Neptune is an fictional unincorporated town in southern California that is host to numerous prestigious families and corporations featured in Veronica Mars. It comprises a small coastal community within Balboa County (also fictional), north of San Diego. The rich live in the 90909 zip code (09ers), while the majority of the remaining citizens are quite poor by comparison. The income disparity is responsible for a high degree of class resentment within the community, as well as the majority of conflicts that occur at Neptune High.
For such a small town, a lot of high-profile murders seem to happen in Neptune. Throughout the run of the show, the town is constantly gripped by scandal, as the community gradually learns more and more about the murders of Lilly Kane, Felix Toombs, Aaron Echolls, Cyrus O'Dell and his wife Mindy, and eight students who die in a tragic bus crash along with their driver.
As an unincorporated community, Neptune falls under the jurisdiction of the sheriff of Balboa County (Don Lamb for most of the series). Keith was once sheriff, but was hounded out of office for blaming Jake Kane for Lilly's murder, deeming Keith a pariah within the community and Veronica an outcast at school.
Neptune is informally governed by a "mayor" (an honorary title traditionally reserved for the holder of the local seat on the county Board of Supervisors). In the second season, baseball team owner Woody Goodman is elected to the post and embarks on a doomed campaign to incorporate the more affluent neighborhoods of Neptune into a separate city.
Estimates of the town's population are not high; even so, Neptune still manages to have its own baseball team and stadium, prestigious colleges such as Hearst, major corporations such as Kane Software and Casablancas Enterprises, and five-star hotels like the Neptune Grand.
Neptune is a coastal community located between San Diego and Los Angeles on the route of California's Pacific Coast Highway. Many locations in California are named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, including the Balboa Peninsula section of Newport Beach in Orange County and San Diego's Balboa Park. In reality, State Route 1 does not run south of Orange County. In season 1, it is implied that Neptune is about 85 miles (or a 90-minute drive) from San Diego. Series creator Rob Thomas stated in an interview that Neptune is located near San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.
Neptune scenes are generally filmed in San Diego County, and exteriors of all of the show's most notable locations are found there. For example, exteriors of the Mars residence are filmed in Point Loma, and exteriors of Mars Investigations are filmed on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights. Oceanside High School in Oceanside, California, doubles as the fictional Neptune High, and San Diego State University, University of California, San Diego and University of San Diego are portrayed as the fictional Hearst College. Qualcomm Stadium represents Shark Field, a fictitious stadium in Balboa County that is demolished in the second season.
The (numerically) closest real zip codes to 90909 are 90899, which belongs to Long Beach, California, 91001 which belongs to Altadena, California, and 92009 which belongs to Carlsbad, California. 909xx series zip codes are an unassigned series in the greater Los Angeles zipspace.
All aspects of Neptune, including its politics, are controlled by the "09ers". Neptune is the county seat of Balboa, containing the county's main Sheriff's Office (the only one seen) and the County Supervisor's Office. When the series begins, the sheriff is Don Lamb. Lamb is more concerned with the bureaucratic side of his job rather than proper and thorough police work. He gained his office in an emergency recall election, after the ousting of his former boss Keith Mars. Lamb has consistently displayed significant favoritism toward 09'ers, such as allowing Jake Kane to avoid having his daughter Lilly's car impounded for unpaid parking tickets.
A County Supervisor, informally referred to as the "Mayor" of Neptune, was seen during the season one episode "Silence of the Lamb," but his name was not given. At the start of season two, baseball team owner Woody Goodman ran for and won the position of County Supervisor, holding the position until fleeing Neptune after being accused of blowing up the school bus at the start of the season. Besides being eventually exposed as a pedophile child molester, Goodman was murdered by Cassidy "Beaver" Casablancas, the son of a wealthy "09er" family who had been sexually abused by Goodman when he was younger. As of the third season, no word has been given as to how Goodman's death would be handled in terms of naming a successor to the position of "County Supervisor".
The second season explored these political elements with plotlines involving an election for the offices of Sheriff and County Supervisor, with Keith Mars (supported by Goodman) trying to get his old job as sheriff back by running against Don Lamb. While Keith lost his bid to reclaim his old job, Goodman won his election. Afterwards, he showed his ambitious side by launching a campaign to incorporate Neptune, which would lead to the town having an official mayor and its own police department, with the municipal boundaries only including the "09er" sections of town. Those outside this incorporation area came under risk of lower property values and even further reduction in government response and effectiveness. The incorporation would also have gutted the powerbase of Sheriff Lamb, as the local Sheriff's office is located outside the "09er" section of the town, effectively leaving Lamb on the outside looking in. This led to much speculation as to why Goodman aligned himself politically with Keith Mars, a plot point that was not explored during the season.
In the end, Goodman's incorporation scheme failed due to a blackmail scheme orchestrated by his former child molestation victim Cassidy Casablancas. With help from his stepmother Kendall Casablancas, Cassidy had purchased a great deal of property outside the incorporation zone at bargain-basement prices (due to the depressed property values brought about due to incorporation talks) and sought to make a profit on them by killing incorporation, driving their prices back up to their original values. Threatening to go public regarding the child molestation charges, Cassidy forced Goodman to manufacture a sex scandal which implicated Keith Mars. Cassidy knew that Keith would fight Goodman to clear his name, and would ensure as a result that the public would think of Goodman as an adulterous politician. This 'backfiring' scandal would then cause Neptune residents to vote against Goodman and incorporation. Following the plan, incorporation lost at the ballot box—though Cassidy would not live to reap the rewards of his scheme for himself, as he committed suicide after Veronica revealed that Cassidy had murdered several of his classmates (along with several innocent bystanders) in order to keep said classmates from exposing Goodman as a pedophile child molester before Cassidy's blackmail/real estate scheme could be carried out.
Neptune has a huge gap between the rich "09ers" and those who work for them either directly or through service industry businesses. In Veronica's words, if you are young and live in Neptune, "either your parents are millionaires, or your parents work for millionaires". In the pilot episode and other season one episodes, it was implied that the Mars family existed on the fringes of the "09er" society and that most of their social standing came from Keith Mars's job as sheriff and Veronica's friendship with the children of software mogul Jake Kane
The largest and most successful business in the community, Kane Software is run and operated by Jake Kane, father of Duncan Kane and Lilly Kane. The company holds the patent on streaming video over the Internet, and according to Veronica is responsible for the huge boom in the local economy. When the patent was approved, many people in the community became rich overnight. Other "09ers" (such as movie star Aaron Echolls and his family) choose to live in Neptune due to its warm climate and its beaches, thus contributing even more to its economy. A few residents have become rich through service businesses (such as the Casablancas family, through real estate) in the boom created by the other "09ers".