Guide Tour of Downtown San Diego, California, United States

Downtown San Diego is the city center of San Diego, California. Downtown San Diego is the thriving central business district of San Diego. A heavily gentrified area with plenty of tourist amenities, Downtown serves as a hub of business and entertainment, with plenty of restaurants, shops, and nightlife to take in, as well as a few attractions, including several museums and the home of the San Diego Padres baseball team.

Downtown San Diego began in 1867, when Alonzo Erastus Horton bought 960 acres of land by the San Diego Bay after he decided that this should be the center of the city rather than Old Town. Soon Horton found himself in the midst of an economic boom, resulting in the development of the southern Downtown neighborhoods, site of the present-day Gaslamp Quarter. In the 1970s, redevelopment efforts began taking off, and in the 1980s the area began to rebound with the completion of Horton Plaza, the San Diego Convention Center, and the start of revitalization efforts in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Downtown San Diego serves as the cultural and financial center and central business district of San Diego, with more than 4,000 businesses and nine districts. The downtown area is the home of the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Opera as well as multiple theaters and several museums. The San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, are also located downtown.

San Diego’s thriving urban center offers an abundance of options for accommodations, activities, dining and cultural attractions, all easily accessible by foot, bike, car or public transportation. In the historic Gaslamp Quarter, where modern architecture and Victorian-Age buildings stand side-by-side, you’ll discover eclectic galleries, chic boutiques, trendy nightclubs, rooftop bars, gastropubs, craft beer haunts and fine dining restaurants lining the streets.

Families can enjoy compelling cultural attractions in San Diego’s downtown, like The New Children’s Museum, take in a baseball game at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, or catch the trolley to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. With plenty of places to eat, shop and explore, families can enjoy a true California urban safari.

The waterfront Embarcadero lines the western edge of downtown. Its boardwalk hugs the San Diego Bay, home to the cruise terminal, the Navy Pier and Seaport Village. Climb aboard to explore the ships at the USS Midway Museum, the Star of India, or the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Join a moving sea vessel on a harbor cruise and explore the bay, while taking in the skyline views.

San Diego’s Little Italy district offers some authentic local flavor, just north of downtown, where you can grab a slice of pizza or an espresso and biscotti from a local café, or dine at one of the celebrity chef restaurants located on bustling Kettner Boulevard known as “Top Chef Alley.”

The city with an endless variety of posh night clubs, sizzling music venues and sky-high rooftop bars. ust south of downtown sits the vibrant East Village, a revitalized warehouse district with a hip social scene, and trendy cafes, craft beer bars and high energy vibe.

At Barrio Logan, the epicenter of San Diego’s Hispanic community, where art and food converge in a symphony of sights, sounds and tastes. The colorful murals and outstanding fare are worth the trip.

Anchored by 70 miles of beautiful coastline but brimming with vibrant arts and cultural, dynamic dining and entertainment, here you’ll see why San Diego is called “California’s Beach City.” Downtown is divided into a number of individual neighborhoods, each with its own attractions and personality.

At the heart is Columbia, which runs along Broadway as it approaches the harbor. Columbia is mostly a commercial district and contains most of the city’s tallest buildings, the train depot, and a sizable chunk of the waterfront which includes the USS Midway Museum, the Maritime Museum, the cruise ship terminal and the ferry landing. To the east of this lies the commercial and governmental center of Core as well as the shopping district of Horton Plaza, with its splendid namesake mall.

To the north of the main business district are a couple of quieter neighborhoods – Cortez Hill, on the hill at the north side of downtown, is a mostly residential neighborhood bumping up against Interstate 5, named for the historic El Cortez Hotel, the tallest building on the hill. Closer to the waterfront at the northwest end of downtown is Little Italy, originally a home to Italian fishermen, now a very active district of shops, restaurants, and parks, with an Italian theme, and is one of the hippest bar and restaurant areas in the city, with a large young professional crowd.

On the southern side of Downtown, Marina is a highly gentrified waterfront district, containing marinas, highrise condos, hotels, the Convention Center, and the Seaport Village shopping mall. To the north of this is Gaslamp Quarter, a historic district which was not only the birthplace of downtown but also the focal point of the first revitalization efforts in downtown during the 1970s. Today the neighborhood is the center of Downtown’s nightlife scene; a thriving district of historic buildings, shops, theaters and restaurants. Capitalizing on Gaslamp’s success, the East Village on the southeastern side of Downtown is undergoing a construction and redevelopment boom, spurred in part by the ballpark of the San Diego Padres in the neighborhood.

Columbia District
Columbia is a neighborhood located in Downtown San Diego, California. The neighborhood is largely commercial, however there are many highrise condominium buildings under construction. The Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum and the Maritime Museum are located in this neighborhood.

