Downtown San Diego’s dynamic skyline has been reshaped by the robust growth of residential and commercial development. Downtown is continuing on its path to becoming an exciting and savvy urban environment, with a concentration on dynamic public projects such as new parks and open space, new cultural venues and enhanced public infrastructure.
Downtown boasts a beautiful natural harbor, excellent restaurants, new and historic hotels, a major shopping plaza and lively nightlife that is second to none. Hard to miss is the largest and one of the most beautiful convention centers on the West Coast. Downtown’s crowning achievement is the state-of-the-art 42,000-seat ballpark for the National League San Diego Padres. Plus, downtown is the hub of the regional transportation system, making it easily accessible by car, bus, Coaster, ferry, plane, train and trolley. Since downtown’s revitalization began 40 years ago, more than 18,000 attached homes have been built. These include luxury and market-rate condos, spacious lofts and affordable apartments.
The dynamic force behind the redevelopment of downtown has been the Civic San Diego (619-235-2200). Visit their Web site [civicsd.com] for information about all of the new downtown residential, commercial and public development projects. Also visit [sandiegodowntown.org] for business relocation and other downtown insider news.
The area once called New Town, as opposed to Old Town where San Diego actually began, is roughly divided into eight neighborhoods. Each has its own unique character, fascinating history and special appeal. This chapter presents an overview of seven of these neighbor-hoods plus a thumbnail sketch of Hillcrest and Banker’s Hill, because they are historically and geographically tied to downtown. The eighth neighborhood is the Gaslamp Quarter with an entire chapter devoted to it.
The easy-to-find Horton Plaza neighborhood was named in honor of Alonzo Horton, who founded New Town San Diego in 1869. The star of this 15-block area is the impressive Westfield Horton Plaza (22) (619-239-8180). There are more than 130 stores and restaurants. Whether you’re on a vacation or a longtime resident, come in and see all that this shopping center has to offer.
Horton Plaza is also an excellent venue for entertainment. The Lyceum Theatre features live performances, and the eight-movie screen Regal UA Horton Plaza features a great selection of contemporary films.
Horton Plaza’s well-lit parking structure offers free parking for one hour, and then it is ($2) for each additional 15 minutes. Select retailers and theaters offer extended validation.
CORE DISTRICT OF DOWNTOWN
The heart of San Diego’s central business district is called the Core, and Broadway is its main street. High-rise office and hotel buildings are in abundance here. Calling the Core neighborhood home are San Diego’s City Hall and court buildings, along with major banks, which comprise the financial district of downtown.
The jewel of this district is the historic Jacobs Music Center Copley Symphony Hall (20) at 750 B St. (619-235-0804) [sandiegosymphony.org]. It is regarded as one of the finest classical music venues on the West Coast. This year the San Diego Symphony will be celebrating its 107th year anniversary, and it’s one of the oldest orchestras in California. It is rated as a tier one orchestra, and they perform more than 140 concerts each year. For their complete performance schedule including their popular Ashford University Summer Pops (28) series, which is held at the Embarcadero Marina Park South, visit [sandiegosymphony.org]. Both musical venues are important parts of the cultural fabric of the city. To purchase tickets call (619-235-0804). Also see Embarcadero chapter.
Also located in the Core district is the San Diego Civic Theatre (19) at 1100 Third Ave. (619-570-1100) at the San Diego Concourse. Hosted here are many national touring musical and theatrical presentations.
CORTEZ HILL DOWNTOWN
Cortez Hill, with its panoramic views, is one of San Diego’s oldest residential neighborhoods. It was named after what was once the famous El Cortez Hotel. Today, the hotel has been renovated and converted into upscale condominiums. Victorian-style homes dot the area along with new condominiums and apartments.
COLUMBIA DISTRICT OF DOWNTOWN
The Columbia neighborhood, which fronts San Diego Bay at the foot of Broadway, is where you’ll find an incredible number of things to see and do. At the Embarcadero on the waterfront, you can board the world’s oldest active sailing ship and much more. The official boundaries of this neighborhood are San Diego Bay east to Union Street between Ash and F streets (see map).
