“The surveyors were drunk.”

That’s the explanation I got once from a city engineer on why drivers have to turn left, then right, to stay on some of San Diego’s main streets.

“Actually, what happened,” he said, “were that the subdivisions don’t match up properly. They might have been drunk when they created the maps, but there wasn’t anybody at the city that checked things in those days.”

Well, that sounds better, but what are we talking about?

The older parts of San Diego — generally south of Mission Valley, and west of Euclid to the bay — are generally on a straight north-south and east-west alignment.

The great Ken Kramer did a wonderful story on Guy Street, which comes and goes for a few miles in Mission Hills (I couldn’t find the actual story, but check out his website for all the video clips). In that case, the late 19th and early 20th century developers were trying to impose a street grid on terrain with deep canyons. To connect all the pieces of Guy Street, a rather obscure residential street, there would have to be a dozen or so bridges. Too expensive.

What I’m talking about are the major north-south streets that take turns, or disappear, only to reappear a few blocks away. And since some are pretty main streets, drivers twist and turn just to stay going in the same direction.

My favorite is 30th Street, a main artery from nearly the rim of Mission Valley to San Diego Bay shipyards.  It starts a block north of Adams Avenue, then runs south through North Park with what today is a small twist at University Avenue. It used to be a bigger twist, but was straightened a bit when the southwest corner was rebuilt in the ’60s.

Now, remember this was and is a major north-south street and has been for a century or more; the streetcar used to run down 30th.

South of the University jog we’re fine until we hit Upas. Then, its a jog a block or so west to stay on 30th, which over here lines up with Ray Street from the north. Oh, and Upas makes a little jog south as it heads east.

Everything’s fine — well, nobody notices the little move west as it crosses Switzer Canyon toward South Park — until Juniper Street. Now, heading south, we’re on — what? — Fern Street. 30th is a half-block west.

Fine… Fern Street, 30th Street… as long as I can find the new mini-Target. But wait… Fern moves west at Grape, twists at A Street and then we’re on 30th Street again. Whoa.

We’re not through yet. As it crosses Highway 94, it moves west again, a remnant of a jog at G Street that was obliterated when the freeway was built in 1962. From there, it’s a straight shot to the end at Main Street, except that I-5 construction in the 1963 cut it off at Newton Avenue.


What brought all this up? I was going to a doctor’s appointment in Hillcrest the other day, coming up First Avenue from downtown (itself doing the crooked-road boogie a few times) and noticed that there’s no Second Avenue north of Washington Street. Well, it’s an alley. That got me thinking…

So, the next time your GPS routes you in the wrong place, it just might be confused. Or drunk like those long-ago surveyors. ⚙


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