San Diego’s communities are all wander-worthy, and their dynamic medleys of outdoor activities, arts and culture, dining and shopping opportunities reflect the rich diversity of the San Diego region. From downtown's trendy East Village, to the laid-back community of Ocean Beach, to the luxury enclave of La Jolla, the following are a few of San Diego's colorful neighborhoods.
As the historic heart of downtown San Diego, the 16½-block Gaslamp Quarter combines Victorian-charm with urban living to create a lively dining, entertainment and shopping district. Once home to San Diego's "red light" district in the late 1800s, the area once held three gambling halls run by Wyatt Earp. In recent decades, revitalization efforts have spurred the growth of more than 100 restaurants, 40 bars and nightclubs and 100 retail shops, as well as theaters and art galleries.
- You'll find some of San Diego's best dining in the Gaslamp Quarter. Searsucker serves the New American comfort food menu of Chef Brian Malarkey, former finalist on Bravo's Top Chef 3 Miami. Rustic Root focuses on local, farm-fresh and house-made ingredients. Café 21 offers local, organic and farm-to-table cuisine in a homey but spacious venue; the spot is well-known for its sangria flights and over-the-top Bloody Marys during brunch.
- The Gaslamp is a great location for combining dinner with a night on the town. Parq is part restaurant and part nightclub. Start the evening enjoying the farm-to-table "progressive American" food, then move into the nightclub for dancing to big name DJs. Bang Bang, known for its bathrooms decked out with pictures of Godzilla and Ryan Gosling, features both an Asian-fusion restaurant and a dance floor that boasts the biggest disco ball on the west coast.
- The destination for San Diego's hottest nightclubs, the Gaslamp Quarter lures night owls with FLUXX, a high-end dance club featuring organic décor amidst bright, bold colors and playful design elements including a 15-ft. custom rope chandelier, eye-catching art and a robot that delivers champagne to guests' tables. Vin de Syrah Spirit & Wine Parlor is a subterranean hideaway that evokes an Alice in Wonderland look and feel, offering handmade cocktails, unique beers and a diverse wine list. Located in a historic warehouse, Omnia is a luxury restaurant and nightlife venue offering three stories, sumptuous leather lounge furniture and translucent floating staircases leading to a rooftop bar retreat that is popular with visiting celebrities.
- Tucked away in the Gaslamp Quarter's Victorian architecture are plenty of local boutiques and specialty stores to keep you busy. Originally a bath and body shop, the quirky Bubbles Boutique has since expanded to include women’s fashion and accessories. Add a little panache to your style with a new fedora, or hat of many other shapes, at Goorin Bros Hat Shop, and watch Cuban master cigar rollers at work before savoring one of your own at the Cuban Cigar Factory, a Gaslamp tradition since 1995.
The revitalization of this warehouse district in downtown San Diego was ignited in 2004 with the opening of Petco Park, the San Diego Padres' baseball stadium. Today, it's a perfect mix of luxury hotels, fashionable restaurants and cafes, rooftop bars, boutique shops and live music venues scattered throughout the neighborhood.
- Beginning in spring, baseball fans can watch the San Diego Padres step up to the plate and play ball at their home field, Petco Park. The state-of-the-art stadium features stunning architecture and landscaping, as well as enticing dining options.
- Diners can sample a diverse selection of cuisine in many hip downtown settings. Cowboy Star offers contemporary American cuisine with high-quality meats and local produce in an urban steakhouse atmosphere. Neighborhood offers a creative, upscale take on burgers and more than 27 local microbrews on tap. With karaoke, bowling lanes, shuffleboard and more, Punchbowl Social is a hub for all things fun — that includes the lively hangout's delicious cocktail and food menu. The menu ranges from chicken 'n waffles to superfood grain bowls, and the drink lineup includes punchbowls, craft cocktails and an extensive beer and wine list.
- Stylish shopping in the East Village ranges from Wild Dove Boutique featuring contemporary and edgy but always feminine fashions in soft, eco-friendly fabrics to 5&A Dime, which serves up the latest men's and women's urban street wear.
