Downtown San Diego Neighborhoods
The Marina District
The Marina District is bordered by the San Diego Bay on the south and west, by the Gaslamp Quarter on the east and the Columbia neighborhood to the north. The Marina neighborhood was once comprised of warehouses and vacant lots, but has experienced a major redevelopment that began in the early 1980s. This redevelopment brought in a surge of new high-rise and mid-rise condominiums, townhouses, lofts, and apartments varying from ultra luxury condos to moderate.
With the high demand for Marina living that occurred, this brought new restaurants, cafés and boutiques to the neighborhood. The Marina district is characterized by open space, educational and cultural sites as well as San Diego’s finest residential buildings. The convenient locale is a remarkable residential setting for families, professionals and retirees.
Attractions of this neighborhood include the Martin L. King, Jr. Promenade, a linear park with a walking promenade; the Children’s Park with its urban forest, reflecting pond and fountain; historic Pantoja Park, the Children’s Museum; a small section of the Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District and two trolley stops.
The Marina Districts proximity to the San Diego Bay, the Embarcadero Marina Park, the waterfront boardwalk, Seaport Village, the San Diego Convention Center and waterfront hotels make the Marina a dynamic center for entertainment and business.
There are more exciting developments coming to the Marina District which include a Seaport Village Expansion, the redevelopment of the old Police Headquarter building at Harbor and Kettner and the addition of the third phase of the convention center. These and other upcoming projects are certain to enhance the attraction and quality of life in this popular neighborhood.
Columbia | The Western Waterfront
Downtown’s Columbia neighborhood encompasses the area between the waterfront and Union Street towards the east, Ash at the North and F Street on the south end. Broadway, downtown’s main thoroughfare, begins at the Broadway Pier at the western edge of the bay and runs through the center of this district.
Columbia is largely a commercial neighborhood which includes many office buildings, Hotels and businesses. Columbia is also home to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, the Federal and County courthouses, the State Office Building, and Santa Fe Depot, San Diego’s main train station.
Harbor Drive and Pacific are the two streets adjacent to the waterfront in this neighborhood. They are the sight for the redevelopment of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, which includes development of an approximately mile long linear park along the waterfront which is slated to provide entertainment, dining, shopping, and increased access to the natural beauty of the area.
Columbia has recently had an addition of many luxury high-rise condominiums along Pacific Street. These panoramic view condos are commonly known as being located on “millionaire row” and include The Grande, Bayside, Electra and Sapphire Tower.
The Columbia District will experience a great deal of growth on the west side of the train tracks over the next two decades. There will be an increase in hotels, retail stores and restaurants as the economy permits.
Little Italy | A Cultural Gem
The sloping landscape at the north shore of the San Diego Bay was once a thriving tuna fishing industry which sustained the Italian-American families that lived there. As the tuna industry declined and the neighborhood was disrupted by the construction of Interstate 5, Little Italy suffered decades of down turn. In the early 1990’s, local business owners and residents teamed up with the Centre City Development Corporation and started planning the revitalization of what has become one of top ten Italian communities in the United States.
Little Italy today represents vibrant San Diego living. Visitors and residents enjoy bay views, fine food, art, cultural festivities, and Italian inspired condo living. Little Italy’s gentle slope towards the San Diego Bay provides lovely vistas for many neighborhood residents.
Little Italy is an authentic and culturally rich urban neighborhood with single-family homes, condominiums, townhome, and apartments. The main promenade, India Street, is bustling with fantastic restaurants, chic cafés, bars, art galleries and specialty shops. Our Lady of the Rosary Church and Washington Elementary School remain important institutions of the area.
Amici Park is a playground for the school during the school day and is a park where many locals come to play soccer or let their dogs run about unleashed in the afternoon and evening. Amici park also includes a bocce ball court, a basketball court and playground equipment for the kiddies.
Little Italy is the home of over half-a-dozen annual festivals in celebration of holidays, music, art, and life. These festivities including Festa, “Chalk La Strada,” a Bocce Ball Tournament, ArtWalk, Carnavale, Taste of Little Italy, Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter celebrations. Visit our events calendar to see what is happening in Little Italy.
The charm of Little Italy is characterized by its welcoming feel. City sidewalks are lined with tables and chairs that invite people to come sit, stay and enjoy the many plazas with their fountains, artwork, colorful potted plants, townhomes and friendly neighbors.
The Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego’s Historic Gaslamp Quarter has become one of the region’s most popular destinations for both locals and tourists. This neighborhood features a charming blend of old and new builds swarming with activity. In the 1870s Alonzo Horton built a wharf at the end of Fifth Avenue and an explosion of development boom ensued.
Today a wide variety of people enjoy the Gaslamp’s many bars and restaurants, however the original visitors of the 1880s were gamblers and prostitutes, such as Wyatt Earp and Ida Bailey, who founded numerous gambling halls, saloons and brothels in San Diego’s red light district, known as the Stingaree.
San Diego was known as a popular navy liberty port until 1912 when city officials cracked down on prostitution, effectively shutting down the lively Stingaree district.
In an effort to combat social blight, the Redevelopment Agency drew upon the historic character of the Gaslamp Quarter to infuse it with new life. Their objective formed in 1976 was to “preserve the distinctive character of the original commercial architecture found in the Gaslamp Quarter while also providing for orderly change.” Check out homes in the gaslamp quarter.
Horton Plaza opened in 1985 and was a catalyst that helped stimulate the initial redevelopment activity within the Gaslamp Quarter. This 16.5-block neighborhood is now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, and its 94 historically or architecturally significant structures now house more than 100 restaurants and nightclubs, movie theaters, shops, offices, galleries and lofts.
