San Diego: Beach Bums, Biotech and the Military

San Diego is much more than a beach town! Find out what else makes California's second largest city thrive.
By: Aaron Heier

San Diego is considered a paradise in the United States and has long been a haven for beach bums and surfers. Ask any local why and they will tell you: beautiful weather, beautiful people and beautiful life! What many may not know is that San Diego is much more than a beach city travel destination for fun in the sun.

The birthplace of California is now the second largest city in the state and a thriving urban mecca. From its Old Town pueblos and predominantly Spanish settlers of yesteryear to the amalgam of businesses, communities and ethnicities it is today, San Diego owes its growth and legacy largely to two major factors -- the prevalence of the U.S. Armed Services and a growing reputation as one of the world's major biotech hubs.

Military Hub

Currently considered the largest naval community in the world, San Diego is home to more than 60,000 sailors and 80,000 Marines and their families, making it one of the single most significant concentrations of the Armed Forces in California. Since 1907, when the United States Navy established a Navy Coaling Station off the shores of San Diego’s coastline, the military has had a definitive impact on the city’s commercial, civilian and economic growth. As military families were stationed in the region, new neighborhoods and communities began to sprout up around them, beckoning early entrepreneurs of every kind who were eager to set up shop and capitalize on service members spending their hard earned military paychecks.

Today, San Diego’s Naval and Marine institutions are spread throughout the city, from the South Bay to North County’s coastal and inland regions. San Diego is home to one of the two Marine Corps Recruit Depots (MCRD) that exist in the country, providing all initial training for enlisted Marine Corp recruits who live west of the Mississippi. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, located just northeast of Mission Valley, is best known as the former U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, or Fightertown USA. The NFWS Top Gun training program was the subject of the blockbuster movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, and Miramar served as its set and location. North County houses Camp Pendleton, the largest West Coast base for the U.S. Marine Corps. It spans more than 125,000 acres along the coast, providing sea-to-land amphibious training for Marines and other military units. The base remains the last major undeveloped portion of Southern California coastline.

The Navy’s San Diego area institutions include bases in Point Loma, Coronado, Silver Strand and central city. Smack in the middle of Balboa Park is Bob Wilson Naval Hospital (nicknamed Balboa), the most technologically advanced Navy medical facility in the world. Not only is Balboa a leader in medical services for the active duty population, it’s also a major teaching and research center having affiliations with the University of California at San Diego, Children’s Hospital and Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.

Biotech Boom

There’s another significant presence in San Diego: biotech. Like San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, San Diego’s Sorrento Valley has become an international hub for biotechnology research and development. Some may point out the larger concentrations of biotech companies in San Francisco and Boston, but San Diego’s cluster of world-class research institutes on the Torrey Pines Mesa and the incredible success of several major companies whose developments have made significant contributions to the industry’s growth, has put the region on par with those more widely known as tech industry hubs.

Genentech was the first legitimate biotech company, credited for putting the Bay Area on the biotech map. San Diego’s biotech beginnings can be traced to its renowned scientific research institutions and a little company called Hybritech, the first San Diego-area biotech company, which helped foster an influx of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists whose cash and connections helped start new companies. Today, California accounts for more than 50 percent of the world’s biotech might, with many of the more well-known companies being located in San Diego including: Pfizer, Gen-Probe, Invitrogen, CancerVax, Nanogen, InVivoScribe and La Jolla Pharmaceuticals among others. So significant is San Diego’s impact on biotech that its leading industry association, BioCom, is located here.

No matter if you’re an officer or research associate, Devil Dog or Triton, or mom and pop with a surf shop, that California Dreamin’ lifestyle that San Diego offers is what truly attracts its residents, those seeking fun in the sun, and those who simply want a quality of life that can only be found living in paradise.     

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