City Orientation Walk, San Diego (Self Guided)

Jewell of a city adorning the Pacific coast of California, San Diego is a popular destination renowned for its beaches, parks and warm climate. On this walk you will visit some of San Diego's main and less known attractions situated in the historic downtown area.
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City Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk
Guide Location: USA » San Diego (See other walking tours in San Diego)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 km
Author: Daniel
1
San Diego Convention Center

1) San Diego Convention Center (must see)

The San Diego Convention Center is the largest and most used facility of this kind in the city. You will find the complex in the Marina District of town, within walking distance of Gaslamp Quarter, at 111 West Harbor Drive. It is managed by the San Diego Convention Center Corporation.

It was constructed in 1983 on land that is owned by the Port Authority of San Diego. Upon entering, you may be amazed by the 615,000 square feet of space that constitute the building. It is the 24th largest such complex in North America. The designers were the Canadian architectural firm of Arthur Erickson. There is room for up to 125,000 people to attend an event here.

Take a look at the Sails Pavilion while there. The roof is made of Teflon coated fiberglass sails which pay tribute to the maritime history of the city. In 2011, a new bridge will connect the facility to other neighborhoods across the Harbor, and should make for quite a view of the city.

Why You Should Visit:
Great to be here for an event and good dining and hotels all around the area.

Tip:
You can take a long walk along the waterfront, or have a serious workout running its hundreds of steps!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-9:30pm; Sun: 10am-6pm
2
Gaslamp Museum

2) Gaslamp Museum (must see)

The Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House is a grand old historic home in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. It was constructed in 1850 and is the location where the concept for the “New San Diego” began. The idea was the brainchild of Davis and Alonzo Horton, who is widely known as the founder of downtown San Diego.

It takes about an hour to tour the location, but in that time you can see exhibits that retell the story of the formation of the downtown area. Take a look at the model of the New Town, as it will show you what the dream was to be for San Diego. There is a lower level gift shop that will allow the shopper in the group a chance to enjoy some unique gifts also. You will want to take home a memento of your visit.

Tip:
It's really worth taking the 90-minute walking tour of the Gaslamp District offered by the museum – you will learn about San Diego history and hear many fun facts!

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am-4:30pm; Sun: 12pm-3:30pm
3
Gaslamp Quarter

3) Gaslamp Quarter (must see)

Gaslamp Quarter is a sixteen and a half block area that surrounds Fourth and Fifth Avenue in the downtown section of San Diego, California. It is one of the most popular historic attractions in town. In 1870, a man named Alonzo Horton built a wharf at the foot of Fifth Avenue. Afterward, the area became so popular that an entire neighborhood and business sector developed here.

The business nature of the community was the interesting thing about Fifth Avenue. In the 1880s, the area was rather seedy in nature – full of gamblers, thugs, and prostitutes. The likes of Wyatt Earp and Ida Bailey have been to this famous red light district of the late 19th Century. Even after the glare of the evening lights settled, the wharf remained a popular port for Navy shore leave until the First World War.

In modern times, there are theatre venues here, famous restaurants, and wonderful hotels. The local San Diego Community has done a lot of renovation on the buildings in the Quarter. You can also take a walk along the historic district and see all the Victorian style homes here. All were built between 1880 and 1910.

Why You Should Visit:
For nightlife, it's definitely the place to be in San Diego – to eat and party, and to see the last two original gas lamps that are still operational!
There are also lots of hotels, a couple of historical museums and theaters, art galleries, boutiques, rental bicycles and scooters, and a shopping mall. The waterfront is close-by.

Tip:
Try to stay in one of the hotels in the Gaslamp area and be part of it.
Strolling the length of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Avenues is a good idea as they are all well worth the visit.
Make sure to allow a lot of time and wear good walking shoes!
4
Old City Hall

4) Old City Hall

In the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter is the Old City Hall. It is located at 664 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Fifth and G Streets, and is a part of the downtown sector of San Diego, California. You will find the building listed as number 46 on the Gaslamp Historic Buildings Registry.

This old beauty is a classic example of Florentine-Italianate architecture. Back in the 1860s, when Italy still had many city states, the city of Florence developed its own style of building artwork, and this location captures that well. The two story structure was built in 1874, but thirteen years later two more stories were added. The City of San Diego purchased the property in 1891, and turned it into the governmental offices. The Police Department took up most of the first floor. Upper floors were used by the Mayor and staff.

