These are the best things to do in Little Italy, San Diego, from where to eat to the best places to stay.
Little Italy San Diego is having a moment.
Not only is it the biggest Little Italy district in the U.S.A (bigger than the Hollywood-famous one in New York), it’s booming.
Locals and tourists alike flock to the neighborhood for delicious food, boutique shopping, and European-style plazas.
Whether you’re looking for a celebrity-chef restaurant experience, an authentic neighborhood pastiera, or fresh produce at the famous Saturday Farmer’s Market, food is a big part of life in Little Italy.
But it’s not the only reason to visit. Little Italy regularly holds summer events featuring live music, movies, and even a casino under the stars.
The charming architecture, cobbled streets, and spacious plazas make this the perfect neighborhood for simply strolling around in the San Diego sunshine. Trendy boutiques and fine art galleries line tree-shaded streets.
I’ve covered all these fun things to do and more in this ultimate guide to San Diego’s most historic neighborhood, Little Italy.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Grab your FREE San Diego Travel Planner! You’ll get instant access to printable checklists for what to pack and what to see in San Diego, as well as a full travel itinerary and key local travel tips you should know.
Table of Contents
Things to do in Little Italy, San Diego
Sample the Flavors at Little Italy Food Hall or Top Chef Alley
The Little Italy Food Hall is a vibrant gathering place in the heart of Little Italy, located at the Piazza della Famiglia.
Featuring seven food stations, a donut cart, a full bar, and a patio, Little Italy Food Hall is the perfect spot to indulge in various cuisines.
Stop by for a snack and enjoy your food or drink under a shady umbrella on the 10,000-square-foot piazza.
Be sure to return in the evening, where you’ll find music, dancing, and cocktail specials.
If you’re in the mood for something more upscale, head to bustling Kettner Boulevard, known as “Top Chef Alley” after several celebrity chefs opened restaurants along the street.
Top Chef alums operating on Kettner Blvd include Brian Malarkey at Herb & Wood, Richard Blais at Juniper & Ivy, and The Crack Shack next door.
Fans of Iron Chef America should check out Kettner Exchange, as executive chef Brian Redzikowski has been a competitor in the hardcore cooking contest.
Visit a Traditional Outdoor Market
The largest of San Diego’s Farmers’ Markets is Little Italy Mercato, which happens every Saturday, rain or shine.
Visit from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for fresh produce, baked goods, local honey, and more.
Aside from food, you can find vendors selling a variety of arts and crafts, so head to Little Italy Mercato if you’re looking for unique souvenirs from local artisans.
If you can’t make the Saturday market, you have another chance on Wednesdays when the market returns on a smaller scale, between 9.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m.
Appreciate the Architecture at Our Lady of the Rosary Church
Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church is the spiritual center of San Diego’s Little Italy.
Known as the Jewel of Little Italy, the fabulous architecture built by Italian immigrants was modeled after churches in Italy.
Everyone is welcome inside the historic church, which has beautiful stained glass windows, frescoes, and an ornate ceiling.
The church has been an essential part of the community since 1925 and recently underwent extensive restoration works in anticipation of its centennial in 2025.
Take a Stroll Along India Street
India Street is the main street of Little Italy, lined with Italian restaurants.
An arch with the name of the district frames the gateway to India Street, decorated with colorful murals depicting the neighborhood’s Italian immigrant origins.
The Little Italy landmark sign is ideal for getting a photo before exploring the rest of the neighborhood.
While Kettner Boulevard boasts a slew of contemporary Little Italy restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, India Street features old-fashioned Italian eateries like Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, where you can enjoy a classic Italian dining experience.
Enjoy Amici Park
Amici Park is a beautiful gathering space featuring the historic Amici House, a dog park, bocce ball courts, and an amphitheater.
If the farmer’s market is on, grab an ice cream and sit in Amici Park to listen to the live music.
While you’re there, check out the historic Amici House. This home originally belonged to Antonino Giacalone, one of the best fishermen in the 1920s, and his wife, Josephine.
The residence was originally between India Street and Columbia Street but was moved in 2014 to make way for the Piazza della Famiglia.
The Amici House is now home to the non-profit organization Convivio Society for Italian Humanities, which promotes Italian art and culture in San Diego.
Check out the Art Galleries
Little Italy is not only known for its food but its talented local artists.
If you’re in the mood for some Little Italy shopping, check out the dozen or so art galleries in the district, like the Mee Shim Fine Art Gallery located on India Street.
This gallery showcases works by South Korean artist Mee Shim, who works with narrative figurative art and surrealism.
