See My City: Bankers Hill

This edition of See My City is one that's close to home because it IS my home. We live in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego, so named because it was historically an affluent area and home to many of the city's wealthy families. Today, it remains a primarily residential neighborhood that enjoys easy access to Balboa Park, Little Italy, and Hillcrest.  Amidst the historic homes, craftsman bungalows, and high rise condominiums, there are some great gems in the neighborhood that deserve to be highlighted.

But let's start with the homes.

The HH Timken mansion, in the Queen Anne Victorian style (1887).

There are some lovely examples of Victorian architecture in Bankers Hill. The Timken mansion at the corner of First Avenue and Laurel is one of the finest. Built in 1887 for inventor Henry Timken, it remains a private residence. And although the tall hedges keep you from enjoying a full view of the home, you can always get a closer peak through the gates as you walk past.

The first photo above is the Britt House (1887), which was the most expensive house in San Diego at the time it was built - a whooping $3000. It is now a wedding and event venue called Britt Scripps Manor.  (Located at Fourth and Maple, Bankers Hill, San Diego.) I'd love to schedule a tour just to get a peek inside! The second photo is of the Long-Waterman House (1889), again in the American Queen Anne style. Fun fact - it has been owned by the same family since 1897. (Located at 2408 First Avenue, Bankers Hill, San Diego.)

And while neighborhoods like North Park and South Park may be the epicenter of the Craftsman-style in San Diego, we have a few great examples in Bankers Hill, as well.

Now let's get to some of those neighborhood gems, and let's start with coffee (because you should always start with coffee).

A true Bankers Hill icon, Cafe Bassam serves some of the best coffee in the city, and its eclectic interior is a feast for the eyes. There's a reason why it feels like you are enjoying your latte in an antique shop - because you are. The cafe started as a store, and after customers raved about the coffee they were served while they shopped, the owners opened up the cafe, and I'm so glad they did.  Cafe Bassam, 3308 Fifth Avenue, San Diego.

For a more modern approach to coffee, visit the recently opened West Bean Coffee on the corner of Fourth and Laurel. The bright and airy space was a welcome addition to the neighborhood in 2017, and the fact that a perfect flat white is just steps from my front door makes this caffeine addict very happy.

After you have had your coffee, how about a little bit of shopping? Bankers Hill does not have many retail options, so when Thread & Seed opened in 2017, it was a breath of fresh air. The shop sells a selection of well curated items from beautiful kitchenware to food to clean beauty products. It's a wonderful shop, and one of my favorites in the city. (Come to think of it, recent gifts from my mom, my husband, and my best friend have all come from here!) Thread & Seed, 2870 Fourth Avenue, Bankers Hill, San Diego.

Since shopping can work up an appetite, you should know where to go for the best meal in Bankers Hill.  Hands down, Cucina Urbana is the star of the culinary scene in the neighborhood. And while I only ever order the squash blossoms and bucatini, everything here is delicious. Trust me - I've tried everyone else's food!

Cucina Urbana, located at the corner of Fifth and Laurel in Bankers Hill.

One last gem to share with you:  the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. Located near the intersection of Front and Spruce Streets, the suspension bridge spans Sessions Canyon. It's not for the feint of heart - it wobbles ever so slightly and the floor of the canyon is 70 feet down, but it's a truly lovely spot. We had family photos taken here to remind of us of the special opportunity we have to live in Bankers Hill.

See My City: Gaslamp Quarter

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts that I'm calling "See My City". As I explore San Diego with the fresh eyes of a newcomer, I want to share what I consider to be the highlights of the different neighborhoods and areas that I wander through. Everyone sees a city in different ways, and this is my chance to share with you what stands out to me. As always, I do that better with pictures than words, but I will be sharing place names and descriptions to serve as a bit of a reference point for anyone planning a visit to the city.

I'm starting with the Gaslamp Quarter, a lively neighborhood at the urban core of San Diego. The area was initially developed during the Victorian Era and soon found itself as the epicenter of disrepute with many saloons and brothels calling it home. With the rise of the suburbs in the mid-20th century, residents started leaving the city, and the Gaslamp Quarter fell into disrepair. It wasn't until the 1970s that serious efforts were made to revitalize the area, work that continued throughout the next two decades. The Gaslamp Quarter is now a major entertainment hub, overflowing with restaurants and bars.

But that's not why I go to the Gaslamp. (I'm happily past my bar scene prime.) I go to admire the historic architecture, much of which has been beautifully restored. My personal favorite showcase piece is the Horton Grand Hotel, featuring not one but two historic hotels, the Grand Horton and the Brooklyn Kahle Saddlery (thus the horse that can be seen through the window in the photos below).

The Horton Grand Hotel, at the corner of Island and Fourth Avenue.

The Horton Grand Hotel, at the corner of Island and Fourth Avenue.

The two hotels originally stood in different locations and were each separately scheduled for demolition, but thankfully the buildings were saved, painstakingly dismantled piece by piece, and then rebuilt side by side and connected by a glass atrium. The Horton Grand provides a great retelling of its rich history, which only enhances the intrigue of this building.

If you continue north into the heart of the district, It might be easy to overlook some of the architectural gems, as the street level of the Gaslamp features restaurant after restaurant. If you want to catch a glimpses of its historical past, you have to look up. I find that stepping back at intersections leads to the best discoveries.

The Old City Hall, built in 1874 in the Florentine Italianate style. 

The Old City Hall, built in 1874 in the Florentine Italianate style. 

Left: Louis Bank of Commerce in the Baroque Revival Style (1888), which once housed an oyster bar frequented by Wyatt Earp. Right:  NeSmith-Greeley Building in the Romanesque Revival Style (1888).  The sign for the historic Hotel St. James (1913) can be seen in the background.

Left: Louis Bank of Commerce in the Baroque Revival Style (1888), which once housed an oyster bar frequented by Wyatt Earp. Right:  NeSmith-Greeley Building in the Romanesque Revival Style (1888).  The sign for the historic Hotel St. James (1913) can be seen in the background.

So while the Gaslamp Quarter might currently draw many tourists, conventioneers, and young residents to it for its lively atmosphere, there's a rich and lively past to be appreciated about it, too.  Come, if you will, for the entertainment, but don't be afraid to make a little time for the history, too.