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San Diego, California (U.S.)

San Diego County

Last modified: 2017-11-18 by rick wyatt
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[flag of San Diego, California] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 7 November 2003



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Description of the flag

Vertical triband of dark red, white and dark yellow; centered on the white stripe the city seal, and arched below it the date "1542" (the year explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first entered San Diego Bay and claimed the area for Spain). The seal shows, on a light blue background, a coat of arms like emblem that may be blazoned as per fess, azure and sable, on the I a ship or rigged gules, on the II an orange tree proper between two (what? cornucopias?), and below a fess gules marginated in point buy a fesslet vert; as supporters, the columns of Hercules; as crest, a church bell porch; in lieu of motto scroll, two rococo ornaments. Around the edge of the shield, in golden letters on white, the inscription "The City of San Diego - State of California" pointing up, and in white letters on golden, pointing down, "Semper vigilans" (always on the watch).

Ratio: 2:3. Diameter of the seal: 1/3rd of the flag's height; height of the letters, approx. 1/16th.

Sources: Discovery Channel website and World Book.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 31 August 2000


The city flag doesn't show the usual, colored version of the seal, but rather a black and golden depiction.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 7 November 2003


The official flag of the City of San Diego was adopted by the City Council on Oct. 16, 1934, when a sample banner was submitted by Albert V. Mayrhofer, on behalf of the California Historical Association, Native Sons of the Golden West, Native Daughters of the Golden West, and The San Diegans.

The flag is composed of three vertical bars, from left to right, red, white and gold. In the center white field is the official seal of the city and beneath it the date "1542," the year explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first entered San Diego Bay and claimed the area for Spain. The use of the three vertical bars is reminiscent of the colors of the flag of Spain, which flew over Cabrillo's ship.
Michael Smuda, 14 October 2002


City Seal

[flag of San Diego, California] image from www.sandiego.gov

The official seal of the City of San Diego was adopted by the City Council on April 14, 1914, and superseded a design that had been in use since Jan. 5, 1888.

  • The pillars of Hercules are used as supporters to recall the ancient territorial jurisdiction of Spain.
  • The winged wheel represents manufacturing and transportation.
  • The two connected dolphins symbolize the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, inseparably united by the Panama Canal.
  • The motto, "Semper Vigilans," means "ever vigilant."
  • The orange tree represents agriculture
  • The Spanish caravel represents the exploration and settlement by the Spanish.
  • The blue wavy band below it represents the city's position on the sea.
  • The mission or carmelite belfry suggests early settlement by the mission fathers.
  • In 1997, a blue bar was added behind the seal and the words "The City of San Diego" included below the seal. This is now the City's official corporate identity.
Source: www.sandiego.gov


Incorrect version of the flag

[flag of San Diego, California] image by António Martins, 31 August 2000

This image is based on the World Book, quoted at the Discovery Channel website. In this version, the city flag doesn't show the usual, colored version of the seal, but rather a black and golden depiction on the flag.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 October 2003


Flags of Juan R. Cabrillo

The current issue of "Mainsail Haul," the journal of the San Diego Maritime Museum, is devoted to the story of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the Spanish explorer who discovered the Bay of San Miguel Arcangel (later renamed "San Diego" by Vizcaino) in 1542. It includes the following comments about the flags of the vessels in the squadron of Pedro Alvarado (of which Cabrillo's ship, the San Salvador was a part):

There is abundant evidence that sixteenth-century ships flew the banners and ensigns of their owners and their religious patrons. Cabrillo's new ship "flew the banner of an almirante from the fore-topmast as almirantes of the sea are accustomed to do." The vessel also flew the arms of Alvarado and later those of Viceroy Mendoza. The religious banner probably showed a crucivix and perhaps the words San Salvador.

"Luis Gonzales, a pilot on one of Alvarado's vessels, later testified as follows: "Johan Rs. Cabrillo went in his own ship which flew the banner of an almirante from its foretopmast . . . and this witness spoke with his pilot and know it to be his ship."
Peter Ansoff, 4 July 2009