It is my personal honor today to be writing about my favorite neighborhood in all of San Diego, Hillcrest. This area is where I call home when I’m in the city. Hillcrest is rich with activity, small businesses, and a whole lot of people who are exactly who they want to be. It’s home to San Diego’s LGBTQIA+ community, the epicenter of pride in oneself and the expression of that self. I adore hanging out here because it feels safe and comfortable, I am surrounded by my own community.
If you’re part of this community and you’re visiting, please let me tell you all about the vintage shops, restaurants, and events!
For my own conscience, as a member of both the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC community with this opportunity to talk about this area, I find it necessary to say this before I move forward. Hillcrest San Diego is a safe space for the minorities who live and visit San Diego. It is NOT a destination for people to gawk at people or their ways of life.
Hillcrest is a neighborhood filled with love, acceptance, and the inherent desire to be exactly who you are with no apologies. So respect pronouns, respect people. We are not a spectacle. We are just people. Bigots are not welcome here. If you want to learn more about the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Hillcrest, you can take this tour to show you around my favorite San Diego neighborhood>>
Top Things To Do in Hillcrest San Diego
Hillcrest Farmers Market
Location: 3960 Normal Street #3960, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Sundays 9am to 2pm
Phone: +1 (619) 29-3330
Every week an outdoor farmers market is held on Normal street. For the entire morning and part of the afternoon, the road is filled with vendors and people. Local artisans set up their booths to subtly boast about their amazingly grown and crafted items.
This is San Diego’s original and largest market filled with over 175 vendors and 10,000+ visitors each week. This is my favorite farmers market because of the welcoming feeling that comes with just being in this neighborhood.
You’ll find local LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC vendors and visitors, making it all the more comfortable for those in the community who want to visit. I definitely recommend going for a visit.
Please take your time to look around and even talk with some of the vendors, I’m certain that they’re exceptionally proud of their booth.
For more farmers markets check out this San Diego Farmers Market Guide.
Phone: +1 (619) 239-0512
In this lovely neighborhood, there is a 1,200-acre park filled with the historic urban culture of San Diego. It interestingly mixes Spanish colonial Revival, Mission Revival, and Pueblo Revival architecture. Everywhere around you’ll see the diverse buildings and businesses littering the beautiful park. Check out this fun tour that will show you all the history and hidden gems of Balboa Park>>
All year round there are events that take place to commemorate the time of year. In the winter time, there will be December Nights but more on that later. In the fall, there are haunted trails for those of you who are brave enough to go through it. Throughout the rest of the year, there are marathons and fundraisers for several different charities and causes. This is the perfect location for all of these events and so many more.
You can explore the museums, the shops, the restaurants, and the natural world around you. I personally enjoy having a picnic on a nice cool day or sketching out a few pieces of the surrounding nature while either listening to a podcast or just the sounds of the world. It’s a lovely place to relax or explore and one of the best things to do in Hillcrest San Diego!
If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest checking out some of the tours they offer on their website or starting with the museums! Oh the museums are so lovely and they cover so many different niches from art to science. It would definitely not be a waste if you spent your entire day here.
San Diego Zoo
Location: 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA, 92101, USA
Hours: Mon-Sun 9am to 5pm
Phone: +1 (619) 231-1515
Tickets: $50 to $212
If you like animals, wildlife, and/or conservation, then the San Diego Zoo might just be the place for you! This family-friendly park is filled with endangered animals and plants in the effort to preserve the species.
The zoo is built into a deep valley, almost like a bowl, so the trails deep in the zoo are perfect for hikers. There are accessible trails and a sky tram for those who can’t manage those steep hills, allowing everyone to still see the full zoo.
Beauty and education run through the very veins of the zoo; each plant is labeled just like any of the animals around. You can also learn through the shows and tours they offer as well. The zoo is considered a non-profit organization, as all profits go back to keeping the land and taking care of the animals.
While the price is definitely on the high side, it’s worth it to see and give back to the spectacular animals and plants. Give it a visit in your free time; there are stroller rentals available, which makes visiting with the kids easy.
Book your San Diego Zoo tickets here.
7 Bridges Hike
If hiking throughout the mountains isn’t your thing, might I suggest the 7 Bridges Hike? This trail is considered an “urban hiking trail” that runs through the lovely neighborhoods of San Diego. It is a 5.5 mile loop that will take you through Hillcrest, North Park, Balboa Park, Banker’s Hill and so much more.
What I like about this hike is that it’s easily accessible for wheelchairs, bikes, and strollers. If you want to take a break at all there are plenty of rest stops throughout the hike like coffee shops and other eateries, really whatever suits your palate. I personally like listening to a podcast as I leisurely stroll through the hike.
