy. Ah, the Navy, which has always had an outsized presence. With huge ships making the city home and others coming in and out all the time, the town is always full of sailors looking for fun. As they say in the Navy, any old storm in a port!
Another big contributor to San Diego’s vitality is its close proximity to the Mexican border and the megalopolis of Tijuana. The Mexican influence can be felt in everything from local cuisine to architecture. The colorful open-air markets and crafts boutiques bring Mexico to life.
For gay men, however, the biggest attraction has to be Hillcrest. Located in the heart of town, this huge gayborhood defines gay San Diego. There’s plenty to do every night of the week here, but the weekends are when the local clubs really turn it out. Nothing, however, beats the parties around its Pride celebration, including the world-famous Zoo Party,
Unusual for Southern California, San Diego is a surprisingly walkable city. It helps that the most popular tourist attractions and areas like the Gaslight and Hillcrest, are in or near the city center. But visitors shouldn’t neglect areas like La Jolla, a drop-dead coastal community with drop-dead houses (and prices to match). Its playhouse is one of the most popular out-of-town venues for Broadway producers to hone their shows before bringing them to New York.
Wherever the visitor goes, he will encounter some of the friendliest people anywhere. Although this is a city of 1.5 million, the vibe is still one of a much smaller town. If there’s one aspect of the old, “sleepy” San Diego that remained, it’s this openness and welcoming aspect.