Downtown San Diego (also referred to as "Centre City" in some cases) is the thriving central business district of San Diego. A heavily gentrified area with plenty of tourist amenities, Downtown serves as a hub of business and entertainment, with plenty of restaurants, shops, and nightlife to take in, as well as a few attractions, including several museums and the home of the San Diego Padres baseball team.
Downtown San Diego began in 1867, when Alonzo Erastus Horton bought 960 acres of land by the San Diego Bay after he decided that this should be the center of the city rather than Old Town, the site chosen by the Spanish for security reasons. Soon Horton found himself in the midst of an economic boom, resulting in the development of the southern Downtown neighborhoods, site of the present-day Gaslamp Quarter. However, in the late 1880s Horton's fortunes ran out and the Gaslamp Quarter began to deteriorate. At the same time, John D. Spreckels, a wealthy entrepreneur who had created a transportation and real estate empire in San Diego, began to develop land north of present-day Broadway, further contributing to the Gaslamp Quarter's decline.
Over the decades, Downtown fell into a state of disrepair as investment in the suburbs took its toll on the central city. In the 1970s, redevelopment efforts began taking off, and in the '80s the area began to rebound with the completion of Horton Plaza, the San Diego Convention Center, and the start of revitalization efforts in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Downtown is divided into a number of individual neighborhoods, each with its own attractions and personality.
At the heart is Columbia, which runs along Broadway as it approaches the harbor. Columbia is mostly a commercial district and contains most of the city's tallest buildings, the train depot, and a sizable chunk of the waterfront which includes the USS Midway Museum, the Maritime Museum, the cruise ship terminal and the ferry landing. To the east of this lies the commercial and governmental center of Core as well as the shopping district of Horton Plaza, with its splendid namesake mall.
To the north of the main business district are a couple of quieter neighborhoods - Cortez Hill, located on the hill at the north side of downtown, is a mostly residential neighborhood bumping up against Interstate 5, named for the historic El Cortez Hotel, the tallest building on the hill. Closer to the waterfront at the northwest end of downtown is Little Italy, originally a home to Italian fishermen, now a very active district of shops, restaurants, and parks, with an Italian theme.
On the southern side of Downtown, Marina is a highly gentrified waterfront district, containing marinas, highrise condos, hotels, the Convention Center, and the Seaport Village shopping mall. To the north of this is Gaslamp Quarter, a historic district which was not only the birthplace of downtown but also the focal point of the first revitalization efforts in downtown during the 1970's. Today the neighborhood is the center of Downtown's nightlife scene; a thriving district of historic buildings, shops, theaters and restaurants. Capitalizing on Gaslamp's success, the East Village on the southeastern side of Downtown is undergoing a construction and redevelopment boom, spurred in part by the ballpark of the San Diego Padres, located within the neighborhood.
Map of Downtown San Diego
If you're arriving in San Diego by bus, train, or cruise ship you're likely to be getting off in Downtown. Even arriving by plane basically puts you in Downtown, given how close the airport is to the city center. Detailed info on arriving via those modes can be found in the Get in section of the San Diego article.
Downtown is served by three freeways. Be warned though, Southern California is notorious for its confusing interchanges and freeway systems. You may exit off the freeway thinking you're going one direction, when it fact you'll find yourself heading in a completely different direction. So careful examination of a street map is recommended.
I-5 wraps around downtown to the north and west, providing access from the north and the south. From the north, the Ketner Blvd. exit will provide you with the most direct access into Little Italy, while the Front St. exit will be your best bet for getting right into the thick of downtown. From the south, exiting onto 19th St., which acts as a frontage road to I-5, will get you to a number of east-west streets, including Market St., that upon turning left onto will take you right into downtown.
SR-163 enters downtown from the north, turning into 10th Avenue/11th Avenue in downtown. SR-163 connects downtown to the northcentral and northeastern areas of San Diego.
SR-94 connects to areas east, and turns into F Street/G Street upon entering downtown.
Downtown is easily accessible and traversed by automobile, but it is one of the very few areas of San Diego where it makes sense to get around by other means. Parking is expensive and can be very hard to find during special events (like Padres games at PETCO Park). You can park at the garage at Westfield Horton Plaza for free for up to 3 hours as long as you validate the ticket at the small validation machines inside of the mall.
By public transit
The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) operates bus service to almost all parts of the county, and downtown is the hub of the system, so bus service is pretty good in these parts. All bus routes that serve downtown intersect with Broadway Street at some point. The MTS has offices in downtown at 102 Broadway (at the intersection of Broadway and First Avenue) where you can purchase passes, find schedules, and get information about the bus system.
