Nestled between Downtown San Diego and the San Diego Bay Embarcadero, Little Italy has become a beloved area for tourists and locals. But Little Italy is more than just a beautiful destination: it also “home” for the CISL students who choose to live in the Vantaggio residence hall.
Little Italy first gained its name in the early 1900s when a devastating earthquake left many in San Francisco homeless. As a result, many Italian fisherman families relocated to San Diego. The area’s proximity to the water made it a perfect area for these fishermen families to live. For over 70 years, San Diego’s tuna industry thrived and the area remained a hub of the city’s Italian culture.
In the 1970s, the fishing industry began to decline. At the same time, the highly-traveled Interstate 5 was built through the neighborhood, separating about 30% of the area by the large highway. For decades, Little Italy remained, but its sense of neighborhood unity seemed to be lost. Since the Little Italy Association was formed in 1996, the neighborhood has experienced growth of residences, businesses, and restaurants. The organization also founded many of the area’s now-famous celebrations and events.
Today’s Little Italy is known as one of the cleanest, safest, and most charming areas of San Diego. Italian families still remain, and it is not uncommon to hear Italian being spoken as you walk along the restaurant, cafe, and boutique-lined streets.
Little Italy is home to dozens of Italian restaurants, each with a unique theme or atmosphere. Whether you are looking for a formal dining experience or just a slice of pizza, you will have no problem satisfying your craving in this neighborhood! Enjoy a pizza margherita from a wood-fired oven at Isola, Milanese style cuisine and house-made vermouth cocktails at the area’s newest restaurant, Monello, or head to Porto Vista Hotel’s bar, The Glass Door, for a stunning view of the neighborhood during cocktail hour. Several restaurants offer “Wine Wednesday” deals or great happy hour prices, and many have music during weekend evenings.
Little Italy is also home to many boutiques selling Italian specialty items, foods, jewelry, and home decor. It is a great place to find gifts for friends and family or pick up some delicious meats, cheeses, or handmade pastas.
Visitors to Little Italy enjoy strolling the streets and sitting at one of its many fountains, and many also enjoy playing soccer at Amici Park or people watching at the park’s amphitheater. Make sure to look closely as you walk around: painted murals depicting scenes of the first Italian families add splashes of color throughout the neighborhood. Art lovers will find many galleries, studios, and architectural and design offices in Little Italy North, which is quickly becoming its own unique neighborhood.
Little Italy hosts many events throughout the year. In October, the Little Italy Organization runs “Festa!”, an Italian-themed celebration with local artists, musicians, and restaurants. The highlight of the event is the sidewalk chalk art contest: local artists and schools create beautiful works of art on several streets using only chalk.
In February, the neighborhood hosts Carnevale, a Venetian-themed event celebrating Fat Tuesday. In April, the Little Italy Art Walk attracts hundreds of thousands of art lovers to the area’s streets. Visitors stroll through hundreds of tents, each one displaying the artwork of local artists and photographers.
Perhaps the most famous event in Little Italy is its weekly farmers market, called the Mercato. Every Saturday morning, rain or shine (in San Diego, it is more often “shine”!) local farmers come together to sell produce, honey, cheeses, meats, flowers, and homemade items. Shoppers walk the streets to the sound of music from local musicians, including the now-famous “Smiling Jack.”