San Diego Neighborhoods
April 4, 2006 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Short Term (6+ months) stay in San Diego: Looking for recommendations for interesting + relatively affordable neighborhoods/towns in/near SD with possible rail/transit access to Downtown (for work).

Would prefer character and charm over strip mall sprawl of the crackerbox condo/apt community variety. Easy access to the waterfront or parks would be nice but isn't a requirement. Urban and/or Artsy (but non-collegiate) area and cheap (but good + local) ethnic eats are definitely a plus. Short drive to Downtown is ok as long as Highways can be avoided.

Yes, I read this thread.
posted by shoepal to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In my opinion the best fit for your requirements (urban/artsy) would most likely be Hillcrest. It's pedestrian and has a lot of great eateries and is quite wonderful. However, it isn't cheap (depending on your definition, of course). Most of the more charming areas IMHO like hillcrest, golden hill (actually this one might be more affordable) are relatively expensive and the apartments are less spacious. North Park is also relatively urban, I think.

i dont know about the city itself since I live closer to La Jolla, but public transit of any kind up here is terrible (especially for an ex-New Yorker like me) and I wouldn't count on it to be consistent espcially as a work commute. The traffic here is quite terrible so if you already know where you will work, you might want to live relatively close to work and then drive to other neighborhoods to play since that most likely won't be during rush hour.

hope this helps. feel free to email me if you need more detail. karen at karenika dot com.
posted by karen at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2006

I would second Hillcrest, and also add Little Italy, North Park, and Kensington as cool neighborhoods close to downtown. There's also plenty of new development going in downtown that might be worth looking at. All of these will likely be fairly expensive.

For something a little cheaper, you might try Mission Valley. No character or charm, really, but well-served by the trolley. Pretty much anywhere else in town is going to have horrible public transportation.
posted by sbrollins at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2006

I would third Hillcrest - my family's owned rental property there for 30+ years and it's what you're looking for. We don't do short term rentals, though.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2006

I replied to your email.
posted by LionIndex at 10:53 AM on April 4, 2006

In addition to the neighborhoods mentioned above, I'd add South Park to the list as well. It has nice blocks and bad blocks so you'll need physically check out your residence before you live there, but still in that same general area.

These areas provide everything you're asking for. South park and North park being named for their relative location to of course, Balboa Park. You're going to be about a 20 minute drive out to a variety of oceanfronts all the way from the end of Highway One, Ocean Beach, and Pacific Beach, which all have their distinct characteristics and personalities.

Hillcrest/North Park will have the culture you're looking for. Lots of good eats, but you'll have to hunt for the cheap ones.

I wouldn't live downtown. It's ridiculously over-priced and overrated. (Did you see the thread over in the blue about the San Diego condo open house?) For a short term stay like yours, I think the areas mentioned above have a lot more you can explore. Downtown will be good for 2-3 trips before you know pretty much everything it has to offer. You'd be better off taking some time visiting the north coastal areas on the weekends (La Jolla, Del Mar, Carlsbad, Encinitas) with beautiful beaches and some really good restaurants.
posted by like_neon at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2006

You can take "cheap" off your list. All of the other wish list items you specify preclude cheap. You certainly can find cheap housing, but it's either inland quite a ways, is not very secure, or it's in neighborhoods I don't think (judging from your criteria) you'd like.

Hiilcrest sounds like the place for you. Or Little Italy. Coronado maybe. Del Mar. Great ethnic food is all over the place (especially in the strip malls, oddly).

Also keep in mind that "close to" is a relative term down here. We're a car culture and nothing is close.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2006

Thanks LionIndex, I got it. Very helpful! (and very appreciated). Feel free to post your email as a response if you're comfortable doing so.
posted by shoepal at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2006

Go ahead and post it. It'll be really messy and rife with '>'s if I use your response.
posted by LionIndex at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2006

Thanks, all! I'm researching your suggestions. All are very much appreciated.
posted by shoepal at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2006

Kensington, Normal Heights, Univ. Heights, North Park and South Park are relatively affordable, and have usable public transportation to downtown.

