You could say that San Diego is where California began. It was here that Spanish settlers established the region’s very first mission in 1769—251 years ago, on a hillside overlooking what is now known as Old Town San Diego. Two and a half centuries later, this city of 1.4 million (with an MSA population approaching 3.5 million) is one of the fastest-growing in the U.S. Its #2 ranking in our deep Place category—with Top 5 finishes for Safety (#4)and Parks & Outdoors (#2). And, of course, there’s its weather. San Diego is as naturally endowed as any place has a right to be—its sublime 263 full and partly sunny days annually help place it at #5 in the nation, while the 23 beaches—70 miles of them—within the city limits make it synonymous with SoCal surf culture. After a festive 2019 celebrating its 250th, the city is now pausing somewhat to reap the fruits of a torrid few years of development. Of course, with the COVID-19 outbreak and California’s stringent shelter-in-place orders, San Diegans don’t really have a choice. When they do get back out of the house and into their beloved city, they’ll beeline for the famous eponymous zoo—which is one year closer to the opening of its $69-million children’s zoo, to be named after Denny Sanford, a San Diego philanthropist who donated $30 million to this endeavor, the largest single gift the San Diego Zoo has ever received.