Imagine a sunny afternoon with blue cloudless skies and a little “you” time. The temperature is in the mid-seventies, and you’re lying on the grass under the shade of a tall tree; you can hear the faint sounds of children laughing at the buskers of Seaport Village behind you. The crisp white sails of a sloop catch your eye as it glides across the blue water of San Diego Bay. Two colorful delta kites commune with nature high above as a young mother jogs by, pushing a double stroller. While you lie there soaking it in, a slight breeze rustles the leaves overhead, and you know you’ve found paradise. Welcome to the Embarcadero Marina Park North; welcome to San Diego’s Downtown Marina District.
In 1869, when Alonzo Horton was still trying to make his vision come true of moving Downtown San Diego from Old Town to New Town on the waterfront, one of the first things he did was build a new wharf at the end of 5th Avenue. Consequently, New Town took off and he got what he had envisioned; people flocked there for the access to shipping. By 1913 the Broadway Pier, the first commercial pier, was built, and just two years later San Diego hosted the 1915-16 Panama-California Expo hoping to draw attention as the first Pacific U.S. port of call after passing through the new Panama Canal. Before long, the district was full of warehouses and vacant lots, similar to the early days of the East Village district. With some of the most expensive and glamorous real estate in San Diego today, you would never imagine its humble beginnings.
To really understand the rich maritime history of San Diego, you need only visit the Marina District’s Maritime Museum and the USS Midway Museum. The Maritime Museum ship tours offer an inside look at life on vessels as diverse as the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, and a B-39 Soviet submarine. Exhibits range from tattoos and scrimshaw to charting the sea. The USS Midway Museum is wildly popular with long lines during peak season. Experience a self-guided audio tour of what it’s like to live and work on the longest-serving American aircraft carrier of its time, with over 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft on deck. Both museums are accessed from the stunning San Diego embarcadero. Don’t miss the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal, or the new Port Pavilion on the Broadway Pier, also both along the embarcadero. You can catch the Ferry to Coronado Island from the Broadway Pier.
Seaport Village is another highlight of the Marina district with a storied past. Two Spanish expeditions in 1769 and 1782 buried seamen and soldiers on the point who had died of scurvy. They were tasked with surveying the harbor and named the point La Punta de los Muertos, or Dead Men’s Point on the first maps. During the New Town years, the point was a rail yard where products were transferred from ships to trains. It wasn’t until 1980 that it became Seaport Village as it’s known today. Four miles of cobblestone walkways weave though 54 one-of-a-kind shops nestled among lush landscaping that includes ponds and waterfalls. There are 13 casual eateries and four waterfront restaurants sprinkled around the 14-acre village. The Embarcadero Park North juts into the bay in front of Seaport Village providing shoppers with a relaxing green space for watching the passing vessels of San Diego Bay.
Another jewel of the Marina district is the San Diego Convention Center located on Harbor Drive close to Seaport Village and across from the Gaslamp Quarter. Some of the more distinguished features of the 615,000-foot facility are the glass enclosed Sails Pavilion, reflecting the maritime theme of the Marina district and the inclined elevator that glides alongside the exterior staircase. Even though it is among the larger convention centers in the country, a planned expansion is in the works that would enlarge it by one-third and possibly provide a new home for the San Diego Chargers, also making it a contender as a future summer Olympics venue. The San Diego Convention Center is already host to a number of events including the wildly popular annual Comic Con. It’s a near perfect venue with an oceanfront view, over 11,000 nearby hotel rooms, the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge connecting it to the Gaslamp Quarter and East Village, and easy access to the Trolley, Seaport Village, Coronado Island, and the Embarcadero.
Other Things to Do and See
Beyond the highlights, there are plenty of reasons to visit the Marina district. You won’t find luxury hotels with a better location than the Marina. The San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina has a prime waterfront location, bayside Asian-fusion restaurant, and 446-slip marina for your yacht or sailboat. The Manchester Grand Hyatt has the best views from its 40th floor bar, The Top of the Hyatt. Either is an excellent choice for making this sophisticated district your vacation home-base.
Kansas City Barbecue is a local fixture serving amazing baby back ribs with the added distinction of being the bar where scenes from the movie Top Gun were filmed; you can even buy a Top Gun tee-shirt. The Fish Market has one of the best oyster bars in the city and on their second floor the Top of the Market pairs fine dining with incredible Bay views. You’re within walking distance of the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, and the San Diego Convention Center. The real question is why wouldn’t you spend time in the Marina district on your next vacation?