Local Life and Lore in San Diego

Get to know the ins and outs of San Diego with these local insider tips.
By: Aaron Heier


San Diego is divided into four distinct regions. Locals refer to these regions based on their proximity to "center city" and its surrounding neighborhoods.

  1. San Diego "city" -- San Diego proper and its cluster of neighboring villages, beach communities and outer-lining city suburbs (La Jolla, Mission Valley, College Area, Kearny Mesa, Sorrento Valley, etc.)
  2. North County -- all communities north of an imaginary line dividing La Jolla from Del Mar (including Rancho Bernardo, Encinitas, Escondido, Vista, San Marcos, Cardiff by the Sea, Carmel Valley, Carlsbad, Oceanside, etc.)
  3. East County -- those communities east of San Diego proper, both north and south of Interstate 8 (La Mesa, Santee, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Lakeside, Jamul, etc.)
  4. South Bay -- San Diego’s southern neighboring communities and cities adjacent to the 5 and 805 freeways (National City, Chula Vista, Otay Mesa, Imperial Beach, Castle Park, Bonita, etc.)


The complete lack of a reliable, convenient and user-friendly public transportation system makes San Diego a car-centric city -- meaning, if you want to be mobile, you better know how to drive. And navigating San Diego’s busy highways and byways (some of the most congested in California) is as much an offensive effort as it is defensive. Thankfully, the state has one of the best freeway systems in the country, and here in San Diego it’s definitely needed to usher around the sheer volume of automobiles in transit from North to South and to all parts east of the ocean. As the years progress and the population grows, San Diego’s “rush hour” seems to increase in time and day parts, offering no real refuge from break lights, stop-and-go traffic and SIG Alerts that seem to be a daily occurrence on its constantly expanding freeways.

Four major freeways bear the brunt of San Diego’s traffic mayhem:

  • Interstate 5 (I-5, The 5) -- Quite possibly the most significant freeway on the West Coast, I-5 runs north and south from the Mexican border all the way up to Canada. It’s the main traffic vein transporting commuters from San Diego to all major exits south and north, continuing up to Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Portland and beyond. In the heart of San Diego proper, I-5’s coastal route runs from North County through the city center to South Bay and Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Interstate 805 (The 805) -- The 805 is the inland counterpart to its I-5 big brother. Separating San Diego's southern and eastern tract mansion suburbs from center city, the 805 has become increasingly congested as more and more families flock to cheaper housing on the outskirts, creating commuter madness in the mornings and after work, locally referred to as “Not-So-Happy Hour.” To the north, the notorious Merge (5/805 split) is the cause of many a San Diegan’s road rage, as the two massive multilane interstates merge to become one medium-sized freeway (the northern continuance of I-5), causing waits that truly dumbfound most drivers.
  • Interstate 15 (The 15) -- The 15 begins at I-5 in the South Bay and continues north to the inland San Diego suburbs of Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, Escondido and continues through Riverside County on up to Las Vegas and beyond. It’s a messy archaic commute through eastern San Diego up to North County but does provide a reversible High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) carpool lane during busy commuter hours.
  • Interstate 8 (I-8, The 8) -- Major east-west highway The 8 starts at the southern edge of San Diego’s Mission Bay and continues east through Mission Valley and San Diego State on to El Cajon and east through the San Diego County backcountry, Indian Reserve land and through to Arizona where it dead-ends at Interstate 10. The 5, 805 and 15 freeways junction with I-8, so commutes at those points during high-traffic hours are usually a big mess.


Phonetics is key when navigating the streets, neighborhoods and suburbs of San Diego proper:

  • La Jolla = La HOY-a
  • Jamul = HUH-Mool
  • Jamacha = Huh-MOCK-a
  • El Cajon = El KA-hown


  • The Del -- nickname for the Hotel Del Coronado
  • The Merge -- where Interstates 5 and 805 connect, causing horrendous traffic congestion
  • The Coaster -- local commuter train that transports North County residents to downtown
  • The Strand -- nickname for Silver Strand State Park and Beach
  • T.J. -- abbreviation for San Diego’s neighboring Mexican border town, Tijuana
  • Zonies -- refers to visitors from Arizona, usually those who "zone out" while driving
  • The Q -- refers to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers football team
  • Smell A -- how locals refer to its smoggy, often stinky northern big sister Los Angeles
  • Cowles Mountain -- A popular hiking destination, pronounced as “COW-elz,” when in reality it should be pronounced “Coals”
  • Hillcrest -- Like Chelsea is to New York City, West Hollywood is to Los Angeles or the Castro is to San Francisco, Hillcrest is San Diego’s answer to the "gayborhood"

NEXT: Nicknames, Beer and Celebrities in San Diego


Beaches. For some unknown reason, locals employ zero consistency when referring to San Diego’s beach communities. Imperial Beach, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach are IB, PB and OB respectively. However, Mission Beach is not MB, Solana Beach is not SB and La Jolla’s beaches are either Blacks, Torrey Pines State or Windandsea.

Mexico's influence. Locals playfully refer to the heavily Latino-populated South Bay suburbs of National City and Chula Vista as Chulajuana (chew-la-wan-a) due to their locations marking the halfway point between San Diego central and Tijuana, Mexico, when traveling south on the 5 and 805 freeways.


Even though San Diego is widely considered one of the healthiest and fittest cities in the U.S., San Diegans imbibe their beer. And they absolutely love hometown brewers, so much so that local microbrewing has become fiercely competitive, growing from a small handful to, in recent years, dozens. Notable San Diego-born brewers include:

  • Stone Brewing
  • Carl Strauss Brewery
  • Ballast Point Brewing Company
  • Lost Abbey Brewing
  • Green Flash Brewing Company
  • Lightning Brew
  • Alpine Brewing Company
  • La Jolla Brewhouse
  • San Diego Brewing Company
  • Coronado Brewer


San Diego has had its fair share of well-known residents. To us, they’re just neighbors, but to most, they’re celebrities (both famous and infamous). Past and current notable locals include:

  • Rihanna
  • Richard Dreyfuss
  • Annette Bening
  • Raquel Welch
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Rupaul
  • Mario Lopez
  • Gregory Peck
  • Bing Crosby
  • Tony Hawk
  • Andrew Cunanan
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • Ike Turner
  • Blink 182
  • Cameron Crowe
  • Wyatt Earp
  • Kathy Najimy
  • Greg Louganis
  • Anne Rice
  • Rita Hayworth

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