Planning a trip to San Diego and looking to do more than just visit the San Diego Zoo? Well, you’ve come to the right place! San Diego’s communities are all wander-worthy and reflect the rich diversity of this buzzing metropolitan area. This guide features my favorite San Diego neighborhoods to visit, and my goal is to give you all the information you need so that you can make the most of your time in SD and eat all the best foods! With the crazy amounts of charisma and diversity in each of the areas, you’re sure to find the perfect San Diego neighborhood that fits your travel style!
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10 BEST NEIGHBORHOODS TO VISIT IN SAN DIEGO, CA
This vibrant cultural neighborhood is one of a kind and a must-visit neighborhood in San Diego. In my opinion, it sits above the rest of the other Little Italy’s I’ve been to in the USA. San Diego’s Little Italy has so much going on, no matter what day it is or what time it is. This neighborhood is filled to the brim with a grand assortment of restaurants (both traditional and modern), art galleries, and a great Saturday farmer’s market.
What you’ll find here is a number of great Italian restaurants, bakeries, wine bars, and even boutique shopping. During dinner time, the neighborhood really comes alive and becomes the perfect spot for al fresco dining, taking a stroll, and even people watching. Some of my favorite eateries here include Barbusa, Civico 1845, and Queenstown Public House. For dessert, head to Pappalecco for authentic gelato and one of the best blueberry muffins ever made. Little Italy is also the site of ArtWalk, the largest art festival on the West Coast.
The Gaslamp Quarter is another one of those lively, must-see neighborhoods in San Diego. This 16-block Victorian neighborhood is a San Diego destination for dining, bar hopping, and pure entertainment. If you’re looking for fine dining, looking to meet up with friends, or want a night out on the town, Gaslamp is for you. Though the Gaslamp Quarter is classified as a historic district, the sheer number of entertainment and nightlife options here is as up to date as you can get.
Aside from the many restaurants located here, you’ll find a number of rooftop bars, pubs, clubs, art galleries, theaters, and music halls. Not only is it home to the San Diego Symphony, but it is also home to the San Diego Film Festival which takes place every fall. Looking for a rooftop bar option with stellar views? Visit the Altitude Sky Lounge. Looking to go dancing or clubbing? Head to Omnia Nightclub. And if you’re here in the morning or early afternoon, make sure to grab some coffee and bagel sandwiches at Spill The Beans!
Don’t miss out on the chance to eat at the Gaslamp District! Explore the best eats in the Gaslamp Quarter on a walking tour with an expert guide who’ll give you the rundown on the district’s popping restaurant and bar scene. On this 2.5-hour culinary walking tour, you’ll sample delicious dishes at several eateries, sip drinks, and learn about the rich history of the district (includes interesting stories about the early ‘women of the night’ and where they worked).
Tip: If you’re staying in the Gaslamp or Downtown area, make sure you check whether or not your hotel offers free parking. We stayed at The Bristol in the Gaslamp, and thought it was a beautiful little boutique hotel, they only offered valet parking at $39/night. Too steep for our liking. Public parking lots were around $35 for overnight parking, which was not much cheaper.
Over the last decade, North Park (situated north of Balboa Park) has really grown into the trendy, hipster neighborhood of San Diego. Here, you will find many eclectic art galleries, a great food and drink scene, and many laidback breweries. Head to 30th Street and University Avenue to experience the taste of North Park—you’ll be greeted with taquerias, sushi joints, ice cream shops, cafes, and many brunch spots. For beer lovers, North Park is home to Modern Times Brewery and a few other craft breweries. Aside from the food and brews, North Park is dotted with indie boutiques which are sure to pique your interest if you like shopping!
Looking for other things to do in North Park? A weekly farmers’ market takes place North Park Way on Thursdays. Every second Saturday, the neighborhood hosts an evening art walk where guests can visit over a dozen art galleries and enjoy outdoor entertainment.
Looking for more things to do in San Diego? Check out these tours from Get Your Guide.
Hillcrest is the heart of San Diego’s LGBTQ community. Rightfully so, Hillcrest is also the site of the city’s annual Pride parade! Packed to the brim with bars and nightlife, Hillcrest makes for a popular destination for the younger crowd. You’ll find a wide variety of restaurants and bars conveniently located along University Avenue. The surrounding streets are speckled with beautiful craftsman homes that make it worth a quick stroll.
The Hillcrest Farmers Market on Sundays is popular for fresh produce and a quick bite to eat. If you have the time to stop and grab a bite to eat, consider one of the many restaurants here. Seriously, there are so many different types of cuisines here! Check out some of my favorite options, including Common Stock, Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro, and Bahn Thai.
OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO
Old Town San Diego is a great place to stop and stroll around for a few hours. This area features acres of Mexican heritage, historical sites, colorful shops, eclectic restaurants, and more. It’s known for its historical buildings, as it features a train museum, the El Campo Cemetery (houses lots of historic gravesites from the 1800s), and the Whaley House (one of only two officially designated haunted houses in California). The Junípero Serra Museum in Old Town’s Presidio Park is also one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego, recognized as the site where California began. Shopping and eating in Old Town is also a lot of fun! Don’t miss Old Town Marketplace, an open-air courtyard, home to a variety of carts and shops that sell handcrafted goods traditional to the Mexican culture.
Looking for food and history all bundled up into one stellar tour? Coming right up! Taste your way through Old Town San Diego during this historical tour with culinary samplings. Tequila, tacos, and tortillas included. What more could you ask for on vacation?
The dreamy town of Coronado is located on a nearby island comprised of beach hotels, resorts, and restaurants. Make the short two-mile journey over the iconic Coronado Bridge or take the ferry to get here–the beach is a must-see. You’ll be greeted by one of the best beaches in California, perfect for those who like calm waters and fine sands with speckles of gold in it! The main entertainment hub, which is located on Orange Avenue, is filled with shops and restaurants, as well as the famous Hotel Del Coronado.
If you’re in the area earlier in the day (which I recommend as parking tends to fill up by mid-morning on weekends), head over to The Henry for a casual sit-down brunch or grab some delicious coffee and pastries to enjoy on the beach.
Pacific Beach is one of the more lively, yet laid-back beach towns located within San Diego. Year-round, you’ll often find people surfing, relaxing, picnicking and enjoying the many shops, restaurants, and bars in the PB area. My favorite casual lunch spots include Leilani’s Cafe, Kono’s Surf Club Cafe, and Costa Brava. In addition to all the shops and eateries in the area, Pacific Beach also features a nice little pier, which is a great place to enjoy a sunset. If you’re looking for things to do after dinner, consider staying in PB because there’s a buzzing nightlife scene here, particularly along Garnet Avenue. However, if you’re looking for a quieter beach with a more suburban feel, you should consider one of the other great beaches in San Diego, such as Ocean Beach or Mission Beach.
OCEAN BEACH / MISSION BEACH
Ocean Beach is known for its laidback hippie vibe and offers a few quaint boutique hotels as well as a good number of things to do. When you’re there, be sure to visit Newport Avenue Beach, it’s perhaps the most popular beach in Ocean Beach for surfers, photographers, and people just looking for a relaxing beach day. The north side of Ocean Beach, centered on Voltaire Avenue, offers a number of great local eateries, taverns, coffee shops, and other locally-owned shops for your perusing enjoyment. There is also the Ocean Beach Farmers Market, which occurs every Wednesday night. Last but not least, my favorite thing about Ocean Beach is Sunset Cliffs–home to a unique coastal environment featuring expansive ocean views, dramatic cliffs, and cave formations. You won’t find a better sunset spot than the one in this San Diego neighborhood!
Mission Beach has a few resort-style hotels and is most famous for Belmont Park and the rollercoaster at the beach.
Anytime I head to La Jolla, I’m immediately in a calmer and happier state. The weather is always great and the air is always fresh! La Jolla sits right along the coast, just north of Pacific Beach. Though only a few minutes away, the ambiance change will make you feel like you’re a world away. The amount of outdoor activity you can do here is endless— you can rent bikes and ride around the spectacular houses or along the coastline, relax at the beach, kayak through sea caves, hang out with the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, go whale watching, or even snorkel with whale sharks (in the late summer)!
Looking for a beer break from all the exploration? Head to The Public House La Jolla or Karl Strauss Brewery. If you like art, take some time to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. If you’re in the mood for a hike, head to the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve— you won’t regret your time enjoying these untouched, coastal bluffs.
Normal Heights, wedged between University Heights and Kensington, is a great little neighborhood to visit if you’re looking for hip eateries, bars, and coffee shops. These three mid-city urban neighborhoods are great areas to visit if you’re looking for something quieter with a more down-to-earth vibe. Walk along Adams Avenue and you’ll find an assortment of locally-owned eateries, cafes, and boutique shops. For food and drink, I recommend Burnside, The Rabbit Hole, Lestat’s Coffee House, and Mariposa Ice Cream.
If you head slightly west to nearby University Heights, I’d highly recommend a pitstop beer tasting at Kairoa Brewing Company, a New Zealand inspired brewery offering unique beer flavors and super delicious eats (they feature seafood options, as well as your average brewpub food).
Looking for more things to do in San Diego? Check out these tours from Get Your Guide.
And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed reading through my top 10 favorite San Diego neighborhoods worth paying a visit to. What are your favorite neighborhoods to explore in SD?
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