I’m obviously a little biased, as both a San Diegan, and being half Italian. But San Diego’s Little Italy is one of my most favorite places EVER. Good food, good people, and a plethora of things to do? Yeah, we are all about that life! It’s so good, I had to make sure you had a travel guide! So, I give you, my guide to exploring San Diego’s Little Italy!
At one time, over 6,000 Italian families lived in this district of San Diego, building up through the tuna and sardine/canning industries. While most “Little Italy” areas have disappeared across the nation, San Diego’s has been one of the most stable and thriving economically since the 1920’s, despite the area occupying less of the area than it used to. The area suffered a decline of over 30 years when the 5 Freeway demolished 35% of the neighborhood, and the tuna industry slowly left the West Coast.
In the early 1990’s, the Little Italy Association was founded, and local business owners decided to take the neighborhood health into their own hands. Since then, it has become a go-to for San Diegans and tourists alike for culinary adventures, arts, and culture! It’s the next best thing to actually being in Italy.
From phenomenal food to the museums, and the Italian Cultural Center-Offering events and Italian language classes all year long-it’s hard not to love our little slice of Italian culture by the harbor. It boasts one of the county’s largest farmers markets on Saturdays (so popular, they recently began doing a smaller version on Wednesdays, too), and you can even take a “tour” of the market with a guide and make a fresh meal at a cooking class right after! You can read more about my Mercato Cooking Class adventure with Cucina Migrante here!
Since I took a tour with Little Italy Food Tours back in 2014, Little Italy has become even more special to me. I learned about the Italian Cultural Center (ICC) and became a lifetime member. I began taking Italian language classes to brush up on my skills before my first (and second, and third) trips to Italy. As a member, I also have access to events like gelato classes, film festivals, and so much more! Every Tuesday evening before my classes, I would enjoy some of the wonderful restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and little parks!
Here are just a few of my favorite things in Little Italy (you’ve probably seen them all over my IG stories):
Bolt Brewery– A craft brewery, and now eatery too, Bolt offers up a core selection of beers, as well as a vast offering of seasonal flavors. Now, they’ve got sandwiches, salads, burgers, appetizers, and wines too! Something for everyone!
Waterfront Bar and Grill-Known as San Diego’s oldest tavern, Waterfront is a popular spot for locals and tourists, alike! Open 6 am to 2 am daily, it’s always there if you need a drink-and they always have fun crowds there for good people-watching,too!
Ballast Point Brewery– This brewery checks off all of the boxes! Kid-friendly, wine on the menu, patio seating, food, beer tours, and even delivery? Yeah…you can’t go wrong heading to Ballast Points Little Italy location!
Pali Wine Company– With a unique offering of wines on tap, a small art gallery in the back, and a upstairs patio, Pali is definitely a great place to grab a drink, day or night. They offer wine tastings, wines by the glass, and even a wine club membership!
Davanti Enoteca– Two things you need to know about me. 1) I generally don’t like soft creamy cheeses like ricotta or goat cheese. 2) I LOVE ANY RICOTTA DAVANTI PUTS ON A PLATE IN FRONT OF ME! The focaccia di recco, a flatbread stuffed with ricotta and served with honeycomb on top, is hands down one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. There’s also the ricotta vasi, which is the same ricotta served with honeycomb and tuscan toast to slather it on. Davanti makes one of the best Aperol spritz in the city, and their weekend brunch boasts a massive bloody mary bar you can’t miss! The Little Italy location is the only one I’ve ever ventured to, but they have one in Del Mar, too!
Ristorante Illando/Landini’s Pizza– Landini’s has been a favorite of ours for years! Fresh pizza by the slice, fired up as you order. They have an awesome patio in the back, perfect for enjoying a slice and having a conversation-plus a bit of people watching! Upstairs, they opened Ristorante Illando, boasting fresh pizza, excellent wines, and the same friendly service from kind and charming people! Truly a small and intimate space, with huge heart-oh and a killer view from the front windows upstairs, too!
Monello/Bencotto-Sister restaurants nestled next door to each other, but each with its own charms. Bencotto is my go to for a great glass of wine and plate of fresh pasta. Monello is where we take people for a more “WOW” moment-they offer fresh pasta tossed in a giant cheese wheel at your table, with weekly specialty pasta/sauce being on offer! I also enjoy Monello for brunch, and a unique tiramisu!
Nonna/Cafe Zucchero– Look no further than Nonno’s for a great place to grab a glass of wine and split some small plates with friends! We love the burrata, arancini, and bruschetta! Next door, you’ll find the attached Cafe Zucchero with authentic espressos, fresh gelato, and a case full of sweets. My personal fave? The hard-to-find cartoccio, a Sicilian treat. Think cannoli filling in a sugar donut-type shell. This and a cappuccino? Benissimo! Thank me later.
