Location: Located in downtown San Diego. A 48 square block area bordered by Laurel, Ash and Front Streets and the Pacific Highway.
San Diego’s Little Italy Highlights
Little Italy in San Diego, CA, is an honest-to-goodness neighborhood with families and parks where kids play and dogs are walked. You’ll hear people speaking Italian, see churches and small mom-and-pop shops, and enjoy the delicious smells of Italian cooking that permeate this small 48 square block area bordered by Laurel, Ash and Front Streets and the Pacific Highway.
Easily explored on foot, and just minutes from the GasLamp Quarter, Balboa Park, San Diego Bay and the Marina, Little Italy has a rich history and vibrant culture. The area got its start in the 19th century as home to Italian and Portuguese fisherman and boat builders, which grew to encompass a large tuna fishing fleet and canning industry.
The area has since been gentrified, and is now a scenic somewhat hilly neighborhood in downtown San Diego that is home to Italian restaurants and piazzas, pubs and patio cafes along with art galleries, hotels, furniture stores and antique shops.
Many of the older buildings have been renovated and are still in use, while new construction is designed to maintain the feel of the original architecture. Tourists are delighted to discover wall murals, many of which depict scenes of early Italian immigrants working as tuna fishermen, and always comment on the vibrant colors of the restored vintage cottages throughout the area.
Little Italy is especially enchanting at night when the streets are decorated with thousands of small lights outlining buildings and lighting up the streets. Music is everywhere and people drift along, enjoying wine bars and courtyard cappuccinos after deli snacks of prosciutto and mascarpone and between meals of hand-made pasta.
The main thoroughfare that runs through town is India Street, and this is where visitors can find several of the neighborhood’s authentic Italian restaurants, many of which prepare dishes using family recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Just a few of these eateries you’ll encounter include Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, originally a deli and grocery store opened some 60 years ago, where you’ll find more than 15 types of pizza pies. If it’s pasta you’re after, try Little Italy Spaghetteria, where you can choose from some 17 varieties. For a steaks and salad, give Po Pazzo (Italian for “a little crazy”) a whirl. And that’s just for openers!
Mercato Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday, the not-to-be-missed event is Little Italy’s Farmer’s Market. The free and family-friendly attraction features superb foods and produce, lots of great vendors, artists and live music that adds to the festive atmosphere. You can sample freshly-squeezed juices as well as Italian olives, almonds, fresh fish and raw oysters, cheese, fresh pasta, traditional homemade Italian sweets and other foods from vendors, many of whom sell organic goods. Everything you see is local — area farmers bring in all the vegetables and fruit while local bakeries provide the pastries and baked goods.
Events and Happenings
The Sicilian Festival held each May is the largest of its kind in the nation. The annual celebration of the heritage and culture that Sicilian immigrants brought to Little Italy is filled with colorful pageantry and (what else?) outstanding Sicilian cuisine. May is also the month that Taste of Little Italy takes place — the fall feast-fest is held in November. This chow-down gives participants the chance to sample food from more than 20 restaurants and enjoy entertainment offered throughout the neighborhood.
ArtWalk San Diego is the city’s largest urban arts festival held each April with more than 350 artists participating. Art is displayed in every form and in outdoor venues as well as inside studios, local businesses and art galleries. On average, the two-day festival sees 100,000 visitors who purchase some $1 million worth of artwork. The family-friendly festival includes art activities for the kids as well as live music and food vendors.
The same month sees a biking event called Gran Fondo (Big Ride) Colnago San Diego. People from around the world join in to bicycle through “America’s Finest City” with more than 3,000 riders. The ride ranges from a mere 32 mile jaunt to a more challenging 100 mile journey, and it all starts under the famous Little Italy landmark sign.
Little Italy Festa has grown from its first annual celebration in October 1994 to the largest Italian American festival on the West Coast. Some 120,000 attendees take part in the yearly street festival, with the tribute to San Diego’s rich cultural heritage featuring al fresco food served throughout the neighborhood together with specialty crafts, cooking demonstrations, live music, kids zones, games and activities.
Little Italy Carnevale is presented yearly on the Saturday before Mardi Gras in March. The event is a smaller version of the Carnevale in Venice, with Venetian masks and traditional regalia are encouraged to fully enjoy the entertainment and great Italian food.
The Christmas Village and Tree Lighting event takes place in December, of course. Another family-friendly celebration, Santa Claus makes an appearance on Fire Engine No. 3 to start the festivities.
Little Italy is a delightful and inviting San Diego treasure you’ll want to visit again and again.