Urban Communities

San Diego has so many wonderful neighborhoods to choose from-if the pedestrian lifestyle of an urban environment calls to you, and you want to live close to a hub of activity, one of these Metro communities may have an address waiting for you. 

Nestled between scenic San Diego Bay and the wonders of lush Balboa Park, Downtown San Diego offers a variety of distinctive neighborhoods, each with its own history, character and lifestyle. Close to 35,000 Downtown residents enjoy living in this scenic and vibrant atmosphere, with homes convenient to the workplace, shopping, education, recreation, entertainment, public transit and more. 

While in the past this was primarily a business area, it has developed into a thriving blend of residential and business. For those seeking the convenience of public transportation, it is the hub for downtown San Diego. Within walking distance is the historic Santa Fe Depot, the second busiest Amtrak rail corridor in the country, the San Diego Trolley, a fast-growing cruise port and the San Diego Airport which is within two miles. Because of its close proximity to the waterfront (a major segment of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan), the adjacent area will benefit from community beautification, recreational sites and a pedestrian esplanade accentuating bay views and increased public access. The district is home to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the USS Midway Museum, and the Maritime Museum of San Diego (including the world-famous Star of India). Future major development includes the Manchester Pacific Gateway poised to become a stunning and iconic waterfront complex including a boutique hotel, office tower, convention center, Navy headquarters and retail-projected completion is 2022. Seaport Village, a long-standing favorite for San Diegans and tourists, is slated for redevelopment into a world-class destination-project completion is 2025.

Central government, financial and corporate institutions are concentrated in the Civic/Core District. Restoration and revitalization of many of the historic buildings is adding new residential, retail and commercial opportunities in the heart of downtown.  City Hall, the historic Copley Symphony Hall and San Diego Civic Theatre integrate arts and culture in this neighborhood. The San Diego Trolley runs along C Street, a major east-west artery in this district, and plans are in the works to improve this important travel corridor. In the near term, these plans include safety and landscape improvements; in the future, projected plans address the entire public realm of the corridor and its function as a link to essential services.

Cortez Hill
One of San Diego’s oldest residential neighborhoods was named after the famous El Cortez Hotel, which has been restored and converted into condominiums. Views include Balboa Park, San Diego Bay, the Pacific Ocean and the urban scene below. Victorian style homes populate the area, along with newer condominiums and apartments. The hill’s topography separates it from downtown’s hustle, yet its closeness makes it a very desirable address for those who want to live on the cusp of an active urban center. Some call it a “suburban” urban environment. The character of this neighborhood is symbolized by the lavender blooms of jacaranda trees that line its streets and “Tweet Street” park.

East Village
Like New York City’s gritty but fast-gentrifying neighborhood of the same name, San Diego’s once blighted warehouse district (the largest Downtown district covering 130 blocks) is undergoing a massive transformation. The change was fueled primarily by the building of PETCO Park, home to the San Diego Padres. In 2013, the new San Diego Central Library was built which includes a charter school, the only school in the U.S. to be within a library. In recent years, San Diego has emerged as a major startup destination for entrepreneurs tapping into the city’s economic network and ever-increasing co-work environment. Today, visitors enjoy luxury hotels, restaurants, rooftop bars, cafes, boutique shops, galleries, transportation, and live music venues scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Redevelopment of this historic district started with the opening of the Horton Plaza shopping and entertainment center in 1985. Horton Plaza was an iconic retail/entertainment destination for over thirty years. Soon, it will be redeveloped as a mixed-use retail and creative, tech office complex. The 15-block area is the center of downtown’s commercial activity and includes high-rise office buildings, stores, hotels, theaters and restaurants. The historic Balboa Theatre, one of the oldest performing arts venues in San Diego, was completely restored and reopened as a live performance and conference venue in 2008. Revitalization spilled into the Gaslamp Quarter where Alonzo Horton first encouraged downtown’s redevelopment in the 1870s by building a wharf at the foot of Fifth Avenue to facilitate trade with the area’s retail stores. This neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the 94 structures identified as historically or architecturally significant now house more than 100 restaurants and nightclubs, movie theaters, stores, offices, galleries and lofts.

Little Italy
With a tag line like “A hip and historic urban neighborhood” you have a lot to live up to. While not on a scale with San Francisco or New York, it has plenty to offer. Historically, Little Italy was home to Italian fisherman. The decline of the tuna industry combined with the construction of Interstate 5 in the 1970s led to many years of hardship. Eventually, Little Italy experienced gentrification and a renaissance established it as an eclectic restaurant district including a variety of Italian specialty restaurants, pubs, farmers’ market, cultural and art events, galleries, retail and an outdoor community gathering space. High and mid-rise condos, mixed-use retail/residential buildings and decorated streetscapes provide the back drop for this energetic livable community.