Kettner Boulevard has its fair share of chic galleries, including The Blue Azul Collection and Adelman Fine Art, perfect if you’re looking to bring a piece of Little Italy home with you.
Pay your Respects at the Firefighters Museum
The San Diego Fire Museum, a tribute to firefighters, is on Columbia Street in Little Italy.
Inside the old fire station, you’ll find La Jolla’s first fire engine, a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, and 19th-century fire fighting memorabilia.
Tickets cost $3, or $2 for children and seniors, and the museum is open from Thursday to Sunday.
Take the Kids to Nearby Waterfront Park
Kids will love playing in the spray fountains at San Diego Waterfront Park, a 12-acre open space facing the beautiful San Diego Bay.
In addition to the water play, you’ll find six large lawns, reflecting pools, and an innovative children’s playground.
Go to an Event at the Italian Cultural Center of San Diego
The Italian Cultural Center of San Diego, founded in 1981, is a meeting place for people interested in learning about Italian culture and language.
The center often holds events, talks, and classes, so check out the Italian Cultural Center’s events page to see what’s on this month.
People Watch in one of the Squares
Like many European towns, San Diego’s Little Italy centers around plazas where people meet to enjoy food, drink, and socialize.
Sometimes the most interesting way to spend an afternoon is as simple as sitting back and watching the world go by.
Piazza della Famiglia
The largest square in the city, Piazza della Famiglia is 10,000 square feet of pedestrianized space along W. Date Street, between the intersections with India Street and Columbia Street.
Grab a drink or an ice cream from nearby Little Italy Food Hall and relax under a shady umbrella by the tiled fountain.
This hub is also buzzing at night, so head here if you’re looking for a Little Italy wine bar or Little Italy Italian restaurants.
Piazza Basilone is a small plaza off India Street on West Fir with seating and a globe fountain in the center.
This square (actually a tiled circle) honors John Basilone, the only Marine during the Second World War to receive the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
You can also pay tribute to other fallen heroes from the neighborhood here.
Fisherman’s Square, at the intersection of Kettner Boulevard and W. Fir Street, celebrates the Italian fishermen who built the Little Italy neighborhood.
The fountain, where a fisherman statue raises his catch, is a pleasant place to rest while shopping.
This little square between India Street and W. Cedar Street celebrates Amadeo Giannini, the Italian-American founder of the Bank of Italy.
His bank, when merged with another, became Bank of America. Like all the squares in Little Italy, restaurants and retail shops surround Giannini Square.
Take an Italian Food Tour or Wine Tour
Try a little of everything on a Little Italy San Diego food and wine tour.
The Little Italy neighborhood is full of top restaurants, local gems, and markets, and the best way to explore them all is on a guided tour with a knowledgeable local.
Or combine a history walking tour with wine tasting in three locations. This cultural food and drink experience includes snacks.
Take a Hop-On, Hop-Off San Diego Trolley Tour
Hop-on, hop-off tours are the best way to find your way around a new city.
With multiple stops throughout the city, this is an easy way to get to the San Diego Little Italy neighborhood from your accommodation or from downtown.
Grab a Drink at a Historic Tavern
The Waterfront, San Diego’s oldest bar, opened in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition.
Back then, the tuna industry was booming, and the bar served fishermen celebrating a successful day on the water.
Today, Waterfront Bar and Grill is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to grab a meal in the tiny tavern. It’s one of the best bars in Little Italy, so don’t miss it if you want to grab a drink.
Take a Free Walking Tour of Little Italy
Download a free self-guided tour of Little Italy and discover the history of this remarkable area, all the way back to the 19th century.
Best Restaurants in Little Italy
Buon Appetito Restaurant
Address: 1609 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 238-9880
A little off the beaten track, this Italian restaurant offers a warm welcome in a relaxed, rustic setting.
Don’t miss Buon Appetito Restaurant’s homemade meatballs in a tasty marinara sauce.
Waterfront Bar and Grill
Address: 2044 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 232-9656
This historic tavern has been a hit for almost 100 years in its prime location on Kettner between W Hawthorne and W Grape Street.
Party with the locals until 2 a.m., then turn up the following morning for a hearty breakfast burrito.
It’s a bar–so over 21’s only–but if you can get through the door, the burgers at Waterfront Bar and Grill are delicious.
Address: 1655 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 237-9606
Make a reservation for this popular wine bar and restaurant where you can dine al fresco under romantic string lights on the back patio.
At Davanti Enoteca, the service is warm, and the food is authentic Italian. Don’t skip the delightful flatbread, honeycomb, and cheese app.
Address: 1430 Union St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 294-7001
This buzzy venue has lines out the door on weekends, with regulars patiently awaiting their pastry and caffeine hit.
