The historic Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of Downtown entertainment and nightlife. A perfect blend of historic and modern influences, this is a neighborhood you won’t want to miss. Although it may account for a small fraction of Downtown, running from Broadway to Harbor Drive between 4th and 6th Streets, its attractions are among the most coveted in the area. The Gaslamp Quarter draws thousands of visitors every day with its eclectic offerings and dynamic events; it is the must-see neighborhood in Downtown San Diego.
William Heath Davis originally purchased 160 acres, including these 16 ½ blocks, in 1850 where he heavily invested in creating a new Downtown, but the area had little development. In 1867, Alonzo Horton purchased the land from Davis, along with an additional 640 acres, for a mere $265. He began serious development of what came to be known as the Gaslamp Quarter, named for the gas lamps that were original to the district. During the early 1900s it was known as the Stingaree where bordellos, saloons, and gambling halls made up most of the district.
The fifties and sixties saw the slow physical decline of the neighborhood, which eventually became known as a “Sailors Entertainment” district that focused on pornographic bookstores, pubs, and massage parlors. The public began to take an interest in protecting the historic buildings of the neighborhood in the seventies, and by 1982 the city initiated a major redevelopment project that got the district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The successful mission saved 94 historic buildings, the majority of which were constructed in the Victorian Era and are still actively used today for restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and more.
The Gaslamp Quarter is part urban entertainment hub and part culturally rich playground. The restaurants, pubs, and boutique shops make up one aspect of the neighborhood, and the theatres, symphony halls, art galleries, and museums make up the other. You may be dining al fresco or window shopping along the sidewalks of this lively metropolitan district during the day, but nighttime may find you twenty stories up at a swanky rooftop hot spot. The Gaslamp Quarter transforms from a casual daytime shopping mecca into a sophisticated after dark playground where many come, styled to the nines, to enjoy craft cocktails, fine dining, live music, dancing, and theatre.
The wide array of culinary options in the Gaslamp Quarter gives guests the option of choosing their favorites or be adventurous; Irish, Italian, Mexican, Persian, and New American are just a few of the diverse dining styles available. Dining, drinking, and live music are inseparable in the Gaslamp. Dine on contemporary American tapas and full dinners while listening to the smooth sound of live jazz at Croce’s Park West, owned and operated by the late Jim Croce’s wife. At Shout! House, where it’s never dull and boring, cheer on dueling pianists while drinking craft cocktails. Visit venues like Patrick’s Gaslamp Pub where authentic blues bands play every night; you’ll find every kind of live music in the Quarter including salsa, rock, Irish, and more. Try Osetra with its three-story wine tower where wine angels suspended by wires and harnesses retrieve your dinner wine selections.
One of the main draws to the Gaslamp Quarter is its rich history and culture, so make sure to sign up for a tour that allows you to visit some of the restored Victorian Era buildings. The William Heath Davis house should be on your itinerary; it’s the oldest wooden structure in the Gaslamp Quarter. Choose from a diverse menu of Gaslamp tours according to your interests like food, fashion, and even Segway tours. Enjoy the culture offered in the district by visiting one of the many art galleries. A favorite among adults and kids alike is the Chuck Jones Gallery, home of the legendary Loony Tunes animation director’s 60 years of work. The exhibits feature the artwork of a variety of cartoonists and animators, both past and present. Enjoy the sketches, sculptures, and prints featuring classic characters like Bugs Bunny, Wile E Coyote, Daffy Duck, and more. Feel free to go down the rabbit hole of history in the Gaslamp Quarter!
Other Things to Do and See
Why just visit the Gaslamp Quarter when you can get the full experience by staying in one of the many hotels in this historic district? There is a whole range of options, so finding a good fit for you will be easy. Check out the Keating Hotel, the first luxury boutique hotel in the Quarter. The five-story Romanesque Revival building features the sleek Italian signature Pininfarina designs. The Macallan Suite comes complete with a collection of Macallan Scotch Whiskey and a personal bartender! If your style leans more toward ultra-modern and trendy, book your stay at Andaz San Diego, on the border between the Gaslamp Quarter and East Village. You’ll have a luxurious room with couture furnishings, and a rooftop pool by day that transforms into one of the area’s hottest rooftop lounges on weekend nights.
The Gaslamp Quarter may be small in size, but it packs a big punch in the Downtown neighborhood. The number of things to see and do can be a little overwhelming, so focus on your own interests. Remember too that the Gaslamp Quarter is host to events year-round, so maybe plan your visit around a festival, event, or concert. Mardi Gras kicks off with the annual Fat Tuesday parade, a true one of kind experience. The Street Scene Music Festival has long been a staple in the district and brings in major headliner bands. Both the Fallback Festival and Holiday Pet Parade are perfect for the whole family. Check the neighborhood website to see what’s going on while you’re here!