North Park leans on Balboa Park’s right-hand shoulder, catty-corner from downtown, and for a time donned a black sheep rep compared to San Diego’s beachy counterparts. Once dotted with cheap studios for artists and lowly dive bars, North Park began phasing into its hip renewal around the start of the century. Now, the hood boasts a refined urban attitude of street art, low-lit whiskey bars and mini-galleries. Mom-and-Pop shops specializing in trendy obscurities squeeze in between the craft breweries working the corners, each spot attracting hipsters faster than the locals can count. San Diegans know to flock to North Park when in search of an aperitif with atmosphere or a farm-to-table feast. The hood’s humble beginnings sprouted from a failed lemon grove in 1893 that was called Hartley’s North Park after the aspiring citrus farmer. And, well, the name sort of stuck.
1. Although it's been nicknamed the North Park Water Tower, it's technically recognized as the University Heights Water Tank, hinting at the inconsistency in neighborhood boundaries since the 127-foot-tall tower was erected in 1924.
2. Ever seen the patterned-shingle bungalows with elephantine columns and open porches on the 3400 and 3500 blocks of Pershing and 28th St.? They make up a historic district named after architect David Owen Dryden and were mostly built before WWI.
3. In the early 1900s, North Park hit its bougie peak when streetcars decked in cherry wood interior, gold leaf ceilings and mother-of-pearl push buttons scooted through the streets. They were nicknamed "hobble skirt cars" when a remodeling lowered the entry steps to keep tube dress-wearing women from tripping or (gasp) baring their calves.
4. During World War II, Morley Field served as an army camp and Mexican border patrol post. Tents hid away in the eucalyptus trees where the tennis courts now stand.
DJ & Promoter
Saul Q is the guy making people move on the dance floor Saturday night and saying hi to them on the streets Tuesday afternoon. He's been DJing in North Park since the mid-'90s, becoming familiar with many faces in the crowd since then. "I always say hi to people," he says. "I remember people. I remember people's faces, and if you're cool with me, I'm cool with you." Spinning anything from British Pop to House to '80s vs. '90s, he frequents Whistle Stop, U-31 and Kettner Exchange, but he says The Office's cool vibes always keep him coming back.
Owner and performer at Lips
Fifteen years ago, Tootie opened up Lips Restaurant (3036 El Cajon Blvd.), specializing in dinner and a drag show. She's part of North Park's grassroots entrepreneurial spirit that she talks so highly about, aiming to turn her zone of El Cajon Blvd. into The Magnificent Mile. "As far as Lips, we're just getting shinier, bigger, brighter and more fabulous," she says. Aside from building up the neighborhood, she's also breaking down social barriers. "The bulk of my business, I would say 90 percent, are straight and are women," she says. "So, to bridge from our community to those people in the straight community has been awesome."
Owner of Urban Solace and President of North Park Main St.
When you're looking for a lease for a new business, seeing a police helicopter circle overhead in search of a loose gunman isn't ideal. But, Matt Gordon took a chance on North Park anyway. Since he first opened Urban Solace in 2006, he says the neighborhood has given him a lot, and now, as president of the nonprofit North Park Main Street, it's his turn to reciprocate. "I wanted to give back for the help I received, pass it forward a little bit to accomplish what we accomplished." He's hoping to attract more offices to North Park, encouraging an increase in weekday foot traffic.
CRAFT & DRAFT
Considering North Park would be nothing without its craft beer these days, the hood's chefs are churning out an array of palatable dishes to accompany them. Here are just a few:
(3085 University Ave.)
Find a mash-up of Italian and American comfort foods in the Mashed Potato Pizza, a New Haven style crust made in-house topped with white sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, bacon and, of course, mashed potatoes. Meanwhile, sip a North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner or choose another from the draught selection that rotates on the daily.
(3794 30th St.)
This joint prides itself on a revolving menu of experimental plates that are optimal for pairing. Right now, the chefs suggest the LBBC (linguine, beer, bacon and claims) with the earthy Belgian-style taste of a Modern Times Lomaland, complementing the dish's nautical notes with a subtle hoppiness.
(4002 30th St.)
Per Ballast Point special request, a Habanero Sculpin IPA is served up with a Nashvillain Po' Boy, featuring hot popcorn chicken and green peppercorn aioli at this specialty shop. And for those wimping out on spice, pair up an Iced Tea Sculpin with the Southerner, which sandwiches fried chicken, fried egg, bacon and jalapeño between a split cinnamon sugar donut. Yeah, that just happened.
(4096 30th St.)
Taking the beer with breakfast movement up a notch, here they suggest ordering the shot-and-beer combo for a morning jolt. Don't worry, it's a double shot of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters espresso playing sidekick to a can of Uinta Baba Black Lager. Pair with the ever-reliable Breakfast Sandwich to top off the breakfast of champions.
WHEN NATURE CALLS
(North of Balboa Park at 28th St. & Upas St.)
Put away the #artsy latté close-up. After a stop at Bird Park, a snapshot of the #timeless sun setting behind the downtown skyline will be vying for a spot on Insta (because heaven forbid double posting). Valencia or Lo-Fi? The fickle nature of it all is almost unbearable. To up the envy ante, be sure to pop a bottle of Apothic Red and slice some Brie atop an #authentic Mexican picnic blanket with bae. Cue heart-eye emoji.
ON A SCALE OF ONE TO DRUNK
Where to drink on a scale from relaxed (1) to raucous (8).
30th & University Ave.
Be it expletive-filled ramblings by the city's growing homeless population, the morning slew of bus-goers or drunkards stumbling after one too many rounds, 30th and University is the hood's epicenter, playing witness to everything that has gone down. It was dubbed the "Busy Corner" when a trolley stop was installed there back in 1911.
"I have the best district. People often don’t quarrel with me about it because they know. Look no further than North Park to see why."
-Todd Gloria. District 3 Councilmember
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
(3001 University Ave.)
A fast and fresh craft food restaurant fitted in Paul Basile decor is set to hit the southeast corner of University and 30th in early January. Expect homemade sausages, craft beer and specialty soda at this self-proclaimed "classy casual" hangout.
(3859 30th St.)
In August 2015, the most invasive of hangover cures made its San Diego debut at 3859 30th St. Through an intravenous hydration therapy practice, this business offers relief from the spins as well as flu symptoms and other dehydration-related pains.
North Park Mini Park
Ten years later, the city has finally been granted full funding for this American Planning Association award-winning outline that will construct a community park just behind the North Park Theatre.
NOTABLE EVENTS 2016
SDCC Festival of Art in North Park
Taste of North Park