Whenever I spend the day in the Hillcrest area, I visit the vintage shops around. They’re all small businesses and usually either LGBTQIA+ and/or BIPOC owned. Each shop has its own personality and style. They’re small and personal with stuff from every era.
I adore visiting Blue Stocking Books; it’s where I can find whatever book I’m looking for at the time. I can’t tell you how many times they’ve had a book I’ve been looking for. Goodness and Flashbacks has retro styles in almost every size available.
You can find these vintage shops on most streets in the neighborhood. It makes for a fun day of hunting for niche things or just browsing in general.
Best Restaurants in Hillcrest San Diego
Location: 308 University Ave, Sandiego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am to 10pm; Sat-Sun 9am to 11pm
Phone: +1 (619) 491-0400
This spot is known for their amazing atmosphere and friendly workers. Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill has been around for over 40 years, the owners being extremely active members of the LGBTQIA+ community themselves. The food is like anything you’d find in a burger joint but it all tastes 50x better. They are a great contribution to the safe space that is Hillcrest San Diego.
Location: 111 Washington Street, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Tues-Thurs,Sun 11am to 9pm; Sat 11am to 10pm; Mon 5pm to 9pm
Phone: +1 (619) 291-3341
If you’re in the mood for a no nonsense cash-only spot, this might just be the place for you. There have been many days where I’ve gone to Bronx Pizza for dinner on late nights. The menu is really straightforward and each item is $21 or less depending on what you get. It’s a friendly atmosphere with people who like a no-frills no-nonsense pizza joint.
Location: 3603 4th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Fri-Sat 11am to 10pm; Mon-Tues, Wed-Thurs 11am to 9pm
Phone: +1 (619) 225-4200
I adore this community-focused pizza spot. It was opened in honor of the owner’s older sister, even including all of her favorite things on the menu as well as a variety of pizza and Mediterranean meals. The plates are beautiful, the employees are friendly, and the atmosphere is incredibly bright.
Location: 3628 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Sun-Fri 7:30am to 2pm; Sat 7:30am to 3pm
Phone: +1 (619) 298-4646
This is a neat spot where they make twisted-up versions of farm foods served with amazing crafted cocktails. Hash House is an interesting chain where they elevate the flavors of the Midwest. Visitors rave about the neat atmosphere and friendly employees. They pride themselves on becoming part of the community and strive to make it better with every day they’re open. There is usually a wait, but it is worth it. Oh, and the portions are humongous!
Location: 425 Robinson Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am to 10pm
Phone: +1 (619) 295-2510
A sweet late-night diner awaits you on Robinson Avenue. Their comfy cozy American food will put a warm feeling in your stomach. The owner is super responsive to any and every type of review from customers. Diners rave about the amazing food and wonderful service. While it’s called a late night diner, they serve up some pretty unique specialized items so your taste buds always have something to look forward to.
Dumplings N More
Location: 3865 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Wed-Thurs, Mon 11am to 3pm; 4pm to 8:30pm; Fri-Sun 11am to 8:30pm
Phone: +1 (619) 738-8539
If you’re ever in the mood for nice authentic Chinese food, I recommend going to this rad spot. Everyone who works there is nice, the atmosphere is casual and calm, and dang the food is absolutely amazing! If you’re into spicy noodles, I suggest you order the Dan Dan Noodles or you could order a variety of their mouthwatering dumplings. But really, you can’t go wrong with anything here.
Location: 2870 4th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Mon-Tours 9am to 8:30pm; Fri 9am to 9pm; Sat 10am to 9pm; Sun 10am to 8:30pm
Phone: +1 (619) 294-2132
After any meal, if your tummy has any room, dessert usually sounds fantastic. What better way to eat dessert than doing it extravagantly? At Extraordinary Desserts, you’ll be able to indulge in a variety of sweet treats. Not only are the desserts delicious, they’re gorgeous too!
Location: 1421 University Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm to 9pm; Sat-Sun 10am to 9pm
Phone: +1 (619) 269-8510
In Pride Square, there is a hopping Mexican restaurant who serves up spectacular margaritas. They openly celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, putting on drag shows, participating in Pride, and being just outwardly celebratory. Many young people have come out in this restaurant and I’m sure there will be more to come.
Location: 3805 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Sun-Wed 11:30am to 9pm; Thurs-Sat 11:30am to 10pm
Phone: +1 (619) 310-5298
With a straightforward menu and a neat atmosphere, Common Stock is certainly a place to put on your wishlist for restaurants to go to on your stay. It’s recently been rated the best Chicken Sandwich place in San Diego and they most definitely serve it in style. It gives you a nice friendly warm feel with delicious food to match.
