The Ultimate Guide to San Diego

San Diego, the notoriously sought-after submarine duty station, boasts the nation’s largest concentration of military personnel. In fact, over 100,000 active duty members are stationed here.

Beyond submarines, San Diego is home to the helicopter base at Naval Air Station North Island, the Amphibious base on Coronado where Navy SEALs train, Marines up at Pendleton and Miramar, surface ships at 32nd street, a major Naval Hospital at Balboa, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and a Coast Guard Station.

Naval Base Point Loma is home to five Los Angeles-class submarines.  The base also includes six installations: Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command; Commander Third Fleet HQ Complex; Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command HQ; SPAWAR Systems Center and Fleet Intelligence Training Command Pacific. 

San Diego lays claim to perfect weather year-round, gorgeous beaches and hikes, with no shortage of things to do. With so many different bases together in one place, it is a coveted spot for co-location of dual military couples like me.

Fast Facts

  • The military accounts for 26% of the jobs in San Diego.
  • With more than 1.37 million people, San Diego is the eighth largest city in the U.S.
  • San Diego is only one of two places that the rare Torrey pine tree grows.
  • San Diego is the birthplace of the California burrito (stuffed with carne asada and french fries).


  • First visited in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed an expedition along California’s coast
  • Spanish built a chain of missions across California in 1769, establishing San Diego
  • Became part of the United States in 1848 at the end of the U.S.-Mexican War
  • Military installations began with the setting aside of the southern portion of Point Loma in 1852

Where to Live

Trying to find a place to live in San Diego is OVERWHELMING to say the least. If you have kids and are trying to figure out schools on top of that, it can be even more so. Many submarine families opt to live in Point Loma. It is close to work, convenient to local stores and restaurants, not too far from the beach and airport. So close to the airport, in fact, they have what is known as the “Point Loma Pause” when 747s fly overhead and interrupt conversation.

 If you are looking for a bit more space you might go a little bit inland towards La Mesa, Tierrasanta, El Cajon or Santee. Clairemont is a good central location with some great schools, and if you are looking for some fun nightlife you might opt for downtown or Pacific Beach. North Park is another good central location. There are tons of options and they are mostly all good!

I am partial to Coronado myself. I remember visiting my best friend from high school when her husband was stationed here about eight years ago and fell in LOVE with Coronado. They have dozens of cute little shops and restaurants, a spacious beach with views of Point Loma, the historic Hotel Del Coronado, and everyone seems to get around by beach cruiser or golf cart.  I don’t know any other submarine family that lives on the island, but since I work on North Island, my husband made the sacrifice to drive across the bridge every day so we could live in this picturesque paradise and be close to my job.

Things to Do

There is an insane number of things to do in San Diego. I feel people are always telling me about new things I never heard of to do too! I have done a lot of these activities and would do them all again, and some are on my to-do list after being told about them!

Local Attractions


  • La Jolla Cove is a small, scenic cove and beach that is surrounded by cliffs in La Jolla.  The area offers surfing,snorkeling, shopping, seals, and a seaside cave.San Diego may be urban, but there are plenty of opportunities to get outside and hike. Trail highlights include Mount Woodson Hike/Potato Chip Rock , Devil’s Punchbowl Hike and Torrey Pines Trail. Hot tip: for Torrey Pines,
  • don’t park at the base, it costs money and the line is so long. Park at the end of Mar Scenic Drive and hike through the extension, on to the beach, then to the base.
  • Torrey Pines Golf Course (Public) 
  • Point Loma Tide Pools – winter is the best time to catch low tide when the park is still open
  • Spend the day at one of San Diego’s celebrated beaches. Check out Coronado, Imperial Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Del Mar. Seriously, they’re all great and each one has a different vibe. Hot tip: Take advantage of the beaches on base such as Gator Beach and Breakers Beach, which tend to be less crowded during busy times. For dog-friendly beaches, check out Coronado and Mission Beach.

Day Trips

Food & Drink

  • Another reason to love life in San Diego? The food and drink scene is unmatched. San Diego is home to everything from fish tacos to Cali-Baja fine dining.
  • Brunch is a serious meal in San Diego. Some favorites include Clayton’s Coffee Shop, a fun little diner in Coronado or Brockton Villa, an eatery in La Jolla with a water view (and delicious “Coast Toast”). Other spots to add to your list: Tom Ham’s Lighthouse and Parkhouse Eatery.  
  • For dinner with a view, venture out for Polynesian cuisine at Bali Hai, located along the San Diego Harbor on Shelter Island. Named San Diego’s Best Restaurant, George’s at the Cove has great food with an amazing view in La Jolla. Other great options include JRDN at Tower 23 and Mister A’s.
  • When in Southern California, Mexican food is king. Roberto’s (Not to be confused for Roberto’s Taco Shop in Mission Beach) serves up great California burritos and fish tacos.  Puesto is a local chain with great tacos, along with Tacos El Gordo, Miguels (amazing queso and mole) and Oscar’s.

For places closer to base, check out:

  • Point Loma Fish House: I was so excited when this new location opened up super close to the sub base! I had been to their Pacific Beach location and they have amazing fish tacos!
  • Buona Forchetta: There’s  a few locations throughout San Diego, but close to subbase is the most convenient. Liberty Station is near the subbase and their newest location is on Coronado! Amazing andauthentic Italian food.
  • Brigantine: With multiple locations in San Diego, this is a must visit for tasty seafood and oysters.
  • Harbor Town Pub: A favorite bar of submariners, with great beer selection.


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