Urban and artsy North Park is the king of the San Diego’s craft alboarew scene. Just northeast of Balboa Park and right next door to Hillcrest, North Park is most notably known as a culturally diverse neighborhood with Craftsman cottages, diners and cafes, boutiques, book stores, coffee shops, and a number of microbreweries. It is home to the Ray Street Arts District, the North Park Theater, and the North Park Farmers Market. The heartbeat of North Park is 30th Street, where you’ll find the majority of this neighborhood’s foot traffic, businesses, and main events. Spend a day in this quirky little neighborhood, and get your daily dose of culture, art, and unique urban experiences.
North Park History
North Park has an interesting history; the thriving neighborhood was actually birthed from failure. In the summer of 1893, James Monroe Hartley bought forty acres of land northeast of Balboa Park. His plan was to develop a lemon grove. After painstakingly clearing the land to prepare it for the grove, it proved difficult to provide the trees with proper irrigation. Consequently, the operation required constant trips to Downtown, San Diego by way of a wagon trail, now known as Pershing Drive, in order to retrieve water for the grove.
As San Diego began to rapidly build up around him, Hartley started referring to his land as “Hartley’s North Park,” which was shortened to North Park. Hartley’s eldest son Jack eventually took the land in a new direction, because of the difficulty of maintaining the lemon grove. Jack, along with his brother-in-law William Stevens, created the first San Diego real estate firm in 1905 and began building one of the city’s first residential and commercial districts. Within 10 years they had created a thriving neighborhood that continues to evolve to this day.
North Park Highlights
The North Park community has become increasingly known for its prominent craft beer culture centered along the 30th Street Corridor. It began to garner serious attention in 2009 when Men’s Journal named San Diego the best beer city in the U.S. They gave a special nod to 30th Street when they wrote, “30th Street in North and South Park is easily the nation’s best beer boulevard.” Among the numerous bars along 30th Street that cater to beer aficionados and specialize in local brews are Toronado, Waypointe Public, Tiger! Tiger!, Ritual Tavern, and Hamilton’s Tavern. The 30th Street Corridor also hosts or participates in several annual craft beer events such as San Diego Beer Week and the North Park Festival of Arts. Craft beer lovers, make sure you check out this iconic corridor when in North Park; it’s a top craft beer destination according to Food & Wine Magazine.
The Ray Street Arts District is located in the heart of North Park between University Avenue and North Park Way, running parallel to 30th Street. A cultural epicenter of the rising North Park arts community, it has been compared to SoHo in New York City. This district is home to several galleries and studios, and is known as one of the most culturally rich districts in San Diego. The highlight event of the district is Ray at Night, the longest running and largest monthly art walk since it began in 2001. It includes over 30 local businesses and galleries and draws in more than 1,500 visitors each month. Be sure to attend this event on the second Saturday of every month where you’ll spend three amazing hours enjoying art, music, and performances while enjoying gourmet treats and sipping libations.
If you’re looking for a blast from the past, then make sure you visit the North Park Vaudeville & Candy Shoppe. It is San Diego’s smallest theater, but also its sweetest. You can watch plays, melodramas, acoustic music performances, Vaudeville-style variety shows, and improvised theater performances. Satisfy your theater-going sweet tooth while enjoying any one of these epic shows with over 60 kinds of old-fashioned candy, many of which you didn’t even know still existed. Get your hands on some salt water taffy, Mary Janes, Root Beer Barrels, Candy Sticks, or any of the other old school hard and soft candies. This is the perfect place to relive your childhood memories and enjoy a little historical culture. Share your experience with the next generation, and give them a taste of simpler and sweeter times.
North Park Things to See and Do
North Park is among the most diverse neighborhoods in San Diego with interesting cultural experiences and events. At the heart of this neighborhood, 30th Street serves as a connector between the nearby historic neighborhoods of University Heights and South Park. You’ll find great restaurants like local favorite, Urban Solace where they serve scrumptious New American food, signature cocktails, local craft beers, and boutique wines under the watchful eye of Ron Burgundy reminding you to “stay classy, San Diego.” Skip the usual tourist hotels of Mission Valley and get your Old Hollywood groove on at The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club, & Bungalows in North Park; you’ll be glad you did.
When visiting North Park and its adjacent neighborhoods, you’ll see first-hand the bustling vibe of this dense urban area; people out enjoying breakfast or lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes, funky street art around every corner, and unique restaurants, bars, and shops on every street. You can explore the quaint shops of North Park during the day, and then bar hop at night for the full neighborhood experience. Be sure to check out North Park’s online calendar during your visit to see what cool events are happening while you’re here.