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SAN DIEGO — Lights glittering on the bay, a drink at a rooftop bar, a stunning view from your airplane window: San Diego might have fewer skyscrapers than other major cities in the U.S., but its skyline still makes a striking backdrop.

In a region defined by sprawl, San Diego’s tallest buildings are concentrated downtown.

Safety issues limit how high developers can go when they build skyscrapers in the metropolitan hub. Planes fly right over parts of downtown to land at San Diego International Airport.

Historically, the city of San Diego capped buildings at 500 feet because of this issue, an airport spokesperson told FOX 5 by email. That’s actually not a binding limit anymore, and the city makes height rulings based on a building’s specific location and input from the Federal Aviation Administration.

For now, though, the city’s tallest buildings top out at 500 feet.

We used data from the building and construction database Emporis, checked against information from each building’s owners, to compile this list of the city’s 10 tallest buildings.

1. One America Plaza – 500 feet

A view of One America Plaza, the tallest skyscraper in downtown San Diego. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

One America Plaza stands just a single foot taller than the second entry on this list, claiming the top spot.

It’s impossible to miss the office building from the water in San Diego Bay, rising just north of the Marina district among the high-rises of Core-Columbia.

Designed by German-American architect Helmut Jahn and completed in 1991, the skyscraper features a four-story marble lobby with an indoor waterfall.

Financial and legal firms including UBS Financial and Allianz Capital call the building home. On-site conveniences range from an auto detailer to a business bank center and outdoor plaza, plus several food options.

From the outside, residents sometimes say the top of the building looks like a Phillips-head screwdriver.

2. Symphony Towers – 499 feet

Also located in Core-Columbia, the Symphony Towers make up San Diego’s second-tallest development.

The two-tower hotel and business complex has a striking exterior, wrapped in pink granite and glass. It’s named for the adjacent symphony hall, and home to the 3-star Marriott Vacation Club Pulse and 34 stories of highly coveted office space.

Opened in 1989, the building briefly held the title of tallest in San Diego. One America Plaza stole that spot a few years later.

As noted by the San Diego Union-Tribune, developers built the Symphony Towers on land about 70 feet above sea level, so its tallest point is technically just 429 feet from the ground. Typically, though, airline officials and skyscraper buffs focus on “pinnacle height” — meaning how far the building extends into the air, the newspaper reports.

3. Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel (Harbor Tower) – 497 feet

The towers of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel rise on San Diego’s waterfront, including the building that is third-tallest in the city. (Getty Images)

Sitting high above the water with panoramic views of Coronado and the San Diego Bay, the Manchester Grand Hyatt serves as a landmark for the Marina district.

Completed in 1992, the hotel is made up of two towers, with the taller Harbor Tower reaching 497 feet.

The swanky four-star lodging has two rooftop pools, seven dining options and a 24-hour fitness center.

Locals looking for a fun night out can check out Rooftop Cinema Club, which hosts outdoor movie nights on the hotel’s fourth-floor sports courts. Watch a film under the stars, then travel up to the 40th story to enjoy a cocktail at the sky lounge.

4. Pinnacle on the Park and Spire San Diego (tie) – 479

Pinnacle on the Park and Spire San Diego, San Diego’s fourth and fifth-tallest buildings. (Getty Images)

These twin buildings, distinguished on the exterior by their brightly colored facades, are the new kids on the block when it comes to this list. Pinnacle on the Park wears yellow, while Spire San Diego sports red.

The pair became an unmistakable sight on the East Village skyline when they opened in 2016 and 2019. Residents have the best of downtown at their doorstep, and amenities from fitness centers and pools to private balconies create a luxurious vibe.

The buildings have gained some level of notoriety for the number of Airbnb and other short term rental units on site. As the Union-Tribune declared in 2017, “The hottest hotel in town is an apartment building.”

A recent inewsource investigation covered Pinnacle’s reputation as the “party building,” with complaints from tenants mounting during the pandemic.

New short-term vacation rental rules could change the buildings’ complexion in the near-future.

The rest of San Diego’s tallest buildings

According to Emporis, these are the next five tallest buildings in America’s Finest City, all located downtown:

6. Electra – 475 feet – 700 W E St

7. Pacific Gate – 458 feet – 888 W E St

8. Emerald Plaza – 450 feet – 402 W. Broadway (tie)
Pinnacle Marina Tower – 450 feet – 550 Front Street

10. Manchester Grand Hyatt (Seaport tower) – 446 feet – 1 Market Place