A few miles removed from the beach, City Heights has yet to make its way to most visitors itineraries, but that is about to change. With vibrant art, colorful neighborhood culture and lots of under-the-radar restaurants, the diversity of City Heights means visitors from all walks of life will find something to love in this urban area of San Diego.
Discover the Art and Culture of City Heights
A Blossoming Arts District
The Azalea Park community in City Heights is quickly growing into a destination for arts lovers.
At the Azalea Community Park, local artists have created a unique oasis with the Water Conservation Garden, collection of succulent plants and creative sculpture.
Keep on the lookout for many colorful murals around the neighborhood.
Head to Poplar Street to check out the studio of Vicki Leon, a local glass artist, sculptor and jewelry maker.
A bull made out of car parts? It’s just one of the unique artworks you’ll find at the Water Conservation Garden
Ethnic Eats at their Best
The vast diversity of City Height’s residents means that local restaurants offer authentic cuisines from a variety of cultures.
Little Saigon is home to many Vietnamese restaurants, so finding a top spot for pho is a snap. Try Pho King, a local favorite for Vietnamese soups.
Super Cocina is a beloved San Diego institution for authentic, homestyle Mexican cuisine.
San Diego’s uptown neighborhood of Hillcrest, home of San Diego’s LGBT community, celebrates diversity year-round with a vibrant rainbow mix of accommodations, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, chic boutiques, vintage clothing stores, kitschy novelty shops and so much more.
With San Diego Pride coming up next month (July 12-14), now is the perfect time to spotlight a few of my favorite places worth checking out:
Where to Stay
The historic Inn at the Park, located right across the street from Balboa Park, is home to the best happy hour in Hillcrest: Top of the Park, a Friday night tradition where hundreds gather on the rooftop to soak up the sunset and kick-off the weekend over cocktails.
Urban Mo’s is fun and boisterous with strong margaritas and booming dance music on a packed outdoor patio and indoor dance floor. Hillcrest Brewing Company, claiming to be the World’s First “Out and Proud LGBT Brewery”(wow!), has 9 tasty in-house craft brews on tap to quench your thirst. If crafty cocktails are more your thing, Martinis Above Fourth is a swanky go-to spot.
If you’ve got to get your groove on, Rich’s with its two dance floors and sexy go-go boys can’t be beat!
Filter Coffee House is the place to see and be seen while sipping espresso and “studying” the crowd for cuties, day or night.
Dinner & a Show
D Bar restaurant is my new fav with its sleek moderne design and delish dishes like Southern fried Belgian – a sweet waffle with fried chicken (yep!). Their macarons are also off the charts! Afterward, head to Diversionary Theatre for cutting edge theater at its finest.
Brunch ‘n Lunch
Colorful Café on Park with its deliciously imaginative breakfast dishes like egg scrambles, Captain Crunch pancakes (yep!) and crab cake benny, is sure to satisfy!
Shop till you drop
Shop-portuunities galore in Hillcrest
Stroll along Fifth Ave. and University Ave. for funky, one-of-a-kind finds. Park Blvd. is great for retro, mid-Century modern treasures.
Each winter, visitors – especially “snowbirds” – flock to San Diego’s East County to explore our desert oasis of Borrego Springs and charming mountain towns like Ramona and Julian, famous for its gold mines and apple pies.
February brings a few fun East County events and activities that are sure to make for a memorable backcountry visit.
Following are 3 that really piqued my interest:
1. Borrego Springs ARTWALK
Beautiful new Borrego Art Institute.
Borrego Springs ARTWALK paints an eye-catching kaleidoscope of color over our desert landscape on February 1, 2013, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. Start your stroll at the beautiful *NEW* Borrego Art Institute, featuring their BIG. BOLD. BEAUTIFUL. exhibition of paintings, sculpture and other artworks. Then head up the street to check out other fantastic exhibits at Matson Gallery, Liesel Paris Arts Studio, Tumbleweed Gallery, The Galleria at The Palms at Indian Head and House of Borrego Springs.
2. Valentine’s Day in Julian
Loving the Orchard Hill Country Inn!
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Treat your sweetie to a gourmet, candlelit four-course dinner in the dining room of the Craftsman-style Orchard Hill Country Inn in Julian. As you swoon over the mountaintop views of the town below, your loved one also receives a box of chocolate truffles and a rose. Cost is $45 per person (and worth every dime! 😉 ).
Harri Hawk – one of the raptors you might spot at HawkWatch!