Parts of Columbia are under re-development, including the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, Navy Broadway Complex and the Embarcadero Circle cruise ship terminal expansion.

Core District
The Core district is a neighborhood of Downtown San Diego, California. The Core district is the central business district in Downtown San Diego.

Cortez Hill District
Cortez Hill is a neighborhood located in the northeast part of Downtown San Diego, California. Located only a few miles north of San Diego’s bustling downtown, the vibrant uptown neighborhood of Hillcrest stands as San Diego’s LGBTQ+ central hub, offering an array of bars, restaurants, coffee houses, boutiques and unique shops.

Lauded for its welcoming vibe and pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalk patios, the area’s east end is marked by a towering rainbow Pride flag just off Hillcrest’s main thoroughfare of University Avenue, at the corner of Normal Street. The landmark serves as the starting point for San Diego LGBTQ+ Pride’s annual mile-long parade held each July. A block away, down Harvey Milk Street, is where the San Diego LGBTQ+ Community Center resides.

Spanning a dozen blocks west from the Pride flag along University Avenue is a colorful mix of ethnically diverse restaurants, nightclubs and acclaimed wine bars. You’ll also discover home decor shops, distinctive boutiques, the Uptown District shopping plaza and the country’s only openly gay brewery, Hillcrest Brewing Company. This lively stretch also hosts one of the largest farmers markets in San Diego from 9AM – 2PM on Sunday. A great place to shop for local produce, arts and crafts, the market also offers a wide range of gourmet stalls with hot and cold cuisine.

University Avenue leads into the neighborhood’s “village” area designated by the historic, neon “Hillcrest” sign. On intersecting Fifth Avenue, you’ll find a concentration of new and established restaurants, as well as a few dessert-centric eateries. Thrown into the mix are vintage clothing shops, book outlets and the multiplex Landmark Cinemas for taking in independent and foreign films.

Just south of Hillcrest sits Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in North America and a hub for recreation, arts and culture, and community gatherings. The park is home to 16 museums and performing arts venues, ornate Spanish-Renaissance architecture, 1,200 acres of beautiful gardens and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

East Village District
East Village is a neighborhood in San Diego, California, United States. It is the largest urban neighborhood in downtown San Diego. Most residents living in mid-rise or luxury condominiums and lofts. Continuing urban development and the steady growth of new businesses draws locals from neighboring downtown areas.

In the latter part of the 20th century the East Village became known for its vacant buildings, dive-bars, and eclectic dwellings of artists. Prostitutes, drug addicts, and homeless people were common. The neighborhood rapidly gentrified after the opening of Petco Park in 2004, becoming home to many upscale restaurants and trendy shops. The neighborhood is now a hub of construction including condominium projects and other public spaces, including the recently completed Central Library. The $185 million project, designed by architect Rob Quigley, officially opened September 30, 2013.

Gaslamp Quarter District
The Gaslamp Quarter is a district of San Diego, California. It is a 16½ block historical neighborhood in Downtown San Diego, and is the site of several entertainment and night life venues, as well as scheduled events and festivals, including Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp, Street Scene Music Festival, Taste of Gaslamp and ShamROCK, a St. Patrick’s Day event. Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres is located one block away in downtown San Diego’s East Village.

The area is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places as Gaslamp Quarter Historic District. Its main period of development began in 1867, when Alonzo Horton bought the land in hopes of creating a new city center closer to the bay, and chose 5th Avenue as its main street. After a period of urban decay, the neighborhood underwent urban renewal in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Gaslamp Quarter extends from Broadway to Harbor Drive, and from 4th to 6th Avenue, covering 16½ blocks. It includes 94 historic buildings, most of which were constructed in the Victorian Era, and are still in use with active tenants including restaurants, shops and nightclubs.

Little Italy District
Little Italy is a neighborhood in Downtown San Diego, California, that was originally a predominately Italian and Portuguese fishing neighborhood. It has since been gentrified and is now a popular neighborhood full of Italian restaurants and grocery stores, home design stores, art galleries and residential units.

Once home to San Diego’s flourishing tuna fishing industry and generations of Italian families who made their living on the sea, Little Italy is now a lively neighborhood with cozy patio cafés, international restaurants, craft brew stops, urban wineries, art galleries, sophisticated shops, boutique hotels, and the festive Piazza della Famiglia. Little Italy is one of the more active downtown neighborhoods, with frequent festivals and events including a weekly farmers market, also known as the Mercato.

San Diego’s most dynamic food and drink scene is centered in Little Italy. It’s a place where the past meets the present, where Top Chef alums have set up shop next to old-school eateries that remain treasured landmarks.

