Downtown San Diego Neighborhoods/Districts
Back to Main Menu | Columbia | Core | Cortez Hill | East Village | Gaslamp Quarter | Horton Plaza | Little Italy | Marina | Map

For more information read the Downtown Community Plan (40 pages)


The Columbia neighborhood encompasses the area between the waterfront and Union, Ash and F streets. Broadway, downtown's main street, begins at the Broadway Pier and runs through the center of this neighborhood. Primarily a commercial neighborhood, there are also several residential buildings. Columbia is home to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, the Federal and County courthouses, and the State Office Building, County Administration Building, the Historic Santa Fe Train Depot, the Cruise Ship Terminals, the Embarcadero Promenade, the USS Midway and the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

This region was formed from the bordering portions of two former neighborhoods: one zoned for commercial use, and the other for recreation. Previously, the Core, Columbia and Horton Plaza neighborhoods all comprised the Central Core district, whose plan emphasized the "highest level intensity governmental, commercial, office and residential development," according to the 1992 Centre City Community Plan. Over a decade later, this vision holds true in Columbia.

The waterfront in this neighborhood is a significant portion of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, which includes development of, and along a 100-foot wide boardwalk to provide entertainment, dining, shopping, and increased access to the natural beauty of the area. More than $50 million is designated for public amenities in the project, meant to facilitate enjoyment of the natural environment, rather than to substitute a commercial one. The "water first" strategy is fundamental to the Visionary Plan, which also includes restructured piers and new activity centers.

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Core (Civic Center)

Downtown's Core neighborhood stretches from A Street to Broadway and Union to 12th Avenue. 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 saw 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, San Diego Housing Federation, and the Small Business Administration. Broadway and C Street are focal areas for daytime and nighttime activities fostered by street-level merchants. Notable historic structures in the Core on Broadway include the Sofia (formerly the Pickwick), the Marriott (formerly San Diego Trust & Savings) and U.S. Grant hotels.  [see also Thomas Wolcott Sefton & SOHO)

Other notable structures include the elegant Westgate Hotel, City Administration Building complex, Community Concourse, Civic Theatre & the new US Court House, trolley stops along C Street, and the high-rise offices of the B Street "Financial Corridor" including Symphony Hall (originally the Fox Theater).  

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Cortez Hill

Named after the historic El Cortez Hotel, this neighborhood is one of San Diego's oldest and most distinguished residential neighborhoods. North of downtown's Core and south of I-5 between Tenth Avenue and Union Street, the 111- acre Cortez Hill is two neighborhoods in one. East of Sixth Avenue rises downtown's highest land mass, the hill dominated by the El Cortez Apartments (formerly El Cortez Hotel). West of Sixth Avenue the flatter area is known as Cortez West. The hill has drawn residents for over a century, and the original Victorian style dwellings of the first settlers have now become part of its charm.

In 1992, the Redevelopment Agency envisioned reviving this district by further developing the hill for residential use, and encouraging a mix of residential and commercial infill. Schools, churches and a pedestrian-friendly environment now characterize the western portion of Cortez Hill. Commercial shops and sidewalk cafes line Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and Ash Street provides a gateway to the waterfront. As the highest land mass in the Centre City Community Planning area, 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.  A notable feature of Cortez Hill is Tweet Street Park.

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East Village

Boosted by plans surrounding Petco Park, development skyrocketed in this neighborhood, the last to be developed by the city. Projects 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.

East Village is San Diego's largest Downtown neighborhood. Schools, a central police station, commercial services and industry balance the residential land use. 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.

The East Village has a rich African-American heritage and the Black Historical Society of San Diego & Museum is located here. 

See Harlem of the West & a History of African-Americans in Downtown San Diego 1860 - 1960

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Gaslamp Quarter
San Diego's Historic Gaslamp Quarter has become one of San Diego's most popular neighborhoods, featuring a charming blend of old and new building teeming with activity. In the 1870s Alonzo Horton built a wharf at the foot of Fifth Avenue and a development boom ensued. Although these days a wide variety of people enjoy the Gaslamp's bars and restaurants, 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, the Stingaree. see the Wyatt Earp On-line Museum.  San Diego remained a popular navy liberty port until 1912 when city officials cracked down on prostitution, effectively shutting down the lively Stingaree.