Spread your wings and fly to the big annual (FREE) HawkWatch at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona, happening each Saturday, February 2, 9, 16 and 23 from 9:00 to 11:00 AM. Bring your binoculars and cameras to spot magnificent wintering and resident raptors, including Golden Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Prairie Falcons and Red-shouldered Hawks, to name a few. While you’re there, say hello to the herd of bison that call this “raptor hotspot” home!
Music, food, drinks, rides and more! Find some Holiday Cheer at Balboa Park’s December Nights
Balboa Park’s December Nights – the city’s annual holiday gift to the community – promises to be bigger and better than ever this year. The 35th annual two-day celebration is the city’s largest free festival, expected to draw at least 300,000 this year.
December Nights is as close as San Diego gets to becoming a winter wonderland. Balboa Park is decked in twinkling lights and silvery garlands. Fanciful Christmas trees abound and the aromas of multi-cultural holiday treats waft through the air.
Free Entry into the Museums
For the occasion, park museums open their doors to the public, free of charge, from 5:00 until 9:00 PM both evenings. Many present special holiday programs. Kids will be awed by the elaborate gingerbread constructions at the Mingei International Museum and can join in holiday-inspired craft projects at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. All ages will be enthralled by the amazing bell ringers who perform at the San Diego History Center.
Things to Do During December Nights
Enjoy a traditional Santa Lucia Procession in the California Quadrangle in front of the Museum of Man
Festivities are family friendly, multi-cultural and staged throughout the park. The San Diego Civic Youth Ballet will perform excerpts from “The Nutcracker” on the Casa del Prado Stage. Steps away, on the California Quadrangle near the San Diego Museum of Man, revelers can see the Santa Lucia Procession and children’s choir performances. Dozens of singers, dancer and musicians will take to the stage at the Organ Pavilion.
Youngsters will have the opportunity to visit with roving Santas and can pose for a photo in The Old Globe courtyard with Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! At the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, they can see puppets come to life in an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and they can join with San Diego Junior Theatre students singing holiday songs. A series of children’s holiday movies will run nonstop both evenings in the theater at the San Diego Hall of Champions. There also are plenty of carnival rides to keep the younger set entertained.
December Nights are prime time for holiday shopping. Find great gifts at museum stores, from Spanish Village Art Center artisans and at a wide range of arts and crafts booths.
December Nights Food Options
Sample delicious delicacies from around the world including traditional dishes from the House of China.
Hungry? December Nights is known for its mouth-watering range of food and drink offerings. The International Cottages of the House of Pacific Relations offer traditional holiday foods from a smorgasbord of nations: Think empanadas, eggrolls, aebleskiver, samosas, fried plantains, pierogi, bourekas, baklava, paella, even mashed potato stew. Many museums offer tasty treats: Find roasted chestnuts at the San Diego Art Institute, yakisoba at the Japanese Friendship Garden, hot toddies at the Hall of Champions. In addition, numerous food vendors sell an array of yummy holiday delights – from melted Swiss raclette to fresh-baked gingerbread cookies. The 21+ set can sip a locally crafted brew at one of several beer gardens.
Getting to December Nights
With so many attending December Nights, parking can be tougher than fitting down a chimney. Shuttles are provided from PETCO Park (where parking will cost $5), the County Administration Building and several City College Parking lots offering free parking. Carpooling with all your friends is a must!
Since parking can be a little rough, consider saving yourself the hassle and taking public transportation. Ride the Orange or Blue Trolleys to the City College stop on 11th Avenue and then either hop on the Number 7 bus or enjoy a brisk walk up park. From Hillcrest, Uptown, Mid-City, Normal Heights, City Heights, and North Park communities take any bus to University Avenue and Park Blvd and transfer to a special Route 7 shuttle heading to Park Blvd.
Want to relax without worrying about which stop to get off at or if you can get to the parking spot before it’s gone? Consider taking a taxi or using the posh Uber private driver service.
If you are close enough, try getting some fresh air and cycling into Balboa Park. There are plenty of bike racks throughout the park. The biggest bike racks can be found by the entrance of the San Diego Zoo. Please remember to be safe and to wear a helmet and reflective vest, and to use front and rear blinking lights.
Balboa Park’s December Nights General Information
Location: Balboa Park Dates: December 7-8, 2012 Times:
– Friday, December 7: 5:00 to 10:00 PM
– Saturday, December 8: 12:00 to 10:00 PM Cost: Free Website:www.balboapark.org/decembernights
And be sure to bundle up. While San Diego may better known for sandmen than snowmen, it can get downright chilly here on December nights!
