San Diego’s charm is simply unique. The mile-long beaches, the lush gardens and fun theme parks, along with the one-of-a-kind cuisine, are reasons for which San Diego is well-known as ‘America’s Finest City’. The weather is perfect all-year-round, employment options abound and the standard of living stands out. In fact, San Diego ranks second among big U.S. metros in terms of quality of life.
If you’re planning to relocate here or simply thinking about a vacation in SoCal, you’re sure to fall in love with the city with our list of movies and series that were set in San Diego.
Modern San Diego and its most famous depictions
These famous motion pictures have made America’s Finest City a truly iconic place in the movie industry and in popular culture after the turn of the millennium. More than that, they can give you an idea about what San Diego looks like and will help you get acquainted with the most famous sights of the city.
Almost Famous (2000, IMDb score: 7.9)
Written by an actual San Diegan, Cameron Crow, this movie takes advantage of all the beauty that the city has to offer. Set in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, which became iconic in the meantime, it also includes shots of the world-famous Newport Avenue and San Diego Sports Arena, among other locations and landmarks.
Traffic (2000, IMDb score: 7.6)
Traffic took over San Diego when it was filmed and became iconic for several locations including the Rancho Bernardo Inn, Balboa Park, the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, the Hall of Justice and nearby La Jolla. One of the scenes even featured a real-life car explosion in the downtown area of the city.
Bruce Almighty (2003, IMDb score: 6.7)
Despite being set in Buffalo, NY, a part of the movie was shot near San Diego’s Harbor Island. Arguably the most iconic scene in the film, the moment when a frustrated protagonist wrecks his car and challenges God was filmed on Harbor Drive. Bruce Almighty is known as one of the most representative motion pictures of Jim Carrey’s career.
Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgundy (2004, IMDb score: 7.1)
Whether you love or hate Will Ferrell, there’s no denying that Anchorman is a great movie – and a successful franchise. It is set in San Diego, but filming locations differ and keep going back and forth between Long Beach and San Diego. Either way, it can give you an accurate impression of beautiful SoCal in the 1970s.
Terriers (2010, IMDb score: 8.4)
This award-winning one-season series paints the perfect picture of San Diego’s fascinating and bohemian Ocean Beach neighborhood. The two protagonists lived and worked in the area, but filming locations go way beyond Ocean Beach, stretching all across the county, from North Park to Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Veronica Mars (2004-2019, IMDb score: 8.4)
Not many people know that the show’s fictional town of Neptune was, in fact, San Diego. Ocean Beach makes yet another appearance throughout this long-standing and super successful TV show, along with Kearny Mesa, the former Qualcomm Stadium and Adams Avenue’s Lestat Coffee House, where the office of the protagonist was set.
Drake & Josh (2004-2007, IMDb score: 7.8)
Staying in the realm of brotherly adventures, Drake & Josh was not actually filmed in San Diego but still gives a very good, accurate and appealing impression of the area around the city. Filming locations resemble famous areas around America’s Finest City, including Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, Mira Mesa Boulevard and all of North County in general.
Weeds (2005-2012, IMDb score: 8.0)
Weeds is another series that aged really well and managed to make it to season 8 since it represented cutting-edge television back in 2005. Most notably, besides the unique vibe and perfectly complementary background and landscapes throughout the series, seasons four and five were set in the fictional town of Ren Mar, which was, in fact, San Diego’s Del Mar.
The Fosters (2013-2018, IMDb score: 8.0)
Displaying the chronicles of a very interesting multi-ethnic family raised by two moms, one of them working for the San Diego Police Department, this series illustrates beautiful landscapes in and around the city, despite most of it being filmed in San Pedro and Long Beach. Still, the views are very similar to San Diego’s actual suburbs and paint a very accurate picture.
Pitch (2016-2017, IMDb score: 7.3)
Pitch tells the story of Ginny Baker, a pitcher getting the opportunity to play for the San Diego Padres. Most of the filming was done in San Diego, during the gorgeous spring season. Well-known locations such as Petco Park, Omni San Diego Hotel, Coronado Bridge and other landmarks all over downtown San Diego represent the background of the action.
Animal Kingdom (2016-2022, IMDb score: 8.2)
With beautiful Oceanside views and a gripping plot, it is no wonder that Animal Kingdom made it to season 6. Arguably, the town becomes, over time, a character in its own right and the action is well complemented by majestic scenery all throughout the series, making you fall in love with San Diego’s surroundings.
What the old days say about today
Do not overlook these absolute classics. Besides being highly rewatchable and representative for another era of the film industry, they can provide you with interesting insights on how life used to be in San Diego.
Citizen Kane (1941, IMDb score: 8.3)
This absolute all-time classic was filmed in San Diego, despite not being set there, and it is regarded as one of the best movies ever produced. The city’s world-famous Balboa Park makes several appearances and represents the backdrop of this masterpiece that still holds up 80 years later. Citizen Kane is always worth rewatching.
Some Like It Hot (1959, IMDB score: 8.2)
While this famous movie was not set in San Diego either, most of it was shot in America’s Finest City, most notably the popular Hotel Del Coronado. As another film that aged remarkably well, Some Like It Hot illustrates an accurate and entertaining picture of the 50s in San Diego. To this day, the movie is shown, at times, on the beach around the hotel and on the nearby island parks.
Top Gun (1986, IMDb score: 6.9)
Besides encompassing all the characteristics of a classic 80s film, Top Gun is what made Tom Cruise a celebrity. Moreover, what makes the movie even better is the fact that several gorgeous locations in and around San Diego were used as background – a few of these include the Post Loma Coast Guard Lighthouse, Kansas City Barbeque and the Miramar Naval Air Station.
Simon & Simon (1981-1989, IMDb score: 7.0)
This successful series depicts the adventures of a private detective agency that takes the two brothers running it all around the city of San Diego. The famous Balboa Park makes several appearances, along with other iconic landmarks such as Horton Plaza, SeaWorld and Coronado Bridge, the latter being, in fact, the backdrop of the opening scene.
We guarantee that watching a few of these will get you packing and exploring…or at least will have you looking up plane tickets! Finally, keep in mind that if you’re thinking about making the move there, renting self storage in San Diego will make the process substantially easier and more efficient. You can currently rent a 5’x10’ storage unit in the city for as little as $115 and a standard 10’x10’ unit for $182.