Ocean Beach would fit your other criteria, but I dunno how speedy the busses could get you downtown. The other beach areas are nice as well, but all suffer from a traffic bottleneck during rush hours.
posted by gemini at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2006

**This is my horribly formatted reply to shoepal's earlier email.**

Glad to help! As I said in the thread you referenced, I'm a SD native, and
I've only really left town to go to college, so my experience with living in
ther locales is pretty limited and I won't be able to offer you much of an
objective comparison between San Diego and other places. I have travelled a
bit, but usually I go to New York to visit friends. We'll just start by
saying that San Diego is absolutely nothing like New York, except that it
has some concrete in it. I don't know you and your wife's ages, but I'm 30,
so I'm not exactly a youngster myself.

>We're looking for a safe neighborhood with character that is close to
>public transit (pref trolley) and close to but not necessarily in
>downtown (she'll be working downtown and her office is near a trolley
>stop). We'll have a car, but aren't keen on driving a lot and prefer to
>and shop near where we live for the most part. We like art films,
>indie music, and cheap but good ethnic food. We're not strip mall or
>chain food consumers and would prefer to avoid areas of suburban
>sprawl if possible.
>Encinitas seems to come up a lot in that Metafilter thread. What is
>it like there? Is it reasonable to take The Coaster downtown from
>Encinitas daily? Will we feel detached from the city up there? Where
>exactly are the "arty" neighborhoods? PB? OB? Mission Hills?

Basically, your interests sound pretty similar to mine in choosing where to
live. I don't like to drive too much, but it's unfortunately almost a
necessity here so your best bet is really to simply reduce your dependency
on a car. I'm currently trying to knock it down to just when I go to the
store or friend's places in more far-flung areas. If you're looking for
safe, arty, pseudo-hipster type neighborhoods, your best bets are generally
going to be in the area bounded by the 805 freeway on the east, the 94 on
the south, the 8 on the north, and the ocean/San Diego Bay. These would
include Mission Hills (where I live), Middletown, Banker's Hill, Little
Italy (trust me--not like New York), Hillcrest, North Park, South Park,
Golden Hill, and Old Town. The trolley line north from downtown runs
through (in order) Little Italy, Middletown, Mission Hills, and then Old
Town. From there, you can switch to another trolley and head into Mission
Valley, which is essentially a giant shopping mall (at least four,

Little Italy is one of the more up-and-coming areas of town, and a lot of
development has happened there recently, greatly increasing the population
density, so it's probably the most urban of the neighborhoods I've listed.
Most of the recent buildings that have gone up are pretty interesting
architecturally, but there are a couple developer-driven monstrosities in
the mix. Mission Hills is pretty similar, but a little smaller and more
suburban. Lots of architectural firms and other creative-type places make
their homes in and between those two areas, but I would think that Little
Italy would be a little more interesting to walk around in. Middletown is
pretty industrial, and filled with a lot of businesses that cater to airport
traffic. Old Town is touristy, but fun to walk around in and has a bunch of
restaurants, most of which are Mexican. Banker's Hill and Hillcrest are
both really cool parts of town, but a ways up the hill from the trolley
line. They do have fairly easy access to downtown via the bus system, and
they're not far enough away that the ride is incredibly long, so that's an
option. Hillcrest is the "gay" part of town, which means it has its fair
number of clubs, but also has a load of restaurants and fun stores, and is a
really good walking neighborhood. One major downside to Banker's Hill is
that it's right under the flight path for the airport. North Park, South
Park and Golden Hill are our versions of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) at the
moment--kind of boho and just starting to emerge from not being very "safe".
A friend of mine lived in Golden Hill a while ago, and while her building
and her neighbors were generally pretty cool, it could be a little scary
once in a while. South Park and Golden Hill are hipster central at the
moment, but they're pretty landlocked as far as public transportation.