San Diego Trolley passing through Downtown
Downtown is also the hub of the San Diego Trolley light rail system, also operated by the MTS. There are two trolley lines which serve downtown: blue and orange. The Blue Line comes up from the US-Mexico border at San Ysidro to the south and travels up Park Blvd. in the East Village neighborhood before turning west onto C Street, where it runs through the Core to the Santa Fe Depot before heading north through Little Italy to Old Town. The Orange Line connects the eastern cities of El Cajon and La Mesa with Downtown. It follows the same route as the Blue Line (Park Blvd and C Street) until it gets to America Plaza, then it turns south and runs along Harbor Drive, stopping at the convention center and PETCO Park before ending near the 12th/Imperial Transit Center, where it then turns around and circles back around downtown before heading east.
Downtown is dense enough that it can usually be easily walked. Certain intersections (basically anything along Harbor Drive) can feel a little risky with the high volume of cars, but for the most part walking is quite safe, even at night. Just keep in mind that Downtown is fairly large, so if you're planning on hoofing it from Little Italy to PETCO Park, keep in mind it's a long walk.
A vintage trolley service, the Silver Line runs in a clockwise direction around the San Diego Trolley loop within Downtown every half-hour. It operates 10AM-2PM on the weekends and holidays and the fare is $2 ($1 seniors/disabled; trolley passes not valid). This is really only worthwhile if you're interested in riding the old streetcar; otherwise just use the regular San Diego Trolley service.
Children's Museum of San Diego, 200 West Island Avenue, +1 619 233-8792, . Th-Th 9AM-4PM (closed Wednesdays). $10 adults/children, $5 senior/military.
Chinese Historical Society and Museum, 404 Third Avenue, +1 619 338-9888 (fax: +1 619 338-9889), . Tu-Sa 10:30AM-4PM, Su Noon-4PM. A museum dedicated to Chinese history, culture and art. Includes exhibits on the Chinese experience in America. $2 adults, children under age 12 free.
Gaslamp Quarter, +1 619 233-4692, . Home to a number of historic Victorian-era buildings, such as the Louis Bank of Commerce, the Backesto Building, the Old City Hall, the Yuma Building, and a whole bunch of other beautiful old structures. The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, headquartered in the William Heath Davis House at 410 Island Avenue offers information for self-guided tours of the district as well as a guided walking tour of the district that leaves from the Davis House every Saturday at 11AM. Tours cost $10 adults, $8 seniors/students/military. Admission to the William Heath Davis House is $5 adults, $4 seniors. The Davis House is open Tu-Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 9AM-3PM.
Star of India, Maritime Museum
Maritime Museum of San Diego, 1492 North Harbor Drive, +1 619 234-9153, . Daily 9AM-8PM (open until 9PM in the summer). Home to a number of historic sea vessels, including the Star of India, the world's oldest active sailing ship, the Berkeley, an 1898 steam ferryboat, the Californian, a replica sailing ship, the Medea, a 1904 steam yacht, the HMS Surprise, another replica sailing ship, and a B-39 Soviet Attack Submarine. $12 adults, $9 seniors/military, $8 youth, free for children 5 and under (packages which include sailing excursions are available).
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 1001 Kettner (between Broadway and B Street), +1 858 454-3541, . 11AM-6PM Sa-Tu, 11AM-9PM Th-F. Located in One America Plaza, San Diego's tallest building, this museum holds a part of the museum's collection over 4,000 works. $10 adults, $5 seniors/military, 25 and under free (free admission the third Tuesday of the month).
San Diego Firehouse Museum, 1572 Columbia St. (in Little Italy), +1 619 232-3473, . Th-F 10AM-2PM, Sa-Su 10AM-4PM. Dedicated to the history of firefighting in San Diego. $3 adults, $2 seniors/children.
Unconditional Surrender sculpture and the USS Midway
USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, 910 N. Harbor Drive, +1 619 544-9600 (fax: +1 619 544-9188), . Daily 10AM-5PM. Take a self-guided tour of the USS Midway (CV-41), a former aircraft carrier of the US Navy. The Midway is home to a collection of former naval aircraft housed on her expansive flight deck. Guided tours and displays offer a unique look into the life aboard and of a powerful old warhorse. $17 adults, $15 students, $10 seniors/military, $8 youth, children 5 and under and active duty (in uniform) are free.