- After dark, hip East Village offers a range of nightlife diversions. East Village Tavern & Bowl features 12 bowling lanes, pool tables and a fun and upbeat atmosphere for socializing, while the El Dorado Cocktail Lounge mixes up craft cocktails for patrons to sip while watching local bands or dancing as DJs spin tunes. However, to get into Noble Experiment, the neighborhood's hidden speakeasy, you'll need to plan ahead and talk to someone in the know to get a seat.
Once home to San Diego's flourishing tuna fishing industry and generations of Italian families who made their living on the sea, Little Italy in downtown San Diego is a quaint and lively neighborhood filled with outdoor patio cafes, restaurants, pubs, art galleries, boutique shops and the beautiful Amici Park.
- India Street, Little Italy's main thoroughfare, is lined with restaurants featuring the neighborhood's namesake cuisine. Bencotto Italian Kitchen takes a modern approach to classic Italian home-style dishes, and longtime local favorite Filippi's Pizza Grotto features an old-fashioned Italian-American dining experience along with a busy delicatessen and market.
- Kettner Street is filled with new, delicious restaurants. Richard Blais, winner of Bravo TV's Top Chef season eight, opened Juniper & Ivy. Described as a "left coast cookery" with cuisine focused on locally sourced products, the restaurant features an innovative menu divided into categories such as "Snacks," "Raw" and "Toast." Kettner Exchange features progressive American cuisine from Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski. The menu changes seasonally and is complemented by a cocktail menu and a selection of 32 beers on tap.
- Along Fir Street, a number of colorful cottages house boutiques that offer ultra-stylish clothing, accessories and shoes. Along India Street, shoppers can find a diverse selection of art galleries and design stores, while the NoLi Art & Design District is a unique area mimicking a miniature version of New York’s Soho District with a Southern California vibe.
- Little Italy is host to a number of annual cultural celebrations and festivities including Mission Federal ArtWalk in April, which combines live entertainment and a wide variety of art on display in local venues, studios, galleries and businesses.
The hub of San Diego's LGBT community, Hillcrest is an uptown neighborhood located just minutes from downtown and next to Balboa Park, where visitors can experience the city's openness, warm hospitality and diversity throughout the year. Hillcrest is well-known for its unique mix of casual eateries, exotic bistros, chic boutiques, vintage clothing stores, eclectic nightlife and more.
- Hillcrest's food scene includes a variety of restaurants. Hash House a Go-Go serves over-the-top riffs on Midwest classics and a must-have weekend brunch featuring pancakes the size of serving platters. Hillcrest Brewing Company serves pizza, wings, salads, and more alongside a long choice of beers, many of which are brewed onsite. Newest to the neighborhood, Trust features playful, shareable plates centered around seasonal ingredients and wood fire cookery in a modern setting.
- Diverse nightlife venues range from Martinis Above Fourth, with an upscale cabaret experience and live musical entertainment, to Urban MO's, popular for its Saturday night line dancing. In July, San Diego LGBT Pride attracts more than 150,000 attendees each year with festivities that include a parade through Hillcrest and two-day festival in neighboring Balboa Park.
- Shopping along the main thoroughfares, University Avenue and the tree-lined Fifth Avenue, includes trendy boutiques and shops stocked with used books, vintage and designer clothes, records, unique novelty items and more. Highlights include Flashbacks and Luigi Vera for the hippest in retro clothes.
This eclectic neighborhood, east of Balboa Park, offers a dynamic mix of coffee houses, cafes, retail shops, art galleries and a popular restaurant row, complemented by a dynamic local craft beer scene.
- Notable restaurants include The Smoking Goat, which serves French-inspired bistro food using sustainable ingredients—not to be missed are the Duckfat Truffle Fries and the Griddled Banana Bread, their take on Bananas Foster—and One Door North, their camping-themed, sister restaurant that offers Idaho trout, Hunter wild boar and stone-baked flatbread pizzas. Caffe Calabria, a café, roaster, and cocktail bar, includes a coffee bar procured from Italy and a Kees van der Westen espresso machine. A large variety of local craft beers rounds out the menus at most of the restaurants along North Park's famous 30th Street.