The country’s largest urban cultural park, Balboa Park, has been one of my favorite San Diego spots since childhood. I can remember taking class field trips to the many museums, my 8-year-old self awestruck by their enormous grandeur. As an adult, I still love visiting Balboa Park. No matter how many times I wander the park’s vast Spanish Colonial walkways, I always find something new and exciting to explore that awakens my inner 8-year-old spirit.
To celebrate Arts Month San Diego, take your inner child to explore the arts offerings of the nation’s largest cultural park. With 15 major museums and spectacular performing arts venues, art lovers of all walks are sure to find something to marvel at. Here are just a few of the inspired offerings you’ll find this September in Balboa Park:
Legendary designer Zandra Rhodes serves as the honorary chair for this annual exhibition and special event gala at the Timken Museum of Art. Fashion enthusiasts will be bowled over by the extraordinary fashions inspired by 15 artworks from the museum’s collection. Proceeds from tickets to the grand celebration on Saturday, Sept. 24 benefit the Timken’s art education programs, and Art of Fashion programming will continue at the Timken through October.
Outrageous fashions take center stage at both the Timken Museum of Art and The Old Globe
Fashion certainly plays an important role in this ground-breaking show that launched a cult phenomenon. The Old Globe’s stage production features all the outrageous music and characters created by Richard O’Brien, who wrote the original book, music, and lyrics for The Rocky Horror Show. Do the time warp back to Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter’s castle as it was meant to be seen – live onstage. The show runs through Nov. 6.
See the Spanish masters at the San Diego Museum of Art
On view through Nov. 6, this momentous exhibition spanning five centuries showcases 64 masterful pieces from Spain’s most celebrated artists, including Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí. In addition to the big names, visitors will discover works by artists little-known in the U.S., such as the Romantic Manuel Barrón y Carrillo, or the Modernist Romero de Torres.
Innovative photography captivates at the Museum of Photographic Arts
From the Spanish masters to masters of photography, Balboa Park’s art museums are some of the best in the country. Be sure not to miss Imagine That! at the Museum of Photographic Arts, now through Oct. 9. Expect to see the unexpected in this exhibition that highlights unique perspectives, unknown realms and phenomena inaccessible to the naked eye and immediate senses.
Enjoy a free concernt at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion
Donated to the City of San Diego by John D. and Adolph Spreckels in 1914, the Spreckels Organ is one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, containing 4,530 pipes that range in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet. Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts.
Want to experience all the Balboa Park has to offer for free? Leave a comment on this blog post to be entered to win two Passport to Balboa Park certificates. Each Passport includes a one-time admission coupon to each of 14 museums, and the coupon booklet is valid for seven consecutive days. A winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, Sept. 28, so be sure to post before 10:00 am on Wednesday!
September is Arts Month here in San Diego, and we’re celebrating with everything from art walks to film festivals. But regardless of what month you visit, San Diego is a top destination for lovers of all forms of art.
Some of the city’s most intriguing artworks take a little bit of sleuthing to discover. Fortunately, you’ve got your own personal guide right here! Join me for a video tour as I search out some of San Diego’s hidden artistic treasures.
Little Italy, located on the northern edge of the San Diego bay, is a vibrant neighborhood steeped in history and tradition. The area is well-known for authentic Italian restaurants and shops that stock Italian imports, but also boasts a nascent art and design district centered around galleries, design showrooms, and marquee arts and culture events.
With galleries, antique shops, and home accessory stores Little Italy North (North of Grape Street) has been dubbed San Diego’s newest Art & Design District.
The Art and Design District of San Diego’s Little Italy was modeled after New York City’s trendy SoHo and Chelsea districts
Two popular galleries are Meyer Fine Art and The Andrews Gallery. Meyer Fine Art specializes in limited-edition prints and works on paper, ranging from pieces by Miró and Chagall to vintage Italian posters. The Andrews Gallery is an artist space that combines the roles of art gallery, creative studio and performance venue in one interactive environment. The Gallery focuses on solo-exhibitions of emerging and mid-career artists, as well as hosts musical performances, poetry readings, and other creative happenings.
Insider Tip: Many of the art galleries in Little Italy have limited business hours, but will open by appointment only. Kettner Nights is a great time to explore the area and get a lay of the land.
Little Italy hosts Kettner Nights and Festa, two signature arts events that offer fun for the whole family.
Kettner Nights (Sept. 9): Discover the art, design and antiques on display and for sale in Little Italy during Kettner Nights, an art walk held the second Friday of every other month from 6pm to 9pm.