The dessert selection, which includes cookies, slices, bars, cheesecakes, and pies, can be overwhelming at Extraordinary Desserts, but it’s hard to go wrong. If in doubt, ask for the Shangri-La.
Filippi’s Pizza Grotto
Address: 1747 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 232-5094
If you’re looking for an old-school neighborhood pizzeria with delicious pies and friendly service, head straight for Filipi’s Pizza Grotto.
Address: 750 W Fir St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 501-0030
You’ll find a vast variety of hand-crafted pasta on the menu at Monello, served with fresh sauces in a Milanese style.
The setting is pure Italian elegance, making this the perfect venue for a romantic meal.
Ironside Fish and Oyster
Address: 1654 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 269-3033
This seafood-centric restaurant sticks to a nautical theme throughout the trendy warehouse setting.
The menu varies depending on what local fishermen have caught that morning, but whatever is available at Ironside Fish and Oyster is reliably delicious.
If you’re hankering for a cold one afterward, pop across the street to Princess Pub for some British and Irish beers.
Juniper and Ivy
Address: 2228 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (858) 481-3666
Celebrity chef Richard Blais serves up creative modern American fare at this sophisticated warehouse restaurant on Kettner Boulevard.
The menu frequently changes depending on what’s in season.
For a more casual, family-friendly dining experience (or if you can’t get a table at Juniper and Ivy), you can head to the Crack Shack next door.
The food is the same high quality, but the ambiance is more laid-back.
Herb and Wood
Address: 2210 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 955-8495
Acclaimed chef Brian Malarkey brings a modern flair to classic Italian rustic cuisine at Herb and Wood. The menu keeps it simple and lets the ingredients shine.
Address: 1602 State St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 238-4590
Grab a creamy gelato or perfectly-poured espresso from Pappalecco, where the owners are passionate about Italian cafe culture.
It’s worth visiting just to see the dazzling display of colorful gelato, and there are discounted wines at happy hour.
Ballast Point Brewing Little Italy
Address: 2215 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 255-7213
Ballast Point is a favorite for craft brew fans across the country, but the beer’s origins are in San Diego.
Visit the tasting room at Little Italy for a flight and relax on the breeze-cooled patio with a beer and a burger.
Mona Lisa Italian Foods
Address: 2061 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 234-4893
Sit down for pizza or take away a flavor-packed sub for a picnic at Mona Lisa Italian Foods, a restaurant that doubles as a deli.
Isola Pizza Bar
Address: 1526 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 255-4230
Isola Pizza Bar is the place to get good pizza in Little Italy. You’ll find fresh flavors, Italian seasonings, and a perfectly charred crust here.
The wine, beer, and cocktail lists are extensive, and bonus: Isola Pizza Bar has a happy hour.
Mimmo’s Italian Village
Address: 1743 India St., San Diego, CA
Phone number: (619) 239-3710
This family-owned restaurant serves traditional Italian cuisine, including homemade pasta. It’s usually busy but welcoming.
On a sunny day, the enormous outdoor patio at Mimmo’s Italian Village is an idyllic place to sit and enjoy your meal.
Annual Events in Little Italy
Little Italy Summer Film Festival
Watch Italian films under the stars at the Amici Park Amphitheater in the summertime during the Little Italy Summer Film Festival.
Bring snacks and be whisked away to Italy for the night through the magic of subtitled movies.
The festival takes place every Saturday night in July and August at 8 p.m. There is a $10 recommended donation.
Marine Band San Diego Summer Concert
Turn out for an afternoon of live music at the Marine Band San Diego Summer Concert, presented by the Little Italy Association of San Diego.
This annual concert featuring the 40-piece Marine Band, the Party Band, and the Jazz Band takes place in the Piazza della Famiglia at W. Date St. and India St.
Taste of Little Italy
For two nights in June, food lovers sample their way through 48-square blocks of Little Italy restaurants and bars during the popular Taste of Little Italy event.
Over 20 restaurants participate in the two-day event, which starts at 4 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m.
Attendees receive a passport at check-in, which they can then use to take away a food sample from each stop.
It could be a slice of delicious pizza, a mouth-watering tiramisu, or a half-pint of gelato. Seating is available at Piazza della Famiglia, which will also have music playing live.
Casino di Piazza
The newest event from the Little Italy Association is Casino di Piazza, which will be held annually in September.
The evening will feature Blackjack, Craps, and Roulette outdoors on the plaza.
The ticket price includes craft cocktails from the Little Italy Food Hall, light hors d’oeuvres, and live bands.
Proceeds from the event go to the upkeep of the beautiful piazza, so your night out is for a good cause.