- North Park's nightlife comes alive on the bar-hopping intersection of University Avenue and 30th Street. Bar Pink is a favorite with locals and offers playful signature drinks, an eclectic crowd and live rock music performances. U31 Bar has all the ingredients for a memorable evening, including a photo booth and specialty music nights that get the crowd moving. For spirit connoisseurs, Seven Grand is a whiskey-centric bar offering more than 140 varieties, served in a hunting lodge-inspired setting complete with mounted deer and studded leather upholstery.
- For guests seeking artistic adventures in North Park, local businesses, art galleries and boutiques stay open late for art shows and live entertainment on the second Saturday of each month during Ray At Night. Music lovers can catch great live music in a red-decked cathedral hall at The Observatory. Once a venue for opera and dramatic theater in its colorful past life, its acoustics make it a strong place to catch a touring rock or pop group.
Located just outside of downtown, Greater Golden Hill is home to the blossoming neighborhoods of Golden Hill and South Park, havens for independent shops, galleries and restaurants featuring innovative menus, complemented by the region's award-winning craft beer.
- Diners in Golden Hill and South Park have no shortage of creative cuisine options, from the retro-styled Turf Supper Club where locals love the do-it-yourself vibe of grilling their own steaks right in the center of the dining room, to family friendly dining at Station Tavern where an old trolley station serves as an innovative burger joint. Buona Forchetta serves up authentic Italian food and features a Stefano Ferrara oven, ideal for Neapolitan pizza-making. KINDRED offers an all-vegan menu, kombucha on tap, and a signature cocktail program using house-made syrups, soda and bitters, with a special focus on amari.
- With more than 75 years of service, Hamilton's Tavern in South Park is the oldest beer and wine licensed establishment in San Diego. It offers high-quality ales and craft beers from around the world and boasts one of the most diverse bottle selections in the city. A "place for people," order a signature cocktail or craft beer from more than a dozen continually changing taps at Counterpoint in Golden Hill, and then strike up a conversation with the neighborhood residents who are always open to meeting someone new.
- Crafts, local art, unique fashions and one-of-a-kind treasures that can't be found at any mall make shopping a treat in Golden Hill and South Park. Make Good offers everything from gently used name-brand clothing to handmade art and accessories from San Diego designers. A design-oriented boutique that celebrates the joy of simple things, Gold Leaf Home Decor sells home decor and unusual gifts based on natural materials. Graffiti Beach features trend-setting clothing and accessories for fashionistas looking to sport the latest looks.
- Year-round festive events highlight the neighborhoods' diversity and their pride in local arts, crafts and culture. The quarterly Walkabout warmly welcomes visitors to South Park with local shops and restaurants staying open late and offering special sales and tastes of seasonal menu items.
Originally a refuge for Mexican residents fleeing the revolution in the early 20th century, Barrio Logan today is both the epicenter of San Diego's Hispanic community and a welcoming neighborhood where artists flock to live and work.
- For the freshest handmade tortillas in San Diego, head to Las Cuatro Milpas, an unassuming eatery known for having some of the city's best Mexican food that's popular with locals. Panchita's Bakery is known for their Mexican pastries baked fresh daily, including pumpkin empanadas and bolillos stuffed with jalapeno and cheese. Salud serves up authentic Mexican food, specializing in award-winning tacos. Local brewing company Border X Brewing serves up an array of beers with interesting Mexican- and German-inspired flavors.
- From Mexican street art to the most cutting-edge galleries, Barrio Logan's art scene is one of San Diego's most intriguing. In the early 1970s, the Latino community established Chicano Park beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge overpass, as part of a community empowerment effort. The park is home to a dazzling display of colorful sculptures and murals painted on the bridge's pillars.
- La Bodega is a community art gallery that features eclectic artist creations from local up-and-coming and world-renowned artists alike. Bread & Salt, which took over a former bakery and where it takes its name, has become a live work and design warehouse for artists. These and other area galleries host a regular Barrio Art Crawl on the second Saturday of every month, highlighting the creative culture you'll find in the neighborhood.
