Having lived in San Diego for 27 years, we experienced many of the unique places that the city has to offer. Being a major tourist destination hub there is indeed a lot to visit, but being a local we were able to explore many things visitors don’t find!
The center of San Diego was originally located in what today is Old Town. It changed in 1867 when Alonzo Horton purchased several hundred acres of of waterfront property to develop. Later, seven districts of unique characteristics arose: Marina, Gaslamp Quarter, Little Italy, Columbia, Civic Core, Cortez, East Village. Today, these districts house more than 37,000 people, 81,000 employees and 4,000 businesses.
San Diego Then and Now: San Diego Then and Now looks at how the city developed from a small village settled by early Franciscan missionaries and the Spanish military. It came under U.S. rule in 1846, but it was not until 1867 when San Francisco speculator and businessman Alonzo E. Horton acquired 960 acres of waterfront land. Click here for more info.
Gaslamp Quarter was named after the 50 gas lamps that were installed to the district. The Gaslamp Quarter Archway Sign was built in 1990, cost $150,000, and weighted six tons, stretching over Fifth Avenue near the San Diego Trolley tracks. Now listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, the 16.5 walkable blocks have over 100 historical buildings, which have been converted into a mixture of galleries, shops, work spaces, museums, hotels, bars
Gaslamp Quarter was named after the 50 gas lamps that were installed to the district. The Gaslamp Quarter Archway Sign was built in 1990, cost $150,000, and weighted six tons, stretching over Fifth Avenue near the San Diego Trolley tracks. Now listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, the 16.5 walkable blocks have over 100 historical buildings, which have been converted into a mixture of galleries, shops, work spaces, museums, hotels, bars and restaurants. One of the BEST hotels to stay downtown is the Hard Rock San Diego because of its location in the heart of the Gaslamp. Check out the walking tours, photos tours and Segway tours. During the redevelopment in San Diego downtown in 1999-2010, we owned many investment condos in different locations and it was exciting to watch the area be revitalized.
San Diego Gaslamp Quarter: In this new history of the area, nearly 200 striking images tell the story of the area’s early boom and bust, the saloons and bordellos of infamous Stingaree Town, the urban decay of the mid-twentieth century, and the rebirth and restoration of the neighborhood over the last 30 years. Click here for more info.
During the period the Gaslamp district was developed, the first train service began in 1885 during a land rush that boasted San Diego’s population form 8,000 to 40,000 in three years. The first downtown terminal was built in 1887 in Victorian Style. Later, the Santa Fe Depot Union Station was built in 1915 and is one of the most iconic historical structures of California Spanish heritage, ranking up there with the Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego mission and Balboa Park buildings. The depot opened in time for millions of visitors for the Panama-California International Exposition. Today, the station is still an active transportation center, accessing several train lines. One of my favorite ways to travel from North San Diego to downtown was to ride the train instead of driving, a great way to see parts of San Diego you don’t see from the freeway.
Balboa Park, was originally named City Park, and is double the size of the 842-acre Central Park in New York City. Built in 1868, it offers a wealth of cultural history and includes 17 museums, performing arts center “The Old Globe”, Botanical gardens, shopping and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
Balboa Park: A Millennium History celebrates San Diego’s love affair with this cherished cultural gem, this cultivated paradise. It’s sometimes called the Smithsonian of the West because of the wealth of attractions assembled in one place. Arguably, Balboa Park is the greatest urban park in the world. Click here for more info.
Another downtown district rich in culture and history is Little Italy which dates back to the 1920s, when more than 6,000 Italian fisherman and their families settled to build the world’s tuna industry. Years later, the waterfront area suffered years of decline with the building of the interstate freeway and the decline of the tuna industry. Today, it is a thriving creative, urban neighborhood with retail, housing and professional services.
San Diego’s Little Italy: Italian immigrants settled along San Diego’s waterfront in the early 1900s and formed the “Italian Colony,” a tightly knit community that provided refuge, shared culture, and heritage. Extended families, new businesses, and church traditions formed the foundation for a lasting social code. It was no coincidence that the area would become known as “Little Italy”. Click here for more info.
Seaport Village was built in 1978 and opened in 1980 with 90,000 square feet on waterfront property housing over 70 shops, eateries and galleries. The property was built on top of a landfill over Punta de los Muertos (Spanish for Point of the Dead), where the Spanish expedition of 1782 buried those who had died of scurvy. In 2017, plans for redevelopment were started for hotels, offices and an aquarium. Plans were altered however, when an earthquake fault line, as well as sewer lines and utilities from Coronado were discovered under the property which caused a major rework of the plans. Construction could begin in the next 3-5 years once Coastal Commission and city approve plans.
Petco Park, the home to the San Diego Padres Baseball team, opened downtown in 2004. Naming rights were paid for by San Diego-based pet supply retailer Petco until 2026, replacing Qualcom Stadium in Mission Valley which was shared with the San Diego Chargers(the Chargers have moved to Los Angeles in 2017). Construction cost of the 42,000-seat Park was $294 million, land acquisition and infrastructure another $159 million, totaling $453 million. A historical brick building built in 1909, the Western Metal Supply Company building, turned into a signature piece for the park with the corner serving as the left field foul pole. This caused the layout to change MLB orientation, with the batter facing due north instead of northeast. The 51,400 sf building was completely renovated with a team store on the ground floor, bleacher seating on the rooftop party deck, suites on the second and third floors, a public restaurant and seating cantilevered over the field on the fourth floor. They even made a dedicated dog park area for pet owners to take their pets to games.
Petco Park Redevelopment of a City: With a foreword by MLB commissioner , a copiously illustrated assessment of the economic and fiscal impacts of the development of Petco Park, intended to assist the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation in understanding the economic and fiscal benefits generated to the City of San Diego by the construction of the ballpark and the adjacent commercial and residential developments. Click here for more info.
The Star of India, a California and US Historical Landmark museum, is the fourth oldest ship afloat in the United States(after the 1797 USS Constitution, 1841 Charles W. Morgan and 1854 USS Constellation). Built in 1863 in the Ramsey shipyard in the Isle of Man (located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland), she had a career sailing from Great Britain to India and New Zealand. Later, she became a salmon hauler to Alaska from California. In 1926 she was retired, and in 1962 restored to a maritime museum where she sits today.