San Diego, California
San Diegans like to say their beach town is smaller, friendlier and, well, just plain better than Los Angeles. True, in some respects, although San Diego is no small town: It's is the 17th-largest metropolitan area in the United States (approaching 3.1 million people) and borders two Mexican cities (Tijuana and Tecate) that add another 1.5 million.
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As for sunny, San Diego boasts 146 completely clear days per year but has oodles of partly sunny days to complement average monthly high temperatures that float from the mid 60s in winter to the high 70s in summer.
San Diego County has miles of beaches, including Coronado Beach, which was recently named one of the 10 best in the country. The city is more orderly than L.A., perhaps due in part to San Diego's numerous major military facilities, including the country's largest complex of naval bases and the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton.
The city layout also adds to the manageable feel: Western San Diego county is a mesa cut by deep canyons, and planners designated a lot of parks and open spaces that keep neighborhoods feeling small. Yet big-city resources abound, including a major university with a medical center and teaching hospital (University of California, San Diego); thriving industries in biotechnology, computer sciences and telecommunications; and dining, nightlife and entertainment to rival most other major cities. The city's Historic Gaslamp Quarter is home to 135 eating and drinking establishments, 70 shops, and more than a dozen hotels. The city has a growing art scene that shows off in monthly fairs like North Park Nights, and perhaps the best zoo in the world.
The city has more than 100 neighborhoods, ranging from ultra-exclusive beachside communities like La Jolla (known for its art galleries) and Coronado (recognized for its Victorian beach cottages) to more affordable places like Pacific Beach and East Village. To the east lie the Santa Ana Mountains and Mount Palomar. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (600,000 acres) takes up most of the northeast part of the county, and the Cleveland National Forest (460,000 acres) occupies the county's center.
The bounty of outdoor recreation options contributes to San Diegans' low rates of diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
On the downside, unemployment is above the national average, and housing foreclosures are high. San Diego's biggest downside might be wildfires. A super-firestorm in October 2007 burned 369,000 acres in the county; half a million people were evacuated, and 1,600 homes were destroyed.