Heading to San Diego for a few sunny days on the beach and to watch the Padres in action? While the city is home to an array of charming neighborhoods, San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is the place to be for culture, dining, and entertainment.
Named for the old gas lamps that still stand on the sidewalks of the main streets, the Gaslamp Quarter is the historic heart of the city of San Diego. The lively downtown neighborhood is known for its buzzing nightlife, excellent restaurants, and top-notch theaters.
Whether you’re into live music or the performing arts, enjoy fine dining in award-winning restaurants, or trawling dive bars, the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter has something for everyone. Relax with a picnic at one of the green urban parks, wander around art galleries and museums, or catch the San Diego Padres in action at Petco Park.
Can’t decide on your first stop in “America’s Finest City?” Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to see & do, where to eat & drink, and where to stay in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego.
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What to see & do in Gaslamp Quarter
If you’re a fan of theater, there’s no better place to watch live performances in San Diego than at the Balboa Theater. Set in a beautifully restored building on Fourth Avenue, the theater’s magnificent façade, intricate interiors, and rich history have landed it on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1924 as a movie house, the Balboa Theater had a tumultuous history before falling into disrepair for 20 years. In 2002, the city of San Diego lovingly restored the building to its former glory. Today, the Balboa Theater is one of the best places to go in San Diego for drama, dance, comedy, and classic theater.
If you don’t plan on seeing a show, pop into the Balboa Theater to see the lavish interior décor from the cupola ceiling over the foyer to the statuettes in alcoves on either side of the stage.
The historic Spreckels Theatre is another one of San Diego’s performing arts gems. Designed for philanthropist John D. Spreckels, the theater was built in 1912 to host live theater performances.
The 1930s saw the Spreckels Theatre being converted into a first-run motion picture house, but it was later restored to a live theater, bringing touring Broadway shows to San Diego.
If you love beautiful Baroque interior design, pop into the theater during the day to see the magnificent auditorium. At the time of construction, the stage was one of the largest ever built. It has unobstructed views from every seat, as there are no pillars or columns.
Fun fact: The Spreckels Theatre was built to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal and has 1,915 seats to correspond with the year the 1915 Panama-California Exposition was held.
Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House Museum
Travel back in time to the mid-1800s with a visit to the Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House Museum. Formerly known as the William Heath Davis House, the museum is a beautifully preserved example of one of the typical saltbox-style houses built by the early settlers of San Diego.
Situated in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District, the Davis-Horton House Museum is the oldest standing structure in Downtown San Diego. Due to a lack of wood in the area, these saltbox-style structures were shipped from Portland, Maine, to create what would be the first settlement known as ‘New Town.’
Take note of the unusual design of the Davis-Horton House: It features two stories in the front and just one at the back, along with the long-pitched slope roof and central chimney. Wander through the rooms of the house and follow the building’s storied history from being used as a hospital to a private home.
Horton Plaza Park
This lovely square at the gateway to the Upper Gaslamp Quarter is the perfect spot for grabbing a bite and people-watching. Located on the corner of 4th Avenue and Broadway, Horton Plaza Park is also a popular spot for outdoor events which are held throughout the year.
Wander around the charming public garden lined with swaying palm trees and visit the beautifully restored Broadway Fountain dating back to 1910. Nearby, an interactive pop-jet fountain offers refreshing fun for the kids on a warm day.
Take a break at the park’s charming outdoor café. Horton Plaza Park has complimentary guest Wi-Fi, so you can plan your next sightseeing stops over a frothy cappuccino. It’s also worth checking if there are any upcoming events at the plaza during your San Diego itinerary and booking tickets.
When the mood for browsing cool art galleries hits, make your way to Sparks Gallery to see some incredible contemporary artwork by Southern Californian artists.
Located in the historic Sterling Hardware Building on 6th Avenue, the Sparks Gallery features unique spaces in which surreal and impressionistic artworks by local artists are displayed. Art gallery owner Sonya Sparks champions local and regional artistic talent and curates emotive works with strong narratives.
At the Sparks Gallery, you’ll find a fascinating collection of works in a variety of mediums, from paintings and portraiture to handcrafted jewelry and surreal ceramics. If nothing takes your fancy in the main gallery, keep an eye on future exhibitions, as you can order artwork from their online store.
San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
For something different, pop into the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum to learn more about Chinese American history and culture. The one-of-a-kind museum does a fantastic job of telling the story of the people who came to Chinatown in the 1800s to find work.
Housed in a mission-style building on 3rd Avenue, the exhibits at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum showcase the rich heritage of San Diego’s Chinese community. Ancient artifacts, historic photographs, and miniature models highlight the essence of Chinese arts and culture.
Be sure to check out the special exhibit in the annex across the street; the price of admission to the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum includes this exhibit. Why not get into the swing of things and join a free Tai Chi/Qi Gong class on Saturday mornings at the museum?
The New Children’s Museum
Need to entertain the kids for a few hours? Head to the New Children’s Museum for a few hours of educational fun. Situated just outside the Gaslamp Quarter on W Island Avenue, this dynamic museum is a paradise for children of all ages.
