What we're talking about here are entities which call out your attention while traveling through the city. For visitors, it's exemplified by the "What's that?" factor -- when you see it, you say "What's that?" So here's a list of some of San Diego's more significant -- and not-so-significant -- landmarks.
San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge
It's what every airline passenger sees (OK, the ones sitting on the left side of the plane) while making the descent into Lindbergh Field. This graceful, sweeping blue span is the major point of access to the city of Coronado and the North Island Naval Air Station. The newly toll-free bridge provides one of the grandest views of the city and bay from anywhere for merely the price of gas. But, of course, there's no stopping on the bridge.
The California Tower
Speaking of views from the air, this beautiful bell tower in Balboa Park (and part of the Museum of Man) is what the passengers on the right side of the airplane usually see upon descent. With its beautiful and ornate tile covered campanile, it evokes the Spanish Moor architecture that pervades this region.
This 800-foot hill with the cross atop it in the La Jolla area of San Diego provides a 360 degree view of the city and the Pacific Ocean. Accessible by a winding road, the mountain top has parking and a grassy area for picnics and taking in the breathtaking view. Although the cross that adorns the city owned land has spawned controversy (that old separation of church and state thing), Mount Soledad is even better known as an ideal make-out spot, or so the rumor goes.
Mount Helix is the East County counterpart to Mount Soledad on the coast: a high promontory adorned with a cross at its peak seen from Interstate 8 ("What's that?"), accessible by a winding road in an exclusive residential area (Mt. Helix). Oh, yeah, it also offers 360 degree amazing views of the eastern part of the county. The amphitheater at the top of the mountain is used for theatrical presentations and popular Easter sunrise services.
The Mormon Temple
It looks like something straight out of fantasy land -- or a science fiction movie. With its pointed spires and gleaming white facade, the Mormon Temple generates double and triple takes from motorists traveling on Interstate 5 in the La Jolla area. Only accessible by Latter-Day Saints Church members, this relatively new structure has become a San Diego landmark by sheer virtue of its magnificent presence. A statement it makes, indeed.
You see them while downtown, crossing the San Diego Riverbed, speeding by as your caught in freeway gridlock. San Diego may not have a subway system like New York City, but we have our bright red trolley system. With its major hub in downtown and branching off both to the south all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border, and to the east to Santee in the east county and also through Mission Valley, the San Diego Trolley is a popular mode of public transportation and as much a symbol of San Diego as red tile roofs. A major eastern expansion through Mission Valley up to San Diego State University and on to Grossmont is in progress and is slated to begin operation in 2004.
Cabrillo National Monument/Point Loma Lighthouse
In honor of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed into what is now San Diego Bay in 1542, this National Park is situated at the tip of Point Loma, a long, scenic peninsula that forms San Diego Bay. The park offers one of the most incredible views of the harbor, Pacific Ocean and the city, and you can get some history to go along with the view at the visitors center and old Lighthouse.