San Diego, district by district

Vast, vibrant and varied, America’s Finest City can be a little overwhelming at first. But San Diego is handily divided into different districts, each with their own style and personality, and once you understand them getting around is pretty simple. Patricia Carswell brings you a guide to San Diego’s main neighbourhoods.


This is a good place to start when you’re getting to know the city. Presided over by the soaring twin towers of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel (useful as a navigation tool if you lose your bearings), it’s surprisingly pretty for a port. If you want a different take on the city, take a tour of the harbour on one of the many vessels on offer, from speedy RIBs to sedate cruises. Military geeks will love the naval warships docked there – especially the USS Midway, an aircraft-carrier-turned-museum. Once a year, during Fleet Week, you can even visit the naval base.


Downtown doesn’t mean the same in every city. In San Diego it takes in both the business district – all gleaming tower blocks and city slickers – and a buzzing street life in the red-brick Gaslamp Quarter, which is packed with bars, restaurants and art galleries. You can go on tours of the district, but it’s just as much fun to explore by yourself, and there’s a double bonus if you find yourself there when one of the holiday parades passes through.

Little Italy

Just a few blocks from Downtown, the atmosphere changes again. Little Italy, as the name suggests, is home to all things (and people) Italian, and is rapidly becoming a popular foodie destination. You can’t go more than a few paces without coming across another restaurant or bar, but what food-lovers get most excited about is the Little Italy Mercato. On Saturday mornings the area really comes to life with this colourful farmers’ market featuring stalls selling everything from fresh oysters to banks of tomatoes and buckets of flowers.


A short drive from the centre of the city is Coronado Island, where you can see how the other half lives. Separated from the rest of San Diego by the sweeping Coronado road bridge, it is an architectural delight. The grand houses on the waterfront, which date back to 1888, range from Spanish-style villas to mock Tudor manors. Coronado is best known for the “Del” – the Hotel del Coronado, featured in Some Like it Hot, which serves an eye-wateringly expensive but fabulously decadent Sunday brunch.

La Jolla

To the north of the city centre, coastal San Diego features a series of great beaches and villages, of which La Jolla is one of the prettiest. Pastel villas sit on the hillside overlooking an upmarket shopping area. The beaches are packed in the summer and most visitors take a sea kayak tour to see the La Jolla coves, passing sea lions and pelicans on the way. Overhead you’ll see paragliders floating from the cliffs above, and if you want to have a go yourself, book a tandem flight at Torrey Pines Gliderport.

Read Patricia's guide to the best foodie hotspots of San Diego here.