15 Best Things to Do in Little Italy San Diego: A Local’s Guide!

Things to do in little Italy San Diego

If you’re looking for things to do in Little Italy San Diego, you’re at the right place! I’ve lived within walking distance of San Diego Little Italy for over a year, and I’m ready to share with you all the insider tips on what to do, where to eat, drink, and explore in this vibrant neighborhood!

From restaurants and bars to museums and farmer’s markets, there is something for everyone in San Diego’s Little Italy.

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Whether you’re looking for fun with the kids or a romantic date, you won’t be disappointed. This local guide will help you catch all the things you don’t want to miss during your visit, so let’s dive in!

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Things to do in Little Italy San Diego

Things to do in Little Italy San Diego

Located just north of the financial district in downtown, Little Italy is a charming historic neighborhood in San Diego that is known for its excellent restaurants, lively atmosphere, and rich cultural heritage. The neighborhood gets its name from the large number of Italian immigrant families that settled in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today, Little Italy is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. The Little Italy Arch Sign, located at the intersection of India Street and West Date Street, serves as the gateway to the neighborhood and is one of its most iconic landmarks.

1. Walk along India Street

If you find yourself in Little Italy San Diego, a stroll down India Street is a must. This street is lined with some of the best restaurants in the city. But Italian cuisine is not the only thing on offer – you can also find seafood, Mexican, and American fare.

In addition to its vibrant food scene, Little Italy is also home to a number of art galleries, live music events, and open-air markets. If you’re looking for something more sedate, take a seat at one of the sidewalk cafes along India Street and enjoy a glass of wine while watching people passing by.

2. Explore Little Italy’s Waterfront Park

San Diego’s waterfront is beautiful any time of year. As such, it has become a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. Not only is it a nice place to walk or run at any time of day or night, but it’s also got several great views that you can take advantage of.

Things to do in Little Italy San Diego Waterfront

The Waterfront Park is located right along San Diego’s beautiful harbor where you will find several antique ships that are now turned into museums. As you walk along the waterfront, you will find plenty of stunning spots for taking pictures.

You can also enhance your itinerary with a Harbor Cruise to enjoy fantastic views of the San Diego’s Skyline and Conorado Bridge. The two-hour tour is fully-narrated and you may be able to spot some of the harbor’s sea lions!

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3. Visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego

The Maritime Museum of San Diego has one of the world’s biggest collections of vintage ships and historic vessels. With the exhibits aboard five ships and two submarines, the museum will take you back to a time when these beautiful boats were a vital part of trade and military expansion across America.

As part of the ticket, you will have the chance to explore the HMS Surprise, which was the star of the “Master and Commander” as well as the “Pirates of the Carribbean films”.

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4. Watch Planes Fly over Piazza Giannini

Piazza Giannini is a small square located at the intersection of India Street and West Cedar Street in Little Italy San Diego. The square is named for Amadeo Giannini, an Italian-American banker who founded the Bank of Italy, which later was merged and became the Bank of America. Piazza Giannini is hard to miss as there are a series of plaques dedicated to Amadeo Giannini’s life and work.

Around Piazza Giannini, you will find several restaurants and bars, but that’s not all. Because of its proximity to the San Diego International Airport, you will find plenty of airplanes flying over your head in the span of an hour. It’s mesmerizing to see how big the airplanes are at such a close range, so get your camera ready.

5. Sample Local Bites & Drinks at Little Italy Mercato Farmer’s Market

Every Saturday, from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, there are over 200 stands along W Date St from west of Kettner Blvd to Front Street that sell all kinds of local produce, flowers, and crafts. Some of the vendors serve food and drinks as well giving out samples, so don’t worry about coming with an empty stomach! It’s a fun spot and one of the best things to do in Little Italy San Diego for locals and tourists alike.

Little Italy San DIego Events

6. Check Out Happy Hours at Little Italy San Diego’s Restaurants

Little Italy is renowned for its food, and with good reason. The neighborhood is home to some of the best restaurants in the city, serving up authentic Italian cuisine that will please even the most discerning of palates.

If you find yourself in Little Italy San Diego between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM on weekdays, make sure to take advantage of happy hours. The goal is to both have fun and enjoy a meal at little cost – so eat and drink as much as you want!