In the current time, the Old City Hall is privately owned and is home to a restaurant and bar, some retail locations, and loft apartments on the top floors. The building was made more earthquake proof in 1995 with a total structural reinforcement project.
5
Keating Building

5) Keating Building

The Keating Building is an old historic structure located in the old Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. You can find it at the corner of 5th Avenue and F Streets. If you are looking for it on the Gaslamp Quarter Historic Buildings Registry, you will find it listed as number 31.

It was built by Fannie Keating. Her husband, George, was one of the principle owners of Smith and Keating, which was a famous farm equipment supply company of the late 19th Century. Keating died in 1888, and his wife started the construction of the location as a tribute to her late husband.

The architectural firm was Reid Brothers, who were well known as the designers of the Hotel Del Coronado. It is five stories tall, and is a classic example of Romanesque Revival style. It had all the modern conveniences for the time, like steam heat, an elevator, and large spacious offices. Around the turn of the century, the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank used the building, and you can still find the old steel vault. In today’s time, it is a small luxury hotel and proud member of the historic district.
6
Louis Bank of Commerce

6) Louis Bank of Commerce

This four story building started out as the official headquarters of the Louis Bank of Commerce. It was used for this purpose until 1893, when the famous entrepreneur Isidor Louis put an oyster bar in here that used to be frequented by such famous people as Wyatt Earp.

In fact, there has been some speculation through the years as to how involved Wyatt may have been in the local operation of a business here. The upper floors were turned into what used to be known as the Golden Poppy Hotel, which was a famous house of ill repute that was ran by fortune teller and psychic Madame Cora. Part of what made the location so famous was that the girls would wear dresses that matched the color of the room they used to service their clients.

The building is a classic example of Baroque Revival architecture. The ornate nature of the trim work is what sets it apart. The twin towers that rise about the location are well known. It also represents the first building in town that was made of granite. You will also want to note the ornate architecture of the window trim and fascia of the structure. You won’t see many better examples than this.
7
Balboa Theater

7) Balboa Theater

The historic Balboa Theater is a real gem of the downtown San Diego area. Its address is 868 Fourth Avenue. It was built in the 1920s, during a time in American history when people loved grandiose style movie houses. It has a seating capacity of 1600, which is almost unheard of in modern style theatres. Just try and find an IMAX that big.

During WWII, the building was converted into temporary housing for the United State Navy. After the war, the theater did not do well, and almost fell into disrepair by 1959. Local attempts were made during the 1970s to bring some attention to the old theatre by listing it on the official City list of historic locations. It was opened for a few years as a movie house, but then had to be closed again for lack of sufficient business. In 1985 though, the City of San Diego purchased the building and restored it. It completed that process in 2008, and reopened the location for live musical events and concerts. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, during the City’s attempts to restore and preserve the location.
8
St. Joseph's Cathedral

8) St. Joseph's Cathedral

St. Joseph Cathedral is a Catholic cathedral located in the Cortez Hill neighborhood of downtown San Diego. It is the seat of the Diocese of San Diego. The parish was founded in 1874. The original St. Joseph's Church was a frame building at Third and Beech built in 1875 under the leadership of Father Antonio Ubach with land donated by Alonzo Horton. Adjacent to the church was an adobe house where Ubach lived. The church was dedicated in 1875 by Bishop Francis Mora. In 1894 a much larger brick church was completed and dedicated.

St. Joseph became a cathedral in 1936, when the Diocese of San Diego was created by separating it from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The cathedral is built on the site of the original churches. The cathedral was dedicated in 1941. St. Joseph underwent restoration work in 2011 which included repainting and restoring the exterior wood and concrete. The cathedral is sometimes used as a venue for concerts by the San Diego Chamber Orchestra and other classical groups.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Our Lady of the Rosary Church

9) Our Lady of the Rosary Church

The Our Lady of the Rosary Church is located in a part of San Diego, California known as “Little Italy.” It was founded in 1921, in an effort to minister to the rising Italian population in the area. Father Sylvester Rabagliati became the first priest to the fledgling congregation.

The building was started two years later, and the project was completed in time for an inauguration in 1939. The Depression of the time made to hard to finish the project during the 1920s. Mass started here though in 1926, after the church was consecrated by the Bishop of Los Angeles of the day, the Most Reverend John Cantwell.

The building is done in Spanish style architecture. One of the most interesting works of art here is a canvas done for the ceiling and walls that depicts the Rosary. The canvas of the twelve Apostles is also worth seeing, and has won acclaim for sacred art. You will also want to see the beautiful piece called the Last Judgment. There is also a stunning painting depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus. The woodwork on the insight of the sanctuary is also quite classic of the Spanish style of architecture, so you will want to go and plan at least a hour to enjoy the artwork here.
10
Little Italy

10) Little Italy (must see)

Little Italy is an old and historic Italian neighborhood in the downtown sector of San Diego. It started in the 19th century and was primarily populated by Italian immigrants who came to this part of California for the fishing trade. The location grew over time, and the local Italian population recreated some of their favorite parts of Italy here. This part of the San Diego Bay area, though, was a natural for the immigrants, as the general weather, seaside, and fishing is very similar to Italy and Sicily.

