San Diego—Padres, Surfers, Avocados, and Giant Pandas

By: Stuart J. Fischer, MD

For many AAOS Annual Meeting attendees, this is likely not their first trip to San Diego. With its temperate climate and beautiful scenery, “America’s Finest City” is a popular vacation destination. Plus, San Diego was also the Annual Meeting host city in 2007 and 2011. But how much do you really know about San Diego? The following are facts and trivia about the city and the surrounding area.


The USS Midway Museum is a popular San Diego attraction.
Courtesy of Stuart J. Fischer, MD

Padres and padres
With a population of 1.4 million, San Diego is the second largest city in California and the eighth largest in the country. Yet, San Diego is the largest American city never to have won a major professional sports championship. The Rockets won the National Basketball Association championship, but only after they had moved to Houston from San Diego.

The San Diego Padres started out as a minor league baseball team in Sacramento, Calif., in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1903, but didn’t make it to San Diego until 1936 when the team, then known as the Stars, was moved from Los Angeles. The Padres remained in the PCL until 1968 when they became a Major League Baseball expansion team.

Led by San Diego native Ted Williams, the Padres won the PCL pennant in 1937. Williams was 17 years old and still in high school when he joined the team. Although he had major league offers, his mother thought he was too young to leave home so he stayed in the minors and played for San Diego until he joined the Boston Red Sox in 1939.

McDonald’s owner, Ray Kroc, spent the last years of his life as owner of the San Diego Padres. Kroc, who purchased the team in 1974 for $12 million, is remembered for having kept the team in San Diego when another potential buyer wanted to move the team to Washington, D.C.

Like the baseball Padres, the real padres who helped found San Diego came from other parts of the West. But church missionaries weren’t the first to live there. The area had been inhabited for thousands of years by native peoples, some called Kumeyaay.

In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led an expedition from Guatemala and Mexico that landed in San Diego Bay in an area now known as Point Loma. Sixty years later another Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, named the area for the Spanish saint San Diego de Alcala.

In 1769, Franciscan friars led by Father Junipero Serra established the first mission in Alta California, Mission San Diego de Alcala. Serra went on to build a chain of 21 missions in California including the now famous San Juan Capistrano.

The current Mission San Diego is the fifth on the site. The mission had passed briefly into private hands and was then used as a barracks by the United States Army. It was returned to the Catholic Church and the padres by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

Coronado—island, bridge, and “the Del”
Coronado is not really an island but a peninsula. It is separated from the mainland by a thin strip, or tombolo, called the Silver Strand. The Coronado Bridge, which was completed in 1969, connects San Diego with Coronado Island. The length of the bridge, 2.1 miles, with a 4.6 percent grade and unique 90 degree curve, was necessary to allow the bridge to reach a 200 foot height over water, high enough to allow passage of an aircraft carrier underneath. The first person to drive over the bridge was Ronald Reagan in 1969.

Coronado’s landmark, the Hotel Del Coronado or “the Del” was built in 1888. Originally conceived as a Victorian style beach resort, it is the second largest wooden building in the United States. The Del was the site of the first outdoor electric Christmas tree and the first state dinner outside of Washington, D.C., hosted by Richard Nixon in 1970 for the president of Mexico.

Several movies have been filmed at the Del, most notably 1959’s “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis.

Maritime, aviation history
The celebrated Naval aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, is now a floating museum in San Diego Bay. The Midway was designed during World War II but did not enter service until 8 days after the war ended. For 10 years it was the largest ship in the world and was the first aircraft carrier that was too big to cross the Panama Canal. The Midway was active for 47 years and served in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.

No less historic is the Star of India, a sailing vessel built in England in 1863, and now part of the Maritime museum of San Diego. The windjammer, which was active in the salmon canning industry in the early 20th century, still cruises in San Diego Bay. It is the second oldest active sailing ship in the world and the fourth oldest ship still in the water in the United States. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

San Diego is also closely tied to aviation history. In 1911, Glenn Curtiss established the first Naval Air Station on North Island where he built and flew America’s first seaplane. He also trained the Navy’s first pilots and is known as the “Father of Naval Aviation.”

Another historic airplane, Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis, was custom built by Ryan Aircraft Company in San Diego. The plane, a single-seat, single-engine, monoplane, took off from North Island on May 10, 1927, and stopped in St. Louis before landing in New York. Ten days later, “Lucky Lindy” embarked on his legendary trans-
Atlantic flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris. In 1928, San Diego Municipal Airport was dedicated as Lindbergh Field. Now known as San Diego International Airport, it is the busiest single runway airport in the United States and the second busiest in the world.

Did you know?
With more than 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is one of the surfing capitals of the world. In the early 1960s, the Beach Boys helped to make surfing and San Diego popular with a string of musical hits. Legend has it that Dennis Wilson, the original drummer and the only surfer in the group, told his brothers, who were also band members, “Hey, surfing’s getting really big. You guys ought to write a song about it.” In their 1963 hit, “Surfin’ USA,” the Beach Boys mention five San Diego beaches—Del Mar, Trestles, San Onofre, La Jolla, and Swami’s.

Despite plenty of coastline and ocean, San Diego has a dry climate. With an average rainfall of between 9 and 12 inches a year, the city has to import 80 percent to 90 percent of its water, more than 160 million gallons a day, from outside sources.

La Jolla’s most well-known resident was arguably Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss. Geisel needed a pseudonym at Dartmouth College when he was caught drinking gin during Prohibition and banned from extracurricular activities. So he used the name “Seuss” and continued to write for a campus humor magazine.

Later, as a magazine illustrator, he began to sign his work “Dr. Seuss,” even though he never formally earned a doctorate. After World War II, he moved to La Jolla where he started writing children’s books including “The Cat in the Hat,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”

More fun facts
The San Diego Convention Center hosted the Republican National Convention in 1996, the only time a presidential candidate has been nominated in the city. That year the Republicans nominated Sen. Bob Dole for president and former HUD Secretary and San Diego Chargers quarterback Jack Kemp for vice-president. At the convention, Sen. Dole won the nomination with 1,928 votes; this year’s Annual Meeting Presidential Guest Speaker, Steve Forbes, was 2nd runner-up with two delegate votes!

Across from the Convention Center is San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The area was first developed by Alonzo Horton who purchased land near the waterfront in 1867 and wanted to build a new downtown. By the 1880s, the area had become known as the “Stingaree” after the sting rays in San Diego Bay. The Stingaree was filled with saloons, gambling, and a red-light district populated by wild characters such as Western legend Wyatt Earp and Madame Ida Bailey. Redevelopment of the area as a historic district began in the 1970s.

The San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park has more than 3,600 animals, more than 600 different species, and the largest collection of koalas outside of Australia. The zoo’s most famous inhabitants are the three giant pandas on loan from the Chinese government. The oldest, Bai Yun who is 25 years old, has given birth to six cubs in San Diego including the first surviving giant panda born in the United States. Five of the cubs have been sent back to China, but the youngest, Xiao Liwu, is now 4 ½ years old and remains at the zoo.