Where to Stay in Little Italy
La Pensione Hotel
This cozy boutique hotel on W. Date Street is steps away from Piazza Famiglia and the restaurants on India Street.
Urban Boutique Hotel
Breakfast is included at this chic hotel on Columbia Street, located close to Piazza della Famiglia.
Hilton Garden Inn San Diego
The Hilton Garden Inn is on Pacific Highway, two blocks away from Kettner Boulevard and three from India Street.
This hotel has a 24-hour fitness center and a rooftop pool and is a wonderful place for families and couples.
Hampton Inn San Diego Downtown
This comfortable hotel is conveniently located just on the edge of Little Italy, only four blocks from the farmers’ market.
There’s a swimming pool, fitness center, and free breakfast available here.
Tips for Visiting Little Italy
Make reservations. The restaurants of Little Italy are popular with tourists and locals alike, so avoid disappointment by booking your chosen Little Italy restaurant in advance.
Little Italy parking can be tricky.
One great place to park is Washington Elementary behind Amici Park, which opens up its lot to public parking after regular school hours at $10 per vehicle. All proceeds go right back to the school itself.
History of Little Italy
Little Italy San Diego has a rich history that spans from the 1920s to the present day.
The booming fishing industry of the late 19th and early 20th century drew immigrants from the Italian homeland to the shores of San Diego.
At the peak of San Diego’s commercial tuna industry, 6,000 Italian families lived in America’s Finest City.
Little Italy San Diego started to decline along with commercial fishing on the West Coast, and the destruction of 35% of the neighborhood for an interstate almost finished the historic district.
Fortunately, Little Italy San Diego has a strong community spirit, and the neighborhood rallied in the 1990s.
Today, Little Italy is considered the gastronomic heart of San Diego, with dozens of acclaimed restaurants and San Diego’s biggest Farmer’s Market, held on Saturday mornings.
The Italian-American community of San Diego celebrates its culture and history with regular cultural events throughout the year, like the popular Taste of Italy Festival in the summer.
Residents continue to invest in the neighborhood with projects like Piazza della Famiglia, dedicated to the past, present, and future families of Little Italy.
How to Get to Little Italy
Little Italy San Diego is in the northern part of Downtown San Diego, not far from Balboa Park. The glowing neon Little Italy sign on India Street anchors the district on its central strip.
Little Italy is 48 square blocks, bordered by West Laurel Street to the north, West Ash Street to the south, Front Street to the east, and the San Diego Bay to the west.
If you’re driving from the north on Interstate 5, take the Front St. exit for Little Italy. From the south, exit at Hawthorn St.
San Diego’s Little Italy is a ten-minute drive from the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park and 15 minutes from Old Town, and Seaworld is a 20-minute drive north.
There are parking garages in Little Italy, or you can use metered street parking.
It’s easy to get around San Diego using public transport.
You can take a bus or a tram (called the San Diego trolley) to explore the city quickly and cheaply. Little Italy has a station with services on the Blue Line and the Green Line.
The Amtrak San Diego station is three blocks south of Little Italy, so it’s a short walk or taxi to Little Italy hotels.
FAQs About Little Italy
Is Little Italy a good area in San Diego?
Little Italy San Diego is a great area to stay if you want to be within walking distance of some of San Diego’s best bars and restaurants.
It’s a safe, family-friendly neighborhood near the waterfront and a short drive from the theme parks.
Can you walk around Little Italy, San Diego?
Little Italy is very walkable, with pedestrianized squares and tree-lined streets.
Is Little Italy Worth Visiting?
Little Italy is worth visiting for its charming streets, deep-rooted history, and fantastic restaurants.
If you can, go on Saturday or Wednesday morning to the Little Italy farmers’ markets or see if any Little Italy events are going on during your visit.
Why is it called Little Italy in San Diego?
The neighborhood became known as Little Italy because it was predominantly Italian fishermen and their families settling in the area in the 1920s.
There are Little Italy districts in other cities in the U.S.A, but San Diego has the largest.
How far is Gaslamp from Little Italy?
Gaslamp is another neighborhood in San Diego, just south of downtown San Diego.
Gaslamp is a ten-minute drive from Little Italy, and both districts offer outstanding dining experiences, bars, and places to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.
Looking for more California city guides? Check out these related articles below!
Pin one of these images for future reference
- BEST Winter Tents for Cold Weather Camping [2023 Guide] - October 2, 2023
- Mulholland Drive and Scenic Overlooks: Details & Photos - October 2, 2023
- 13 BEST Views in LA: Scenic Spots, Downtown & When To Go - October 2, 2023