20+ Places to Eat and Things to Do in Downtown San Diego

With its proximity to the airport and its central location, downtown San Diego is an area you can’t miss for food, drinks, arts, events, and culture whether you’re visiting for the first time or you’re a native San Diegan. This guide provides an overview of each of the downtown neighborhood areas as well as where to stay, places to eat, and things to do!


Overview of Downtown San Diego Neighborhoods

There are seven downtown neighborhoods in San Diego, each one offering something unique: the Gaslamp District, Marina, Columbia, Cortez Hill, Core/Civic, East Village, and Little Italy.

The Gaslamp District is a historic quarter stretching over 16 blocks and a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. Come here to eat, drink, and enjoy the nightlife and various events that happen throughout the year such as Mardi Gras, ShamRock, Taste of Gaslamp, and Street Scene. There’s also a weekly farmer’s market on Sunday mornings. Horton Plaza and most of the Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District are situated here as well.

The Marina stretches between the San Diego Bay and Horton Plaza and is also bordered by the Gaslamp district and Columbia. There are tons of restaurants, cafes and boutiques in this area and some of the attractions include the Children’s Park, Children’s Museum, and a section of the Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District. The San Diego Convention Center, where the famous Comic-Con is held every year, is also in this area, just steps away from the Gaslamp district.

The waterfront neighborhood of Columbia is mostly a commercial area with lots of office buildings, businesses, and hotels. However, it’s also home to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and Santa Fe Depot, which is San Diego’s main train station. Many high-rise buildings offering panoramic views line Pacific Street, commonly known as “millionaire row”. 

Cortez Hill is named after the historic El Cortez Hotel. It’s one of the oldest residential San Diego Neighborhoods which brings in residents because of its’ charm with the original Victorian style homes. Sidewalk cafes line Fifth and Sixth avenues and you can get views of urban San Diego, Balboa Park, the Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.

The Core / Civic the center of downtown. It’s mainly a government and corporate area with Civic Center, City Hall, the Small Business Administration and the World Trade Center all in the area. Some notable hotels like the Westgate and US Grant hotel are in the area along with the Civic Theater.

East Village is the largest downtown San Diego neighborhood. Because it is home to Petco Park, it is also the most rapidly developing neighborhood. You can find many restaurants, shops, the arts district, and downtown’s most popular gym here. There’s also a good amount of nightlife, and if modern urban living is your thing, this is where you want to be.

Little Italy is one of San Diego’s most well-known cultural gems. Filled with delicious restaurants, chic cafes, bars, art galleries and specialty shops, its authentic charm gives a welcoming feel for both visitors and residents alike. Many festivals throughout the year are held in this area including Festa, ArtWalk, Taste of little Italy, St. Patrick’s day, and more.

Where to Stay in the Gaslamp District and Beyond

There are endless accommodation options to choose from in downtown San Diego. Here are a few well-known hotels in the area where you can have a luxurious and relaxing stay.

Solamar Hotel

Trendy and chic, this is the “most photogenic boutique hotel” in San Diego. It also has one of the best hotel pools in downtown.

Pendry Hotel

An elegant boutique hotel, this hotel combines casual California style with sophistication and modern luxury amenities.

US Grant Hotel

This hotel is a landmark in the Core / Civic San Diego neighborhood. An icon since 1910, it attracts guests because of its historic grandeur.

HI Hostel San Diego 

If you need a cheaper option for your stay, this hostel in the Gaslamp District is perfect for backpackers or budget travelers.

Places to Eat and Drink in Downtown San Diego


I’m obsessed with coffee culture, and some of my favorite spots are located right in downtown. So if you’re like me and want to start your day with a good caffeine buzz, check out these spots!

The Invigatorium (East Village)

It has a Jurassic Park-inspired vibe and in addition to good coffee, they have great breakfast tacos and breakfast cocktails too if that’s more your style!

