A Visitor’s Guide to San Diego Neighborhoods
Downtown – Core/Columbia – the overlapping Core/Columbia neighborhood is the central business district of San Diego and features many tall office buildings. Columbia is on the western edge of the district abutting the waterfront and has more to offer for the visitor, including the USS Midway Museum, the Maritime Museum, the cruise ship terminal and the ferry landing. High-rise condominium buildings are luring permanent residents to the area.
Downtown – Cortez Hill – Cortez Hill is named after the historic El Cortez Hotel, which is now an apartment building and sits on top of the hill at the corner of Ash Street and Seventh Street. The views from the hill across the city to the ocean are beautiful. East of Sixth Street is mostly quiet and residential, and many of the original Victorian mansions is this area are still remaining. Things are livelier in the more commercial area west of Sixth Avenue, with cafes, coffee shops, and some boutiques.
Downtown – Gaslamp Quarter – this historic, 16 block district underwent revitalization efforts in the 1970’s and has emerged as a prime downtown nightlife destination. The historic Victorian-era buildings are now occupied by happening restaurants, bars, clubs, and fashionable shops.
Downtown – Little Italy – this safe, walkable, and attractive neighborhood was originally home to Italian immigrants who came to town to fish for tuna. The fishing industry has moved on, but the Italian character lingers on in Italian-themed restaurants, markets, shops, and the Mercato farmers market on Saturdays.
Downtown – Marina – this area is essentially designed for tourists. It is a waterfront district with walking paths that connect the Convention Center, highrise hotels and condos, marinas, Pantoja Park, and the Seaport Village shopping mall. It’s all very nice and friendly and comfortable, and there’s plenty of opportunities for shopping and eating.
Downtown – Horton District – this district was named after Alonzo Horton, who sold the land to the city in 1895. Horton Plaza is a half block city park with a beautiful fountain in the middle of it. The park was originally only for the use of guests of the Horton House Hotel, but it has since opened for public use. The Horton District is best known for the shopping available at the Westfield Horton Plaza Shopping Mall.
Downtown – East Village – this emerging area is anchored by PETCO Park, the home of the San Diego Padres, and features the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge, which connects the stadium to the San Diego Convention Center. It is a large neighborhood, covering 130 blocks, and within its confines are many restaurants, art galleries, and hotels, and the new San Diego Central Library just opened in the area.
Old Town/Mission Valley – as the name suggests, Old Town is the site of the oldest settlement in San Diego, as well as in California. Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is the top attraction – it’s a free, 9-block, historic district with many of the original Spanish structures dating from the 18th century still standing. For the full experience, there’s also Mexican restaurants and live mariachi music. Presidio Park is just north of Old Town and offers great views of the surrounding area. Mission Valley straddles the San Diego River and is home to shopping centers, Qualcomm Stadium (home of the San Diego Chargers), and historic Mission San Diego de Alcala, which is the oldest of the California missions.
Hillscrest – located just northwest of Balboa Park, Hillscrest is diverse and funky. It’s the center of San Diego’s LGBT community, and it’s also the place to go for ethnic and fusion cuisine – everything from Jewish delis to artisan pizza to Moroccan food. In addition, there’s eclectic boutiques, coffee shops, theaters, cinemas, pubs, and wine bars.
Ocean Beach – this laid-back beach community has beautiful sandy beaches, one of the longest piers in California, historic Craftsman bungalows, an Antique District, and a healthy number of surf shops, taco stands, and bars. Hodad’s is a local favorite that’s been there forever. With its old surfers and hippies and community activists, it’s got plenty of local character. South of Ocean Beach is scenic Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, and and the tip of the Point Loma peninsula is the Cabrillo National Monument with a museum, tidal pools, trails, and a lighthouse.
Mission Beach – Mission Beach is a narrow strip of land between the Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The beach itself is calmer than surrounding areas and great for swimming, and the beach scene, with its boardwalk and Belmont Park amusement park, draws comparisons to Venice Beach, Coney Island, and Atlantic City. The plethora of bars and younger, funkier crowd give it more nightlife than other beaches. Rollerblades and bikes can be rented for using on the boardwalk, and the scuba diving is good at several wrecks offshore. Giant Dipper roller coaster
Pacific Beach – this quintessential California beach town has something for everyone, from surfing at the Tourmaline Surfing Park on the northern end to good swimming and family-oriented beaches north of Crystal Pier to bars, Mexican food joints, and beach shops from Crystal Pier south to Pacific Beach Drive. The beach is wide and sandy and has a cement path perfect for rollerblading or biking. The beach is a favorite of young adults, and there’s lots of reasons to stick around after dark.
La Jolla Beach – the beaches tend to get quieter and more upscale as one heads north from Ocean Beach, and La Jolla definitely provides a different beach experience than the beaches than the beaches to the south. From watching sunsets off of Torrey Pines cliffs, to swimming and snorkeling in sandy coves, to exploring sea caves and tidal pools, there’s plenty to experience here. Away from the beach, there’s fine dining and upscale shopping, the Museum of Contemporary Art, an excellent aquarium, and the University of California at San Diego.