Gaslamp District - San Diego

Nineteenth Century Charm Persists in San Diego's Gaslamp

Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego
••• Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego. LeandroNeumann Ciuffo/Ficlkr/CC BY 2.0

San Diego's Gaslamp District is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods and one of its best-known. But what is it exactly? First off, it's an area with a lot of architectural charm. Its are streets lined with nineteenth-century buildings restored to their original exuberance. Restaurants, shops, and clubs occupy former brothels and saloons.

A random walk will give you a sense of the place, and it's only a few blocks in each direction, making it easy to enjoy the lovely buildings, do a little shopping and have a meal.

What's the Big Deal About the Gaslamp District?

San Diego's Gaslamp District draws visitors to its shops, restaurants and night clubs. You'll find boutique shops offering interesting wares alongside t-shirt shops and souvenir sellers, and Horton Plaza is the local shopping center. When your energy fails, you'll find more than 70 restaurants and clubs where you can refuel.

San Diegans may not turn up their noses about the Gaslamp quite as high as Franciscans do about Fisherman's Wharf, but few residents go out of their way to visit. In fact, most of the people who are in the Gaslamp are tourists or those attending meetings at the nearby convention center.

With so many visitors who are only in town for a few days, local businesses tend to focus more on getting people inside their doors than they are on service and quality. Although some places may be an exception to this, in my experience, restaurants in the area tend to provide mediocre food and deliver indifferent service.

How to Get More Out of the Gaslamp District

If you want to know more about the Gaslamp, you can find out more about its history

For a deeper look into the Gaslamp's roots, take a guided walking tour from the Gaslamp Foundation. They leave from the Davis Horton House at 410 Island Avenue (Fourth and Island), which is also home to the Gaslamp Museum.

Ghostly Tours in History offers a night-time ghost tour of the Gaslamp, a good alternative if you want to be out at night and aren't a nightclub-goer.

Is the Gaslamp District Right for You?

Should you go to the Gaslamp when you're in San Diego or not? That depends. 

If you're a convention-goer, it's a nice place to walk around and easy to get to when you have a little free time.

If you like architecture, it's worth a visit to see the gorgeous, well-restored old buildings.

If you're looking for a really great meal, you'll be better off to go somewhere else.

And depending on your likes and dislikes, you may want to avoid the crowds that fill the sidewalks on weekend nights. 

Practicalities

Public restrooms are located at the corner of Third and C Streets.

There are lots of restaurants in this small area. Unfortunately, a full restaurant is not always a good place to eat in the Gaslamp. That's because many eateries spend more energy to get people in the door than they to do to provide them a good value for money once they're inside. Use a practical approach to choosing one: Stroll around and preview the menus or check an app like Yelp for ratings. 

Where Is the Gaslamp District Located?

The Gaslamp District is located in downtown San Diego near the Convention Center.

Officially called the "Gaslamp Quarter," the rectangle-shaped, sixteen-square-block area is bounded by Broadway and K Streets between Fourth and Sixth Streets. You can get more information about it at the Gaslamp District Website.

You'll find plenty of ways to get there:

  • If you're at the Convention Center, walk across Harbor Blvd. at 5th Avenue - you'll be facing the entry arch.
  • If you're at Seaport Village, walk away from the waterfront on Kettner Blvd., cross Harbor Blvd. and turn right onto G Street. You'll be there in a few blocks.
  • Take the San Diego Trolley to Gaslamp Station or 5th Avenue Station.
  • On the waterfront, hail a pedicab (an open-topped, bicycle-powered vehicle). They charge a flat fee for a point-to-point trip, and rates are somewhat negotiable when they're not busy.
  • If you're using a GPS system, set it to 207 5th Avenue, which is at the Gaslamp entry archway. You'll find a 550-space parking garage at Sixth and Market.

    Gaslamp District History

    The San Diego Gaslamp District got a slow start. The city's earliest residents shunned the waterfront, choosing instead to build at the elevated location of today's Old Town. An early development project near the waterfront failed, so utterly that the area came to be called Rabbitville, in honor of its original inhabitants. In 1867, entrepreneur Alonzo Horton built a new downtown near the water, and soon the area was booming. Gamblers and prostitutes moved in. 

    The legendary (but by then retired) Old West sheriff Wyatt Earp ran four gambling halls in the Gaslamp after he arrived in the mid-1880s. He was listed as a capitalist (gambler) in the 187 San Diego City Directory, and he lived for a while The Grand Horton, which is now known at the Horton Grand Hotel.

    Over the years, stores moved toward Market Street, and all that remained was a red-light district known as the Stingaree. The Gaslamp District languished for many years before its current renaissance.