Named for the lanterns that used to light its picturesque Victorian Streets, the 16 blocks of San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter are now the heart of the city’s buzzing nightlife scene. Despite its relatively diminutive size the Gaslamp (as the locals call it) packs a powerful punch, with some fine 19th-century architecture, a smattering of museums, great dive bars and some of the best entertainment in town. Check out our 10 favorite things to do in Gaslamp Quarter San Diego below.
Take a Walk Down Historic 5th Avenue
The Gaslamp Quarter has bags of architectural charm, with attractive historic buildings to be found around nearly every corner. Take a stroll along 5th Avenue to spot some of the best. Built in 1888, the Louis Bank of Commerce at number 835 is an impressive Baroque Revival confection, distinguishable by its elaborate facade and protruding turrets. Also look out for the Yuma Building at number 631. This Art Deco vision in red brick has brightly painted bay windows and twin spires on top. Don’t forget to snap a selfie at the famous Gaslamp Quarter sign – you’ll find it on the corner of 5th and L Street.
Visit The Gaslamp Museum
Step back in time inside downtown San Diego’s oldest surviving structure. Built in Portland in 1850, this unassuming traditional timber-framed ‘saltbox’ house was later deconstructed and shipped to San Diego via Cape Horn and has been standing in the same spot ever since. Wander through the hushed Victorian rooms with their thick carpets and period furniture to learn about former inhabitants including Alonzo Horton, the ‘father of San Diego’, who lived here in the late 1860s and early 70s. The museum also boasts a gift shop for unusual souvenirs and – believe it or not – a resident spook.
Sample the Nightlife
If this lively downtown neighborhood is known for anything, it’s the fab nightlife. Try some of San Diego’s famously excellent craft beers in an atmospheric dive bar, or head to one of the many rooftop venues for great cocktails and live music. As well as a whole bunch of nightclubs, there’s top-flight entertainment to be found at the likes of the American Comedy Company’s open mic nights and the non-stop party that is The Shout! House’s Dueling Pianos show, where high-energy entertainment, raucous sing-alongs and dancing all night long are par for the course.
Take the Kids to The New Children’s Museum
Let the kids get creative at this excellent interactive museum on W Island Avenue. Inside, the labyrinth of colorful little rooms filled with fun activities and exhibits will blow their tiny minds and keep them entertained for hours. Installations are ever-changing, but you can expect the likes of immersive mini theaters for imaginative role play, colorful murals, brain-bending puzzles, even a giant crocheted hammock that kids can climb inside and explore. There are also studios and workshops where they can unleash their messiest artistic streaks with paint, clay and more.
See the San Diego Padres in Action
Just a block from the Gaslamp over in the East Village, Petco Park is home to the San Diego Padres. Grab a hot dog, a beer and – of course – a giant foam finger, and soak up the thrilling atmosphere at a Major League Baseball game. And, if baseball isn’t your thing, keep an eye out for concert listings: this enormous stadium has hosted shows by some of the world’s biggest names, including Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
See Some Fine Art
Just north of the Gaslamp on Kettner Avenue, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a smaller outpost of the museum’s main galleries in La Jolla. But don’t let that put you off! Works created post-1950, including sculpture, painting, photography and installations are collected here in the huge, light-filled gallery of the historic former Santa Fe Depot baggage building. Expect Pop Art, conceptual art, art from up-and-coming and emerging artists and permanent commissions by established artists including Richard Serra and Jenny Holzer.
Shop Til You Drop
The Gaslamp is a shoppers’ paradise, with boutique after independent boutique selling the latest fashions, vintage accessories, fine jewelry, unique works of art and more. The Gaslamp Artisan Market brings dozens of stalls selling fresh produce, street food and handcrafted artisan bits and bobs to the neighborhood every weekend. Grab yourself some brunch at one of the many cute eateries then while away an hour or two browsing for one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Go See a Show
Head for the historic Balboa, a former moviehouse and vaudeville theater with some 100 years of history. Inside, ornate decorative moldings and a tiled dome create a suitably evocative setting for touring Broadway productions such as Wicked, Cats and The Book of Mormon as well as concerts by rock royalty – previous performers to have graced the stage here include Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Tori Amos and Nick Cave.
Step Aboard an Aircraft Carrier
The USS Midway Museum at Navy Pier honors the United States' longest-serving 20th-century aircraft carrier, which saw service between 1945 and 1992 before finding its permanent home here in San Diego. Airplane enthusiasts will be in seventh heaven, with oodles of magnificent flying machines to admire, including a SDB Dauntless dive bomber from the Second World War and an F9F-P Cougar from the Korean War. Play captain up on the bridge, climb into a cockpit and hear great stories and anecdotes about the USS Midway from the fantastic volunteer crew.
Chill Out in Horton Plaza Park
Horton Plaza is hard to miss – that’s because it’s the only square in the tiny Gaslamp Quarter. Grab yourself an ice cream from the pavilion and watch the world go by from the amphitheater steps, or sprawled on one of the grassy lawns. The large, ornate fountain on the plaza dates back to 1910 and is surrounded by palm trees – it’s a relaxing spot to while away a few idle moments in the famous San Diego sunshine.
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