Villa Montezuma, 1925 K Street (at 20th and K streets, just east of I-5), +1 619 239-2211, . Located just outside of Downtown, on the other side of I-5, Villa Montezuma is a gorgeous yet bizarre historic home, built during the boom years of the 1880's and furnished with towers, a dome, and art glass windows. At the moment, it is temporarily closed to the public.
PETCO Park with downtown in the background
San Diego Padres, PETCO Park (in the East Village neighborhood, near the Gaslamp Quarter), . See the Major League Baseball Padres play at the brand new PETCO Park. The stadium, modeled after other "retro" ballparks, has many unique elements, such as the Western Metal Supply Co. building (a historic warehouse) which is incorporated into the left-field seats. Price range for seats varies widely, from $5 for a spot on the grassy lawn beyond the outfield wall (the "Park at the Park") to nearly $50 for a seat behind home plate. $5-$60.
San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza (in the Horton Plaza shopping mall), +1 619 544-1000, .
Amici Park, at corner of Date and State Streets. A small park located in Little Italy, notable for its bocce (a popular sport in Italy) courts. You can also find Italian recipes engraved onto the sidewalk plaques and tables around the park.
Children's Park, south of Island Avenue between Front St. and First Avenue. An unusual park with lots of grassy hills, shade trees, and a large water feature. Unfortunately, this park is usually occupied by homeless, so it wouldn't be a safe destination for children.
Embarcadero Park, south of Seaport Village behind the convention center. Also known as the Marina Park, Embarcadero Park is split into two parts, north and south, which shelter the marina. Very pleasant, with lots of trees, grass, and good views of the harbor. You can access the north park by walking through the Seaport Village shopping center, and you can reach the south park by going around the back side of the convention center.
Gaslamp Quarter Park, at Fifth Avenue and L Street. A small square located next to the Gaslamp Quarter trolley station with a small water fountain. Good views of the convention center.
Horton Plaza Park, south of Broadway between Fourth and Third Avenue. A historic square located just north of the shopping center of the same name. A large fountain marks the center of the park.
Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade, along the north side of Harbor Drive between First Avenue and Fifth Avenue. A linear park honoring the late civil rights activist.
Pantoja Park, on the north side of G Street between India and Columbia. A small park surrounded by a residential area.
Park at the Park, south of J Street between Seventh and Tenth Avenue. For the 81 Padres home game days, this grassy berm overlooking PETCO Park is shut down and open as a place to view the game for $5 a person. But for the other 284 days of the year, the park is open to the public. The park has a small baseball diamond, a playground, and there are various monuments to the achievements of the Padres, such as a statue of star player Tony Gwynn nearby.
Horton Plaza, 324 Horton Plaza, +1 619 239-8180, . A massive five-story outdoor shopping mall unique for its appearance, with lots of bright colors, architectural tricks, and interesting spaces. Even if you're not planning on doing any shopping, it's worth coming here just to see the place. Horton Plaza contains nearly 200 stores and restaurants, including a couple of department stores, a food court on the 4th floor, and entertainment options such as a movie theater. From March to October, a farmer's market takes place every Thursday from 11AM-3PM on the square just north of the mall.
Seaport Village, 849 West Harbor Drive, +1 619 235-4014 (Events Hotline +1 619 235-4013), . Daily 10AM-9PM. A shopping and dining complex overlooking the bay, with a recreated historic "seaside village" look. Nearly 70 shops and restaurants and an antique carousel.
Seaport Fudge Factory, 859 West Harbor Dr (in Seaport Village), +1 619 239-3100, . 9AM-10PM. Gorgeous shop with very well priced and excellent chocolates. All candies are made fresh daily on premises.
Acqua al 2, 322 5th Avenue, ☎ +1 619 230-0382, . A pleasant Italian restaurant somewhat removed from the heaviest congestion of downtown with an outdoor dining patio.
Anthony's Fish Grotto, 1360 N. Harbor Drive, ☎ +1 619 232-5103, . Daily 11AM-10PM. Anthony's Fish Grotto is co-located with Anthony's Fishette, a quick and informal outdoor eatery. Seems to be especially frequented by tourists to the nearby Maritime Museum and senior citizens. Lunch in the Grotto is some version of fried fish with a choice of sides from $10-12. The main entree/fish menu is priced from $15-20+. Beer is $5 and up. Try the Anthony's Amber Ale.