1998 Museum FlyerIn 1885, the Chinese Mission School opened; it quickly became a social center for Chinese and Japanese immigrants and facilitated interaction between Caucasian and Asian San Diegans. Today the Gaslamp's unique architecture stands as a testament to its 30-year heyday, between the years 1880 and 1910. Through the 1900s, the Gaslamp Quarter suffered economic and social decline, as the old buildings deteriorated and criminal activity mounted.

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." The success of Horton Plaza, opened in 1985, 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 70 restaurants and nightclubs, movie theaters, shops, offices, galleries and lofts. Annual events such as the Mardi Gras Celebration, ShamRock, Taste of Gaslamp, and Cinco in the Gaslamp are held in this district, to the delight of San Diego area residents and visitors.  The Gaslamp Quarter is also home to the little known Philippine Library & Museum.

Asian Pacific Thematic District

The Asian Pacific Thematic District also has a significant history in the Gaslamp Quarter and the Marina Neighborhood, and several Asian-style buildings still stand. Visit the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum & the San Diego Chinese Center.



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Horton Plaza
When he arrived in 1867, Alonzo Erastus Horton 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. See full size imageToday, the Horton Plaza neighborhood includes a Westin Hotel, the Meridian condominium tower, Horton Fourth Avenue apartments, the AT&T and NBC office towers, Federal Courthouse & Office building and the historic Spreckels and Balboa theaters. More on the Spreckels.  See Theater History in San Diego.

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.


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Little Italy
The sloping landscape at the northern shore of San Diego Bay was once home to a thriving tuna fishing industry and the Italian-Americans who derived their livelihood from it. As the tuna industry declined and a significant portion of the neighborhood was disrupted by the construction of Interstate 5, Little Italy suffered decades of depreciation. When local business owners and residents teamed up with the Centre City Development Corporation in the early 1990s, things started looking up. They envisioned revitalization of the commercial district and preservation of the small scale and cultural dynamic of the community.

Little Italy today represents some of the finest of San Diego living: bay views, fine food, art and cultural festivities, and affordable residences. Its lovely vistas now offer an urban neighborhood with single-family homes, condominiums and apartments. A recently revitalized India Street is alive with restaurants, small cafes, galleries and specialty shops. Our Lady of the Rosary Church , Monarch School and Washington Elementary School remain important institutions of the area. Amici Park serves both as a playground for the school and a park, including a bocce ball court, for the community. There is the Firehouse Museum (located on Columbia St).  Little Italy hosts over half-a-dozen annual festivals in celebration of holidays, music and art, including Festa, "Chalk La Strada," a Bocce Ball Tournament, ArtWalk, a jazz festival and Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter celebrations. The Little Italy Association (LIA) brings the story of Little Italy to its visitors through public art displays.  The Little Italy Residents Association (LIRA) is dedicated to helping residents of the downtown San Diego neighborhood of Little Italy. With many new families relocating to downtown, we offer the opportunity through our organization for residents to get involved with local events, give input on new civic projects, and best of all, to meet their neighbors.  Little Italy in San Diego is a designated "Preserve America Community"

More on Little Italy.

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Pinnacle Museum Tower San DiegoBordered by the Gaslamp Quarter and the Columbia neighborhood, the Marina neighborhood was once comprised of warehouses and vacant lots. Through redevelopment, beginning in the early 1980s, the Marina now offers high-rise and mid-rise condominiums and apartments, townhouses, loft and single-room-occupancy (SRO) units, in a variety of styles, sizes and prices. Marina, characterized by open space, educational and cultural sites, and its convenient locale, is a remarkable residential setting for families, professionals and retirees.

Attractions of this neighborhood include the Greatest Generation Art Collection Martin L. King, Jr. Promenade, the Urban Forest (aka Children's Park) with a reflecting pond and fountain, historic Pantoja Park,  the Children's Museum & Playground Park, a portion of the Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District and two trolley stops. Its proximity to San Diego Bay, the Embarcadero Marina Park North, the waterfront promenade, Seaport Village, the San Diego Convention Center and waterfront hotels make the Marina a dynamic center for entertainment and business.

Old Police Headquarters Marina neighborhood was once home to the Olde Cracker Factory and the Citrus Soap Factory (both of which have been converted into work lofts and residential condos). Favorite neighborhood hangouts include The Brickyard Coffee Shop, so named for the Brickyard Company that once occupied the area and the Kansas City Barbecue (made famous by Top Gun).  Another historic building in the Marina Neighborhood is the Old San Diego Police Headquarters .

The Marina District is one of the older and more established Downtown San Diego Neighborhoods. 

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