There are many great happy hours all around Little Italy that are worth checking out, and you will often see the signs for “Happy Hour” outside the restaurants as you walk around. Here are some of my top picks:

  • Davanti Enoteca: This is a rustic-chic wine bar and restaurant with a large patio. During happy hour from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM, you can get food bites and drinks for as low as $6/item.
  • Zinque: This is a hip restaurant with French-inspired dishes and small plates. Zinque ‘s happy hour is from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday. Wines and cocktails are on the pricier side, but you can get any flatbread for $9!
  • Iron Fish & Oyster: Happy hour is from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM with $1 oyster and other small bites! What a great deal!

7. Try the Cute Animal Bao Buns at Harumama

Harumama is an Asian restaurant serving ramen, sushi, noodles and buns. Although I’m not a huge fan of their ramens, their animal character bao buns are delicious!

Little Italy San Diego Restaurants
© Harunama SD

8. Attend Events in Little Italy San Diego

There are many events in Little Italy San Diego throughout the year, but especially during the warm summer months. Make sure to check out these events when you’re in the area:

  • Little Italy Summer Film Festival: Every saturday from July 2nd to September 3rd, there will be movie screenings at the Amici Park Amphitheater (W. Date & State Streets). These classic Italian films, complete with English subtitles, will make you feel like you’re right there in Italy. Doors open at 7:30 PM and the movies start at 8:00 PM, so it might get chilly. Make sure to bring some blankets to keep warm and some snacks to enjoy! Admittance fee is $10 donation.
  • Padres Italian Heritage Night is an event in July that celebrates the rich Italian heritage of the city. The Little Italy Association partner with San Diego Padres for a theme game to enhance fan experience. The event is held at Petco Park. When you purchase the tickets in advance, you will receive a limited edition commemorative San Diego Padres Italian Heritage Night hat.
  • Trick or Treat on India Street: Trick-or-Treat on India Street is a Halloween tradition in Little Italy San Diego from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM on Friday before Halloween (October 28th, 2022). Little witches and monsters in their costumes will be able to stop at participating Little Italy businesses along India Street for Halloween treats and candies. The map of participating stores are at Piazza della Famiglia.
  • The Little Italy Tree Lighting & Christmas Village is a holiday tradition that dates back to the early days of the neighborhood. Every year, starting from the first weekend of December, the neighborhood is decorated with Christmas lights. There will be a Christmas tree at Piazza Basilone another at Piazza della Famiglia. During the tree lighting ceremony (December 3rd in 2022 from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM), there will be seasonal vendors, holiday treats, live music and entertainment!
Best Things to do in Little Italy San Diego

9. Relax by the fountain at Piazza Della Famiglia

In Italy, the square is the main meeting place in the city. It’s no wonder, then, that the Italian inhabitants of San Diego wanted to bring the squares to their neighborhood. The way that San Diego is structured makes it impossible to build large squares, but there are a few small ones that became the pleasant outdoor meeting places for locals and tourists. Of all the squares here, Piazza Della Famiglia is the beating heart of Little Italy San Diego, and it’s hard to miss as you walk by the fountain on West Date St.

10. Get gelato from Little Italy Food Hall

Right by the fountain at Piazza Della Famiglia, there is the Little Italy Food Hall, where you can find plenty of food offerings, and of course, gelato! You can ask for samples before ordering, though I highly recommend the the Straciatella and Mocha flavors! Grab your gelato and sit by the fountain, you’ll have an ideal vantage point from which to watch passersby and soak up some local culture.

things to do in little italy SD

11. Stopping by Piazza Basilone

Piazza Basilone is one of the most iconic features of Little Italy San Diego. The large, tiled plaza is reminiscent of those found in Rome, and the central fountain with its flowing water globe is a sight to behold. The square is located at the intersection of India Street and West Fir Street, making it a highly visible and easily accessible landmark.

While the piazza itself is small, it packs a punch in terms of character and charm. Whether you’re taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood or enjoying a cappuccino at one of the nearby cafes, a stop at Piazza Basilone is a must.

12. Visit Amici House & Park

The Amici House is a historic home located in Little Italy at 250 W Date St. The house, originally inhabited by the Giacalone family, was located between India St and Columbia St, but was moved in 2014 for the creation of Piazza della Famiglia.

Antonio Giacalone, who was of Sicilian origin, was considered one of the best fishermen in the 1920s and 1930s. The house is now owned by the City of San Diego and is used as a cultural center for events and programs.

