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Important Events in the City of San Diego's History

Important Events in the City of San Diego's History

Early History

  • Anthropologists believe humans first settled in the San Diego area as early as 20,000 years ago along the coast and 12,000 years ago in the desert. Over the next several thousand years, various Native American groups settled in the San Diego region. The Kumeyaay were seasonal hunters and gatherers whose individual bands ranged along waterways from the San Diego coastal region, east through the Cuyamaca and Laguna mountains to beyond the Salton Sea in the east, and south beyond current day Ensenada in Mexico.


  • 1542 - Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sails his flagship, the San Salvador, from Navidad, Mexico, into San Diego Bay, under the flag of Spain. He names the area San Miguel and declares it a possession of Spain. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Kumeyaay live in the San Diego area at the time.
  • 1602 - Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino arrives with his flagship San Diego, and names the area for a Spanish Catholic saint, San Diego de Alcalá.


  • 1769 - The Spanish ships San Antonio and San Carlos sail into San Diego Bay. A camp established on Presidio Hill near the present site of Old Town. California Governor Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra arrive at San Diego with a small group. Mission San Diego de Alcalá officially founded on Presidio Hill, the first of a chain of 21 missions to be established along the California coast.
  • 1774 - Mission San Diego relocated a few miles to the east in what is now Mission Valley to be closer to fresh water. Presidio designated a military outpost separate from the direct administration of the Presidio of Monterey. The first colonists arrive in San Diego, escorted from the Baja California Mission San Fernando Velicata.
  • 1775 - A force of Kumeyaay surround Mission San Diego and set it on fire. Father Luis Jayme and two other Spaniards slain and the survivors withdraw to the safety of the Presidio. Spanish and Kumeyaay rebuild the mission's buildings within a year.
  • 1777 - The first major group of non soldier settlers arrives at the Presidio. By 1790, more than 200 soldiers, civilians and children will live at the Presidio.
  • 1795 - First public school opens in San Diego.


  • 1821 - After an 11-year war, Mexico wins independence from Spain and San Diego comes under Mexican rule.
  • 1823 - Los Peñasquitos, the first private rancho, granted by the Mexican government to Captain Francisco María Ruíz. Eventually, 33 land grants cover 948 square miles.
  • 1826 - Presidio soldiers skirmish with Indians, killing 28.
  • 1834 - 13 votes cast in San Diego's first pueblo election and Juan Osuna elected first alcalde (mayor).
  • 1835 - The Mexican military and last residents abandon the Presidio.
  • 1838 - San Diego's pueblo status revoked because of a decrease in population. For the next 10 years, San Diego governed as part of the sub prefecture of Los Angeles.
  • 1846 - United States declares war on Mexico, invades Mexico from the east, reaching San Diego in December. Marine detachment raises the first American flag in San Diego. Fort Stockton established on Presidio Hill in November to defend the City.
  • 1848 - Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed, ending the war between Mexico and the United States. Treaty sets the boundary between U.S. and Mexico and San Diego officially becomes an American city.


  • 1850 - The 1850 U.S. Census sets non Indian population of the City of San Diego at 650. San Diego County created as one of California's original 27 counties. An act to incorporate the City of San Diego passes. San Diego elects first mayor, Joshua Bean, brother of the infamous Judge Roy Bean. California becomes the 31st state on Sept. 9.
  • 1851 - San Diego Herald, San Diego's first newspaper, founded; ends publication nine years later.
  • 1857 - The schooner Loma launched, the first ship built in San Diego.
  • 1860 - San Diego population reaches 731.
  • 1867 - Alonzo Erastus Horton arrives from San Francisco. On May10, Horton acquires 800 acres of land, which will become New San Diego (today's downtown San Diego), for $265.
  • 1868 - San Diego's Weekly Union publishes its first edition, forerunner of today's San Diego Union-Tribune.
  • 1869 - First post office established.
  • 1870 - City of San Diego population reaches 2,300. Prospector Fred Coleman discovers placer gold near present day Julian, setting off local rush. San Diego becomes the first city west of the Mississippi River to set aside land for an urban park. The 1,440-acre tract becomes the site for City Park, now Balboa Park.
  • 1872 - Fire sweeps Old Town, destroying many buildings.



  • 1880 - City of San Diego population reaches 2,637.
  • 1882 - San Diego Telephone Co. begins operation. San Diego's first public library opens.
  • 1883 - John Montgomery makes world's first "controlled flight" in a "heavier than air" craft, flying 600 feet in a glider at Otay Mesa.
  • 1885 - Transcontinental railroad reaches San Diego. First electric street lights installed in San Diego.
  • 1886 - San Diego population hits estimated 40,000 during boom year. San Diego's first public transit system, the San Diego Street Car Co., founded. First streetcars begin operating over 2 mile track on Broadway.
  • 1890 - City of San Diego's population drops to 16,159 as land boom turns to bust.
  • 1897 - State Normal School, the beginning of what is now San Diego State University, founded for the training of elementary school teachers.
  • 1899 - Andrew Carnegie donates $60,000 to build San Diego Public Library, first of his libraries west of Mississippi, which opens in1902. Army establishes Fort Rosecrans, which remains an Army base until transfer to the Navy in 1959.