Surrounded by historic and renovated craftsman-style homes, University Heights is a neighborhood that embraces San Diego's love for quirky and lively dining, shopping and nightlife. Adjacent to Hillcrest, University Heights is hip yet friendly and welcomes everyone with creative tastes to its main thoroughfare, Park Boulevard, home to popular eateries, shops and lounges.
- A local dining landmark, the Parkhouse Eatery can be easily spotted by its large neon clock rising above Park Boulevard and patrons waiting for a table during their legendary weekend breakfast. At this cozy house-turned-restaurant, classic American dishes and Mexican-inspired specialties are served in generous portions, and even the fruit preserve and ketchup are homemade. With its swanky mid-century vibe, Great Maple serves up European-inspired cuisine with a modern flair. Standout dishes include lobster poutine with local lobster, chives and mozzarella curd served atop truffle fries. Pie is the signature dessert and you can’t go wrong with the gigantic mascarpone cheesecake with a huckleberry sauce.
- At Folk Arts Rare Records, analog music enthusiasts can find folk, blues, jazz, show tunes, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n' roll and a vast inventory of 78 rpm records. Folk Arts is also home to the Lou Curtiss Sound Library, which comprises more than 90,000 hours and 90 years of vintage sound recordings. Those looking for hip threads love La Loupe Vintage, a vintage clothing and accessory shop full of unique and unusual designer pieces.
- University Heights provides a welcoming nightlife scene. Small Bar offers a laid back, casual vibe with a great selection of beer, liquor, and food. Park & Rec, a cocktail bar set in a Victorian house, features an assortment of games and delicious items to devour along with tasty drinks. The Diversionary Theatre, one of the oldest LGBT theatres in the country, produces edgy dramatic productions and playful musicals throughout the year.
Neighboring University Heights and home to unique antique stores and quirky coffeehouses, Normal Heights takes pride in creating a free-spirited environment where resident artists and hippies prove that what's "normal" in San Diego is a fun-loving attitude.
- Normal Heights celebrates live music day and night with annual music festivals as well as live music venues booking up-and-coming artists throughout the year. Every April, vintage blues, folk, jazz, country and international music takes over six stages during the annual Adams Avenue Unplugged, a two-day event that is free to the public. At Soda Bar, local musicians play alongside tomorrow's rock and hip-hop stars to savvy music fans who can say, "I saw them before they were famous." Lestat's Coffee House presents live music and often welcomes well-known singer-songwriters to their intimate stage.
- Dining options are anything but cookie cutter in Normal Heights. Seats are always full at the Blind Lady Ale House, which offers thin-crust pizzas made of locally sourced organic ingredients and a beer list of dozens of craft brews. Vegetarians swoon over the "Neatloaf" at Jyoti Bihanga, an all-vegetarian restaurant owned and operated by students of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. Both vegetarians and omnivores love DaoFu, whose Vietnamese menu features chicken curries and housemade tofu, and all entrees come with a salad and dessert included.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with creamy homemade ice creams in flavors like Mexican chocolate and blueberry cheesecake at Mariposa Ice Cream Shop.
Witness the living legacy of California's birthplace in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, San Diego's first "downtown." Old Town marks the site of the first Spanish settlement on the U.S. West Coast and features 12 acres of Mexican lore and historical sites, colorful shops, early-California-style restaurants, museums, a theater and the newly restored Comsopolitan Hotel & Restaurant.
- San Diego's history comes alive in Old Town's many preserved sites. Constructed in 1825, Casa de Estudillo unveils the lifestyle of a prominent San Diego family and is the most famous of the original adobe buildings in Old Town, furnished with representative items from the 16th to 20th centuries within its 13 rooms. The Whaley House is one of only two officially designated haunted houses in California. Constructed in 1856 on a former gallows' site, the house was once home to the Whaley family as well as San Diego's first theater and the county courthouse. The Junípero Serra Museum in Old Town's Presidio Park is one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego and is recognized as the site where California began. Neighboring Heritage Park showcases San Diego's Victorian era with six picturesque homes and San Diego's first synagogue, built between 1887-1910.
