Entertainment & Events

The Neighborhood Project – Hillcrest

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The Famous Hillcrest sign at 5th & University Avenues

The Famous Hillcrest sign at 5th & University Avenues

This is the first installment of the Entertainer’s “Neighborhood Project”, where we profile different communities around San Diego County. Our goal is to inform readers of the rich history of these neighborhoods and to explore some of the landmarks, shops, famous eateries and hangouts that have come to define the community over the years. Contributor Rae McCormack and photographer Katie Fisher went to Hillcrest to capture the scene, with more of Katie’s photographs posted here. We hope you enjoy!

Located between Balboa Park and Washington Street and bordered by Park Boulevard to the East and First Street to the West, Hillcrest is the hip, kitschy section of uptown with a bustling nightlife and lots of great restaurants.

University Avenue bisects the heart of Hillcrest

University Avenue bisects the heart of Hillcrest (Photo - Katie Fisher)

But, did you know that Hillcrest is one of the city’s oldest communities and has been recognized as a part of the city since 1907? It was the year before that the 40 acre parcel of land was purchased by William Wesley Whitson at the advice of his sister, Laura Anderson, who also named this subdivision of University Heights.

A great place to live, work or play, Hillcrest won the prestigious Great Places in America, Neighborhoods Award from the American Planning Association (APA) in 2007, the award’s inaugural year. The APA touts this area as “Diverse, Urbane and Trendsetting.”

In fact, many consider Pernicano’s to be the biggest blight on the landscape. This once bustling restaurant served many movie stars, famous athletes and was a hot spot in San Diego from 1946-1985 (now survived by it’s sole location in Scripps Ranch). Now the restaurant and its sister Casa di Baffi have been sitting closed for almost 25 years and many urban legends surround the reason behind the vacant, decaying properties and unused parking lot. One story says he won’t sell it because half of the money would go to his ex-wife, but the wealthy land owner himself claims it is because his “body and soul are in there.”

The gay community in Hillcrest is certainly not hidden from sight

The gay community in Hillcrest is certainly not hidden from sight (Photo - Katie Fisher)

Hillcrest is also home to the annual San Diego Pride Parade, celebrated every summer since 1974. It was this first year that approximately 200 people marched in protest, decrying a lack of equal rights and the denial of a permit from the city. The following year began the official, permitted San Diego Pride Parade. During July every year, over 150,000 people line the streets to see floats from groups all over San Diego, including the Police and Fire Departments, local stores and restaurants as well as community groups. Traditionally, the event takes place on University Avenue beginning at Normal Street and ends on 6th Avenue at Upas.

While the Pride Parade promotes the acceptance of homosexuality, many of the spectators and participants of this event are not necessarily gay, but enjoy the major community party and festival in the park. This time of year the main drag is lined with rainbow flags on many businesses, as well as decorated homes and cars. The parade is the largest civic event in San Diego and possibly the best event in Hillcrest, as thousands dress in outrageous costumes and flaunt their love for one another.

This part of town is also well known for its many historical bridges—most of which were built to connect Hillcrest to surrounding neighborhoods. Spruce Street, built in 1912 above Arroyo Canyon, is the only suspension footbridge in San Diego County and can be accessed by turning West on Spruce from First Street. Built due to the Improvement Act of 1911, First Street Bridge (also known as the People’s Bridge) is one of only a few steel arch bridges in San Diego. Built in 1931, it is said to have been completely assembled on the floor of the Midwestern fabrication plant, dismantled and shipped to San Diego. The wooden trestle pedestrian bridge on Quince Street was created for only $805 in 1905 and reopened with only 30% original wood (due to termites & dry rot) in August of 1990. Spend a day hiking in Balboa Park and you’re sure to cross the bridge on Upas Street. Built in 1946, this little bridge was primarily a bridle path for horses, now it hosts mostly bikes and people; it crosses Highway 163 through Cabrillo Canyon and connects hiking trails throughout Balboa Park and adjacent Marston Hills.

Home to many second-hand shops, this part of town is also a great place to spend a Saturday walking the main drag and enjoying the San Diego sun. Among the most popular are the Buffalo Exchange and Flashbacks, but there are many smaller, little known shops with amazing deals, like 5th Avenue Books and House of Heirlooms, a community staple since the 1940s (now a “cheap discount store” according to Yelp).

Flashbacks is a popular vintage clothing destination (Photo - Katie Fisher)

Flashbacks is a popular vintage clothing destination (Photo - Katie Fisher)

Want new merchandise? Check out all the great boutiques such as Style Child, Mint Shoe Store, T.U.K. and Babette Schwartz. Don’t miss the unique Village Hat Shop to find just about any hat you can imagine.

When you’re ready to eat, there’s no need to leave town. Stick around for lots of dining choices from casual (try Jimmy Carter’s for lunch or Hash House A-GoGo for brunch) to formal (The Prado in Balboa Park and Mr. A’s are two unforgettable dinner sites). Be sure to stop by Baja Betty’s $3 “Papi Hour” every weeknight from 2-6 pm and stop in for $1 fish tacos in the bar every Tuesday. Other great places to grab a drink include the popular gay club Brass Rail and local bar Wit’s End where you can experience karaoke led by Sarah Jane every Wednesday night.

If you’re looking for a great date, pick up some fresh flowers at the little outdoor shop, Ever Bloom on University between 5th and 6th streets, then head across the corner to Mille Feuille for an unforgettable chocolate experience. End the night with a stroll to Martinis Above Fourth and take in the city at night from their balcony.

Neighborhood Information:

Zip Code: 92103

Farmers Market: Sundays 9am – 2pm located at 3960 Normal Street at Lincoln (Adjacent to the DMV).


  • San Diego Metropolitan bus lines 1, 3, 7, 10 (Express), 11, 83 and 120 (Express).
  • The bicycle-only Red Paths run through Balboa Park.
  • Parking is sparse in Hillcrest; however there is Public Parking along most of the streets and in designated lots throughout the community.
  • Freeway Access: Take CA Route 163, Exit University or Washington from the North, Robinson or Washington from the South.


  1. Brian P

    June 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Great Article. Fantastic photos! Im going to Hillcrest!

  2. Pingback: Termites San Diego Yelp | 24hour exterminators

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