San Diego’s golden beaches, fine museums, world-class attractions and buzzing nightlife mean you’ll never struggle for something to do in the town they call America's Finest City. From picnicking at the botanical gardens in Balboa Park to meeting curious critters at SeaWorld, riding the 100-year-old rollercoaster at Mission Beach and sipping fresh beer in the city’s famed taprooms, there really is something for everyone here. But is San Diego safe for tourists? Read on to find out more…
How Safe is San Diego?
Regularly ranked among the 20 safest cities in the country, and named the safest big city in the US by the FBI in 2017, thanks to its lower than national average crime rate, it’s fair to say San Diego is a pretty decent bet for a worry-free vacation. This is a city where violent crime is rare, if not entirely unheard of, and where you’re more likely to get a nasty sunburn than become a victim of crime.
So far so safe, but as with most major cities there will always be an element of petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag-snatching, with tourists inevitably providing the easiest pickings for opportunistic thieves. And while Downtown areas are mostly ok, the likes of the East Village does have a slightly higher crime rate than the Gaslamp Quarter or waterfront Embarcadero due to its large number of nightlife venues and other businesses, including the Petco Park stadium, home of the Padres baseball team.
To prevent a tiny minority of crooks and criminals from spoiling your trip, you should follow a few basic precautions such as staying alert to shifty looking characters and generally trying not to walk around with a flashing neon sign above your head that alerts would-be thieves to your status as a walking, talking ATM.
Tips for Staying Safe in San Diego
Opportunists after a quick buck will tend to ply their trade in and around the biggest attractions, especially where crowds of tourists make it easier to become invisible and disappear fast. Avoid being a victim by keeping your wits about you around the likes of San Diego Zoo and Balboa’s Park’s other big hitters, such as the San Diego Museum of Art and Air and Space Museum.
San Diego is a party town with bustling street markets in the likes of Hillcrest and Ocean Beach, a thriving nightlife scene and major annual festivals that draw hordes of revelers from around the world, including the annual Oktoberfest, Pride parade, Comic-Con and County Fair. All of these are prone to creating the kinds of crowd that are so beloved of petty crooks.
Scams like ‘friendly helpers’ hanging around ATMs or people offering to take a nice souvenir photo of you with your or smartphone may seem obvious, but the element of surprise often pays off as, flustered and embarrassed, you willingly hand over your expensive camera equipment only to look on helplessly as it vanishes into the crowd. In the unlikely event you do lose your valuables to a bag snatcher, scammer or pickpocket, don’t try to give chase – it’s not worth it. Instead, report the incident to police, put it down to experience and try not to let it spoil the rest of your trip. Oh, and make sure you get travel insurance before you go on vacation!
It’s also worth remembering that, as long as you take reasonable precautions such as keeping cash and valuables out of sight, being alert to lurkers at ATMs and not falling for obvious scams, it’s likely the worst thing that will happen to you in San Diego is waking up with a sore head after one too many of the city’s famous craft beers. Or coming out in lobster-red blotches after inexpertly applying your sunscreen.
Staying Safe in the San Diego Sun
San Diego is an outdoorsy kind of city, with a warm Mediterranean climate, some great canyons and nature reserves for hiking, and some of the best beaches in California. So it’s inevitable you’ll spend a fair bit of time in the sunshine, whether baking on La Jolla’s golden sands or exploring the many museums and gardens in sprawling Balboa Park.
Simple precautions like slapping on the sunscreen and drinking plenty of water cover most of the bases, but it’s also worth packing a good moisturizer, especially in autumn when the hot, arid Santa Ana winds are at their most punishing. If you’re hitting the beach and feel like cooling off in the water, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the warning flags and their meanings. Red means no swimming; checkered marks the boundary separating surfing and swimming areas and yellow with a black ball in the center means no surfing.
Riptides are not uncommon along this stretch of the California coast so make sure to swim only where there are lifeguards present. In the event you’re caught in a riptide, remember to swim sideways through the water, parallel to the shore, then diagonally towards the beach once free. Above all, stay calm. La Jolla Shores, South Mission Beach and Coronado Central Beach are some of the safest beaches for swimming, especially if you’re traveling with young kids.
Nighttime Safety in San Diego
San Diego is generally safe at night, even for solo and female travelers. Thanks to good street lighting and visible policing, even the Downtown neighborhood is largely trouble-free. But, like everywhere else, it pays to take sensible precautions such as dropping friends and family a note of your plans if you’re going out alone at night and avoiding trouble hotspots like quiet streets and late-night public transport.
San Diego’s nightlife is the stuff of legend. Late-night taprooms and dive bars jockey for position with classy rooftop cocktail joints, comedy clubs and music venues galore. There is, truly, never a dull moment here. Do drink in moderation, especially if you’re on your own, and don’t accept offers of drinks from charming strangers. By all means you should make new friends in this most sociable of cities, but it’s always safer to politely decline the free drink and pay for your own until you’re certain your new pal or pals can be trusted. If they’re genuine, they’re unlikely to be offended.
Ideally take a cab home rather than using public transport at night. Apps like Uber and Lyft operate in San Diego, or hail a yellow cab. Check for the San Diego County identification badge and be sure to ask your driver to start the meter when you hop in.
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