Located only a few miles north of San Diego's bustling downtown core, the vibrant uptown neighborhood of Hillcrest stands as San Diego's LGBT central hub, offering visitors a plethora of bars, restaurants, coffee houses, boutiques and unique thrift stores.
Lauded also for its 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 happens to serve as the starting point for San Diego LGBT Pride's annual mile-long Pride Parade held in July. A block away, down Harvey Milk Street, is where the San Diego LGBT 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. The stretch is also home to furniture stores, distinctive boutiques and the Uptown District shopping plaza.
The avenue leads into the neighborhood's "village" area designated by the historic, neon "Hillcrest" sign. On intersecting Fifth Avenue, visitors will discover a concentration of new and established restaurants as well as a few dessert-centric eateries. Also in the mix are vintage clothing shops, book outlets and the multiplex Landmark Cinemas for taking in independent and foreign films.
San Diego's other Uptown neighborhoods
Surrounding Hillcrest in the broader Uptown area with neighborhoods fueled by art galleries, diverse restaurants and nightlife. North Park, for example, boasts dozens of galleries along Ray Street and holds claim to being "the best beer neighborhood in the nation," thanks to numerous craft-beer establishments found within the area, such as Toronado, Tiger! Tiger! and Modern Times Flavordome. Live theater and musical shows comprise a year-round schedule at the historic Observatory North Park (formerly the North Park Theater) in the heart of the business district. Fronting the theater is the lively West Coast Tavern.
Uptown also encompasses the quaint neighborhoods of Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, Kensington, South Park and Normal Heights as well as University Heights, where the Diversionary Theatre presents a rich platform of dramatic and comedic productions.
North America's largest urban cultural park sits idyllically at the center of the Uptown's neighborhoods. Built in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition and expanded in 1935 for the California Pacific International Exhibition, Balboa Park is home to 16 museums and multiple cultural institutions, housed mostly in ornate Spanish-Renaissance structures. Stroll along the main promenade to experience water fountains, stunning gardens and restaurants boasting flora-filled patios. Balboa Park is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo and the Tony-award winning Old Globe Theatre. Exploring everything the park has to offer may take a few days, so give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Dining in Uptown
San Diego's culinary scene is red hot. Since the start of the new century, large numbers of accomplished chefs and local restaurateurs have launched kitchens that give top priority to seasonal organics and sustainable meats and seafood. Many of these gems are found throughout the Uptown neighborhoods, with their cuisine ranging from contemporary and healthy to rustic and downright sinful.
Use the filter below to find where to stay and what to do in the Hillcrest and Uptown area.
What to Love
- Shopping in the boutique and home furnishings stores along University Avenue
- Strolling through Balboa Park's eye-popping cactus garden, located at the end of the promenade
- Browsing the Hillcrest Farmers Market every Sunday in the DMV parking lot
- Enjoying a beer at the country's only openly gay brewery, Hillcrest Brewing Company
- Perusing the art galleries on Ray Street in North Park
- Farm-to-table restaurants in North Park, Hillcrest and Mission Hills
- Sipping cocktails on the festive, outdoor patios at Urban Mo's, Gossip Grill and Bourbon Street
What to Know
- There are often events taking place in Balboa Park, especially on the weekends. Check the events calendar for dates during your stay
- A majority of shops and boutiques in Hillcrest are located along University and Fifth Avenues
- Parking on major streets in Uptown neighborhoods can be tricky, particularly in Hillcrest. Pay close attention to street signs and meter regulations
- The Uptown neighborhoods are a quick drive or bike ride way from Hillcrest and Balboa Park
- There are a couple of gay-friendly places to lodge in Hillcrest. For travelers on budget, nearby Hotel Circle in Mission Valley offers numerous options
Find Hotels in Hillcrest and the Balboa Park Communities
Hillcrest and the surrounding Uptown neighborhoods of North Park and South Park are mostly residential, but you can fine some unique and intimate bed and breakfast style lodging, along with a few hotels. No matter where you stay in these communities, you’ll be located in residential neighborhoods, providing you with an authentic San Diego local experience. Many of the overnight accommodations in these areas are just steps away from favorite dining, entertainment and shopping options frequented by the local community.
Browse the articles and listings below is find the perfect place to stay for your next vacation in Hillcrest, North Park or South Park.
