How 19 San Diego Neighborhoods Got Their Names

San Diego is famous for its mild weather and laid-back lifestyle, but locals also know the city has a particularly complex web of neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods. In fact, the city has so many nabes that even life-long San Diegans never discover some of them. Here’s a selection of some of the districts with names that have the most interesting origin stories.

1. BANKERS HILL

Take stroll through the stately, mansion-lined streets of Bankers Hill and you’ll get a hint about how it got its name. The hilly neighborhood, which contains some of San Diego’s most beautiful historic homes, seemed so rich that early San Diegans apparently assumed a bunch of bankers lived there, and a name was born.

2. BARRIO LOGAN


Jamie Lantzy via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

 
Barrio Logan only recently got an old-school-style neighborhood gateway sign, but it’s been a distinct neighborhood since the 1880s. The Logan part pays tribute to Congressman John Logan, an Illinois senator who became popular in the city because of legislation he wrote that was intended to create a transcontinental railroad from Texas to California. The railroad was never completed, but when the land for the planned railroad was sold for development in 1886, one of the main streets was named Logan Avenue in honor of Logan’s efforts (incidentally, Logan was also instrumental in creating Memorial Day nationwide). The neighborhood that bore his name became home to a large concentration of Mexican-Americans over the years, and “barrio” (“neighborhood” in Spanish) became a formal part of the neighborhood name in the 1960s when Logan Heights, as it was once known, was split in two by a freeway. Today, Logan Heights is the northern part of the area and Barrio Logan is the southern.

3. BIRDLAND

Blame a clever city planner for Birdland’s name: Most of the neighborhood’s streets are named after bird species, like the blue jay and starling.

4. NORMAL HEIGHTS


 
You may think the “normal” in “Normal Heights” refers to the neighborhood’s everyday feel, but the name actually comes from the teachers college, San Diego Normal School, that later became San Diego State University (even though, rather oddly, the school was actually located in a nearby neighborhood).

5. CITY HEIGHTS

The “Steiner, Klauber, Choate and Castle Addition” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but such was the original name of what’s now known as City Heights, which was once unincorporated land purchased by developers named Klauber, Steiner, and Castle (a man named Daniel Choate helped them subdivide the land). In 1912, City Heights temporarily ceased to exist when it became its own city named East San Diego. But East San Diego didn’t last long, and in 1923 it was annexed by San Diego, with the City Heights name in use once again. The bigger neighborhood of City Heights is actually comprised of a collection of smaller neighborhoods with names like Teralta, Bay Ridge, and Fairmount Park; however, they’re all called City Heights by the City of San Diego and most residents who aren’t in the know.

6. CLAIREMONT

Thank a pair of developers for Clairemont’s name. In the late 1940s, Lou Burgener and Carlos Tavares put down money on a bunch of cattle land and decided to turn their acres into tract housing to accommodate the postwar influx of San Diegans. Tavares’s wife, future philanthropist and legendary arts patron Claire Tavares, suggested a family-friendly design for the new community, which had a “village within a city” concept, and they named it in her honor.

7. GASLAMP QUARTER


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Today, the Gaslamp is home to some of San Diego’s most vibrant nightlife. But at the beginning of the 20th century, it was called “New Town” as opposed to “Old Town” a few miles away. The neighborhood’s thriving red-light district got the nickname “Stingaree,” a play on “stingray” (probably in reference to the rays in San Diego Bay as well as the dangers of the area), and over the years it developed a reputation for crime, prostitution, gambling, and unsavory characters. In the 1970s and 1980s, the city of San Diego decided it was time to clean up the area’s act, renamed it the Gaslamp Quarter, renovated it, and sold it as a historic district once filled with Victorian gems and flickering gas lamps. (The city also added new gas lamps to encourage the feel.) The neighborhood is now packed with shops, hotels, and pricey eateries that belie the neighborhood’s gritty roots.

