North Park has spent the past decade transforming itself into the "it" neighborhood of San Diego. It's downtown area stretches down University Ave and El Cajon Boulevard and is where you'll find a number of popular restaurants and bars.
It's why North Park is often a destination for Saturday night in addition to the usual Gaslamp Quarter and PB. For those who wish to live in North Park, there are pockets of craftsman homes on the north edge of Balboa Park (hence the name) plus apartment options.
Best Bets: Urban Solace, Carnitas' Snack Shop, Red Fox Steakhouse, and Piano Bar, Chicken Pie Shop, Tiger! Tiger!, West Coast Tavern
Hillcrest is a diverse and lively neighborhood north of downtown San Diego. It is known for being gay-friendly and has a wide mix of dive bars, upscale lounges, and gourmet restaurants. For residential options, you'll find a mix of apartments and bungalows.
Best Bets: Landmark Cinemas, Prepkitchen, La Vecindad
As you head west on Washington Street, Hillcrest turns into Mission Hills, and the aura becomes more staid and low-key. With its grand homes with manicured lawns and winding hilltop streets, Mission Hills has an affluent feel yet still laidback atmosphere.
Best Bets: Mission Hills Nursery, Phil's BBQ
This upscale enclave on the southeast rim of Mission Valley is picturesque, with attractive (and pricey) Spanish-styled homes. It's a peaceful pocket amid the hubbub of the inner city. Kensington also has a tiny business district along the single main artery of Adams Avenue.
Best Bets: Ken Cinema, the Ken Club bar, Ponce's Restaurant
University Heights is located between Hillcrest and North Park and is often overshadowed by the two, but has its own hipster charm. Similar in ways to both, it is a mix of Craftsman bungalows and apartments. Its small retail area is at the north end of Park Boulevard where it turns into Adams Avenue.
Best Bets: Small Bar, El Sarape, Twiggs Coffeehouse, Parkhouse Eatery, Old Trolley Barn Park
Or "Abnormal" Heights, as it's sometimes referred to. Bookended on the west by University Heights and Kensington on the east, Normal Heights completes the Adams Avenue neighborhood trifecta. You'll find both apartment dwellings and single-family homes in Normal Heights. There is also a small retail area home to some shops and bars.
Best Bets: The Ould Sod pub, Antique Row, Lestat's Coffee
Little Italy has always been a neat enclave within downtown San Diego, but it has recently transformed into one of the trendy neighborhoods of San Diego thanks to the addition of new condo highrises, some of which have spectacular views of the bay. Plus, the business district has been refurbished in recent years and is home to a number of stylish office buildings and home furnishing shops.
Best Bets: India Street, Mimmo's Italian Village, Indigo Grill, Filippi's, Bencotto
With its once stately old mansions, quaint bungalows, and apartment buildings, Golden Hill is enjoying a rejuvenation. On the southeast end of Balboa Park, Golden Hill (and adjacent South Park) has some fine views of downtown and pockets of fun dining and shopping entertainment.
Best Bets: Turf Supper Club, The Big Kitchen, M-Theory Records, South Park Grill.
Pacific Beach (PB)
Pacific Beach, often referred to as PB by locals, is where most young professionals move after college and its vibe is definitely a party one. Bars line both sides of the street along Garnet Avenue and Mission Street.
PB used to be land of bar food, but in recent years has attracted some trendy new restaurants, too. You can find quieter pockets of the neighborhood in North PB, which still give you close access to all the restaurants and bars plus the beach.
Best Bets: Bub's Dive Bar, Crushed, Duck Dive, Patio on Lamont, Johnny V, Turquoise Bar, Firehouse
Ocean Beach, commonly called OB, is a funky beach community located south of Pacific Beach. Ocean Beach has resisted gentrification and has a number of independent restaurants, bars, and shops. Overall, OB has a laid-back, surfer vibe. Its pier is also great for fishing or a leisurely walk.
Best Bets: Hodad's, Winstons, BO-Beau Kitch + Bar, South Beach Bar and Grille, OB Noodle House, Raglan Public House