Alonzo Erastus Horton stepped off a San Francisco steamer and strolled ashore in 1867 on land that would become the center of a new San Diego, he was awed by what he found. "I have been nearly all over the world," said the man who would one day be known as the father of New San Diego, "and this is just the prettiest place for a city I ever saw." It was an exclamation to be echoed by millions of others, visitors and residents, with unceasing repetition, for more than a century.
Alonzo Horton was not the first, but he was surely the single most influential San Diego real estate speculator in the history of a city whose story may be told in real estate speculation. Nor was Horton the first to be attracted by San Diego's natural harbor and almost-supernatural beauty.
For centuries, dating back to 9000 B.C., this area belonged to the Southern California coastal region's first Americans, now called the San Dieguito. These San Dieguito were descended from Asians who crossed the land bridge in the Bering Strait in search of game, and from others who moved over the Sierra Nevadas and down the Pacific slope. Not unlike the modern Californians, they sought and found the best places to live.
About 1000 B.C., the Diegueño or Kumeyaay Indians came to the region, mixing with the Indians already here. And until the 16th century A.D., when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, exploring for Spain, sailed into San Diego Harbor, this uncharted paradise belonged to them.
Cabrillo, the first European to reach the Southern California soil, had not come to colonize it. Cabrillo discovered San Diego while searching for a northwest passage to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. And after his arrival on September 28, 1542, the eve of the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, Cabrillo named his discovery San Miguel. And then, for decades, San Miguel was ignored by outsiders.
Sixty years later, another explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, sailing north along the California coast for Spain, arrived in San Miguel on November 12, 1602, and renamed it San Diego, for the patron saint of his flagship, San Diego de Alcalá. But Spain was not interested in settling California. Quicker riches and the enhancement of a growing empire elsewhere in the Pacific and in the Orient drew the explorers away from San Diego. Another 167 years would pass before the colonization began.
Source: City of San Diego