European settlement of the San Diego area began in earnest in 1769 under the direction of Gaspar de Portola, who created the Fort Presidio of San Diego. The creation of the fortification was quickly followed by the founding of the Mission San Diego de Alcala by Franciscan friars.
Previous to this settlement, two exploratory expeditions of European explorers had already surveyed and named the region. The settlement went through periods of relative growth and contraction, passing from the hands of Spaniards into possession by Mexico, until it was ultimately made a part of the United States when California was admitted into the union in 1850. Some heated negotiation saw Mexico fail to retain access to San Diego Bay in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
After becoming a part of the United States, efforts quickly followed to create a “New Town” area of San Diego more conducive to maritime pursuits. By building near the natural deep-water bay, the New Town area gained significant traction, eventually becoming the modern downtown area.
San Diego suffered some difficulty in establishing itself as a major city, partially due to a lack of major railway access. The city continued to experience a series of upswings and difficult circumstances until the arrival of the World Wars.
During both Word War I and World War II, San Diego served as an important manufacturing, transit, and strategic point for multiple branches of the United States military. It was an important enough strategic target that Japanese forces planned to attack the city with kamikaze planes loaded with plague-infested fleas designed to spread death and havoc through American forces in an operation that was due only weeks after the surrender of Japanese forces.
Fortunately, San Diego didn’t become a plague-ridden wasteland. Instead, the postwar period saw the growth of the tuna trade and the continued importance of military installations during the Cold War. The tuna industry dried up later in the century due to the pressures of globalization, and the end of the Cold War has seen significant cuts to the military complexes in and around the Point Loma area.
Tourism and Biotechnology
After the loss of some of San Diego’s most important sources of employment and revenue, the city went into decline. The downtown area suffered greatly until the 1980s, when urban renewal efforts brought tourism and technology into focus as the future of the city. Headlining projects of the time included the construction of Horton Plaza and the San Diego Convention Center.
Additions to the newly minted San Diego State University saw the city become a center of biotechnology research attracting large biotech and pharma companies in addition to its status as a seaside tourist attraction. Today, San Diego is a hub of high-tech and tourism, standing side by side with other California travel destinations as a gorgeous, year-round getaway.