- Known for colorful Mexican cuisine, Old Town's dining is lively and vibrant. For authentic flavors and techniques in a cozy setting, diners head to Tahona. This hacienda-style restaurant and bar serves Oaxacan-inspired food, delicious cocktails and some of the best mezcals out there. At Café Coyote, the festive décor, massive margaritas, strolling mariachis and open air atmosphere prove that diners don't have to choose between flavor and fun. For a change of pace, Harney Sushi offers creative Japanese dishes and sushi roll concoctions, as well as expertly prepared traditional nigiri.
- Shopping in Old Town reflects the history of the 1800s and captures the essence of San Diego's colorful past. Enjoy freshly made taffy and other old-school sweets at Cousin's Candy, make your own candle at Toby's Candle Shop or peruse the millinery wares at the Johnson House. In the center of Old Town, guest can find the Old Town Market Place, an open-air courtyard with a variety of carts and shops that sell handcrafted trinkets, clothing and accessories traditional to the Mexican culture. At the Bazaar del Mundo Shops, feast your eyes on a vibrant and colorful array of eclectic folk art, artisan jewelry, accessories, pottery, home décor and many other international treasures.
- In May, the annual Fiesta Old Town Cinco De Mayo is the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration north of the Mexican border, with an incredible variety of festivities and entertainment for the whole family to enjoy. Each October, the Old Town San Diego Art Festival features more than four dozen contemporary artists, craftsman, fashion and home décor artisans, plus wine tasting, international food sampling and live music. In November, more than 25 Old Town museums, restaurants and shops participate in a community-wide celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, creating traditional Mexican altars and offerings to departed loved ones. A candlelight procession from the Whaley House to the El Campo Santo cemetery to make offerings to Old Town's earliest families at their gravesites tops off this unique cultural experience.
With perpetual sun, swaying palms and sparkling surf, the funky neighborhood of Ocean Beach, referred to locally as O.B., is the epitome of Southern California beach culture. Newport Avenue, its main street, can be both laid-back and energized with boisterous bars, cafes, surf shops, tattoo parlors and a 1960s hippie attitude.
- O.B. is home to diverse eateries, many with views of the beautiful Pacific Ocean and featuring open patios that welcome man's best friend. Hodad's is a famous surf-themed burger joint serving truly amazing hamburgers for 40 years, and seating that includes the inside of an old VW van on a table where the dashboard used to be located. At the end of Newport Avenue, South Beach Bar & Grille is a casual hangout where locals feast on fresh fish tacos like marinated and grilled mahi mahi, which once earned recognition as "America's best fish taco" from Bon Appetit magazine. At BO-Beau Kitchen + Bar, traditional French dishes are served in a relaxed environment reminiscent of a cozy French farmhouse.
- Ocean Beach is one of San Diego's prime surf spots. Popular locations are just north of O.B.'s long wooden pier, which is perfect for fishing, and the expert waters off nearby Sunset Cliffs. O.B. is also popular for its kid-friendly tidepools and Dog Beach, where even the tail-waggin' members of the family can play Frisbee and romp in the surf.
Pacific Beach, referred to locally as P.B., is a seaside mecca and surfer's paradise for college students and the younger set with boisterous bars, cafes and casual restaurants aplenty. Located just south of P.B. and connected by a three-mile boardwalk, Mission Beach is another popular surf spot and hip hangout for the younger set.
- Throughout the year, the boardwalk connecting P.B. and Mission Beach features an endless parade of hard bodies and other beach goers walking, running, biking, inline-skating and just hanging out in the sun. Numerous bars, cafes and restaurants can also be found here. Dine, drink and lounge in a stunning South Beach-inspired setting at the sophisticated JRDN restaurant in the Tower23 Hotel. Discover how the local landmark World Famous restaurant earned its name with delicious and affordably priced seafood and steak specialties, paired with a beachside location offering spectacular ocean views. Iron Pig Alehouse, located in a renovated warehouse that dates back to 1945, is an American barbecue house offering a modern approach to traditional barbecue with smoked meats including chicken, ribs and pork chops.
- Located along the boardwalk in Mission Beach, Belmont Park features the "Giant Dipper" wooden roller coaster, a National Historic Landmark, carnival rides, amusement arcades and the Beach House, featuring outdoor tiki bars, fire pits and tropical palm trees.