The Asian Pacific Thematic District also has a significant history in the Gaslamp, and several Asian-style buildings still stand.
Annual events such as Street Scene, the Mardi Gras Celebration, ShamRock, Taste of Gaslamp, Street Scene and Cinco de Mayo are held in this district, to the delight of San Diego area residents and visitors. There is also a weekly farmers market on Sunday mornings on J Street.
The East Village District
Boosted by the addition of Petco Park, development has skyrocketed in the East Village neighborhood. Approximately 7,000 parking spaces; 1,056,900 square feet of retail space; 2,396 hotel rooms; and 2,429 residential condos have been built since early 2001. Search East Village Real Estate
Major attractions in the East Village include: Park at the Park, a picnic area and neighborhood park; East Village Square, a 500,000 square foot retail, entertainment and office development north of the ballpark; Campus at the Park, space for technology and office buildings on Park Boulevard; and the Park to Bay Link, a tree-lined promenade linking Balboa Park and San Diego Bay along Twelfth Avenue with the addition of a new pedestrian bridge that crosses Harbor Drive and allows pedestrians to get from Petco Park to the waterfront.
East Village is Downtown San Diego’s largest and most rapidly developing neighborhood. Schools, a central police station, the future library, commercial services and industry balance the residential land use. East Village also features the East Village Tavern and Bowl, countless restaurants, and Downtown’s most popular gym, Fit.
This center of modern urban development is also San Diego’s arts district, spotted with artists’ homes, studios, galleries and shops. The Redevelopment Agency has focused on giving East Village residents “an enviable quality of life” through beautification, rehabilitation, employment opportunities, and the development of East Village as an arts and entertainment center.
East Village had suffered from deterioration, crime and homelessness before the Centre City Community Plan was implemented in 1992. Vast public improvements, social services, and commercial and residential developments have made over East Village, with an emphasis on its rich culture. Now, former warehouses and other old buildings have been transformed into charming residential lofts. The New School of Architecture, San Diego City College and two high schools augment this neighborhood’s youthful, creative population.
Cortez Hill | Perched Above it All
Named after the historic El Cortez Hotel, this district is one of San Diego’s oldest and most distinguished residential neighborhoods. Resting just to the north of downtown’s Core District and south of Interstate-5 between Tenth Avenue and Union Street, the 111- acre Cortez Hill is downtown’s best kept secret.
The hill at Cortez Hill is downtown’s highest land mass and was once solely dominated by the El Cortez. The hill has drawn residents for over a century, and the original Victorian style homes of the first settlers have now become part of its charm. Today, many other high-rise and mid-rise condo developments have found their way into this primarily residential neighborhood.
Schools, churches, Tweet Street Park and a pedestrian-friendly environment characterize Cortez Hill’s overall persona. Commercial shops and sidewalk cafes line Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and Ash Street provides a gateway to the little Italy and Columbia waterfronts. As the highest land mass in Downtown, Cortez Hill boasts views of urban San Diego, Balboa Park, the bay and Pacific Ocean.
The intimate neighborhood feeling, diverse housing, proximity to the downtown core and Balboa Park, and waterfront and mountain views make Cortez Hill a desirable location. Upcoming developments include a pedestrian green-belt bridge that would connect Balboa Park to downtown.
The Core | Downtown’s Financial District
Downtown’s Core neighborhood stretches from A Street to Broadway and Union and 12th Avenue. As its name implies, the Core is the visual and physical center of downtown. Alonzo Horton began hotel and retail developments here in the 1860s and in the 1920s facilitated the addition of several grand theatres.
The Core was downtown’s fashionable business and entertainment quarter until the urban center’s decline began in the 1960s. Since the Centre City Development Corporation’s inception in 1975, development of the Core has been a crucial element to revitalizing San Diego’s downtown area. Many old buildings have been renovated for new residential and commercial uses, drawing people into the neighborhood to live and work.
This Core now serves as the San Diego region’s government and corporate hub, housing the Civic Center, City Hall, the Small Business Administration and the World Trade Center. Broadway and C Street are focal areas for daytime and nighttime activities fostered by street-level merchants. Existing notable structures in the Core include the Westgate, The Sé, and U.S. Grant hotels, the City Administration Building complex, Community Concourse and the Civic Theatre, the new Central Jail, trolley stops along C Street, and the high-rise offices of the B Street “Financial Corridor.”
Horton Plaza | The Center
When Alonzo Horton arrived in 1867, he was not the first to be attracted by San Diego’s natural beauty, but as the historical father of contemporary San Diego, he was certainly the most influential. Horton bought and sold or developed most of the land that is now downtown San Diego.
Named after his namesake Horton Plaza Park, which houses the Horton Park Fountain and is near the bronze statue of the man himself, this neighborhood is where the redefining of Downtown began. The Horton Plaza Redevelopment Project was adopted in 1972 to spearhead the transformation of downtown from the center out. The first development was the six and one-half-block Horton Plaza retail/entertainment center, which ingenuously houses over 140 shops and restaurants in a colorful labyrinth connecting seven open-air split levels.
This shopping center is now a local landmark and a tribute to the creativity and history of San Diego. High-rise luxury condominiums and mixed-use residential and retail developments followed. Today, the Horton Plaza neighborhood includes a Westin Hotel, the Meridian condominium tower, Horton Fourth Avenue apartments, the SBC and NBC office towers, Spreckel’s theater, the newly renovated Balboa theater, and the Federal Courthouse & Office building.
Residential opportunities may be limited, but this 15-block district puts residents at the center of Downtown’s activity. The area includes luxury condominiums and apartments amidst high-rise office buildings, retail, hotels, theaters and restaurants.
Upcoming developments include the remodeling of the Horton Plaza Shopping Center.