Getting around downtown is easy. The bright red Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Trolley (511) makes regular stops at the main downtown terminal at the foot of the America Plaza Building (15). The Trolley’s Blue, Green and Orange Lines will all take you to the center of the downtown area, and the Trolley’s Green line will take you to PETCO Park, the Convention Center, Gaslamp Quarter and Seaport Village (see map).
Across from the American Plaza Building is one of San Diego’s most recognized landmarks. The Santa Fe Railroad Station (11), with its distinctive Spanish motif, is the city’s only train station. It’s where you would catch Amtrak (800-872-7245) if traveling north to Los Angeles and beyond. The Coaster (800-COASTER), San Diego’s coast express rail line, also departs from here. See the Welcome chapter.
LITTLE ITALY IN DOWNTOWN
Little Italy is an eclectic neighborhood with charming sidewalk cafés, delightful little shops, and one-of-a-kind specialty stores, which are reasons enough to discover this downtown district. Look for their landmark Little Italy sign (6) arched over India Street at the corner of India and Cedar streets in the heart of Little Italy. One event not to miss is their 22nd annual Little Italy Festa held this year on Sunday, Oct. 8 on India Street. With 150 food vendors and activities galore, it’s an event not to miss. Also visit [littleitalysd.com].
A great way to navigate Little Italy is to download their FREE App via iTunes or Google Play, then search San Diego’s Little Italy or call Little Italy San Diego at (619-233-3898).
The geographic boundaries of Little Italy are Union Street on the east, Harbor Drive on the west, Ash on the south and Laurel Street on the north. For a clearer visualization of the boundaries of Little Italy, refer to the downtown map.
The heart of Little Italy is along India Street, which is a one-way street. Cars can only travel in a south-to-north direction. So most people enter Little Italy from the corner of Ash and India streets.
Once you have arrived, you should begin to look for a parking space. There is a lot of parking on the streets in Little Italy, and some restaurants have off-street parking. So the best way to see Little Italy is on foot.
If you plan to arrive via the San Diego Trolley, you’ll find that the trolley stop is only two blocks from the heart of Little Italy. From the trolley stop, travel east on Cedar Street to Kettner Boulevard and India Street. No matter how you get to Little Italy, you will most certainly enjoy your stroll through this downtown treasure.
India Street is the main thoroughfare of Little Italy. Along this thoroughfare you can casually stroll past quaint cafés and boutiques and enjoy the leisurely ambience of this charming village.
Across the street is an upscale and informal Italian coffeehouse called Cafe Zucchero (6) at 1731 India St. (619-531-1731). They serve some of the best espresso in town. Then there are the pastries. Just one look and you’re hooked.
A great find among the many excellent restaurants that line Little Italy’s main thoroughfare is Mimmo’s Italian Village (6) at 1743 India St. (619-239-3710). They offer sidewalk dining, but the real treat is to dine indoors in a village setting. And if you want true romance, ask to be seated in their intimate wine cellar.
A few doors away is one of San Diego County’s landmark restaurants, which is celebrating 67 years in business. It’s Filippi’s Pizza Grotto (6) at 1747 India St. (619-232-5094). As you walk in the front door, don’t be confused by the well-stocked delicatessen, which has boxes of canned goods piled to the ceiling. The restaurant, with its red and white checkered tablecloths and chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, is well hidden in the back.
Kettner Boulevard is Little Italy’s art and design district, and second restaurant row. Here you’ll find lots of shops filled with interior decor to beautify your home or office. Nestled among the many shops and businesses along Kettner Boulevard are some of San Diego’s excellent restaurants.
Romesco Mexiterranean (30), 1490 Kettner Blvd. (619-756-7864). Open daily for lunch and dinner serving delicious Baja Med cuisine including the “original Caesar’s salad” with a south of the border international flair. Reserve a seat at the chef’s table for a culinary journey like no other. The 4,800 sq. ft. two story restaurant is upscale and classy.