8. GOLDEN HILL

Golden Hill got its name not from the rich residents whose houses once lined its streets, but from nature. The area was originally named Indian Hill, but in 1887 a developer named Daniel Schuyler successfully petitioned city trustees to rename the area with the help of a poem that celebrated the neighborhood’s “golden light.” What that golden light was, however, has been subject to debate, with the main guesses being that the sun made Indian Hill shine like gold [PDF] or that the area was once covered with gold-blooming acacias.

9. HILLCREST


PDPhoto.org via Wikimedia // Public Domain

 
Speaking of hills, the origin of Hillcrest’s name is pretty simple—it’s at the crest of a hill. A woman named Mary Kearney originally owned the land, but from the 1870s through the early 1900s it changed hands multiple times. The name was supposedly suggested by the sister-in-law of a developer long before the neighborhood became the LGBT center of the city.

10. KEARNY MESA

Remember Mary Kearney? She’s not the Kearny in Kearny Mesa. The community was named for a former military base—Camp Kearny—which was later renamed Miramar. And that camp was named after Stephen Watts Kearny, the U.S. Army Brigadier General who helped conquer California during the Mexican-American war.

11. KENSINGTON

 
Known for its luxurious homes, Kensington is said to have been named after a similarly ritzy London neighborhood. The neighborhood was initially called Kensington Park, but the “Park” part was dropped at some point over the years. One of the neighborhood’s subdivisions, Talmadge, has a connection to one of San Diego’s lesser-known roles—as a pre-Hollywood film center. It was named after the Talmadge sisters, a group of silent film stars who opened a real estate development there in the late 1920s (in no small part because Norma Talmadge’s then-husband, studio executive Joseph Schenck, helped finance the development).

12. LINDA VISTA

With its vistas over San Diego Bay and Mission Valley, it’s no mystery why the Spanish name for “pretty view” became Linda Vista’s name. As San Diego’s population boomed during World War II, the southern part of Kearny Mesa was named Linda Vista by housing officials and slated as a place for dense military housing—despite the fact that there were no schools, sidewalks, bus routes, shops, or other accommodations nearby. Eventually it was built out into a proper neighborhood, with a name that keeps its view top of mind.

13. LITTLE ITALY


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Italian fishermen were once part of a thriving tuna industry along San Diego’s waterfront. The “Italian Colony” that built up in what is now Little Italy is responsible for its name, though today the neighborhood is better known for its food and festivals than its fishermen.

14. NORTH PARK

You can thank lemons—and a man named James Monroe Hartley—for North Park’s name. Hartley bought the land that is now North Park in 1893 to create a lemon grove. It was part of a parcel of land known as Park Villas, but was renamed “Hartley’s North Park” because of its new owner and its location north of Balboa Park. Eventually, San Diego grew enough that Hartley’s lemon grove became desirable home-building territory. All the better, since Hartley apparently had to truck in water due to a drought that was then hitting the area.

15. OLD TOWN


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As its name implies, Old Town has some serious history. It’s where the first non-native settlers of California dug in, building first a Spanish mission, then Mexican pueblos, and finally an American city. However, Old Town was simply known as San Diego until an upstart developer named Alonzo Horton started a nearby settlement he called “New Town” (built on an earlier attempt at a New Town that failed dramatically). That new New Town became Downtown, and Old Town got its present-day name.

16. POINT LOMA

Speaking of old: Point Loma’s name dates from long before California was populated by Europeans. In 1542, an explorer named Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo made the first landing in California, in San Diego Bay, and named its east peninsula “la punta de la loma,” or “hill point.” It took another couple of hundred years for the area to be colonized, but the name Point Loma stuck.

17. SCRIPPS RANCH



 
Suburban Scripps Ranch doesn’t seem like the kind of place where people would undertake a utopian social experiment, but that’s what happened in 1891 when an up-and-coming newspaper mogul named Edward Willis (or Wyllis) Scripps began building his dream home. He named it “Miramar,” or “sea view,” after the one-time Mexican Emperor Maximilian I’s palace. The entire family moved in to try out communal, idealistic living. Unfortunately, Scripps’ social experiment ended [PDF] when his brother Fred was indicted for sleeping with a 14-year-old girl, but Miramar Ranch—later renamed Scripps Ranch—eventually became a popular place to live. The name would later stick and become attached to the surrounding neighborhood.

