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Little Italy

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san diego little italy

Throughout the nation, Little Italy neighborhoods symbolize the tremendous contribution that Italians have made to the culture and history of the United States. Covering a gorgeous and walkable 48-square-block area of northwest downtown San Diego, this ethnic enclave is the largest of its kind in the country. Hosting several festivals throughout the year, the neighborhood boasts street-side cafes, art galleries and a beautiful urban park.

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The Area’s History and Contributions

While other Italian enclaves have declined because families have moved away or adjacent neighborhoods have grown larger, San Diego’s Little Italy has remained a stable residential and business community since the 1920s. The neighborhood was once home to more than 6,000 Italian families whose work was influential in making San Diego the epicenter of the world’s tuna fishing industry. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, families left the Bay Area and moved to San Diego and immigrants from Sicily and the Italian Riviera joined them. Staffed by Italian fishermen, the large fishing fleet supported canneries like the Pacific Tuna Canning Company that opened in 1911 and employed more than 1,000 area residents.

The “Tuna Capital of the World” finally relinquished its crown as rising costs and foreign competition took their toll with the last of the canneries closed in the 1980s. A large portion of the neighborhood was divided during the construction of Interstate 5 in mid-1970s to create the adjacent Barrio Logan. The area is home to a statue honoring those who built the fishing industry and those who died at sea; the Tunaman’s Memorial is located on Shelter Island. Despite the setbacks, the families and businesses that chose to remain have adorned their vibrant neighborhood with public art displays and beautiful piazzas.

Neighborhood Attractions

san diego amici park

Just a few blocks from the Embarcadero and Waterfront Park, Little Italy features historic architecture, the quaint Amici Park and the Piazza Basilone Memorial. It is also home to a popular weekly farmers market and the iconic Little Italy sign on India Street.

Founded in 1921, the Spanish-style Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church features intricate woodwork and several interesting works of art. These include canvases depicting the Twelve Apostles and the Last Judgment as well as a painting of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Holding true to authenticity, Italian artists were commissioned to paint the ceiling murals.

Located crosswise from the church at the intersection of Date Street and State Street, Amici Park is a popular neighborhood hangout. Children from the adjacent elementary school enjoy the park during recess while the community uses the green space’s bocce ball courts, large green lawn and small amphitheater.

Commemorating Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, the Piazza Basilone Memorial features a bust of the Medal of Honor recipient on its western edge. A quiet oasis on one of the neighborhood’s busiest blocks, the piazza has tables, chairs and benches where you can enjoy a cup of coffee, read a book or just enjoy refreshing breezes from the bay, which is within eyesight. Adorning the center of the piazza, the beautiful fountain represents the neighborhood’s seafaring heritage. There is also a touching memorial to neighborhood soldiers killed during the Korean War.

san diego saturday mercatoSaturdays at the Mercato

The weekly Mercato which is the Italian term for market, takes place each Saturday from 9am to 1:30pm. Featuring more than 70 vendors, the Little Italy Mercato serves as the city’s downtown farmers market because it lines Date Street from Kettner Boulevard to Union Street. The fresh fish and produce, artisan foods and specialty items draw visitors and local residents.

Galleries, Shopping and Dining

Little Italy is centered on India Street, whose restaurants offer distinctive menus highlighting Sicilian as well as Northern and Southern Italian cuisine with a modern flair. The bustling neighborhood food scene also includes alfresco eateries, trendy brewpubs and charming cafes. The Kettner Art and Design District encompasses a group of galleries, boutiques and other retail shops that feature a selection of decorative artwork, fashion accessories and home furnishings. Enjoy live musical entertainment at the Music Box and visit the Waterfront Bar and Grill, a quintessential neighborhood watering hole that has been a Little Italy fixture since 1933.

Annual Festivals

Taking place the Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Little Italy Carnevale is a Venetian mask event featuring live entertainment and other special events hosted by local businesses and restaurants.

During April, Little Italy is the backdrop for the Campagnolo Gran Fondo San Diego, a celebration of cycling, food and the picturesque waterfront. You can also attend Mission Federal ArtWalk, which provides the opportunity to view a variety of works in different media. Presented by studios, galleries and outdoor venues, the event includes live entertainment.

The Amici Park Amphitheater hosts the Little Italy Summer Film Festival that presents Italian films with English subtitles. Every October, the community hosts the Bulls of St. Agata Charge Lamborghini car show and the Little Italy Festa that celebrates the community’s cultural heritage, music, food and art.

The Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village features festive holiday decorations, live musical entertainment, food and so much more to get you into the spirit of the season.

san diego coronado bayThe Best Time to Visit

San Diego has mild temperatures and low humidity year-round, which earned the city a slot on Consumer Travel’s Pleasant Weather Rankings for having the second-best weather in the world. While you can’t go wrong visiting San Diego during any of the four season, the best times to visit are March through May and from September to November.
Daytime highs are pleasant and nighttime lows require only a sweater or light jacket. But if you don’t mind a little variability in the weather, the winter rainy season offers the best rates on hotels situated on the eastern edge of Little Italy near I-5. These include properties like the DoubleTree by Hilton and the Four Points by Sheraton San Diego Downtown.

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