The historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego is a bustling metropolitan hotspot with more than 200 restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and numerous retail shops, boutiques and art galleries to entertain tourists and locals alike. What was once a seedy red-light district in the late 1800s, has now been transformed into a hip, dynamic urban area.
HISTORY OF THE GASLAMP QUARTER
The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation
William Heath Davis House
410 Island Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
The Gaslamp Quarter, named for the green wrought-iron lamps aligning the streets of this trendy neighborhood, is located on 5th Avenue (main drag), from Broadway to Harbor Drive; neighboring Fourth and Sixth Avenues are also part of the historic district.
This area, known as the Stingagree, flourished in the 1880s and attracted prostitutes and gamblers, including Wyatt Earp. (Today, the Stingaree is a luxury restaurant and nightlife venue, with floor-to-ceiling waterfalls and translucent floating staircases leading to a rooftop bar).
The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation offers lively reenactments of the Gaslamp Quarter’s colorful history with a guided walking tour (Saturdays at 11am) and is located in the William Heath Davis House, the oldest wooden structure in downtown San Diego. It was also home to Alonzo Horton, San Diego’s founding father.
In the mid-1970s a movement began to revitalize the area and guidelines were put into place to preserve the historic buildings and architecture. By 1980, the Gaslamp Quarter became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Gaslamp is both a historic and modern destination offering endless shopping, dining and entertainment choices.
WATER FRONT WALK
USS Midway Museum
910 North Harbor Drive
San Diego, California 92101
One of the most impressive sites along the water front is the USS Midway Museum, where visitors can take a tour of America’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, exploring its rich 47-year history. Many of the docents leading the tours are actual veterans who served aboard the carrier. If you feel like more maritime history, visit the floating Maritime Museum of San Diego, which hosts one of the finest collections of historic ships in the world, including the infamous Star of India from 1863.
Afterwards, continue to stroll north along the water front and check-out the newly installed Urban Trees public art display, where 30 abstract tree sculptures are positioned along the North Embarcadero of San Diego Bay, from Broadway to Laurel Street. This colorful and intriguing display of creativity showcases the talent and visions of local San Diego artists, offering a diverse range of traditional and modern styles.
The Sé San Diego Hotel
1047 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
You should plan to spend at least one night in the Gaslamp District, so you can experience the lively nightlife scene and not worry about having to drive home. There’s no better place to rest your head than at the stylish Sé San Diego Hotel. As soon as you effortlessly push past the 900-pound bronze door and step into the zen-inspired lobby of The Sé, you know you’re in for a real treat. Every inch is modern luxury. Natural textures combine with Asian influences to create a sophisticated design throughout, from gorgeous Brazilian walnut flooring to bureaus upholstered in stingray pelts (don’t tell PETA).
Just north of Broadway, this chic hotel sits in a perfect location – just far enough away from the boisterous commotion of the main artery of the Gaslamp, yet close enough to be part of it, if you choose to. Further relaxation can be had at The Sé Spa, beginning with a welcome ritual of drinking Blooming Flower tea or a more potent variation with a shot of cucumber infused organic vodka mixed with Agave Nectar, pomegranate juice and a splash of lime juice. If you want more drinks and relaxation after your treatment, head upstairs to SIREN, the sleek rooftop pool, bar and lounge.
EAT AND DRINK
1023 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
Walk on over to the Yard House when hunger strikes (just around the corner on 4th Avenue), known for its extensive menu and self-proclaimed “world’s largest selection of draft beer.” Try the Belgian beer sampler with six types of tasty beers. This is a fun place to try a wide range of brews, including classic lagers and obscure ales and stouts, served in authentic goblets, pints and half-yard glasses. The Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza is excellent with firecracker sauce, mozzarella, macadamia nuts, carrots, green onion and cilantro. (Vegetarians can substitute the chicken with “gardein,” a veggie protein that is available on almost every dish.) Further indulge in the beer-battered onion ring tower, dusted with parmesan and served with chipotle and ranch dipping sauces, which makes a great accompaniment to any meal.
Altitude Sky Lounge
San Diego Marriott Gaslamp
660 K Street, 22nd Floor
San Diego, CA 92101
Life doesn’t get much better than this – perched 22 stories above the city in a stylish, open-air bar, sitting around a cozy fire pit with a signature drink in hand, taking in the amazing view of the San Diego skyline and PETCO Park at Altitude Sky Lounge. This is a perfect place to watch a Padres game; you can see the entire infield and feel as though you’re practically in the stadium (though much more comfortable).
Break out your latest moves on the lit-up dance floor as the DJ spins some tunes. Like most popular club venues, you should arrive early to avoid standing in line. Bonus: there’s no cover charge and Happy Hour is offered all day on Sunday. Must be 21+ to enter.
Before you stumble back to bed at The Sé, drop in to the House of Blues next door and see who’s playing. This iconic music venue has a multi-level music hall featuring national and local live entertainment.
Elixir Espresso Bar
427 C St # 101
San Diego, CA 92101-5113
In the morning, get your java fix at Elixir Espresso Bar, located between 4th and 5th avenues in the lobby of the historic Marston Building. The crepes are excellent – so get two, a breakfast crepe and a dessert one. Freshly baked pastries and gelato are also available.
Elixir is often rated as having the best coffee/espresso in San Diego; you won’t be disappointed.
Liz Laing is a writer, Web designer and photographer who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest projects may be followed on LizLaing.com.