- As the sun goes down, night owls head to P.B.'s thriving beach bar scene. Gaze down on the Pacific from the rooftop patio while taking advantage of daily happy hour drink specials at Firehouse American Eatery & Lounge. For a closer view of the sunset, Lahaina Beach House offers a beach-front patio for enjoying an ice cold beer. After dark, the area comes alive with sandal-wearing coeds and party-goers in their 20s. For country music fans, Moonshine Beach features chart-topping performers and a dance hall.
- Lined along P.B.'s main streets, Grand and Garnet Avenues are a plethora of restaurants, thrift stores, vintage clothing stores, boutiques and tattoo parlors. Embrace the area's beach style head-to-toe with stops at signature surf shops like Mission Surf, Beachworks and South Coast PB to find flip flops, sunglasses, swimsuits and wetsuits from major and local retailers. Inexpensive boutiques, located all over P.B., are filled with hip attire ranging from beachwear to clubwear. Trendy options include Lotus and Luna and cult fashion favorite Brandy Melville.
The treasures of this Mediterranean-style village make La Jolla one of the most sought-after vacation destinations in Southern California. With luxurious and historic hotels, fine dining and shopping, world-class arts and culture, unbeatable outdoor recreation and a strikingly beautiful setting, it's no wonder why La Jolla is nicknamed the "jewel" of San Diego.
- La Jolla's beautiful beaches and coastline provide endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. The gentle waves of La Jolla Shores create the perfect environment for swimming, kayaking and learning to surf, while the protected waters of the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve offer a fascinating diving spot thriving with marine life. Just a couple miles north is Torrey Pines, with recreational options that range from hiking among native wildlife at the Torrey Pines State Reserve to golfing at the internationally recognized Torrey Pines Golf Course. For those seeking the ultimate urban adventure, soar high above the ocean with an award-winning paragliding company at the neighboring Torrey Pines Gliderport.
- La Jolla is one of San Diego's most desirable shopping districts and is known for its variety of specialty shops and boutiques that feature top designers and luxury items from around the world. Sometimes called the "Rodeo Drive of San Diego," Prospect Street overlooks the ocean and is lined with small boutiques, antique emporiums and art galleries. Girard Avenue features everything from Armani to upscale stationary stores, while the Upper Girard Design District is where shoppers delight in modern home and lifestyle stores that carry one-of-a-kind pieces from around the globe. Located at the south end of La Jolla along La Jolla Blvd., Bird Rock offers an upscale, eco-friendly environment for posh shopping that boasts everything from an organic coffee shop and green nail salon, to designer boutiques adorned with fashionable shoes, bags and bikinis, to upscale children's clothing boutiques.
- Combining spectacular ocean views with award-winning menus that focus on farm-fresh organic ingredients, La Jolla's restaurants offer some of San Diego's finest dining experiences. George's at the Cove has unbeatable ocean views and a creative award-winning menu of regional cuisine that has earned the restaurant national recognition. Whisknladle presents a back-to-basics philosophy reflected in a menu of upscale comfort foods where everything is baked, churned, smoked, aged, cured and pickled in-house. A.R. Valentien in the Craftsman-style Lodge at Torrey Pines is among the top farm-to-table restaurants in the nation with a menu that draws inspiration from the freshest, seasonal ingredients from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. The award-winning Nine-Ten restaurant in the historic Grande Colonial Hotel is one of the neighborhood's hottest bistros, serving market fresh, evolving California cuisine in a casually elegant atmosphere.
- La Jolla offers a dynamic and diverse display of cultural opportunities. One of the most respected and prestigious theaters in the nation, the Tony Award®-winning La Jolla Playhouse has created 23 productions that have moved on to Broadway, earning a total of 35 Tony Awards. Slated to reopen in late 2020 after a major renovation, The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on Prospect Street features contemporary paintings, sculptures, photography, drawings and classic graphic art in galleries complemented by spectacular ocean views. The La Jolla Music Society presents internationally recognized classical music performances and events throughout the year. The site-specific sculptures of the Stuart Collection on the University of California San Diego campus and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps round out La Jolla's cultural offerings.