PB is a giant party zone--lots of college students live there, and the main
drag is full of bars and drunk people walking and driving around. It's
generally popular with the under-25 crowd--after that, people get jobs and
decide they need to sleep at night. The nightlife parts of Downtown are
quite similar to PB, just with an older crowd. OB is the archetypical beach
community--really laid back, lots of hippie types, and a lot of people that
have been living there or elsewhere in SD for years. For people that really
want to live by the beach, it's a good place to go. Everything you need for
day-to-day life is within easy walking distance, and although there's a
strip with a bunch of bars on it, it's mostly confined to that one little
section and not really too bad. The only negative is that if you're working
outside OB, you'll pretty much need a car--the trolley doesn't go near it
and it's fairly detached from bus service. Encinitas is kind of the upscale
northern version of OB, especially the Leucadia section of it (Encinitas
actually just incorporated as a city about 10 years ago, merging the
formerly independent communities of Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff-by-the-Sea,
and Olivienhain). It's sleepy, and I imagine you would feel separated from
the city living there, but it's a pretty decent community unto itself. I've
never taken the Coaster, so I don't know much about it, but it seems that
plenty of people make it their method for their commute so I imagine it's a
completely reasonable option. If you take it to downtown, you'll end up at
the Santa Fe depot, which is also a trolley stop. Anyplace in downtown
really isn't far from a trolley stop--the area is pretty small and is almost
encircled by two trolley lines.

As far as amenities: For indie rock, you'll want to head to the Casbah,
located in Middletown. It's a small club, about 300 capacity, and they
usually get the underground bands coming through town. They'll farm out
shows that are bigger than what they can handle to some other locations, but
they generally have a pretty good lineup with a mix of national and local
acts. I usually walk the 1.5 mile stretch to get there from my place, and
you could probably easily do the same from Banker's Hill or Little Italy.
Art movies are typically shown at a local chain called Landmark Cinemas.
They've got a location in Hillcrest and a couple others scattered around.

Unfortunately, San Diego doesn't really do so great with the cheap little
ethnic restaurant stuff, unless you count Mexican food, which is utterly
ubiquitous. If they're not chain restaurants, which make up the bulk of
visible places in the suburbs, they usually tend towards the trendy side,
especially in the more well-off and trendy areas like Hillcrest. You can
easily find stuff that fits your taste, but sometimes you have to dig around
a bit.

I think if I were you, I'd probably try for Little Italy, followed by
Mission Hills or Hillcrest. The only downside to Little Italy is that
there's not a grocery store in the neighborhood, and I don't know where the
closest one is, although you wouldn't really have to go far. Mission Hills
and Hillcrest don't have that problem. If you can, visit here before you
settle into a place so you can look around. At worst, if you make a
regretful decision, you'll only be here for 9 months so it's not so bad. I
managed to live in Misison Valley for 3 years, so you guys can probably
tough something out.
posted by LionIndex at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2006

"Unfortunately, San Diego doesn't really do so great with the cheap little ethnic restaurant stuff, unless you count Mexican food"

I need to strongly disagree with this.

I typically eat in north county, so maybe we're talking about two different restaurant scenes, but I've been amazed at the variety of cheap yet good ethnic shops. As I said, they seem to be in the strip malls for some reason. Thai, Indian, Philippino, Afghan, some Greek here and there, and all manner of Asian. For example - Try just driving down Convoy street. Wow. Spicy City is a favorite.

Now, granted, this isn't an easy trolley ride. But San Diego just isn't a public transport sort of place. It just isn't. But even in Hillcrest you have plenty of places like Mama's.

I have huge Asian and Indian markets within a few blocks of my place in Mira Mesa. Maybe this is just a North county thing. Of course there is some really awful food, and you do indeed need to dig around.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:47 PM on April 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

The trolley goes straight into downtown, and runs in from both the South Bay and East County. I grew up in Chula Vista and found getting downtown via trolley to be a breeze (and would occasionally take it when I lived in La Mesa, which is just east of SDSU). This might help you to expand your search south and east somewhat. As someone suggested before, you could always live in a convenient neighborhood, and drive elsewhere for your leisure time... it's kind of what people do in that town.
posted by the_bone at 1:12 PM on April 4, 2006

I lived in Golden Hill for a few years in the late 90s and early 00s. It was (for San Diego) inexpensive, and there was a great bus connection to downtown, straight down "C" Street. Another bus went right up 30th Street through South Park on through North Park up into (I think) Mission Valley. There was also easy access to the 94 or 805 freeways, if you needed to go further afield.