Hillcrest & Uptown Restaurants
San Diego's culinary scene is red hot. Since the start of the new century, large numbers of accomplished chefs and local restaurateurs have launched kitchens that give top priority to seasonal organics and sustainable meats and seafood. Many of these gems are found throughout the Uptown neighborhoods, with their cuisine ranging from contemporary and healthy to rustic and downright sinful. Below is a small sampling of places to point your appetite.
- 100 Wines - An inviting farmhouse motif with front and back patios sets the stage for European-style cuisine revealing California twists.
- Mama Testa - This colorful, casual taqueria shows off some of San Diego's zestiest Mexican food, including the must-try fish tacos.
- R Gang Eatery - Former Top Chef contestant Rich Sweeney gets creative with Tater Tots and other nostalgic fare served within a modern, fun atmosphere.
- D Bar - Pastry chef and Food Network personality Keegan Gerhard brings to Fifth Avenue's "restaurant row" beautiful desserts constructed in eyeshot when sitting at the spacious bar. His signature chocolate cake made with sour cream is sensational. A menu of savories is also available.
- Waypoint Public - An ambitious craft-beer selection meets its match with eclectic, seasonal fare featuring house-cured meats and imaginative seafood dishes. Retractable windows open up to the urban bustle.
- The Ritual Kitchen and Beer Garden - Hints of a British pub surface when imbibing from the vast selection of craft beers and forking into lamb or vegan shepherd's pie.
- The Smoking Goat - The restaurant's French-trained owner has created a European-style bistro that offers farm-to-table salads, hormone-free meat dishes and boutique wines.
- Heaven Sent Desserts - If you need a walk after dining in the area before sating your sweet tooth, this stylish café-bakery obliges with things like tropical fruit tarts, lavender log cakes and bourbon bread pudding.
- Lei Lounge - A favorite within the LGBT community, this cocktail-centric restaurant features a stunning indoor-outdoor dining area bathed in high-tech lighting.
- Plumeria Vegetarian - Even the carnivores in your group will be impressed over these flavorful Thai dishes using mock versions of duck, chicken and beef. The atmosphere is cozy and seating is limited.
- Circa - Visitors are afforded a homey, comfortable atmosphere that attracts a diverse neighborhood crowd. The menu pays tribute to San Diego's burgeoning craft beer scene with a majority of dishes incorporating ales and stouts.
- Brooklyn Girl - The menu changes often at this hip and busy eatery, which greets with a central bar and whimsical décor.
- Café Bleu - You've come to the right place if the hankering strikes for coq au vin, steak frites and bouillabaisse. The atmosphere is relaxed and prices are moderate.
- Harley Gray Kitchen & Bar - Perched on a corner lot, the restaurant appeases a range of appetites with everything from Angus burgers and chicken wings to seared ahi and stout-braised short ribs.
- Bertrand at Mister A's - Sweeping views of Balboa Park, Downtown and San Diego Bay are for the taking from this 12th-floor upscale restaurant, where dishes such as Maine lobster strudel and crispy duck breast rule the day.
- Croce's Park West - Ingrid Croce, wife of the late musician, Jim Croce, moved her landmark restaurant from downtown's Gaslamp Quarter to this quieter neighborhood in early 2014. The new location features a larger front patio and the same award-winning fare as well as live music.
- Cucina Urbana - Expect crafty takes on Italian and Mediterranean dishes at this bustling, subterranean hotspot.
- Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant - The restaurant's artfully deconstructed design sets the stage for a seasonal menu that begins with deviled eggs and chilled soups before progressing to creative preparations of fish, meat and poultry.
- Hanna's Gourmet - Even if San Diego is your final travel destination, this bright, airy restaurant sends you on a culinary journey with menus spotlighting the cuisine of a different country every week.
- Sabuku Sushi - Some of San Diego's most innovative sushi rolls dressed in an array of house-made sauces are found inside this unassuming address.
- Café 21 - The owners incorporate culinary influences from their native Azerbaijan into a host of gourmet dishes that are brightened further by edible flowers and fresh organics. Because the food has been so well received, they opened a second location in downtown's Gaslamp Quarter.
- Fish Public - With an interior design that captures the feel of a Nantucket beach cottage, the menu reveals a treasure chest of seafood sourced from both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
- Ponce's Mexican Restaurant - The family that runs this long-established restaurant provides visitors with an array of Mexican dishes that San Diegans can't live without: adobada tacos, machaca burritos, carnitas plates and more.