Juniper and Ivy (31) 2228 Kettner Blvd, between Juniper and Ivy Streets Open daily at 4 p.m.(619-269-9036) [juniperandivy.com]. with the pursuit of culinary excellence, celebrity Chef Richard Blais has created a masterpiece enjoyed by all. Nothing is ordinary. The setting is ultra modern with a huge open kitchen. Next door is their outdoor kitchen and dining room with casual seating. You’ll undoubtedly be impressed with both venues.
It’s The Waterfront Bar & Grill (26) at 2044 Kettner Blvd. (619-232-9656). It was established in 1933, and is well-known for their famous hamburger.
GoCar Tours (30) at the corner of Kettner Blvd. and Grape St. (800-914-6227) [gocartours.com] offers voice tours of the city using GPS and a cute yellow car, enabling two people to tour the city’s sights and sounds.
Yes, one of downtown’s favorite places to live is Little Italy. It has the charm that the other regions of downtown don’t have mainly because many of the small houses were the homes of the tuna fishermen and many were Italian, which is how this region of downtown got its name.
MARINA DISTRICT DOWNTOWN
Downtown’s Marina neighborhood is a vibrant panorama of eye-catching skyscrapers, high-rise hotels and luxurious condos that reflect the glimmering coastal sunsets. Here too is the San Diego Convention Center, named one of the world’s top three convention centers twice in the past six years.
At the corner of Front Street and Island Ave. is The New Children’s Museum (24) at 200 West Island Ave. (619-233-8792) [thinkplaycreate.org]. This 50,000-sq. ft. extravaganza was created for kids.
A restaurant that comes with high marks is Kansas City Barbeque (16) at 600 W. Harbor Dr. (619-231-9680). This restaurant, which is celebrating 32 years in business, serves great-tasting food. Its claim to fame is that scenes from the 1986 hit movie Top Gun were filmed here! Get your souvenir Top Gun t-shirts and hats here! Plus, they are just two blocks from the USS Midway Museum. Don’t miss their happy hour from 3:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m. daily. See Restaurants.
EAST VILLAGE DISTRICT OF DOWNTOWN
The East Village is the last of the downtown neighborhoods to undergo significant redevelopment. Boosted by the success of PETCO Park, the Centre City Development Corporation has given the green light for builders to develop the area. In fact, 15 residential units are planned, including at least three affordable housing buildings, as well as significant office and commercial space.
The 325-acre East Village is also home to PETCO Park (25), the National League San Diego Padres ballpark. This 42,685-seat venue is a state-of-the-art facility. Architecturally magnificent, with natural stone and stucco exterior and beautiful landscaping, it combines the best sight lines in baseball with breathtaking views of San Diego. Petco Park Tours (619-795-5000) [mlb.com/padres.
com] are offered April though September and times vary according to game days and times. Tours last 80 minutes. See Sports & Recreation.
Highly recommended is the popular cafe and coffeehouse The Mission (2) at 1250 J St. (619-232-7662), which is located in a charming historic house. Their specialties are delicious breakfast entrées like blueberry cornmeal pancakes, which are served in huge portions. Locals flock to their full-service coffee bar where they serve fresh ground coffee and espresso. Their patio seating is a great way to enjoy the lively East Village scene. See Restaurants.
HILLCREST IS IN UPTOWN
Just up the hill to the north of downtown San Diego is Hillcrest (see map), a charming uptown neighborhood. It’s known for its interesting little shops, sidewalk cafés and extensive restaurant row. It’s also known for being one of the city’s LGBT communities. There are literally dozens of great dining destinations including Lotus Thai (29) 3761 Sixth Ave. (619-299-8272) [lotusthaisd.com] where the best regional cuisine from Ching Mai, Bangkok and Northern Thailand can be found. See Restaurants.
NEAREST CASINO TO DOWNTOWN
Just 21.2 miles east of Downtown is the new Hollywood Casino (619-315-2250) [hollywoodcasinojamul.com] via Hwy 94 East and exit onto Campo Road. You don’t have to be a local to find this place. Open 24 hours a day, it offers six restaurants slot matchines and card games. The popularity of Indian Casino Gaming is yet another San Diego Attraction not to miss.