Designed to stimulate creativity and imagination, the New Children’s Museum features a variety of hands-on art-making activities, fun-filled shows, and special artistic performances. Kids can explore the magical backstage world of a traveling theater caravan or jump around in six brightly woven, life-size spinning tops in the outdoor park.
Little ones will learn the connection between insects and flowers via colorful murals, find out where the money goes when it’s sucked into a cash machine, and explore the wonder of sound in the Labyrinth Room. When they’re all played out, grab a bite to eat in the museum café.
Catch a home game of the San Diego Padres major league baseball team at Petco Park. Although just outside the Gaslamp Quarter, a visit to the park is one of San Diego’s must-do activities if you’re a baseball fan.
Located south of J Street between 7th Avenue and 10th Avenue, Petco Park not only offers the best sight lines in baseball but also boasts breathtaking views of San Diego. The massive stadium has a seating capacity for over 40,000 fans and state-of-the-art fan amenities to suit every budget.
Go behind the scenes on a guided tour of Petco Park and experience the ballpark as only players and staff do. Learn about the history of the park and the San Diego Padres and visit special spots like the Padres Hall of Fame, the Cutwater Coronado Club, and the Breitbard Hall of Fame.
Where to eat & drink
Looking for the best steak in town? Head to Lou & Mickey’s for a ribeye you’ll never forget! Tucked beneath the iconic entrance to the Gaslamp Quarter on 5th Avenue, this timeless steakhouse has long been a San Diego staple. An elegant raw bar serves chilled shellfish and freshly shucked oysters if you prefer your meat white.
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Take a culinary journey to Spain right in the heart of the historic Gaslamp Quarter at Cafe Sevilla of San Diego. Tuck into traditional tapas or small plates, mouthwatering paellas, and fresh seafood, and pair dishes with sangrias and Spanish wines. Enjoy a Flamenco Dinner Show on the weekends!
Another 5th Avenue gourmet gem is Rustic Root. Boasting a beautiful rooftop bar with fantastic city views, the restaurant serves contemporary New American Comfort food with a California twist. Sip signature cocktails and fine wines against the backdrop of San Diego’s glimmering skyline.
On the hunt for a great steak and a whiskey? The Huntress on 5th Avenue is a chic go-to for superb finest cuts of meat and an impressive collection of Japanese whisky. Relax over a drink at the Japanese Whisky Bar before heading to the third-level Grand Pacific Room for a sublime meal.
When it comes to lively bars, the Gaslamp Quarter certainly delivers, too. Make your first stop at San Diego’s longest-standing bar and abandon your inhibitions at the Tipsy Crow. Set over three levels in the historic Spencer-Ogden building, the bar boasts plenty of old-school games, cozy corners to dance in, and live comedy shows.
Werewolf American Pub is a favorite with both locals and tourists alike for classic pub grub, ice-cold brews, handcrafted cocktails, and karaoke. This little dive bar is also open for brunch and serves killer Homer Cakes and Pork Belly Benedict.
Watch the Padres in action over micheladas and enchiladas at the Las Hadas Bar & Grill on Fourth Avenue. Sip handcrafted margaritas in a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere.
Another beer, bourbon, and baseball go-to is barleymash, a lively bar and restaurant on 5th Avenue that celebrates rich American culture.
Where to stay
Located in the heart of Downtown, the Gaslamp Quarter is one of the most popular neighborhoods to stay in San Diego for travelers. The neighborhood is home to many of the city’s best hotels, perfect for soaking up the quarter’s unique atmosphere and historic ambiance.
Seamlessly blending elegance and charm, the Horton Grand Hotel promises luxurious comfort. Set in a beautifully restored 19th-century building in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, the hotel is within a short walk of all the area’s attractions. Relax in exquisite Victorian-style rooms with handcrafted antique furniture. Enjoy modern amenities like complimentary Wi-Fi.
Featuring a luxury spa, fitness center, and swimming pool, the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter offers a great base for exploring San Diego. Modern rooms have standard amenities and bay or city views. Enjoy free bottled water and Wi-Fi throughout your stay. Dine at a casual SoCal-inspired restaurant or grab a quick bite at the local café.
Located within walking distance to Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center, Staypineapple, Hotel Z is a modern boutique hotel with comfortable guest rooms and a laid-back vibe. Enjoy welcome drinks and complimentary afternoon snacks. Four-legged friends are welcome with special Pineapple Pup Packages! Grab a loaner bike to explore the area.
A hip hotel close to Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center, Moxy San Diego Gaslamp Quarter offers cozy, clubhouse-style rooms. Cool features include a state-of-the-art video wall with helpful travel tools and a 24/7 bar. Enjoy high-quality sound systems and free, fast Wi-Fi in your room. Tuck into a healthy continental breakfast before heading out for the day.
An elegant boutique hotel within a five-minute walk from the San Diego Convention Center. The Pendry San Diego has airy rooms with ocean-inspired décor and stylish en-suite bathrooms. Upgrade to a luxe suite for a kitchen, dining area, and living room. Enjoy high-end facilities like a deluxe spa and fitness center, a rooftop pool, and six restaurants and bars.