A walk through Little Italy in San Diego

Little Italy Landmark sign

Little Italy Landmark sign

Italian history and culture

Little Italy banners: Italian history and culture

What to expect from Little Italy

San Diego's is one of the biggest Little Italy in the USA, spreading over fifty blocks in the northwest end of Downtown. Originally born as a fishermen community, sitting only a couple of blocks from the Bay, it grew to become the vibrant and funky neighborhood it is today. The heart of Little Italy is India Street where restaurants, bars, stores and art galleries follow one another and you can be submerged in the buzzing feeling of a live and loud community. If you want a taste of what real Italy is like this is the place for you:  it is the perfect recreation of a southern Italian town with the sun shining on the white walls of small houses, the restaurants releasing a perfect pizza scent and different generations of Italians greeting each others in front of a tiny cup of espresso. The San Diego Little Italy community takes big pride in the neighborhood that even the areas located a bit further from the buzzing India Street are a constant reminder to Italian history and art with hundreds of signs showing the names of Italian regions, historical figures or traditional advertisements, so that tourists are constantly reminded of where they are and where it all came from. But in order to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about I thought of taking you for a small tour of San Diego’s little Italy. So put your tennis shoes on because we’re about to go for a walk!  

Let’s take a walk!

Amici Park

The starting point of our tour is Amici Park, on the corner of Union Street and W Date Street. The park consists of a small amphitheater, a green red and white bocce balls court and a separated area dedicated to our four-legged friends, and it makes a perfect location if you want to have a break from the chaos of India Street and enjoy the more relaxed and laid back atmosphere that Little Italy has to offer. Along the sidewalk on W Date streets floor plaques show inscriptions like old Italian sayings or hymns to friendship (Amici means Friends in Italian). Examples of art can be found in the free-standing bronze sculptures  showing recipes of traditional foods not only from Italy, but from different parts of the world as a celebration to immigration and the immigrants’ will to share their culture with their hosting Country.

Little Italy Landmark sign

Walking west for two blocks towards the Bay we find ourselves in India Street, the pulsing heart of the community. If we turn right and look up the Little Italy land mark sign stands welcoming in its simplicity. It was inaugurated on October 2000 as a tribute to the Italian immigrant community which populated the area since the 1960’s when it was mainly a fishing neighborhood. The nautical theme can be found on the west column where a mosaic of blue, white and grey tiles represent a fishing scene; while Italy is celebrated on the eastern column where men making pizzas or women in traditional Italian dressed rest on a background of white mosaic tiles. The sign “Little Italy” in simple blue letters is on white arch under which the long succession of India Street’s restaurants, bars and stores invites you to enjoy end experience the pulsing atmosphere.

Piazza Basilone

Making our way north through the cheerful chaos of India Street we reach our final destination in Piazza Basilone, on the corner of India and W Fir Street. This little space was created in 2003 to celebrate Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone (who fought in the Pacific during WWII) and in general “The boys who never came home”. The plaza is dedicated to all those Italian American (but also Portuguese and Mexican soldiers) who fought and died in all the wars of the 20th century and the flags of Italy, Portugal Mexico and United States fly as a reminder of their heroism. At the center of the piazza there is a small fountain in which the water flows from a mosaic of the Globe, giving a relaxing and soothing feeling. On its east side a sort of mini amphitheater is decorated by plaques with embossed the names of Italian American families from the community, while on the west side the bust of John Basilone creates the main feature of the Piazza and stands as a reminder and symbol of what the plaza what created for.

The Farmer’s Market

If you happen to be in the area on a Saturday morning an interesting de-tour is the Farmers Market or Mercato (Saturdays 8am-2pm). The Market is held on W Cedar Street and runs for five blocks from Kettner Boulevard to Front Street. The Mercato is not only about Italian goods but a gathering of more than a hundred vendors selling fresh produce like vegetable, fruit, dairy, drinks but also crafts, plants and more. If you are looking for organic peanut butter, bio avocados or a handmade piece of jewelry this is the place! The Market usually becomes very crowded in the latest hours of the morning so if you have the chance visit it early, also to take advantage of coolest temperatures that tend to rise during the day.

If you want to grab a bite

If there is one thing you can be sure of is that you will never starve in Little Italy. The area is filled with restaurants of any kind; the majority are Italian restaurants where most of the dishes are very close to their real Italian recipes and the pizza is outstanding. There is a large variety you can choose from in terms of taste and price. Many restaurants offer vegetarian or even vegan menus, which is pretty new especially for a cuisine of Italian made. If you feel crafty enough and decide to cook an all-Italian dinner from scratch Mona Lisa Market, on the corner of India and Hawthorn Street, is one of the oldest Italian Market in the city and offers a wide selection of typical Italian products or brands. It also serves as a deli and restaurant. Much less Italian but still very interesting is M Winehouse on India Street. The small Victorian-style house, now converted into a wine bar, is the oldest in Little Italy, being built in 1888, and it recently became an historical landmark (you can find the bronze plaque near the entrance). With its grey wooden walls and white fence it gives you the feeling of being thrown back in the past. He you can sit and enjoy one of their many craft wines and beers and peacefully watch the tourists stroll down the main street.   You can find more about the San Diego Little Italy communty at http://www.littleitalysd.com/, the website also features an interesting app that you can download to learn more about the area while taking your own walking tour!   Salva

Marta Santoru

I am a small town girl (well…woman) from Italy. I was born in Milan, lived in Ireland, Florida and I am enjoying a beautiful summer in California at the moment. I’ve travelled all round Europe, Russia and I’ve seen my share of the United States on the road; yet, I believe I’ve only just started. Amongst my favorite destinations are Washington, the Grand Canyon, St Petersburg and my beautiful Italy!