California: 5 Highlights in Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego, or ‘Centre City’, is the central part (CBD) of the city of San Diego. The downtown area was founded in 1850 and still serves as the cultural and financial centre. San Diego itself  is the 8th largest city in the United States and its downtown area has a population of around 28,000.

Last October, my parents and I were on a sunny vacation in California. Of course, we couldn’t miss out on visiting the San Diego area. After landing at LAX and spending a few days in L.A., we got in our rental car and headed to San Diego County to stay in Escondido for a few days. One morning, we got up early, drove towards central San Diego, parked our car, and hopped on the trolley to downtown San Diego.

Little Italy

Our first stop in downtown San Diego was the Little Italy district! San Diego’s Little Italy has a history of over a century old and was originally a fishing neighbourhood. After the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, many Italian fisherman and their families (6000 households) left the city to move to San Diego in search of big tuna. The neighbourhood they moved to became Little Italy. Nowadays, the fishing industry has almost entirely disappeared from the district. A gentrified and significantly smaller Little Italy is now full of shops and restaurants and is known for having relatively low crime rates.

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is the city’s main scene for nightlife outings and entertainment of all kinds. The area was first developed in the 1860s with hopes of building a new town centre. At the end of the 19th century, the Gaslamp Quarter was already known for its many saloons, gambling halls, and brothels (bordellos). This reputation of entertainment for all continues in a modern form, nowadays even adding Segway tours to the district’s list of delightful excursions. The name of the district is a reference to the gas lamps that were commonly used in the San Diego area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Balboa Theatre

Located within the Gaslamp Quarter is the Balboa Theatre. The Balboa Theatre is a significant landmark in downtown San Diego and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theatre was first built in 1924 as a vaudeville and movie palace. A vaudeville was a type of entertainment that was mainly popular in the United States. Vaudevilles featured a mixture of burlesque comedy, songs, and dance performances. The theatre was re-opened in 2008 after extensive renovations as a venue for live performances and concerts.

Santa Fe Depot, San Diego.

Santa Fe Depot

The original Santa Fe railway station first opened in 1887, connecting San Diego to the transcontinental railroad. The Santa Fe station was later replaced by the Santa Fe Depot, which is still in use. The depot was opened in 1915 to accommodate visitors to the Panama-California Exposition at Balboa Park. The exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. The Santa Fe depot is a Spanish Colonial Revival style station and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is still an active transportation hub and one of the stops on the Amtrak railroad routes. One of the station’s wings also houses the downtown branch of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

That’s all I have to tell you about downtown San Diego for now. Although we only spent about half a day in the downtown area, it was nice to have seen a little bit of San Diego’s city centre. American cities are so different from European cities! You can really tell how many city centres in the States are primarily characterised by their financial districts, whereas European city centres often tend to be much more of a mix of services and residential areas. Those structural differences probably have a lot to do with the varying times and ways in which European and American cities emerged on each continent.

I’ll be back on Friday with 5 new facts. See you soon!


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