Go local in San Diego neighborhoods like South Park. (Photos: Haoyuan Ren)
If you squint, you can almost mistake South Park, a charming enclave three miles from downtown San Diego, for Portland – just with much better weather. This historic neighborhood’s got it all: tree-lined streets, cheery California bungalows, and a super cozy community feel. It helps that the majority of businesses are locally owned and that the neighborhood hosts fun public events throughout the year (if free snacks and live tunes are your jam, you’re gonna want to hit up the quarterly Walkabout).
Sound idyllic? Pull over and get to meandering. It’s totally doable to explore South Park in a day, from bikes and hikes, to boutiques and burgers.
Get your day started the SoCal way by joining the line of fitness-loving locals at Sacred Juice,a raw, cold-pressed juice bar and organic market. Opt for a vibrant red apple, carrot, beet, spinach, lemon and ginger juice, with an açai and almond milk protein bowl on the side. Feeling sunny? We thought so.
Keep your energy up by making Thomas Bike Shop your next stop. Established in 1907, it has the honor of being San Diego’s oldest bike shop – and for just 25 bucks, you can rent a pair of wheels for the day.
Quick tip: you might wanna make yours a mountain bike if you’re planning to hit up Balboa Park. One of the city’s biggest green spaces (packed with museums and other cultural institutions), the park abuts South Park’s western edge. From the Golden Hill Trails Gateway at 25th and Russ, you can follow trail number 22 for a moderate ride that will take you through rugged canyons and paths lined with fragrant eucalyptus trees.
Prefer to explore San Diego on foot? In South Park, you’re also right next to Juniper Canyon, which is small enough to be walkable, but extensive enough to host a thriving coastal sage scrub habitat.
You might’ve started the day with a healthy juice, but after all that cycling and walking, some protein is definitely in order. Head next to Station Tavern, where you can chow down on juicy Angus beef or an equally satisfying spicy black bean burger.
And you can feel good about it, too: this largely open-air restaurant and beer garden has serious eco cred. The upcycled bar, tables and stools are made from 100-year-old wood panels, and rooftop solar panels generate roughly 30% of the restaurant’s electricity. Order a side of tater tots and take advantage of the moderate, Mediterranean climate by grabbing a seat at one of the communal picnic tables outside.
South Park is home to upwards of 70 independently owned small businesses, making it one of the best places in San Diego to find locally made gifts and souvenirs. In the historic 30th & Fern commercial center – which once comprised a grocery store, automotive garage and fire station – Graffiti Beach now offers a brand of “beach meets street.” The boutique sells unique pieces like painted wood bangle bracelets, vintage-style t-shirts, and flannel wallets made in California.
DIY types shouldn’t miss the chance to take a class at nearby Plum Pottery. Veteran instructors assist beginners in fashioning vases or coffee mugs, while more experienced potters can turn out impressive items like Moroccan tagines.
La Dolce Vita
You can’t fully explore San Diego without sampling the city’s super-fresh fare. For top-notch Cal-Italian, grab dinner at Buona Forchetta, an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant.The glittering gold Stefano Ferrara wood-fired pizza oven is the star of the show; nicknamed “Sofia” after one of the Italian owner’s daughters, it turns out piping-hot thin-crust pies. You can opt for a traditional Margherita, or go unconventional with an Agnese, topped with porcini mushrooms, shrimp, scallops, ricotta and mozzarella.
The sun may have already set, but stick it out and make the Whistle Stop Bar your last South Park visit. This lovable dive, with an exterior that resembles a vintage train car, is the best place around for late night entertainment. You can be sure of special events nearly every night of the week, ranging from live music and 80s dance parties to “Star Wars” trivia nights. Park the car for the night, grab a pint of local IPA, and join in on the fun.
Looking for more of San Diego with an art and music edge? Make tomorrow’s plan a jaunt to the eclectic and walkable North Park.
This article was published as part of a partnership with Zipcar’s online magazine Ziptopia.