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Bizarre 'Only in San Diego' Moments

  • 6 min read

Bizarre 'Only in San Diego' Moments

San Diego is a city full of sunshine, surf, and some of the most unique and quirky experiences you'll find anywhere. Most of the time you'll find San Diegans are a laid-back crowd who know how to have fun, but things can get wild unexpectedly. There are some weird, wacky, and just plain bizarre moments that couldn't happen anywhere else. We covered some of our local legends around San Diego but now let's dive into some of the wacky events from the past. From famous UFO sightings to a funny seal on the freeway, here are the top "Only in San Diego" moments that will make you love this city even more.

Table of Contents

The Great Tank Joyride (1995)

The Great Tank Joyride, also known as the Rampage of the M60A3 tank, was a bizarre incident that took place in San Diego in May 1995. Shawn Nelson, a 35-year-old plumber and army veteran, stole an M60A3 tank from a National Guard Armory and took the 50 ton beast for a joyride through the streets of the city. The tank smashed through cars, RVs, fire hydrants, and power lines, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. 

The San Diego Police caught up with Nelson after the tank crashed into the center divider on the highway. This joyride caused over a million dollars in damage and disrupted the lives of countless residents. The incident made national headlines and sparked a lot of curiosity and interest in San Diego, with many people flocking to the city to see where the tank had been driven and to hear more about the bizarre story. Today, the Great Tank Joyride remains one of the most infamous and unusual moments in San Diego's history, and a reminder of the strange and unexpected things that can happen in this vibrant and exciting city. Locals who were in San Diego at that time will never forget this day. 

This is the route of the tank mapped out by Reddit user pennguinplatypus



Labor Day Beach Brawl (2007)

The Labor Day Beach Brawl of 2007 in San Diego was quite a time to be alive and living in Pacific Beach. It was like a scene straight out of an action movie, but instead of trained martial artists, it was just your average PB Bro (Pacific Beach for the non-locals) engaging in a Jackie Chan style brawl on the beaches of San Diego, 

It was a gorgeous sunny day filled with sun-kissed bodies covered in sand, flip flops flying through the air, and beach towels being used as makeshift weapons.

It all started when a small group of individuals began throwing bottles and rocks at police officers, who had arrived to break up a crowd of revelers.The situation quickly escalated as more it grew to hundreds of people, fighting each other, attacking officers and causing chaos.

The police responded with pepper spray, batons, and eventually called in reinforcements from neighboring areas. Despite their efforts, the crowd continued to grow increasingly violent, with people hurling objects and even setting fire to trash cans. It took several hours and over hundreds officers to finally disperse the crowd.

San Diegans are serious about their parties but rarely get as wild as that day. Despite the chaos, no serious injuries were reported, and order was eventually restored.

This brawl resulted in the permanent alcohol ban on San Diego beaches. So if you're on the beach and you want to crack open a beer in San Diego - remember we're not in SD during 2007 anymore.

4th of July Fireworks Glitch (2012)

The Big Bay Bust fireworks incident of 2012 was truly a bust!  It was the Fourth of July in San Diego, and everyone was pumped up for the annual Big Bay Boom fireworks show, but little did anyone know, a rogue computer program had other plans.

San Diego residents always look forward to the annual Big Bay Boom, the Fourth of July fireworks show. In 2012, the show started early and kind of happened all at once. Five minutes before the show was scheduled to start, a glitch in the computer-controlled fireworks system caused all of the fireworks to be launched at the same time. Hundreds of fireworks went off in the air over the bay in a massive explosion that went on for several seconds. It could be heard throughout the city. Although residents were disappointed that the show had to be canceled, that one explosion must have made for a truly awesome viewing experience.

It was like the grand finale had come early - except there was no buildup, no crescendo, just a cacophony of noise and light. Nobody was quite sure what was happening.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The fireworks petered out, leaving a thick cloud of smoke hanging in the air. Despite the mayhem and confusion, the whole ordeal had a certain charm. In any case, it's safe to say that the Big Bay Bust fireworks incident was memorable, if not for all the right reasons. 



F18 Crash in San Diego (2018)

It seems far too often that you hear about plane crashes in San Diego. Being a military city, San Diegans are used to sonic booms and seeing military training happening in our city and in our skies.

This plane crash on December 8, 2018 was like no other. On this tragic day, a F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet crashed into a residential area, killing the pilot and three people on the ground. The pilot, on a training mission, reported a mechanical problem with the aircraft before it crashed into the neighborhood. Sadly, the crash caused significant damage to homes and cars in the area, and several people were injured in addition to the fatalities.

The military and the National Transportation Safety Board both began immediate investigations to determine the cause of the crash. This shocking tragedy was a somber reminder of the risks of military training exercises and the importance of safety precautions to protect service members and civilians.


Emergency Plane Landing on the I-5 (2021)

A lot of things have held up traffic in San Diego, but few of them literally fall out of the sky. In a shocking turn of events on August 24th, 2021, an emergency plane landing took place on the I-5 in San Diego. The event caused a disruption in traffic and gave a scare to bystanders. The small plane had to make an emergency landing after experiencing technical difficulties in the air. It successfully landed on the highway but managed to hit at least one car.

Unfortunately, the pilot broke a leg, and the plane was damaged in the incident. It leaked fuel on the highway, but emergency crews handled it quickly, and everyone survived the crash. The plane sustained partial loss of a wing from an auto collision during landing and eventually had to be removed with a crane. Traffic was held up for several hours. Because this was an aircraft incident, the identity of the pilot and passengers was withheld. However, it remains one of the strangest traffic jams in San Diego History.


Seal on the Freeway (2022)

So, picture this: you're cruising down the freeway in San Diego, usual day, usual traffic, and then BAM! There's a seal, just chilling right there in the middle of the road! That's what went down back in 2022, with our flippered friend creating a mini chaos as drivers swerved to avoid it.

Naturally, the unexpected sight got everyone talking (and Tweeting). Eventually, the seal was taken to Seaworld

seal on i5


The Goose is on the Loose (2022)

The San Diego Padres were dominating the 2022 NLDS playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Oct 12, 2022, as the game was going into the bottom of the 8th inning - a goose found its way onto the field. There was a brief interruption to the game as fans laughed at the situation but the umpires decided to continue with the game. Eventually, the staff at the stadium was able to guide the goose off the field. The Dodgers surely hoped this distraction would throw off the San Diego Padres' lead but the Friars were about to maintain their lead to win the game. 

goose disrupts padres game



Every city has its unique flavor and attitude, but San Diego is like a different world. Living here, you never know what to expect. It might be foggy and cool in the morning, then hot and dry in the afternoon. Traffic is bumper to bumper, with a chance of emergencies or entertainment on the commute home. The only thing you can be sure of is great burritos and having some incredible stories to tell your non-local friends and family.