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San Diego, California (U.S.)

San Diego County

Last modified: 2022-06-18 by rick wyatt
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[flag of San Diego, California] 2:3 image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 7 November 2003

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Current Flag

Text and image(s) from American City Flags, Raven 9-10 (2002-2003), courtesy of the North American Vexillological Association, which retains copyright. Image(s) from American City Flags by permission of David B. Martucci.


San Diego’s flag is a vertical tribar of equal red, white, and gold stripes. On the center stripe is the city’s seal, about one-third of the stripe’s height in diameter.

The seal is positioned slightly above center; below it, centered and curved to match the seal’s outer edge, is 1542. The seal is elaborate. A white band, edged on both sides in gold, surrounds the seal. Beginning at 8 o’clock and extending to 4 o’clock, • THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO • STATE OF CALIFORNIA • runs clockwise in gold. In the remaining space on the band below, on a white heraldic ribbon edged in gold, is the city’s motto, SEMPER VIGILANS (“Always Vigilant”) also in gold. The shield is slightly curved on both sides on the top edge, and indented slightly on either side near the top. Its field is gold, with a wavy blue bar across its center. At the top is a black Spanish caravel with red sails, flag, and pennon facing the hoist. In the base is an orange tree, in natural colors with fruit, with a black winged wheel on either side. The supporters are the Pillars of Hercules, entwined with gold ribbons, each pillar resting on a green dolphin with red eyes and fins, facing the shield’s edges, their red tails linked below the shield. In the crest is a blue Carmelite belfry, from which hangs a gold bell.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003


The explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo discovered San Diego, the first California port entered by a Spanish ship, in 1542. Red and gold recall the Spanish flag, and red and white are also found in the United States flag. The gold is a reminder of the precious metal that transformed California from a wilderness to a prosperous state.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003


The Native Sons of the Golden West, the hereditary organization also responsible for the adoption of the California state flag in 1911, developed the city flag and presented it to the city council.
Flag adopted: 16 October 1934 (official).
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003


Uncertain. The designer is not specifically named, but the ordinance of adoption mentions Albert V. Mayrhofer as presenting the flag to the council. Whether he is the designer or just the representative of his organization is not certain.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

More about the Flag

The detail on the seal does not permit any lettering to be seen on the ribbons entwined about the Pillars of Hercules and, in fact, there is no official reference to such lettering. However, the pillars as depicted on the flags of Spain typically have PLUS on the dexter ribbon and ULTRA on the sinister, together meaning “More Beyond”. Since the ribbons are gold, one supposes that the lettering would be in red (the reverse of the pillars on the Spanish arms). None of the available examples of the seal, all small, show any lettering on the ribbons.
John M. Purcell, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

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


[City Seal] image located by Paul Bassinson, 30 May 2019


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 LI>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.

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 crucifix 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

Police Department

[Police Department] image located by Paul Bassinson, 25 March 2021

The flag of the San Diego Police Department was obtained from
Paul Bassinson, 25 March 2021