13. Visit San Diego Firehouse Museum

Old Fire Station 6, which was built more than 100 years ago in San Diego’s Little Italy, has now become the San Diego Firehouse Museum. It is a unique and fascinating place, with an extensive collection of firefighting equipment and memorabilia dating back to the late 1800s. During your visit, you will also find La Jolla’s very first firetruck, a horse-drawn steamer and a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.

The Firehouse Museum is open Thursday & Friday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM and Saturday & Sunday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Admission ticket is only $3/person, with a reduced price of $2 for children and seniors. It is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of firefighting in San Diego as the museum provides not only a rare glimpse into the past but also a fascinating look at the evolution of firefighting equipment and techniques.

14. Join Taste of Little Italy

Taste of Little Italy is a 3.5-hour walking tour that covers the rich history, culture, and architecture of the area. You’ll be accompanied by a highly trained guide who will share knowledge and insights on everything from pasta to pizzas as you taste samples at restaurants along the way. Make sure you come on an empty stomach, as the samples do add up to a hearty meal!

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15. Check out Small Wednesday Market

Similar to the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday, the Little Italy Wednesday Mercato (Small Wednesday Market) offers a selection of farm fresh produce, baked goods, food, drinks, as well as local arts and crafts.

The Little Italy Small Wednesday Market happens year-round and occupies three blocks on W. Date St. between Kettner Blvd. and State Street including the Piazza della Famiglia.

Best Things to do in Little Italy San Diego

Things to do in Little Italy San Diego FAQs

What is the best way to get to Little Italy?

Driving is the easiest way to get around San Diego, but finding parking may not be very easy in Little Italy. If you have difficulty finding parking, note that there tend to be more street metered parking spots towards the financial district in downtown, which is about 10-20 minutes walk from Little Italy.

Alternatively, you can use the San Diego Trolley to get around. San Diego Trolley is a vintage mode of transportation but it offers a convenient way to get around San Diego. The trolley connects the best attractions in San Diego Little Italy, Old Town State Park, Maritime Museum of San Diego, Embarcadero Marina, Seaport Village, Historic Gaslamp Quarter, Petco Park, Balboa Park and Conorado. There is also live commentary on-board the trolley to help you learn more about the history and culture of each area.

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❓How far is Little Italy San Diego from the beach?

You can easily walk to the Waterfront Park from Little Italy San Diego in a few minutes, but if you’re looking for a beach to swim or relax and soak up the sun, the best closest beach is Conorado Beach.

If you use the San Diego Trolley Pass, Coronado Beach is two stops before Little Italy (you can either get off at Hotel del Conorado, Curio Collection by Hilton or at Coronado/Orange Avenue). If you’re driving from Little Italy to San Diego, it takes about 10 minutes.

❓Is Little Italy considered Downtown San Diego?

Yes, Little Italy is considered part of Downtown San Diego. It is in close proximity to the San Diego International Airport, the waterfront, the Historic Gaslamp Quarter, and the Financial District.

❓Is Little Italy in Old Town San Diego?

Old Town San Diego is the oldest neighborhood in San Diego is about a 10-minute drive north of Little Italy San Diego. Some of the most notable attractions to visit in Old Town San Diego are the Historic State Park and Own Town Market.

❓Is Little Italy San Diego Safe at Night?

Little Italy is well-lit at night and the streets are lined with restaurants, shops, and businesses, so it’s generally safe to walk around Little San Diego at night.

❓What are the best hotels to stay in Little Italy San Diego?

If you’re looking for a place to stay overnight, there are plenty of hotels in Little Italy that fits all types of budgets from luxury to affordable stay. If you want to stay right in the heart of Little Italy San Diego, La Pensione Hotel on West Date Street is right next to India Street, across from the Little Italy Food Hall and the Piazza della Famiglia!

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The Wrap-Up: Things to do in Little Italy San Diego

San Diego’s Little Italy is a bustling neighborhood known for its delicious food. From quick bites to hearty meals, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant community. But food isn’t the only reason why people flock to Little Italy. There are many activities and events in the area.

I hope this local guide has helped you find the best things to do in Little Italy that suit your taste! Whether you’re looking for a delicious meal or some cultural and historic experience, you will have a great time in Little Italy!