A slew of luminary chefs have gravitated to Kettner Boulevard, giving it the moniker of “Top Chef Alley” with distinctive eateries including Juniper & Ivy, Cloak & Petal, Born and Raised, The Crack Shack, Herb & Wood and Kettner Exchange. India Street is lined with restaurants featuring cuisines of both Southern and Northern Italy, including the classic Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, featuring an old-fashioned Italian dining experience.

Since 1934, the Waterfront Bar & Grill has been a favorite local watering hole serving locally brewed ales and burgers. And the British-owned and -operated Princess Pub and Grille serves British and Irish beers, along with traditional pub fare such as fish and chips for patrons watching soccer and rugby via satellite TV.

Craft Beer is also in the spotlight here with establishments such as Ballast Point Brewing and Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room. And for wine lovers, Carruth Cellars Wine Garden and Pali Wine Co. are perfect places for local wine tasting.

The central gathering point in Little Italy is a European-style piazza known at Piazza della Famiglia. The 10,000-square-foot plaza connects India and Columbia streets and features a dramatic tiled fountain. Enjoy an afternoon stroll across the cobblestone street while relaxing before dinner. The piazza, in the “heart” of Little Italy, is dedicated to the past, present, and future families of the Little Italy neighborhood.

Just steps from the plaza, savor the flavors of Italy in the Little Italy Food Hall. This new social dining concept offers six locally-driven food stations and a full bar with local beers and craft cocktails.

Little Italy also features some great local boutiques including Rosamariposa, Vocabulary Boutique, and Stroll where you can find fun women’s fashions and handmade local items, and the NoLi Art & Design District which encompasses a group of retail shops, design stores and art galleries. Klassic and Architectural Salvage are both worth a visit for home goods and unusual finds.

Each Saturday from 8:00 AM until 2:00 PM, several blocks of Little Italy are shut down for the weekly Little Italy Mercato—a dynamic farmers market where locals shop for fresh produce along with gourmet goods, flowers, crafts and ready-made foods.

Marina District
The Marina district is a neighborhood in the southwest section of Downtown San Diego, California along the San Diego Bay. This district used to be full of warehouses and vacant lots, but now it houses mid-rise and high-rise hotels, apartments, condominiums, medical offices and retail. Seaport Village and the San Diego Convention Center are located in this neighborhood. Pantoja Park, the oldest park in San Diego, is located in the Marina District.

Main Attractions
The San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park are located downtown. The Horton Plaza and Seaport Village shopping and dining complexes attract visitors as well as local residents. The Columbia (waterfront) neighborhood of downtown hosts the Midway aircraft carrier museum ship, as well as the eight ships and boats of the San Diego Maritime Museum, headlined by the Star of India. More than 200 cruise ships a year call at the cruise ship terminal. A passenger ferry connects downtown San Diego with Coronado.

Gaslamp Quarter
Home to a number of historic Victorian-era buildings, such as the Louis Bank of Commerce, the Backesto Building, the Old City Hall, the Yuma Building, and a whole bunch of other beautiful old structures.

Gaslamp Museum at the Davis Horton House
Previously called the William Heath Davis House, this museum is the headquarters of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation.

Maritime Museum of San Diego
Home to a number of historic sea vessels, including the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, the Berkeley, an 1898 steam ferryboat, the Californian, a replica sailing ship, the Medea, a 1904 steam yacht, the HMS Surprise, another replica sailing ship, and a B-39 Soviet Attack Submarine.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Just north of Santa Fe Depot, this museum holds a part of the museum’s collection over 4,000 works.

San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
A museum dedicated to Chinese history, culture and art. Includes exhibits on the Chinese experience in America.

USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
Take a self-guided tour of the USS Midway (CV-41), a former aircraft carrier of the US Navy. The Midway is home to a collection of former naval aircraft housed on her expansive flight deck. Guided tours and displays offer a unique look into the life aboard and of a powerful old warhorse.

Historic landmarks
The Downtown area contains numerous sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They include:

The Gaslamp Quarter Historic District; The Star of India and the Berkeley, historic ships berthed at the B Street Pier in downtown; The Alfred Haines House at 2470 E Street; The Armed Services YMCA at 500 West Broadway; The Balboa Theatre at 868 Fourth Avenue; The former City of San Diego police headquarters, jail, and courts at 801 Market Street; Eagles Hall at 733 Eighth Street; The El Cortez Condominiums at 702 Ash Street; The Hawthorne Inn at 2121 First Avenue; The Horton Grand Hotel at 332 F Street; The Independent Order of Odd Fellows building at 526 Market Street; The John Ginty House at 1568 Ninth Avenue;
The McClintock Storage Warehouse at 1202 Kettner Boulevard; The Medico-Dental Building at 233 A Street; The Panama Hotel at 105 West F Street; Pantoja Park on G Street and India Street; The Pythias Lodge Building at 211 E Street and 870 Third Avenue; The Robert E. Lee Hotel at 815 Third Avenue and 314 F Street; The San Diego Rowing Club building at 535 East Harbor Drive; The San Diego Trust and Savings Bank Building at 530 Broadway; The Spreckels Theater at 121 Broadwayv; Santa Fe Depot at 1050 Kettner Street; The U.S. Grant Hotel at 326 Broadway; The U.S. post office at 815 E Street; The U.S. courthouse at 325 West F Street; The Walker Scott Building and Owl Drug Building at 1014 Fifth Avenue and 402 Broadway;

