San Diego is a city made up of a patchwork of neighborhoods. Many visitors stick to out the downtown Gaslamp quarter and to the beaches, but in doing that they miss some true gems. If you head to any of my favorite neighborhoods, you will be sure to find a ton of locals who can steer you towards great food, drink, and shopping.
As a local, if I’m headed out for shopping, dining or drinking, I will most likely be headed to North Park. In the last 10 years, North Park has totally exploded with new restaurants and shops. Before, it was a sleepy well-established residential neighborhood right in the center of San Diego. Rent was relatively affordable and so young people started flocking there. The rest is history— the more cool restaurants and coffee shops popped up, the more people gravitated to its cross streets, 30th and University.
Now it is one of the hottest and most walkable neighborhoods in the city. The historic North Park Theater has been fully restored and hosts concerts almost every night, including big names like The Shins and Chance the Rapper. Restaurants at all price points line University Ave. It’s tough to narrow down, but some personal favorites are Breakfast Republic, Crazee Burger, and City Tacos. As for shopping, check out Aloha Beach Club, Artelexia, and Pigment.
Deep cuts: This mid-city area spreads coolness in each direction. It would be worth checking out Normal Heights and University Heights to the north of North Park, and South Park and Golden Hill neighborhoods to the south.
Locals love Balboa Park. In a region obsessed with making everything new, new, new, our 100-year old Balboa Park is a lovely place to spend a day. The museums are varied and good quality. Multiple art museums, a natural history museum, and an air and space museum (especially robust thanks to our city’s rich military history) are open free on a rotating basis for locals and students attending a San Diego school.
Other nice areas in Balboa park include a historic outdoor organ and lots of grassy areas good for picnicking or letting kids run their energy out. The world-class Zoo is part of the Park too, and we are very proud of it. After years of having one good (expensive) restaurant in Balboa Park (The Prado), Panama 66 opened up next to the art museum. Proudly partnering with local farms and breweries, regionally-grown produce drives their innovative and often-changing menu.
Barrio Logan is an often overlooked but up-and-coming neighborhood that celebrates its rich Latino culture. It is located east of downtown and south of North Park.
The most famous piece of Barrio Logan is Chicano Park, which is on the National Register for Historic Places. This park is instantly recognizable due to its extensive murals in the Mexican tradition of taking art outside and making it accessible to all. The murals tell of Aztec, Mexican, and Mexican-American history through the ages.
Art is a huge part of this neighborhood. You will see murals outside of Chicano Park on fences and businesses. La Bodega Gallery is constantly putting on new exhibits and art shows, including an annual birthday party art show honoring Frida Kahlo.
Get your caffeine fix at Por Vida (try the horchata latte with pan dulce) or Cafe Moto, a local roaster that supplies most of San Diego’s best brunch spots. Feast on tacos at ¡Salud! which, it’s said, serves the best carne asada tacos in town.
Barrio Logan events that have recently come across my radar are their weekend flea markets, certain to be different than your average flea market due to the total infusion of Latin craft influence. La Vuelta is a summertime tricked-out car cruise I cannot wait to check out for the first time at the end of this month.
For dining out, it is impossible to overlook Little Italy, which packs 75 eateries into one small neighborhood. Italian food (obviously) reigns supreme, since a culturally Italian community has called this area home for many generations. Each fall they have the FESTA! which is, in my opinion, one of the city’s best neighborhood festivals.
The San Diego Bay-adjacent area is packed with other outstanding restaurants, such as Juniper & Ivy, run by a Top Chef alumnus, and Craft & Commerce, one of the grandfathers of San Diego’s now pervasive craft gastro-fare culture. Little Italy’s farmer’s market (Sundays) is one of the finest in San Diego in terms of size, vendors, and ambiance.
For shopping, there are many art galleries in this neighborhood as well as antique stores and Architectural Salvage of San Diego, a storied salvage shop great for those who want to infuse a little bit of history into their homes.
Liberty station was, from 1923 through the 1990s, a Naval Training Center and as such is made up of huge buildings that housed training facilities, maintenance areas for ships and planes, and barracks. In the early part of the 2000s the 28 acre site began redevelopment with offices and grocery stores. In the last few years, restaurants and shopping areas have popped up one after another, culminating in the opening of Liberty Public Market, a year-round indoor collection of food stalls and pop-up shops not unlike Pike’s Place Market in Seattle.
Liberty Station has more than just eating and shopping. They’ve recently added a movie theater and there is also a large grassy field that hosts events almost every weekend: art walks, dog adoption events, yoga conventions, you name it.
Have you ever visited San Diego? Did you check out any of these neighborhoods? If not, the left coast is calling! Come visit!
About the Author:
Staci has always been fascinated in the wide world around us. She is constantly planning two to three trips ahead and urging those around her to travel whether it’s an attainable 100 miles away or a dream vacation 6,000 miles across the globe. She is proud to call San Diego home and uses its unique location to explore the western USA and Mexico. Read more at TheVoyageer.com, or follow her on Instagram @thevoyageer.