Marina District
The district stretches between the waterfront, Horton Plaza and downtown’s office towers. Today, this is one of San Diego’s most beautiful and desirable downtown neighborhoods. Choices for homes include high-rise and mid-rise condominiums, apartments, townhouses, live/work lofts and single-room occupancy units in a variety of styles, sizes and prices. Urban parks and outdoor spaces include the historic Pantoja Park, Children’s Park and the Martin Luther King Promenade. The rich cultural history of San Diego’s Asian Pacific Historic District pays homage to the early contributions made by Asian-Americans in the early development of San Diego and The New Children’s Museum reaches out to future generations.

Literally up the hill from downtown San Diego you find this enchanting upscale neighborhood with a mixture of Victorian mansions (some housing professional offices), charming older courtyard apartments and modern condos and residences, some facing Balboa Park- San Diego’s version of New York’s Central Park.  Inhabitants of this area enjoy the pedestrian lifestyle of an urban environment with easy access to restaurants, the park, Hillcrest, Downtown and the waterfront.

Golden Hill is one of San Diego’s most historic and architecturally eclectic zones, with many pre-1900 homes and apartments, once stately old mansions, quaint bungalows and apartment buildings- some with fine views of downtown.  Like many of San Diego’s urban neighborhoods, it is enjoying a slow rejuvenation.  It is in close proximity to Downtown, City College and much of Balboa Park. It is home to the Women’s History Museum and Educational Center, one of the only comprehensive women’s museums in the country. 

New York has Greenwich Village, San Francisco has the Castro, Vancouver has the West End and San Diego has Hillcrest- a diverse, lively, and colorful neighborhood with a concentration of gay and lesbian businesses, organizations and events.  Nestled north of the world-famous zoo and Balboa park, it’s known for its wide array of restaurants, stores, salons and spas, in addition to medical offices and hospitals. Those who live there enjoy a wide choice of older charming homes mixed with newer, upscale apartments and condos.

Though the origins of this community's name are in dispute, many street names in this community have English origins, as does the name Kensington itself.  Here you will find an upscale residential area with an impressive collection of Spanish Revival and Craftsman style homes- popular in the late 1920’s when much of Kensington was built.   This community has kept it’s “small town” feel with a charming main street that includes a library, park, restaurants, wine bars and coffee houses. Annual traditions include special events and parades.

With its grand historic homes and hilltop streets, this is one of San Diego’s most cherished communities. The area was developed in the early 20th century by premiere architects including Hebbard, Johnson, Weaver, Rigdon, Requa and Brown. Later development in the 1950’s and 1960’s included homes designed by modern masters such as Ruocco, Delawie, Wright and Richards. Most of the houses in the community have been carefully preserved and restored.  The famous horticulturist, Kate Sessions (instrumental in the development of Balboa Park), also helped influence development in Mission Hills and founded the local nursery which has been active since 1910.

Bookended on the west by University Heights and Kensington on the east, this community completes the Adams Avenue “trifecta”.  It was named because of its proximity to the former State Normal School, now the San Diego Unified School District administrative offices on Normal Street.  Diverse apartment dwellings, quaint single-family homes and a thriving business district are contributing to Normal Height’s growing popularity.

Sitting on the north edge of Balboa Park (hence the name), it is one of San Diego’s most sprawling urban neighborhoods. In 1893 a merchant sold 40 acres of land to a businessman who wished to develop a lemon grove and then in 1911 the plot was developed into one of San Diego’s first residential and commercial districts. Within its boundaries you will find a mixture of turn of the century homes eclectic in style, dense apartments, sporting facilities, a park and the bustling retail streets of University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard- popular shopping destinations pre-freeway. It is also home to the Historic District of Burlingame with its famous red sidewalks and beautifully restored homes. In recent years, North Park has found great popularity as an arts and dining district and in 2012 made it to the Forbes list of America’s Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods.

At the southeast corner of Balboa Park, just up the hill from downtown, situated between Golden Hill and North Park, lies a charming and historic San Diego neighborhood that shares the 92102 zip code with Golden Hill and the 92104 zip code with North Park.  South Park stands out for its tree lined streets, compact blocks, and a thriving, walkable business district. Predominantly a single-family residence area with some small apartment buildings and bungalow courts, it is noteworthy for its fine collection of and Spanish Colonial Revival homes. The Old House Fair and South Park Walkabout are popular annual community events.

Known for its famous gates and the Talmadge Sisters, this quaint mid-city neighborhood is just across the canyon from Kensington.  In 1927, silent film stars Norma, Constance, and Natalie Talmadge (who was married to Buster Keaton) opened the Talmadge Park real estate development, which contains streets named for each of them.  The architecture is eclectic, with homes designed by several renowned Southern California architects of the day. Residents enjoy a strong sense of community and neighborhood celebrations.

This area is located between Hillcrest and North Park and runs along the rim of Mission Valley.  Gone are the trolleys, ostrich farms and the original State Normal School (which later become San Diego State University) but still here are wide sidewalks, interesting homes (some with breathtaking views) and a lively business, theatre and arts district along Park Boulevard. Trolley Barn Park on Adams Avenue, just east of Park Boulevard, popular with the young and old, hosts free concerts during the summer.  This park, was the site of the “trolley barn” where trolley cars went for repairs and down time until the system was replaced by buses in the 1950’s. 

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