Exploring San Diego's Historic Gaslamp Quarter

PHOTO: Downtown San Diego Gaslamp sign over moving traffic. (photo via Mindy_Nicole_Photography/iStock/Getty Images Plus) (Mindy_Nicole_Photography / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Scott Laird
by Scott Laird
Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Mon August 1, 2022

San Diego's Most Historic Neighborhood

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San Diego might be more famous for much newer attractions, but some of the most eclectic dining and entertainment options are in the city's Gaslamp Quarter, right in the middle of Downtown San Diego. The Quarter has maintained its historic character after an extensive late 20th Century refurbishment, with buildings dating back as early as the 1850s. Overall, it's one of the best-preserved neighborhoods featuring Victorian Era architecture in the U.S.

A number of lodging options, including the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter are located right at the doorstep of this very walkable neighborhood, making it a city destination unto itself for travelers.

Historic Buildings Abound

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William Heath Davis House is one of the oldest structures in the Gaslamp Quarter. Built in 1850, it is a "salt box" prefabricated home shipped around Cape Horn from the U.S. East Coast. Hawai'i-born businessman William Heath Davis was a property developer in San Diego (then called "New Town") in that era; today, the house is a museum.

Well Preserved Victorian Architecture

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The Yuma Building was completed in 1888 by the captain of the survey ship that dredged the San Diego River into what is today Mission Bay. The building, named in honor of some Arizona business connections, was once a hotel, and was one of the first buildings closed when the Gaslamp Quarter was refurbished from a seedy neighborhood into an entertainment district in the late 20th Century.

Entertainment Abounds

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In the midst of these historic buildings are independent boutiques, globally-branded chain stores, local restaurants, bars, comedy clubs, and a wealth of other entertainment options including theatres, nightclubs, and live entertainment venues. A full list of the neighborhood's entertainment venues can be found on the Gaslamp Quarter Association's website.

Top-Notch Dining

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The Quarter is wealthy in local restaurants. Dig into hot and cold tapas and a selection of paellas at Sevilla, or sample Frito Pie and other snack-size or large plates and inventive cocktails at The Smoking Gun, then step into the onsite retro arcade. For brunch and lunch fare, try Barleymash (the brisket eggs benedict is a favorite) or indulge in classic Italian favorites in a classic atmosphere at Operacaffe.

Gaslamp Artisan Market

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On Saturdays and Sundays, grab brunch in one of the restaurants in the Quarter, and then check out the Gaslamp Artisan Market. Focusing on crafts, nibbles, and handmade products from local businesses, the artisan market is over two blocks with of outdoor shopping. Portions of the street have been semi-permanently closed to make them more pedestrian-friendly, and many of the restaurants have continued the COVID-era outdoor dining expansions.

Horton Grand Hotel

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Completed in the 1880s, based on the design of a luxury hotel in Austria, the Horton Grand Hotel was dismantled brick by brick in the 1970s. Each brick was numbered, cataloged, and stored, and the hotel was rebuilt in the Gaslamp District in the late 1980s. The hotel is today open for visitors and maintains much of the original character in the public spaces.

Practical Information

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San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter is in the midst of Downtown San Diego, just a few miles from the cruise terminals and San Diego International Airport. Travelers planning to spend significant time in the Gaslamp Quarter may wish to book a local hotel and forego a car rental during their stay, as the Quarter is easily walkable and parking isn't widely available.

For more information, visit the Gaslamp Quarter Association at gaslamp.org.

San Diego's oldest neighborhood is home to shopping, dining, entertainment, and a throwback atmosphere to tempt any visitor.

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