Café Chloe, 721 9th Avenue #1, ☎ +1 619 232-3242, . Mo-Fr 7:30AM-10:30PM; Sa 8:30AM-10:30PM; Su 8:30AM-9:30PM. Very cozy wine bar/restaurant. Prices are more on the expensive side, however quality is excellent.
Knotty Barrel, 844 Market St (between 8th Ave & 9th Ave), ☎ +1 619-269-7156, . Su-Th 11:30 am-Midnight; Fri & Sa 11:30 am-2:00am. Cool gastropub with a great menu and wonderful selection of draft beers. Would recommend getting a sample of four beers for $7 to see what you like. If none of the draft beers suit your taste, there's a multitude of other beers from all over the world listed on the chalkboard.
The Mission, 1250 J Street, ☎ +1 619 232-7662, . Third and newest of the popular locally owned breakfast restaurant. Avoid the lines at the North Park and Mission Beach locations by coming here. Vegetarian offerings for the diet conscious. Only open for breakfast and lunch from 8 am - 3 pm.
Mona Lisa Restaurant & Deli, 2059 India Street, ☎ +1 619 239-5367. Enjoy Sicilian style favorites and some of the best pizza in town at this family oriented restaurant. Deli has largest selection of Italian imports.
The Oceanaire, 400 J Street, . Great seafood. Can be a little pricey. Food is fresh and flavorful. The Australian rock lobster is fantastic. Also, try the Oysters.
Cafe Noir, 447 9th Avenue, ☎ +1 619 235-0075. Cafe Noir is a hidden gem in a Victorian house that somehow managed to survive the crazed development in the East Village that has taken place since the ballpark opened in 2004. Free wireless internet and you will have the place virtually to yourself in the afternoons.
Minus 1 Lounge, 432 F Street, ☎ +1 619 814 5777, . One of San Diego's top boutique nightclubs and lounges. Great mixologists & tapas. Open until 4AM Friday and Saturday. Features an eclectic mix of top DJs.
Princess Pub, 1665 India Street (in Little Italy), ☎ +1 619 702-3021. Traditional British pub.
Sogno Divino, 1607 India Street (in Little Italy), ☎ +1 619 531-8887, . Daily 11AM-11PM. Wine bar and appetizers, relaxing environment.
Waterfront, 2044 Kettner Boulevard (in Little Italy), ☎ +1 619 232-9656, . One of San Diego's oldest drinking establishments and best dive bars.
500 West Hotel, 500 West Broadway, ☎ 866-315-4251 (fax: 619-234-5272), . YMCA-affiliated Hostel in downtown San Diego, right next to Amtrak railway station. Free Wi-Fi. Dorms from $44 per night.
Americas Best Value Inn - Convention Center / Downtown, 1801 Logan Ave, +1 619 232-1616, . Free wifi, free parking and also offers complimentary breakfast. Rooms from $65 per night.
Gaslamp Hostel, 546 3rd Avenue, (619) 366-9134, . Hostel with easy access to the historic Gaslamp District. They have 4-bed and 6-bed female and co-ed dorm rooms as well as some private rooms. Rates are $25 for dorm rooms and start at $60 for private rooms.
Hostelling International San Diego-Downtown, 521 Market Street, +1 619 525-1531, . Check-in: 2PM. Located in Gaslamp Quarter, clean, friendly, offering 24-hour desk service, free breakfast, laundry facilities, lockers, and wifi. Rates start at around $20 for a dorm room, up to around $50 for a private room and $80 for a large family room (plus $3/night for non-members). Has a deal with a local bike shop for $10/day rentals (normally $22).
Little Italy Inn, 505 West Grape Street, (619) 230-1600. Pleasant hotel within walking distance of Little Italy. Hotel offers complimentary breakfast and has helpful management. Hotel charges $100-120 for room with bath, $70 for rooms with shared bath. Hotel does not have pool and guests must park on the street.
Lucky D's Hostel, 615 8th Ave (cnr 8th and Market Street), phone +1 619-5950000, . Fun Hostel in San Diego's trendy East Village - dorm beds start around $20/night, privates around $50-$60/person. The hostel offers free breakfast, free dinners, free internet, free house phone, free pub crawl and free use of linens and towels. They also run a weekly tour to Tijuana.
La Pensione Hotel, 606 West Date Street (at India), +1 619 236-8000 (fax: +1 619 236-8088, toll free: +1 800 232-4683), . Located in Little Italy, this lovely hotel has 75 small rooms with views of the bustling neighborhood. Parking is quite tight here, but the place is quite affordable at around $80/night.