Authentic chalk art at Little Italy Festa
17th Annual Little Italy Festa (Oct. 9): Celebrate the romance of Italian culture with authentic music, fine foods and specialty crafts. Don’t miss the Gesso Italiano chalk art painting exhibition created by more than 150 artists in two days.
During the whole month of September, visitors and locals alike can enjoy the vibrant local arts communities and help celebrate “Arts Month San Diego” with a variety of exhibitions and events taking place across the county.
ART SAN DIEGO Contemporary Art Fair, Sept. 1 – 4
Held at new the Hilton San Diego Bayfront in downtown San Diego, the event showcases works by more 500 artists and 60 local and international galleries. In addition to the gallery booths, special features include curated exhibitions, contemporary furniture design displays, solo-artist exhibits, video-based works, live performance art, art in public spaces and a lounge designed by noted architect Jennifer Luce.
Kettner Nights, Sept. 9
An evening of art, design and shopping, this progressive exhibition is free and open to the public and offers the opportunity to stroll through all of the Kettner Art & Design District’s innovative galleries and cutting edge home design shops located in downtown San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. Complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres are served.
ArtWalk on the Bay, Sept. 10 – 11
Held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront park, ArtWalk on the Bay pairs extraordinary art with an extraordinary setting. Visitors can meet and purchase art directly from the artists on display; the festival also includes live music and hands-on activities at a special “KidsWalk” area. Continue reading →
1. La Jolla Festival of the Arts: Held on the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla June 18-19, the event includes award-winning artists, gourmet cuisine, contemporary music and entertainment.
Taste of Gaslamp
2. Taste of Gaslamp: Sample dishes from over 25 venues Saturday and Sunday June 18-19th from 1:00 – 4:00 pm on the streets of the historic Gaslamp Quarter. Attendees will also receive a take home copy of the Taste of Gaslamp recipe book featuring recipes from participating Gaslamp Quarter restaurants.
Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Festival
3. Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Festival: The 4th annual event held at the Spanish Village in Balboa Park Friday, June 17 from 6:30 to 10:00 pm. Stroll around the park and sample some of San Diego’s finest cheese, chocolate and wine while listening to music under the stars.
4. Switchfoot Bro-Am: Local Grammy winners Switchfoot put on their annual surf contest/concert/street fair Saturday June 18. The surf contest runs from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm and the concert kicks off from noon to 5:00 pm.
5. Spreckles Organ Pavilion Sunday Concerts: Attend a free concert every Sunday afternoon and Monday evenings from June 20 through August at this stately outdoor venue. An array of musical groups will play at the pavilion located in Balboa Park. It’s a great time to pack a picnic and enjoy one of San Diego’s most unique venues.
My Saturday mission was simple: to view the once-in-a-lifetime Centennial of Naval Aviation (CONA) “Parade ofFlight.” Despite warnings of historic crowds along San Diego Bay and gridlock, I ventured one spot I thought, “Hey I’m a local, no one will think of going there.”
Um, I was wrong… by a long shot! Thousands of folks figured as I had that Cabrillo National Monument high atop Point Loma would provide one of the best vantage points in the city to view 200 aircraft on parade – from vintage planes to the magnificent Blue Angels – zooming above the bay, hugging the shoreline of Coronado and NAS North Island and then out to the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
Helicopter squadron flying in the Parade of Flight above NAS North Island, Coronado.
As far as the eye could see, cars and people with binoculars and cameras lined the road – from Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery to the entrance of Cabrillo which was closed and filled to capacity. Luckily, as I made a u-turn at the ranger station, I snagged one of the last remaining parking spots on the shoulder. Alas, front-row seats were mine!
Four F-5 Tiger II jets zoom into view during the Parade of Flight.
For the next hour and a half I peered proudly into the crystal-clear blue skies as 100 years of naval aviation history flew into my birds-eye view.
KC-130 tanker plane followed by two CH-53 helicopters.
These are a few of the best pics I took, including the mile-wide, V-shape formation finale of 35+ planes from the USS Stennis aircraft carrier that flew right over our heads (and into the history books!). In a word: WOW!
Parade of Flight finale - massive V-formation of planes flying over Point Loma.
The Navy posted an awesome video highlighting the day’s festivities on Coronado, where an estimated 70,000 visitors packed NAS North Island! Equally impressive was the San Diego Union-Tribune’s report on the parade’s “masterful” aerial choreography.
Though the Parade of Flight is history, you can still earn your wings! CONA festivities continue with the impressive “Wings of Gold” exhibit at the Coronado Museum of History & Art, plus “Project Home Front” spotlighting naval aviators’ homes on the island.