San Diego is known as America’s Finest City yet its history is full of captivating oddities and strange occurrences that make it seem anything but lackluster (what does finest even mean?). While we may not quite surpass Portland as the titleholder for “Weirdest City in America,” we’ve certainly come close on occasion.
So we scanned the interwebs to find eight of the weirdest headlines, most bizarre happenings, and other odd moments throughout San Diego’s colorful history. Here are some of our favorites:
1912: Police Roundup at The Stingaree (aka Tivoli Bar and Grill)
Recently highlighted in our feature on “Oldest Businesses and Establishment of San Diego,” The Stingaree once served as a local watering hole for deviants and bohemians in the Gaslamp’s former Red Light District. As the Panama-California Exposition approached in 1912, law enforcement, local law enforcement attempted to clean up downtown and thus lead to the arrest of sex workers in the vicinity. A local newspaper reported, “138 Are Arrested in Stingaree Raid/136 Promise to Leave City; Two Agree to Reform.” If only I could agree to reform the next time I get ticketed for forgetting to turn my tires after parking on the treatorous hills of Golden Hill.
1967: Snowfall in the City
San Diego city isn’t known for its snowfall and when it does occur (three recorded accounts in city limits), us locals lose our minds. Typically a snow day involves a drive up to Julian or Big Bear, but not in 1967. On December 14, 1967 San Diegans awoke to the unusual sight of snow on the ground. A powerful storm transformed the landscape overnight, blanketing San Diego county in a layer of white.
Areas above 1,000 feet reported heavy snowfalls like Palomar Mountain with temperatures of 18 degrees F at noon, while central cities felt a light blanket of snow, sleet, and chilling winds causing numerous accidents around the road. The arid desert of Borrego Springs even recorded an unprecedented three inches of snowfall. Despite a modest snowfall in 2008, it pales in comparison to the historic storm of ’67.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
1995: M60 Tank Road Rage
I’ll be honest, I’ve fantasized about driving a monster truck up and over traffic while stuck in deadlocked jams on the 805. But driving an M60 tank to make a point? That’s on another level.
On May 17, 1995, army veteran Shawn Nelson breached a local Army National Guard armory, seizing the 57-ton behemoth for an unforgettable joyride spanning six miles. His 23-minute escapade traveled the streets of Clairemont and the 805 freeway left a trail of disruption, targeting utility poles and fire hydrants. Thankfully, no one was hurt during the 23-minute rampage as the perpetrator was targeting public utilities like poles, traffic lights, fire hydrants, and ended up disrupting electricity for 5,100 residents. Next time you’re driven mad in rush hour traffic, consider a visit to the rage rooms at Brainy Actz or AxeVentures for a more cathartic outlet.
Courtesy of the City of San Diego
2007: Pacific Beach Riot
Ever wondered why alcohol is banned on the beaches of San Diego County? On a fateful Labor Day weekend 15 years ago across Pacific and Mission Beach, a liquor-fueled skirmish transformed into a full-blown riot devouring the two beachside towns. Beer cans were hurled, drunken beachgoers threw punches, and local businesses looked on in horror. What followed was a city council vote to ban drinking alcohol on San Diego beaches. It passed in November of 2008. To this day, locals insist that out-of-state tourists are to blame (we see you, Arizona), with San Diego forever changed.
Courtesy of Big Bay Boom
2012: The Big Bay Boom Explosion
Dubbed the “Best Fireworks Show Ever” by many San Diegans, the Big Bay Boom in 2012 had different plans for the city on the 4th of July. Minutes before the original start time, all four firework barges simultaneously ignited their payload of 7,000 fireworks. A show that typically lasts 17 minutes ended in a matter of seconds.
Car alarms echoed in synchronicity, spectators at the nearby Coronado Ferry Landing fled, and four large mushroom clouds loomed in the sky. No one was hurt, but the company responsible for the show, Garden State Fireworks, agreed to host the following year’s display for free.
2021: Cash Shower on the 5 Freeway
This isn’t your usual traffic jam on the 5 freeway. Instead of cars in gridlock, honking, and swearing inside of each vehicle, drivers exited their vehicles frolicking to collect handfuls of cash fluttering out of an armored truck.
At 9:15 a.m. near Cannon Road on the 5 freeway in Carlsbad, thousands of dollar bills littered the freeways and many cars abandoned their vehicles to engage in the surreal spectacle. Two opportunistic scavengers were arrested after collecting cash on the scene and various others scattered off as SDPD worked to contain the scene. Never again has money fallen from the sky like it did that morning in 2021.
2022: The Legendary Padres Rally Goose
In the bottom of the 8th inning during a heated Game 2 of the Padres-Dodgers NL Division Series Game in LA, a goose landed in right field forever changing Padres history. Following a Wild Card win against the Mets and a daunting best of five series against a seemingly unstoppable 111-51 Dodgers, the goose appeared as a rallying cry for the Padres. Following the incident, the Padres came back to win the next three games and thus advancing to the NL Championship against the Phillies. Although it wasn’t San Diego’s year in the end, fans have immortalized the Rally goose as a San Diego icon which you can find on Padres merchandise and murals across San Diego.
Photo Credit: Cole Novak
2023: Historic Bomb Cyclone Storm
Last winter, massive swells detonated on the beaches of San Diego yielding waves up to 20 feet in height. The “bomb cyclone” brought awe and chaos including massive flooding of the Mission Beach boardwalk, the collapse of a section of Black’s Beach’s cliffs, and the destruction of Children’s Pool safety railings.
Noted as the largest swell to hit San Diego in 25 years, the storm brought amazement to beachgoers and massive open faces for the most unhinged of surfers. Swimmers were rescued, waves topped the Ocean Beach pier, and local surfers will be asking “Where were you during the bomb cyclone of 2023?” for years to come.