Location: Located in downtown San Diego. Just 16½ blocks in all, from Broadway to Harbor Drive and from Fourth to Sixth Avenues. (map)
A national historic district, the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego is famed for its lively nightlife with an enormous variety of clubs and restaurants, as well as its stately Victorian architecture, art galleries and boutique shops. Set aside at least a few hours to take in the sights, then spend the evening enjoying the nightclubs.
Introduction to The Gaslamp Quarter
Just 16½ blocks in all, from Broadway to Harbor Drive and from Fourth to Sixth Avenues, San Deigo’s Gaslamp Quarter experienced its main period of development in 1867 and for the rest of the century was home to many bordellos, saloons and gambling halls. More than a century later, a 20-year period of urban renewal resulted in the area ultimately becoming the bustling tourist attraction it is today, with many of its residents occupying lofts above ground-floor businesses located in Victorian-era buildings.
Formally listed in the National Register of Historic Places as “Gaslamp Quarter Historic District,” the name refers to the gas lamps that were used to light the way 150 years in San Diego. In a nod to that bygone era, gaslamps still line its streets, illuminating both the modern skyscrapers and original nineteenth-century buildings that stand side by side.
Gaslamp Quarter Tours
One of the main attractions of the Gaslamp Quarter is its walking tours. It makes sense, as the area is home to buildings of great architectural charm, with many of its original brothels and saloons now transformed into shops, clubs and restaurants. Some of the 94 historic buildings you see in The Quarter have been moved in from other parts of the city, and all have been fully restored.
Because the area has a bit of a checkered past, with its concentration of gambling halls, opium dens and other questionable forms of entertainment (including its time when it was known as the “Sailor’s Entertainment” district between the 1950s and the 1970s when massage parlors and pornographic theaters proliferated), tours are offered both as adult and as family-friendly. You can indulge your love of all things spooky too with a Ghostly Tour, taking in graveyards and finding out which of those opulent Victorian abodes are reportedly haunted.
One feature you’ll likely use a few times in your travels is the pedestrian scramble at the intersection of 5th Avenue and Market Street. The diagonal crossing allows pedestrians to cross the street, once the light has changed, in every direction — including diagonally.
Shopping, Entertainment and Dining in The Gaslamp Quarter
Storefront shops are another major attraction in the Quarter. Ranging from chic clothing boutiques to shops that hawk t-shirts and souvenirs, you can spend hours window-shopping and browsing along the streets. For another shopping experience, visit the multiple levels of Horton Plaza, an outdoor mall adjacent to the Quarter.
After sightseeing, it’s time to visit some of the more than 70 restaurants, pubs and clubs in the area. Hail a pedicab and relax at a sidewalk patio or while away the hours at rooftop lounge — the options are nearly endless. Rooftop bars offer more than drinks with views of San Diego Bay, the Coronado Bridge and downtown simply spectacular.
Depending on the date of your visit to The Quarter, you might get to experience some of its festivals and events, which include Taste of Gaslamp (when you get to sample food from dozens of participating restaurants), ShamROCK St. Patricks Day Festival, and of course, Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp.
Just a block away from The Quarter, in the East Village, you can take in a ball game at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. Whether you watch from a lounge in the Western Metal Building or the Park ball field, it’s an experience no visitor who’s a baseball fan should miss.
More family-friendly fun is to be had at the nearby New Children’s Museum on West Island Avenue with its three floors of interactive art installations, including giant mazes, climbing wall and slides.
There’s also the Gaslamp Quarter’s oldest surviving wooden structure, a 150-year old saltbox style home, that requires a visit. Called the William Heath Davis House, it houses the Gaslamp Museum where the history of the home and its inhabitants (including Alonzo Horton, the founder of San Diego), are set out room by room.
With its exuberant celebration of the past and present evident in its walking tours, architecture and multitude of attractions and events, The Gaslamp Quarter is without doubt a must-see tourist destination in San Diego.