18. TIERRASANTA

Tierrasanta’s name—it means “holy land” in Spanish—is a testament to its holy roots, though the community wasn’t founded until the 1970s. Before that, it was part of the Mission San Diego de Alcála Ranch. There, thousands of indigenous people were enslaved by Franciscan friars, including Junípero Serra, the controversial mission leader who became a Catholic saint in 2015. Allegations that the mission and its ranch were the site of virtual slavery or even genocide aren’t the only explosive things in Tierrasanta: The community was once a military training base and has experienced several issues related to unexploded ordnance.

19. RAMONA


Black Canyon Road Bridge in Ramona. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain  

Ramona technically isn’t part of the City of San Diego—rather, it counts as one of the county’s “unincorporated places.” But it gets an honorary inclusion on this list because of the strange origin of its name. “Ramona” wasn’t a historical figure but a fictitious one, the heroine of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel by the same name. The 1884 book follows the woes of the mixed-race Native American/Scottish Ramona as she navigates racial tension and romantic tragedy in old Southern California; the book was so popular that some have credited it with largely creating the tourism industry in Southern California.

10 Enchanting Places That Align with the Vernal Equinox

A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On Thursday, March 19, the vernal equinox heralded the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient civilizations built calendars and observatories to track the movements of the stars and mark this monumental time. Now, people still partake in a variety of traditions and rituals to honor the day when light and dark become equal. To take your celestial celebrations to the next level, here are 10 places that align with the spring equinox.

1. On the vernal equinox, a massive snake appears on the temple at Chichen Itza.

Legend says that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Maya city of Chichen Itza receives an otherworldly visitor: Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity. On these days, a shadowy snake slithers down the side of the god's namesake pyramid. As the temple darkens, a single strip of light stretches from the top of the northern staircase to the snake head resting at the bottom, creating the illusion of a wriggling reptile.

2. A beam of light illuminates a petroglyph within Arizona’s Boulder House each vernal equinox.

The Boulder House in Scottsdale, Arizona, looks like a strange home wedged amid a jumble of rocks. But it’s actually a modern house built around a sacred Native American site. The Empie family, who bought the parcel of desert land in the 1980s, commissioned architect Charles Johnson to transform the cluster of 1.6-billion-year-old boulders into a functional house. Johnson crafted a unique structure, incorporating the rocks into the house’s foundation and preserving the prehistoric carvings. On the equinox, sunlight pierces between two boulders in the unusual abode, striking a spiral petroglyph on the wall to create a dazzling piece of home decor.

3. On the vernal equinox, a group of Moai on Easter Island stare directly at the sunset.

Seven Moai gaze face toward the horizon
On the equinox, these Moai stare directly at the setting sun.
abriendomundo/iStock via Getty Images

People aren’t the only ones who pause to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon on the first day of spring. On Easter Island, at a sacred site called Ahu Akivi, a line of seven Moai—the island’s giant, mysterious heads—gaze directly at the point at which the sun sets in the sky on the equinox.

4. Each vernal equinox, light drenches a petroglyph-filled cairn at Loughcrew.

The hills of Loughcrew, one of Ireland’s four main passage tomb sites, are crowned by 5000-year-old megalithic structures. At dawn on the equinox, sunlight fills Cairn T, a passage tomb carved with astoundingly well-preserved examples of Neolithic art. As the light dissolves the darkness, the cup marks that dimple its walls and the symbols adorning its back stones blaze into view. The illumination lasts for about 50 minutes, giving observers ample time to take turns squeezing into the cairn.

5. On the vernal equinox, light streams through one of the Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples.

The Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples on Malta’s southern coast are archaeological wonders. They were built between 3600 and 2500 BCE and are believed to be among the world’s oldest freestanding stone buildings. Not much is known about the people who created these megalithic masterpieces, though it’s clear they constructed one of the temples with an eye to the heavens. On the equinox, the sun streams through the South Temple’s main doorway, flooding the structure’s major axis with light.