1900 - 1929

  • 1900 - City of San Diego population reaches 17,700.
  • 1903 - Marine Biological Association of San Diego formed. Later becomes the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
  • 1910 - City of San Diego population reaches 39,578.
  • 1911 - Glenn Hammond Curtiss makes world's first successful seaplane flight from waters off Spanish Bight.
  • 1912 - Navy establishes a base on North Island with three airplanes and three fliers.
  • 1913 - Broadway Pier constructed with a $1.7 million bond issued by the City.
  • 1915 - The Panama California Exposition opens in Balboa Park. Santa Fe Depot opens, replacing the earlier Grand Union Depot. Balboa Stadium opens with a capacity of 23,000, making it the largest municipal stadium in the nation at the time.
  • 1916 - Unusually heavy rains cause severe flooding in San Diego, washing out all but two of the City's 112 bridges and breaking the Lower Otay Dam. Plans begin for the San Diego Zoo when federal officials quarantine animals imported for the Panama California Exposition and don't allow them to leave.
  • 1919 - U.S. Navy makes San Diego Bay home base for the Pacific Fleet. San Diego & Arizona Railroad completed after 13 years of labor and $17 million, providing San Diego a direct link with the East.
  • 1920 - City of San Diego population reaches 74,361.
  • 1923 - Marine Corps Recruit Depot opens and Naval Training Center commissioned.
  • 1925 - Mission Beach Amusement Center (now Belmont Park) opens.
  • 1927 - Charles Lindbergh departs from Rockwell Field, North Island, in the Spirit of St. Louis, a custom M 1 monoplane built in San Diego by Ryan Airlines. Lindbergh completes his historic solo nonstop flight from New York to Paris May 20-21.
  • 1928 - Lindbergh Field, San Diego's municipal airport, dedicated.
  • 1929 - Presidio Park opens through the generosity of businessman and philanthropist George W. Marston.

1930 - 1969

  • 1930 - City of San Diego population reaches 147,995.
  • 1932 - Reuben H. Fleet moves Consolidated Aircraft from Buffalo, N.Y.
  • 1935 - California Pacific International Exposition opens in Balboa Park.
  • 1936 - Minor league Hollywood Stars baseball team moves to San Diego to become the San Diego Padres.
  • 1937 - First transcontinental flight from San Diego to New York City made in a seaplane.
  • 1939 - Naval Air Station, Miramar develops on the site of Camp Kearny.
  • 1940 - City of San Diego population reaches 203,341.
  • 1945 - San Diego voters approve $2 million bond issue to begin development of Mission Bay. First phase of park opens four years later.
  • 1947 - San Diego Aqueduct opens, bringing first Colorado River water to San Diego.
  • 1950 - City of San Diego population reaches 333,865.
  • 1951 - First Jack in the Box restaurant opens at 63rd Street and El Cajon Boulevard.
  • 1952 - San Diego College for Women founded; eventually merges with the College for Men in 1972 and becomes the University of San Diego.
  • 1960 - City of San Diego population reaches 573,224.
  • 1961 - American Football League Chargers move from Los Angeles to San Diego.
  • 1962 - San Diego Port District formed by state to manage San Diego Harbor, operate Lindbergh Field, and administer public lands along San Diego Bay.
  • 1963 - Jonas Salk establishes the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego.
  • 1964 - University of California, San Diego opens 1,000 acre campus. City Administration Building opens downtown at Community Concourse. Sea World opens in Mission Bay Park.
  • 1966 - San Diego Sports Arena completed.
  • 1967 - $27 million San Diego Stadium opens in Mission Valley.
  • 1969 - San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge opens, replacing ferry service across San Diego Bay.


  • 1970 - San Diego becomes California's second largest city with a population of 696,474. 6,000-acre La Jolla Underwater Park dedicated.
  • 1973 - Point Loma College established; later renamed Point Loma Nazarene University.
  • 1975 - Redevelopment plans launched for downtown San Diego.
  • 1980 - City of San Diego population reaches 875,538. The San Diego Trolley, first line in the City's new light rail transit system, dedicated. It begins service in 1981. Dennis Conner brings the America's Cup to San Diego, winning the cup in 1980, 1987 and 1988.
  • 1984 - Padres win National League Pennant; first World Series games first played in San Diego.
  • 1986 - The San Diego Supercomputer Center opens at the University of California, San Diego, providing the national research community with access to the highest performance computers available.
  • 1988 - San Diego hosts its first Super Bowl in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
  • 1989 - San Diego Convention Center opens.
  • 1990 - City of San Diego population reaches 1,110,549.
  • 1996 - San Diego hosts Republican National Convention, first national political convention in San Diego.
  • 1997 - Naval Training Center on Point Loma closes to all active military use as part of federal Base Closure and Realignment Act. Former base to be redeveloped for public and private uses.
  • 1998 - Padres win National League Pennant; second World Series played in San Diego. Super Bowl also held in (renamed) Qualcomm Stadium
  • 2000 - City of San Diego population reaches 1,223,400.
  • 2001 - Expansion of Convention Center opens, doubling the size of the facility.
  • 2004 - PETCO Park opens, bringing professional baseball back to downtown.
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