Salt and Straw– Born in Portland, OR and recently making its way to San Diego, you can take a slight detour from Italian flavors in favor of classic, quirky flavors and a seasonal menu that’ll make you keep going back for more! Sold by the scoop, there’s always a line-usually around the block- but the staff are friendly and keep it moving quickly! Worth every minute of waiting…and don’t be afraid to try new things, they let you sample as many flavors as you want, and my favorites weren’t even close to what I usually go for!
Little Italy Food Hall– The most recent take on our “food hall” scene popping up around the city, Little Italy Food Hall hosts a bar, as well as some smaller versions of some of our most popular places, like Wicked Maine Lobster, Mein St. Asian Kitchen, Roast: Meat and Sandwich Shop, Not Not Tacos, Bobboi Natural Gelato, and Ambrogio15 Pizza! With a diverse offering, its a great place to go with a group that can’t decide what to eat! It’s in the newly remodeled part of Little Italy in Piazza della Famiglia near the beautiful new fountain-where you can often find live music and dancing in the evenings! They also offer Happy Hour Monday-Friday from 3-6 pm, and $10 lunch specials!
Solunto– For me, Solunto means “Happy Hour.” It doesn’t actually translate, as far as I know (it’s an area in coastal Sicily), but I don’t have time for all of that. One of the best Happy Hours ( in my humble opinion), with food and beverages to delight…but the real star of the show is the sfogliatelle, a beautiful pastry with layers of phyllo dough and creamy ricotta filling with a light orange flavor. Go for breakfast, lunch, dinner….just go!
Rovino Brasserie and Wine-One word: Cannoli. The best. The most authentic. Just get the cannoli. Yes, the rest of the menu is also delicious, I cannot deny this. BUT THE CANNOLI.
Things to See/Do:
Little Italy Mercato– Wednesdays from 9 am to 1 pm & Saturdays from 8 am to 2 pm, you have two chances every week to head where the chefs shop! Farm fresh produce, eggs, fresh meat, and tons of vendors making delicious treats and beautiful treasures…there is truly something for everyone! A must if you’re in town (or if you’re just obsessed like us)!
San Diego Firehouse Museum– Again, maybe I’m biased as a 911 Dispatcher for SDFD, but the fact of the matter is, fire engines are awesome! And this museum? It’s awesome too! Formerly Fire Station #6 (now in Otay Mesa), the Firehouse Museum hosts equipment and apparatus dating back to the 1800’s! It’s a must-see for firehouse enthusiasts, and civilians alike! Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children, and they’re open Thursdays and Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm, and Saturday & Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Cucina Migrante Mercato Tour and Cooking Class– Again, I cannot say enough about my phenomenal experience with Cucina Migrante. A cool tour of the market, tasting fresh produce as we chose what to bring back and make a three course meal with! The music was playing, the wine was flowing, and we met some wonderful people as we all prepared a delicious meal together. The group shops and cooks together under the guidance of an amazing chef, and the menu is always based on you, collectively! Who knows what you’ll end up making, as your ingredients are all seasonal and you pick as you go! They also offer other cool cooking classes, and private chef/catering services!
Little Italy Food Tours– Offering a cool “Old School” food tour with 4 restaurants and a small tour of the area (glass of wine and aperitivo cocktail included!), or even a pizza and Bocce ball tour, there’s something for everyone! Enjoy a tour with a guide who is sure to stop and say hi to several Italians-locals and business owners alike-and taste some of the best Little Italy has to offer as you go!
Amici Park– A few spaces in one, Amici Park offers a dog park, a bocce ball court, and a small amphitheater. It’s open to the public daily, and also available for rentals for small and corporate events! It’s a great place to hang out with some of your Little Italy treats and take in the sights and sounds of the buzzing area!
Little Italy Sign– An iconic landmark since October 2000, you can see the classic IG photo of this sign all over! It’s the pinnacle symbol of this esteemed area and its more than 20 years of rebirth! Just walk along India Street, and you can’t miss it!
Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church– Established in 1925, this church is one of the biggest parts of Little Italy History! The old school classrooms now house the ICC, and the church is open during the day for you to visit and see all of the beautiful paintings on the ceiling, breathtaking stained glass windows, and statues throughout!
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to see, do, or eat in the neighborhood! Maybe it’s smaller than it used to be, but it’s still just as bustling and vibrant!
Have you been to Little Italy in San Diego? Tell me your favorite thing to do there in the comments!
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