Inside San Diego
Stories about City Services, Employees, Residents and Communities
What do singer Taylor Swift, boxer Archie Moore, astronaut John Glenn and The Beatles have in common? They’ve all been recipients of San Diego's Key to the City. The ornamental key to the city is regularly presented to various people, usually visitors, as an honorary token. Customarily, the keys have been presented by the Mayor or designee, but there are no specific rules or requirements on who is eligible.
This practice of presenting a key to the city harks back to the days of medieval walled cities that had gates that would be locked for the night. Presenting a key to the city is a symbol of friendship and trust.
No official list of recipients of keys to the city from San Diego is known to exist, so it’s unknown how many keys have been given. We don’t know who received the first key from San Diego or who presented it. However, many of the presentations have been publicized over the years.
Visiting royalty are often recipients, including Prince Tupout’a-Tungi of Tonga, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, Prince Alpert II of Monaco and Prince Mired Al-Hussein of Jordan. Presidents of both the Philippines and Argentina have received keys, as have the mayors of Sault Sainte Marie, Mich.; Cincinnati; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Panama City. Ambassadors of Spain, India and Tunisia each received keys. Both President Franklin Roosevelt (in 1938) and his wife Eleanor Roosevelt (in 1960) received keys.
Occasionally, keys are presented not to specific people, as was the case for the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea and the U.S. Golf Association that received keys in 1954 and 2004 respectively, and Granny Goose received one in 1978.
Entertainers have also received keys, including actors Andra Day and Tony Curtis, rocker Jerry Lee Lewis and crooner Frank Sinatra Jr.
Cartoonist Charles Schultz received a key the same day the City Council named June 17, 1971, as “Peanuts Day.”
Sometimes keys are presented to locals, including Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, high school teacher Harvey Prokop and Sharon Sites Adams, the first woman to sail solo across the Pacific.
In 1960, in observance of California Public Employees’ Week, all City employees who had been with the City for 35 years or more received keys. Sixteen employees qualified.
Do you know anyone who has received one of San Diego's Keys to the City?