Location: 3796 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Thurs-Sun 11am to 2am; Mon 4pm to 10pm
Phone: +1 (619) 298-2233
Originally opened in the 1930’s, The Rail is considered San Diego’s first gay bar. This historic spot offers the community a relaxing lounge-style feel. It upsets the stereotypical gay bar that the media has gotten used to. The Rail has been family owned and operated for over 55 years. Definitely think about giving it a visit.
Number One Fifth Avenue
Location: 3845 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm to 10pm
Phone: +1 (619) 299-1911
If you’re one for a more easy going atmosphere, then Number One Fifth Avenue might just be the place for you. This is where diversity is welcomed and friendship is super easy. Number One is a safe space like many of the other establishments in the neighborhood. It is highly suggested to go here for a fun night and a welcoming vibe.
Location: 1403 University Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Hours: Mon-Sun 6am to 10pm
Phone: +1 (619) 295-0881
For the crowd into the funky jukebox bar vibe, Alibi is for you. It is a friendly bar with a nice crew who serve up some killer cocktails. There’s also a really sweet board nearby that allows people to write down aspirations and dreams. But please keep in mind that this is a cash-only bar so maybe visit an ATM beforehand.
Location: 3537 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103
Hours: Mon-thurs 2pm to 2am; Fri 11am to 2am; Sat-Sun 9am to 2am
Phone: +1 (619) 295-2878
This retro spot is perfect for vibing with an inexpensive delicious cocktail and some righteous American bar bites. Everyone is very friendly and regulars are definitely regulars for a reason. I recommend this spot for those who want a chill atmosphere to drink and have fun in.
Location: 1220 University Avenue, San Diego, CA, 92103
Hours: Mon-Tues 2pm to 8pm; Wed-Thurs 2pm to 10pm; Fri 2pm to 11pm; Sat 10am to 11pm; Sun 10am to 8pm
Phone: +1 (619) 260-8023
An awesome LGBTQIA+ friendly joint where quirky cocktails and comfort food is served. Gossip Grill embraces the femme in the world, decorating the venue with a vibrant femme aesthetic. It’s a great spot for parties and get togethers.
Best Hotels in Hillcrest San Diego
Inn at the Park
Location: 525 Spruce Street, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Phone: +1 (619) 291-0999
This lovely 3-star resort is located on Balboa Park, close to all of the San Diego points of interest in the Downtown San Diego/Hillcrest area. They’re within walking distance which is such a bonus.
Inside the hotel, the rooms are spacious with enough space for a good kitchenette and roomy sleeping areas. There are also accessible rooms so everyone has the chance to stay at this beautifully built downtown inn. Check for prices here>>
Hillcrest House Bed & Breakfast
Location: 3845 Front Street, San Diego, CA, 92103, USA
Phone: +1 (619) 990-2441
In a quiet, secluded neighborhood there is a relaxing and romantic bed and breakfast. This is a really lovely spot for couples and solo travelers who want to have a sweet stay in Hillcrest San Diego.
If you want to know what’s happening in town or just want to know where to start your exploration, the employees have all the details you could want. With amazing cleanliness and sanitation along with stellar services and amenities, this is definitely a must in your hotel considerations. Check for prices here>>
Location: from Hillcrest Pride Flag to Quince Dr
When: July 12-17, 2023
Pride. This is the event for the entire LGBTQIA+ community. Pride Parade is where you can be whoever you are without apologies as long as you aren’t hurting anyone. Every year, San Diego hosts a parade and a festival for Pride. In all of its years, San Diego has raised the most funds for community outreach out of all of the Prides hosted in the country.
This spectacular event screams to the world that members of the LGBTQIA+ community will be safe, always. If you’re a member of the community or a strong ally of it, you should attend and show your support! There’s no doubt this is one of the best things to do in Hillcrest San Diego.
Location: Balboa Park
Every year, there is a lovely festival to celebrate the longest night of the year and the coming of the New Year. There are vendors for food, art, crafts, and so much more! Museums are open for visitors and performances are diverse, each more beautiful than the last.
It is an intense celebration of culture, arts, and education! Please, if you’re in town then check it out! The event is free and it’s so much fun. Read our full guide on December Nights here>>
The Hillcrest neighborhood is a place to feel safe being who you are. There are dozens of LGBTQIA+ owned shops, restaurants, and hotels around. All you have to do is look them up. Don’t stop at this article.
Last Updated on May 25, 2023 by Maria Haase