Arts and culture
Southeast of downtown and bordering Balboa Park, you’ll find the diverse and eclectic uptown neighborhoods of North Park and South Park. Catering to a local crowd, streets here are lined with coffee shops, boutiques, art galleries, diverse restaurants and craft beer pubs.

The epicenter of North Park is the bar-hopping intersection of University Avenue and 30th Street, which holds claim to being “the best beer neighborhood in the nation,” thanks to numerous craft-beer establishments such as Toronado, Tiger! Tiger! and Modern Times Flavordome. Craft cocktails are also a mainstay with bars like Bar Pink and Seven Grand offering creative concoctions.

The neighborhood pulses with great restaurants, shops, entertainment and art blocks, such as Ray Street, which boasts dozens of galleries, live theater and musical shows. The historic Observatory North Park, in the heart of the business district, offers an impressive year-round line up. Fronting the theater is the lively West Coast Tavern.

South Park is a haven for indie shops, progressive galleries and restaurants that give top priority to seasonal organics and sustainable meats and seafood with cuisine ranging from contemporary and healthy to rustic and downright sinful. Craft beer is also celebrated here at bars like Hamilton’s Tavern, consistently rated “best beer bar” on the West Coast, and the family friendly Station Tavern where burgers and beer are served in an old trolley station.

Local art, fashions and one-of-a-kind treasures, that can’t be found at any mall, make shopping in South Park a true treat. Stores like Bad Madge & Company and Graffiti Beach Boutique can be found on Fern Street. And, events like the quarterly Walkabout, with local shops and restaurants open late and offering special deals and bites, highlight the neighborhoods’ diversity and pride in the local arts, crafts and culture.

Downtown events include the Big Bay Balloon Parade, held in conjunction with the Holiday Bowl; the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade and Festival; the Parade of Lights featuring holiday-decorated boats on the Bay; and the San Diego Street Scene music festival. Every mid to late July, downtown San Diego is transformed for San Diego Comic Con, the largest entertainment and comic book convention in the world. San Diego Comic Con is held inside the San Diego Convention Center, but the convention has expanded to other nearby hotels, parks, and plazas which include the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Omni San Diego Hotel and Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego as major supporting venues.

Mardi Gras is celebrated in San Diego with a huge party in Gaslamp Quarter on Fat Tuesday (by some claims the largest Mardi Gras event on the West Coast) that features a parade, live music, and (of course) plenty of drinking and revelry at the neighborhood’s many bars.

ArtWalk takes place every April in Little Italy and has grown into the largest art event in the city, with numerous artists set up along India Street to showcase and sell their work. Music, dance, and interactive art exhibits are also on show for visitors to enjoy.

Fourth of July brings huge crowds to the waterfront to witness the city’s biggest pyrotechnics display, with fireworks launched from several points in the bay all at once, making for a spectacular show.

San Diego Comic-Con Internationa. For four days every July, one of the world’s largest fan conventions descends on Downtown San Diego, flooding the convention center with over 100,000 attendees. Since its comic book origins, the convention has expanded into virtually every genre of pop culture, drawing Hollywood celebrities, major television producers, toy manufacturers, video game designers, and top-name anime and manga creators, offering sneak peeks at their future works. Expect massive crowds and all manner of celebration of geek culture.

Labor Day Weekend brings the Festival of Sail to the Downtown waterfront. Hosted by the Maritime Museum, this event draws tall ships from around the world to take part in parades, mock cannon battles, and open their vessels for tours. Plenty of vendors, entertainers, and food are also on hand; if you have kids, this is a pretty exciting one to bring them to.

Little Italy Festa is a huge celebration of Italian culture that takes place in Little Italy every October. Visitors can expect to find plenty of delicious food, cooking demonstrations, traditional art and music, Gesso Italiano (Italian chalk art) painting, and stickball and bocce ball games.

Each December, the Parade of Lights sails past Downtown to celebrate the holiday season, with dozens of boats decked out in elaborate light displays.