A Little History Behind South Park
As someone with a proclaimed distaste for suburbs, I quickly fell for one in San Diego. Located to the north-east of downtown San Diego, along the eastern edge of Balboa Park is the charming historic neighborhood of South Park.
Tucked between the neighborhoods of trendy North Park and up-and-coming Golden Hill, South Park is the kind of place where neighbors chat as old friends and business owners live locally.
Even though controversy surrounds the beginning of the neighborhood’s name (some say it was really part of Golden Hill), it can be said that the neighborhood was established in 1905 as one of the first suburbs of downtown. Shortly thereafter a streetcar line was installed connecting South Park to downtown. Although the streetcars were disassembled in 1949, many historic Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival homes remain.
This compact, walkable neighborhood effervesces with independently owned restaurants, cafes, gourmet markets, breweries, and unique shops. Really a village within a city, South Park was the perfect place to hunker down and prepare for our road trip to Costa Rica.
Travel Guide to South Park
Living in the neighborhood for two months gave me time to spend countless hours wandering the streets, poking into shops and dropping by restaurants. From the perspective of a temporary member of the neighborhood, I would like to share a fun and fully-packed travel guide to South Park.
Start your day leisurely with a feast at Big Kitchen Café. This eclectic diner serves the classics like omelets and plate-sized pancakes. Choose from a menu that includes Whoopi Goldberg’s favorite meal, and if you are lucky the owner Judy will be there, with a big personality and many a “très bien.” But if you are in the mood for something healthy, then head to Captain Kirk’s, an open-air cafe with a selection of fresh fruit smoothies and acai bowls. My favorite is the incredible hulk bowl, a delicious mixture of acai, green apple, kiwi, bananas, and kale.
Work off the hearty meal or continue with the acai bowl health trend and get some exercise. In early 2015 the City of San Diego launched their city bike share program with the installation of bikes conveniently located in South Park. The bikes are parked next to Captain Kirks for rent by the hour or the day. If you are not one for bike riding, take a yoga class at Ginseng Yoga. A variety of yoga classes are offered daily from Vinyasa to Hatha to Kundalini.
After working up a sweat and most likely hunger, grab a home-made sandwich from Grant’s Marketplace. Classic sandwiches are made to order in this old-school style specialty market with products ranging from coffee beans to olives to wine to rotisserie chicken. Try the tuna sandwich on sourdough from their excellent selection of gluten-free bread. Enjoy dining on their out-door patio or take your order down the street for a picnic at Balboa Park.
End the afternoon by wandering the unique artsy shops on Fern Street. You will find everything from vintage clothing, locally crafted items, art, home goods and more.
Bad Madge & Company – Vintage curated shop, perfect for lover of 1950/60s fashion. This shop boasts a complete selection of dresses, jewelry, household goods and trinkets.
Graffiti Beach Boutique – True to their name, this shop exudes beachy Southern California style with a selection of modern and trendy art work, clothing, and jewelry.
Make Good – This shop offers an extensive collection of 100% locally made artisan goods sourced from across San Diego and Tijuana.
Junc.Life – An ever evolving, perfectly styled collection of home goods and fashion, this shop exudes a dark and bohemian vibe. You can regularly find items like bird feather earrings, animal skulls, and books on taxidermy
Progress – An airy, bright home goods and interior design shop, featuring the latest in living room furniture and design. There are also a variety of paper goods, jewelry and items perfect for a gift
For an afternoon pick me up stop by Café Madeleine for a mocha or maybe even a Nutella filled crepe. Cozy up inside on one of their large cushy benches or at a table outside to enjoy the afternoon sun.
With renewed energy explore South Park’s historic neighborhoods. Not only are there a multitude of charming homes, but gardens and verdant landscaping full of succulents and palms. Some of the best homes are located on Edgemont, 32nd and Bancroft Street.
Originally a café, Piacere Mio was recently remodel into a self-styled Italian trattoria serving delicious, authentic homemade pasta and main dishes. An excellent priced menu, the Amatriciana sauce over homemade penne is my favorite. Another option is Brabant Bar & Café who dishes up Belgian home-style food. Try an order of le moules frites, but do not despair if mussels are not your cup of tea, try one of their hearty main dishes or the special of the night such as bolognese topped with a fried egg. There is a full bar and yummy appetizers like the scotch egg.
More Dining Options:
Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro – Every item on the menu incorporates cacao or vanilla, or just stop by for dessert and try one of their homemade chocolate confections.
Station Tavern – This outdoor dining experience offers burgers and craft beer plus a side order of tater tots you can enjoy with a choice of four different home-made sauces. Going gluten-free, try a Farmer’s Market Salad topped with a burger patty.
Seven Seas Taco Truck – Look no further for an inexpensive, quick, and filling meal of fish tacos. The food truck is parked in the neighborhood daily.
South Park Food Truck Tuesday – Every Tuesday from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, five to six trucks park in the vacant parking lot of Gala Foods, offering different cuisines of the world.
Fun Events to Plan For:
Walkabout – Held four times a year, all the shops and restaurants open for a fun festival like atmosphere with booths and open-houses, rub elbows with neighbors and revel seekers alike as you meander through the shops and surrounding neighborhoods to see live bands playing.
Old House Fair – Held once a year in June, the fair is an opportunity to take a peek inside some of the unique historic homes that make up the neighborhoods of South Park, complete with landscaped yards straight out of Home & Garden magazine.
Map of South Park