In more recent times, this historic neighborhood is full of some of the best restaurants in town, great shopping, design stores, and art galleries galore. There are many condominium style housing units here also, that have been created from some of the old historic buildings that were abandoned in the recent past.

The Community as a whole is still alive with frequent festivals and events. There is also a wonderful Farmer’s Market, which is called the Mercato. Despite its downtown location, it boasts a low crime rate when compared to other neighborhoods in town. It is managed by the Little Italy Neighborhood Association.

Why You Should Visit:
Every kind of place to eat, drink and socialize. Figuring which place to try is a problem because all are inviting!
The piazzas are fun, clean and the vibe is very lively.

Tip:
Check out Filippi's Pizza Grotto if you're at all serious about eating incredible pizza and enjoying the fun San Diego vibe that Little Italy exemplifies.
11
Maritime Museum of San Diego

11) Maritime Museum of San Diego (must see)

The Maritime Museum is one of the more unique places to visit in San Diego. It was opened in 1948 when the need was identified to have a place to preserve some of the old ships of the world. In today’s times, it helps to maintain one of the largest collections of ships you can find anywhere in the U.S. It is located in San Diego Bay, just south of the International Airport.

One of the big attractions is the famed Star of India, which is an 1863 model ironbark. You will also want to visit the 1898 edition ferry, called the Berkeley. Yet, this is not all the location offers. There is also a state of the art Library and Research facility here, as well as a maritime archive. The museum also publishes a magazine called the Journal of Pacific Maritime History.

Why You Should Visit:
With highlights including a couple of pirate ships and two submarines, plus a museum inside another ship, there is much to explore!
Docents are available in many places to explain things, and this really lends to the experience.

Tip:
Try out also, Anthony's Fish Market, which is a really nice waterfront seafood restaurant, or taking a boat ride from the museum while you are in the area.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-8pm (will typically stay open till 9pm during the summer months)

Walking Tours in San Diego, California

Create Your Own Walk in San Diego

Create Your Own Walk in San Diego

Creating your own self-guided walk in San Diego is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Gaslamp Quarter Nightlife

Gaslamp Quarter Nightlife

San Diego is famous for its buzzy nightlife. There are plenty of clubs and lounges in the city that offer a relaxing atmosphere, a chance to strike a nice conversation, enjoy great cocktails - classic signature martinis and beautifully mixed drinks with fine liquor atop, and party crazy all night long. Take this walking tour for a unique nightlife experience in San Diego.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 km
Souvenir Shopping Part 1

Souvenir Shopping Part 1

It would be a pity to leave San Diego without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to San Diego, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 8.7 km
Souvenir Shopping Part 2

Souvenir Shopping Part 2

It would be a pity to leave San Diego without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to San Diego, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.1 km
Top Museums Walking Tour in San Diego

Top Museums Walking Tour in San Diego

San Diego has over 90 amazing museums. They reflect the incredible variety and interests of the region. The museums present a wide range of collections from classic to contemporary art and from natural history to science. Take this walking tour to explore some of the most famous museums in San Diego.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 km
Gaslamp Quarter Walking Tour, San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter Walking Tour, San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter is a historical neighborhood established in 1876. It features 16 blocks of wonderful buildings, unique shops, amazing galleries and a wide range of restaurants. This tour highlights some of the most important tourists attractions in San Diego.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 km
Old Town Walking Tour, San Diego

Old Town Walking Tour, San Diego

Old Town San Diego is considered the "birthplace" of California. The Old Town Historic Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It features amazing old historic houses, unique specialty shops, the first San Diego newspaper office and spectacular gardens. Take this walking tour to discover some of the most beautiful sights that the Old Town of San Diego has to...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


Souvenir Shopping Guide: 14 Gifts That Say San Diego

Souvenir Shopping Guide: 14 Gifts That Say San Diego

San Diego is known for its beautiful, temperate climate, but you can’t take the weather home with you. If you want a piece of San Diego as a souvenir, it’s best to shop with the natives. Whether it is made locally or just made famous locally, following are 14 perfect gifts that capture the...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in San Diego for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best San Diego has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Taking Care of Your Feet


To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as San Diego, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device


Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.