At the time, I had a sense of Golden Hill being "semi-safe" (there was a crack house around the corner, and a run-down apartment complex next door) but it definitely varied from block to block. The "quality" and housing expense both went up as you went on up into South Park and points north.

As for ambience, there was a funky mixture of old turn-of-the-century and Craftsman houses and mid-century apartments. By the time we left (2002) there was starting to be some redevlopment on several blocks; I imagine it's even more by now.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:22 PM on April 4, 2006

Try just driving down Convoy street. Wow.

Yeah, I was mostly talking about the areas I was talking about, if that makes sense. Convoy/Linda Vista/Clairemont was a huge exception in my mind to the dearth of cheap ethnic stuff, but given the constraints of the question, I decided that those areas weren't really where shoepal was looking to live and they're obviously not walking districts. So, yeah, I was too dismissive in saying that SD totally sucks at the cheap ethnic stuff, but I think most people just driving around town would have a hard time finding that kind of stuff.
posted by LionIndex at 1:35 PM on April 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think I know where LionIndex was going with their comment. y6 is right that there's a TON of GOOD cheap food out here (and such a surprising variety!) but it's hard to find except via word of mouth and you'll need to drive.

Yummy cheap eats in SD (ie less than $10 a person) is a completely different sphere we can probably spend ages on. (Maybe shoepal can followup on it after they move?)

I also wanted to heartily recommend checking out the Casbah. Lots of indie bands go there for their first pass through SD as a sort of legitimizer for their act. Canes Bar and Grill is also great for live music too. The new House of Blues downtown is good for a splurge.
posted by like_neon at 4:16 PM on April 4, 2006

There's been a good Chinese place in Hillcrest - the Golden Dragon - for at least 30 years. They catered my grandfather's wake.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:39 PM on April 4, 2006

We made it to SD but are still looking for a place to live. Will post an update as soon as we get settled (somewhere).
posted by shoepal at 1:49 PM on April 18, 2006

Wise words from the_bone:
you could always live in a convenient neighborhood, and drive elsewhere for your leisure time... it's kind of what people do in that town.

OK. We're settled (and loving it). We chose Hillcrest (on the cusp of bankers hill). The neighborhood is perfect, quiet and relatively close to downtown (about 2 miles). We have no qualms walking downtown or uptown, but most folks would find that odd. We looked in Little Italy and Golden Hill, but found Hillcrest to be lively, walkable, and rather well situated (close to downtown, 163, 5) The neighborhood is chock full of restaurants, though we've not been blow away by any just yet. and we're also within walking distance to several grocery stores (ralphs, Whole Foods, Trader Joes), which is nice since we like to cook during the week.

Amusingly, we're finding that we drive to the various ethnic enclaves for dinners. There's a great South Indian restaurant and a bunch of markets out on/off Black Mountain road off of Mira Mesa blvd. Speaking of markets, there's a Japanese grocery store called Mitsuwa on Kearny Mesa Rd and a 99 Ranch Market on Clairemont Mesa Blvd/Convoy.

Oddly, our favorite Thai restaurant happens to be on Coronado. Swadee. We stumbled in there one evening after wandering around Coronado and were pleasantly surprised. Having had Gang Keo Wan Gai on several continents, as well as many times in Thailand, I can assure you that Swafee is legit, if a bit pricey.

For South of the Border flavor, we love Cuatros Milpas, which is a mission style facility in barrio logan that keeps very restictive hours and generally has a line. Though, some folks argue whether it is really "that good." As East Coasters, it is plenty good for us. I also like Esmeralda's on "C" downtown for TJ style fish tacos. Sadly we've not explored the Mexican culinary offerings as much as we should given the proximity. We'll definitely be branching out and checking out some recs we've received from a couple of natives.

Though, there's a great afghan place in the Gaslamp that was delicious, and of course The famous Cheese Shop, we've not tried many of the Gaslamp establishments. We have heard that the persian place is good, but haven't been there yet. It only took one saturday evening in the Gaslamp to figure out that we're not part of that demographic. Same for Old Town.

So, we're quite comfortable and enjoying the gorgeous weather and myriad options for dining and procuring cooking supplies and heartily thank you all for your advice and help back in April.
posted by shoepal at 11:04 PM on June 26, 2006

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