- Alchemy - If you're looking for a true neighborhood restaurant set off the beaten track, Alchemy takes the prize with its peaceful location, global menu and inventive cocktails.
- Station Tavern & Burgers - Bring the kids and seize a picnic table on the large outdoor patio for Tater Tots and burgers of every strip, including house-made veggie patties. The indoor-outdoor eatery was once a trolley station from 1929 to 1948. Beer and cocktails are also available.
Activities and Things to Do in Hillcrest & Uptown
Hillcrest and the adjacent Uptown neighborhoods of North Park and South Park offer diverse, unique and quintessential San Diego experiences. From a plethora of dining options and beer and wine tastings, to live music and shopping at one-of-a-kind boutiques and galleries, Hillcrest and Uptown are the perfect place to experience for a day, or an entire week, in San Diego. This area also offers easy access to neighboring Balboa Park and a quick ride to Downtown San Diego and San Diego’s Big Bay.
Below are just a few of the things you can do in Hillcrest and Uptown San Diego:
5 to Try in Hillcrest
- Pride Festival
Every summer, San Diego and Hillcrest celebrates its diversity with the Pride Parade along University Avenue. Grab a spot on the curb to see LGBT and other local and national groups strut down the street with colorful displays of support. The celebration continues for the rest of the weekend at the Pride Festival in Balboa Park and later into the evening at all of the LGBT friendly restaurants, bars, and nightclubs throughout San Diego County.
For the LGBT crowd, Hillcrest is the place for nightlife with plenty of bars and nightclubs for every interest. Walk along University Avenue and Park Boulevard and see what tickles your fancy. For more main stream entertainment, 30th Street in North Park offers a host of funky clubs featuring live music and local flavor
- Farm Fresh Food
Hillcrest is home to San Diego’s largest and most popular farmers market – Sunday’s between 9AM and 1PM adjacent to the Department of Motor Vehicles at the intersection of Normal Street and Lincoln. Pick up a cup of fair-trade coffee or tea. Browse the different vendors and plan a picnic lunch or dinner using locally grown produce, fresh cheeses, cured meats and much more. Just make sure to bring your own bag.
University Avenue is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques. From clothing, vintage records and books, to art, home décor and furniture you’re sure to find something unique and memorable to take home as a souvenir. The shops spill over into Mission Hills just west of Hillcrest and Uptown North Park, particularly along 30th Street. Come by in the early evening for a little shopping and then stop by one of the happening local restaurants for a great meal.
- Urban Hiking
The architecture of Hillcrest varies from craftsman to ultra-modern. Take some time to hike through the neighborhoods and enjoy the varying architecture. While you are at it, try and walk across one of the historic bridges hidden throughout the canyons of Hillcrest or a stroll down and through Balboa Park.
Upcoming Events in Hillcrest & Uptown San Diego
The neighborhood of Hillcrest and the adjacent uptown communities of North Park and South Park, host a variety of fun and festive events throughout the year. In the summer, the streets of Hillcrest fill up in celebration for the Pride Festival and Parade and the CityFest Street Fair. From restaurant walks to movie's on the roof, Hillcrest and Uptown are the place to be to experience unique and innovative events.
> Browse the San Diego Event Calendar for upcoming events in Hillcrest
Getting to Hillcrest
From the North:
Take 163 South to University Avenue, which places you in the heart of Hillcrest. If you are heading to Balboa Park, continue south on 163 to Park Boulevard. Exit and left onto Park and follow signs.
From the South:
Head north on the 5 freeway to the B Street/Pershing exit and exit onto Pershing. Turn left Florida Drive, left on Zoo Place, and right onto Park Boulevard. Balboa Park will be on your left. To explore Hillcrest, continue on Park and turn left onto University.
Getting to Balboa Park
From the North:
Off the I-5 southbound, take the 10th Avenue Exit. Turn left on "A" Street and left again on Park Boulevard. Follow the signs to Balboa Park. Off the Highway 163 southbound, take the Park Boulevard. exit. Turn left on Park Boulevard. Follow the signs to Balboa Park.
From the South:
Off the I-5 northbound, take the B Street/Pershing exit to Pershing Street. Take Pershing and then left on Florida Drive. Turn left on Zoo Place to Park Boulevard. Left on Park Boulevard.