USA Hostels San Diego, 726 5th Avenue, +1 619 232-3100, . Small hostel in the Gaslamp Quarter - dorm beds start around $20/night, privates around $50-$60/person. The hostel offers free breakfasts, wireless access, lockers, a laundry room, and bike rentals. They run a tour to Tijuana on Saturdays.
Bristol Hotel, 1055 1st Avenue, +1 619 232-6141 (fax: +1 619 232-0118), . A contemporary and casual hotel, the Bristol features an unusually large pop art collection. $150-$200.
Comfort Inn Gaslamp Convention Center, 660 G Street, +1 619 238-4100 (fax: +1 619 238-5310),  Check-in: 3PM, Check-out: 12PM. A 100% non-smoking hotel located in the Gaslamp Quarter. $119-$189.
Gaslamp Plaza Suites, 520 E Street, +1 619 232-9500 (fax: +1 619 238-9945), . Check-in: 4PM, Check-out: 11AM. Housed in a beautiful historic building, this hotel offers lovely rooms and complimentary breakfast - served on the rooftop terrace (weathering permitting). $120-$275.
Horton Grand Hotel, 311 Island Avenue, +1 619 544-1886, . A luxurious Victorian era hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. $175-$300.
Marriott Gaslamp Quarter, 6060 K Street, +1 619 696-0234 (fax: +1 619 231-8199), . 22-floor hotel in the Gaslamp neighborhood with most of the services and features typical of Marriotts (sadly, no pool or jacuzzi). Rooftop bar, on-site restaurant. $200-$350.
Residence Inn San Diego Downtown/Gaslamp Quarter, 356 6th Avenue, +1 619 487-1200 (fax: +1 619 487-1202), . Modern hotel in the Gaslamp neighborhood with a hint of the Victorian era.
San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina, 333 West Harbor Drive +1-619 234-1500 (fax: +1-619 234-8678), . Located on San Diego Bay, good views, and resort atmosphere. Situated adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center and the Gaslamp Quarter.
W Hotel, 421 West B Street, (619) 231-8220, . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 12PM. A trendy and modern hotel. Prices start around $180 a night.
Doubletree San Diego Downtown, 1646 Front Street, ☎ 1-619-239-6800, . checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 12:00 PM. Complimentary airport shuttle, extensive amenities and friendly staff.
The Keating Hotel, 432 F Street, +1 619 814-5700, . Check-in: 2PM. A modern luxury hotel with an on site bar, spa services, and Italian designed rooms. Rates start at around $200 for a Stanza, up to around $1200+ for a luxury suite.
Hotel Palomar San Diego, 1047 5th Avenue, ☎ +1 619-515-3000, . Formerly the Se Sean Diego, now a Kimpton Hotel. This boutique hotel is near Horton Square and a few blocks from the Gaslamp District. Rates start at $159 a night.
Manchester Grand Hyatt, 1 Market Place, ☎ +1 619 232-1234, . This hotel has over 1600 rooms, making it the largest hotel in San Diego. Located next to the Convention Center, consisting of two towers that are connected on the bottom four floors.Prices start around $280 a night..
Omni Hotel, 675 L Street, ☎ +1 619-231-6664 (email@example.com, fax: +1 619-231-8060), . A modern luxury hotel connected to PETCO Park via a skybridge across the street, the Omni was built along the new ballpark and has a few baseball relics inside, such as Joe DiMaggio's cleats in the lobby, Babe Ruth's 1932 contract with the Yankees in the Presidential Suite, and a broken bat autographed by Willie Mays in the fifth-floor hallway.
U.S. Grant Hotel, 326 Broadway, +1 619 232-3121, . A luxurious and historic hotel located across the street from the Horton Plaza Square. $270-$500.
William Penn Hotel, 511 F Street, 619 231-1500,  A historic all suite hotel in the middle of the Gaslamp Quarter.
Drive northeast on Park Boulevard to get to the beautiful Balboa Park, one of San Diego's greatest attractions and home to lovely gardens, numerous museums, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
Head due north on 5th or 6th Avenue to get to the western entrance to Balboa Park, or continue to the hip urban neighborhood of Hillcrest.
To the northwest of Downtown and easily accessed via I-5 or the San Diego Trolley is Old Town, the original site of the center of San Diego.
Coronado is a lovely little city that lies on a peninsula just across the bay, accessible from downtown by a ferry ride  (departs from the Broadway Pier) or by driving just a bit south of Downtown to get to the Bay Bridge.
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