Parakeet Cafe (Little Italy)

This super cute spot follows the trend of tropical-themed shops decorated in pink and green with parakeets added into their decor. You can grab coffee as well as some bites for breakfast or brunch here.

Holy Matcha (East Village)

If coffee isn’t your thing and you’re a matcha girly, you definitely need to grab a cup from Holy Matcha. In addition to their downtown San Diego location, they have another one in North Park.

Spill the Beans (Gaslamp District)

This one coffee shop you can’t miss if you’re looking for a good bagel to go with your cup of joe. Spill the Beans makes their bagels from scratch and it goes great with one of their house-made cream cheeses.


There is no shortage of restaurants in downtown San Diego from quick bites to eat to high-end dining. You can find it all, but here are a few options you can’t miss.

The Fish Market (Columbia)

Head to The Fish Market for bayfront views and fresh, sustainable seafood for lunch or dinner. It’s also close to the USS Midway so you can head there before or after grabbing your meal.

Kansas City Barbecue (Marina District)

This San Diego neighborhood hidden gem is a must for any Top Gun fans out there! It’s where the famous bar scenes take place and where you can find some delicious smoked barbecue.

Craft & Commerce (Little Italy)

A really cool spot with a hipster vibe, this is a place to grab some food, drinks, and dessert all in one spot. But what makes it even cooler is the speakeasy Tiki bar, False Idol, that is accessible by walking through the cooler.


Everything from dive bars to high-end cocktail bars can be found in San Diego. Here are a few suggestions for places if you want to grab a drink! 

You and Yours (East Village)

Have a cocktail, take a tour, or learn how to make recipes at “California’s First Destination Distillery.”

The Nolen (the Gaslamp District)

A popular rooftop bar and lounge for visitors and locals, you can enjoy your drink with incredible views of Coronado Bridge and Petco Park.

Coin-Op Game Room (the Gaslamp District)

This barcade is a great spot to grab a drink with friends while letting out your inner child playing arcade games all night!

10 Things to do in Downtown San Diego

Explore the Historic Gaslamp Quarter or Little Italy

For a nice stroll, some of the best restaurants and bars, arts, events, and culture you definitely have to spend some time in both of these San Diego neighborhoods.

Catch a Padres game at Petco Park

If you’re visiting during baseball season, catch a game while the Padres are in town while enjoying some ballpark snacks and a beer along with the good weather.

Attend Comic-Con in July

Are you a fan of comic books or movies? You can’t miss Comic-Con International which happens every year. Whether you get tickets to the actual conference or not, there are always a ton of events happening in the Gaslamp District and all over downtown during that time too, but be sure to plan ahead!

Indoor go-kart racing at K1 Speed (East Village)

This activity is perfect for any day you want a thrill, but especially if you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day in San Diego. It is suitable for juniors (48” or 121.9cm minimum height requirement) or adults (58” or 147.3cm minimum height requirement). 

USS Midway Museum

This incredible piece of history is a mainstay in San Diego’s harbor where you can explore one of the US Navy’s most famous ships.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)

For any art lover, the MCASD is the place to go with their collection of 4,700 works created after 1950 in a variety of media and genres.

New Children’s Museum (Marina District)

If you have little ones, you definitely need to bring them to the New Children’s Museum for the interactive art installations and hands-on art programming.

Children’s Park (Marina District)

Close to the New Children’s Museum, for a fun time outdoors with your kids, be sure to bring them to the Children’s Park.

Harbor cruise or boat tour (Columbia)

With the harbor being a main draw of San Diego, there is no shortage of harbor cruises and boat tours no matter what your preferences are.

Watch a show at Civic Theater or Balboa Theater (Civic Center San Diego)

Check the schedule to see which shows are currently going on at the home of San Diego’s performing arts. 

Visit Seaport Village (Marina District)

For waterfront dining and shopping, you can’t miss taking a stroll at the famous Seaport Village. It’s a great place to go especially if you have kids and want a day out with the family.

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