The Renaissance of San Diego’s Little Italy, Published in San Diego Woman Magazine

By Robin Dohrn-Simpson

The Italian Renaissance in the 1400’s gave the world Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli. It also gave us new art, science and changed the course of human history. The renaissance in San Diego‘s Little Italy gave us great restaurants and pubs, really cool architecture and stickball. So, they’re pretty much the same in terms of historical significance. Well, almost.  A community since the 1920’s, Little Italy is San Diego’s oldest continuous neighborhood business district. This village in the middle of the city, just east of the airport, is the new hip and cool spot in San Diego.  There is always something fun happening: festas, art walks and fine dining, fresh local produce and Italian fare at the farmer’s market on Saturday.A highlight is the funky architecture and colorful facades; mixing traditional design with modern textures. The new trend of urban housing is demonstrated in this area: live, work, relax and eat in your neighborhood. The skyline is dotted with transformed condos as well as newly built ones. 

Italian Hospitality

I can’t believe that Italians actually live here and speak Italian.”  A shopper was overheard saying at the farmer’s market. It’s true; it’s an actual gathering place for real Italians. With typically consummate Italian hospitality there are chairs lining the sidewalks for you to sit and hang out, visit with friends or just relax. You can lounge in one of five Piazzas (Italian central squares or meeting areas) along India Street, feel the ocean breeze and while away the time.  Little Italy Farmers MercatoStart your weekend with a visit to the Mercato. Every Saturday morning, you will find merchants and farmers displaying their fresh produce and Italian delicacies on Date Street. Enjoy the harbor view as you meander from stall to stall sampling and purchasing fresh local produce and Italian fare. Even dogs get a treat here. Sit back and enjoy an Italian coffee and listen to the live music with today’s street performers. An absolute must is a Nutella crepe at the creperie stall.  The Design DistrictFashioned after Soho and Chelsea in New York City, with lots of brick, large open doors and windows, the showrooms boast Italian kitchens, furnishings and European tiles. As is typical with most areas of the world, cultures are blended and so are designs, therefore you will also see a beautiful Asian furniture showroom and a colorful French Country store.

 Eateries and Restaurants

Italy, like other parts of the world, is not homogeneous, and neither is Little Italy. The restaurants reflect the multi-cultural world we live in. You can drink ale at a British Pub, savor sumptuous delights at Extraordinary Desserts, dine at one of many Italian restaurants and enjoy live music at Anthology. Joe & Lisa Busalacchi are well represented with five restaurants and the Cohn family has the Indigo Grill serving New Western Cuisine. All you need to do is walk around and pick one that catches your eye and try it. You can’t miss. ArtSan Diegans love art and the art district delivers with a fine sampling of artists. Kettner Nights , the 2nd Friday of every other month, is a great way to experience art. You can browse through the businesses and studios on and around Kettner Boulevard and find your new favorite artist. 

 FestasItalians love a good party. That love is reflected in the events throughout the year in Little Italy. Gesso Italiano, over Columbus Day weekend, brings street painting artists from around the globe. The theme of the chalk paintings is traditional art from the old world. Artists offer their creative interpretations of the works of Italian masters, artists, singers and scientists. The possibilities are endless.  April is for Artwalk, one of San Diego’s favorite events. India Street is lined from one end to the other with artists’ stalls. Here artists come from all around to show their creativity to thousands of visitors. You can spend the entire day here appreciating art and artistry, and a cold beer or two. May celebrates many things including, the love of food with the Taste of Little Italy. Participating restaurants, not just of the Italian varietal, offer tastes from their menus. Stroll the avenues, listen to musical performers and sample appetizers, entrées and desserts from the neighborhoods eateries. And now for something different…StickballFor a little physical fun, Little Italy is the home of Stickball on the west coast. Played on the first Sunday of the month, the season is November through June. Streets are blocked off to cars on Colombia Street, between Beech and Cedar. The streets are taped off (including going up a building) to show boundaries. Buildings, curbs, parking meters, signs and balconies are all playable in fair territory. Bases are evidently known but not visible. No one uses gloves and the hitter only gets one swing of the stick to connect with the rubber ball, which he lobs in the air himself. The stick looks like a broom stick with a handle fashioned out of duct tape. Making contact with the balls seems very difficult to the casual observer. Players of all ages are welcome to play. Games take place between 1 and 4pm. Observing this game from the sidelines is a lot of fun.  There is an annual 3-day stickball event every Labor Day weekend with teams competing from as far away as New York and Puerto Rico.  GelatoNo trip to Italy would be complete withoutgelato. And in the author’s humble opinion, the best gelato can be found at Pappalecco on the corner of State and Cedar. Take my word for it. Search it out. Find it. Enjoy. For more information and to find out dates and times of events go to:  

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