6. On the vernal equinox, the sun sits directly atop the main temple at Angkor Wat.

Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat would be a magical experience any day. Crowds hush as colorful hues paint the world’s largest religious structure with a gilded glow. Dawn at Angkor Wat is even more special on the equinoxes. Then, the sun rises behind the main temple before briefly seeming to balance on its tip like a fiery halo.

7. On the spring equinox, the sun rises through the entrance to Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Stonehenge has inspired replicas around the globe—including as far away as New Zealand. Stonehenge Aotearoa, which opened in 2005, was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. The structure is an astronomical tool for observing the local skies, and blends modern astronomy with ancient starlore. If you stand in the center of the circle on the Southern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, you can watch the sun rise directly through the Sun Gate, two carved pillars that flank the entrance to the henge.

8. The shadow of the intihuatana at Machu Picchu disappears at noon on the equinox.

A curious stone structure stands atop a temple at Machu Picchu. It’s one of the rare surviving intihuatanas that wasn’t demolished by the Spanish conquistadors. This “hitching post of the sun” is believed to have been an astronomical tool. At noon on the equinox, the granite pillar’s shadow briefly vanishes. Unfortunately, the invaluable object now looks a bit battered. In 2000, a crane toppled into the intihuatana during the filming of a beer commercial, smashing part of it.

9. At sunrise on the spring equinox, the sun bursts through the door of a temple at Dzibilchaltún.

Sunrise at Dzibilchaltún
Each equinox, the sun appears within the door of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
renatamsousa/iStock via Getty Images

Though now reduced to a medley of ruins dotting the jungle, Dzibilchaltún was once the longest continually inhabited Maya administrative and ceremonial city. The star attraction here is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building named for the mysterious human-like figures discovered inside. At dawn on the equinox, the sun shines through the temple’s main door. It’s believed the sacred structure was aligned with the equinoxes to mark the beginning of the planting season and the end of the harvesting season.

10. The 'Woodhenge' at the Cahokia Mounds aligns with the sunrise on the equinox.

During the Mississippian cultural period, Cahokia's population exceeded that of London. In addition to giant pyramids, the North American city also featured circles of wooden posts, since dubbed “Woodhenge.” The wooden markers were likely used to track the sun’s movements. One of the posts aligns with the equinoxes, as well as with the front of Monks Mound. On sunrise on the equinox, it looks as though the sun is emerging from the enigmatic earthwork.

Lítla Dímun: The Smallest of the Faroe Islands Has Its Very Own Cloud

While some islands are known for their unusual geography or unique history, Lítla Dímun is notable for its weather. The island, which is the smallest of Denmark's Faroe Islands chain, is often capped by a lens-shaped cloud, making it resemble a scene from a fairytale.

According to Mental Floss's own Kerry Wolfe writing for Atlas Obscura, the cloud floating above Lítla Dímun is a lenticular cloud. This type of cloud forms when moist air flows over a protruding geological feature, like a mountain top. When the wind moving up the landmass hits the air current directly above it, a sort of wave is created on the downwind side of the mountain. The moist air falling down this wave evaporates and then condenses into a large, flying-saucer-shaped cloud atop the mountain peak as a result.

Another factor that makes Lítla Dímun distinct is that it's the only one of the 18 main Faroe Islands without human inhabitants. Visitors to the mystical location will instead find a thriving population of sheep. Originally, Lítla Dímun was home to a group of feral sheep likely dating back to the Neolithic era. But they were hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Domesticated sheep were introduced there around the same time, and today, farmers visit the island once a year to round up their flocks.

One of the few signs of human life are the ropes farmers use to scale the cliff faces bordering the island. Even if you have rock-climbing skills, Lítla Dímun may be dangerous to visit. A boat ride to the rocky shore is only possible when the surrounding sea is calm.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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