With its oceanfront location and beautiful harbour you might expect downtown San Diego to have a waterfront to match. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case—until now. The esplanade that stretches along the bay from the San Diego Convention Center to the airport has traditionally been a touristy area with mediocre seafood restaurants and tacky shopping, but major revitalization efforts including new parks, shopping and dining are bringing locals back to the San Diego waterfront and giving the city the “front porch” it deserves.
Probably the biggest boon to the area is the recently opened Headquarters at Seaport District. The new shopping centre is located in the city’s former police headquarters, a Mission-style building with a large open courtyard that sat vacant for over two decades. It now houses a mix of local and national retailers like Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza and Venissimo Cheese, a San Diego owned gourmet fromagerie. The building is a historic landmark and businesses had to go to great lengths to preserve original features like spiral staircases and the red tile roof.
The space that houses upscale Mexican restaurant Puesto is a former cell block and file library that has lofty ceilings, chipped paint walls and gourmet tacos. A walk back to the shopping centre’s toilets gives a glimpse into the structure’s past. Four prison cells have been preserved and you’ll also see mugshots of former inmates. The Headquarters also hosts a farmers' market every Sunday.
Across the street, Ruocco Park is a green space dedicated to Lloyd Ruocco, an acclaimed local architect, and his interior decorator wife Ilsa. They dreamed of a park downtown with outstanding urban design and established a trust before their deaths in the early 80’s – It only took 35 years for the park to be built. The park has deciduous trees and expansive views of the harbour. When you stroll through you’ll notice that there are no play structures or basketball courts, that’s because this is a park for quiet reflection. Even the park’s lights and benches are streamlined and modern and the sculpture at the entrance to the park is made of interlocking eucalyptus tree limbs and was designed and built by artist Roman de Salvo.
Less then a mile north, the brand new San Diego Waterfront Park was created with families in mind. The 12-acre park was built on two former parking lots adjacent to the art deco County Administration Center and has a playground, gardens and a large grassy area perfect for picnicking. The park’s most unique fixture is an 830-foot long reflecting pool with jets that squirt water out from the sides. It’s become an extremely popular place for kids to splash around and play.
A number of projects are still in the works along the San Diego waterfront. The first phase of a plan to improve the North Embarcadero and create a 1.2-mile linear park is nearly complete. Phase One includes a new promenade for biking and walking, groves of jacaranda trees and medjool date palms and a pavilion made of coloured glass, (designed by artist Pae White), that will include a café and an information centre. White even designed the new public toilets, which double as a work of art. The structure’s concrete walls are patterned with words from the 1970’s novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.
Developers also just broke ground on two new Marriott Hotels on the corner of Broadway and Harbor Drive. The hotels will feature modern design, a rooftop restaurant, retail space and more green space. The project should be finished in 2016, but don’t wait until then to experience all that downtown and the picturesque San Diego waterfront have to offer.
Header image: San Diego’s brand new Waterfront Park is helping breathe new life into downtown © County of San Diego.
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Written by Casey Chiotti
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About the author: CaseyCasey Chiotti
Casey Chiotti has a passion for food and travel. She regularly crosses the globe to experience a destination restaurant and sniffs out bakeries like a bloodhound. A freelance food and travel writer, her work has appeared in Sunset, San Diego Magazine, and on thepointsguy.com. Casey lives with her husband in San Diego and shares her travel musings on her own website Travelproper.com.