Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego

  • Published 2022/03/18

Aside from its architectural charm, the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego is best known for its bustling nightlife, world-class restaurants, historical sites, and rich history.

Originally called “New Town” during the 1850s, the name faded after a while as the small town expanded.

Fifty gas lamp street lights were used to illuminate the streets of New Town, which gave off a Victorian feel of the neighborhood, and soon after, New Town was changed to “Gaslamp Quarter.”

In 1980, Gaslamp Quarter was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the presence of over 100 historic buildings and sites occupying the area.

Today, these historic buildings have transformed into popular restaurants, bars, and museums that the people have come to love.

Check out 15 of the best things you can do in the wonderful neighborhood of Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego, California.

Shop for One-Of-A-Kind Souvenirs at the Gaslamp Artisan Market

Tents selling goods at Gaslamp Artisan Market

HannaTor /

Every weekend, you’ll see dozens of tents lined up by the intersection of Fifth and Island Avenues containing a wide variety of crafted goods, food, and other products from independent artisans.

Operated by Community Crops, the Gaslamp Artisan Market has been held every week since 2018.

Art frames displayed on the street at Gaslamp Artisan Market

HannaTor /

Every year since then, the Gaslamp Artisan Market occupies one more block to cater to the growing demands for unique San Diego finds.

Check out the booths and find treasured items, ranging from wellness products and accessories to stylish clothing and handmade crafts.

Find one-of-a-kind memorabilia during your haul and grab a quick bite from downtown’s best-selling restaurants after.

Art booth at Gaslamp Artisan Market

HannaTor /

Take a Picture of the Skyline from The Rooftop by STK

There’s no better place to witness a panoramic view of San Diego other than Gaslamp’s largest rooftop.

Located on the seventh floor of the Andaz San Diego, The Rooftop by STK is one of the best places where you can catch a 360-degree view of the San Diego skyline.

Whether you’re headed there for the afternoon or later at night, you’re sure to have a great time beefing up your Instagram feed by taking photos of around 4,500 square feet of open space.

Sip on some cocktails as you watch the sunset from the roof or indulge in a variety of SoCal-inspired dishes.

You can also stick around and wait for the DJ to blast some of your favorite tunes and get a feel of the downtown nightlife.

Learn about the District’s History at the Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House

People standing near Gaslamp Museum

Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Downtown San Diego isn’t just about nightlife fun.

At the Davis-Horton House on the intersection of Fourth and Island Avenues, you’ll spot the Gaslamp Museum.

Exterior and gate of Gaslamp Museum

RightCowLeftCoast, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest standing structure in the district houses several historical pieces that showcase the area’s early architecture and culture.

Tread the carpeted floors and explore the hallways of the house that’s been hanging around since 1850.

The museum is typically open from Monday to Saturday.

Laugh Out Loud at the American Comedy Co.

The American Comedy Co. is a popular venue for those who just want to spend their night laughing until they cry.

If you’re lucky, you can catch nationally-acclaimed stand-up comedians gracing the place, or become a fan of up-and-coming comics.

A-list comedians like Bobby Lee, Joe Rogan, and Kevin Nealon are only some of the best headliners who visited the bar.

You can also try your hand at throwing a few jokes yourself on open mic night and discover your raw talent at performing on stage.

The bar comes with a 200-seating capacity, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your friends, as there are enough seats for everybody.

The bar, however, only allows customers who are 21 years old or older, and the staff also inspects government-issued IDs before you’re allowed to go in.

Visit the Home of the San Diego Padres at Petco Park

Aerial view of Petco Park stadium

randy andy /

If you’re a fan of Major League Baseball, don’t leave downtown San Diego without stopping by Petco Park.

Named after the pet supply retailer Petco in 2004, the park is recognized as the home of the San Diego Padres.

Front exterior view of Petco Park

meunierd /

In 2016, the historic park hosted MLB’s all-star game.

Thanks to its world-class facilities and astonishing view of the San Diego Bay, Petco Park was recognized as “The World’s Best Ballpark in America’s Finest City.”

The park is also a popular venue for concerts, soccer games, and rugby.

Inside Petco Park's stadium

Jenny Solomon /

Grab a Late Night Bite at Nicolosi’s On Fifth

Walking around the Gaslamp Quarter is enough exercise as it is, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking to eat something that will fill you up.

Grab a slice of pizza at Nicolosi’s On Fifth, the best Italian restaurant downtown.

Established by Salvatore Nicolosi in 1952, the restaurant was originally opened in Mission Hills一to this day, the restaurant is still run by Salvatore’s predecessors.

Take your pick from a wide range of dishes that are made for every palette.

While you wait, you can check out your order from the transparent kitchen inside the restaurant and see how the Nicolosi family recipes are made.

See the Inner Workings of a Vintage Navy Aircraft Carrier at the USS Midway Museum

Exterior of USS Midway Museum

amadeustx /

Step inside of what was once considered as the biggest ship that was commissioned until 1955.

The USS Midway was an aircraft carrier during the 20th century until it was decommissioned in 1992.

Named after the Battle of Midway of June 1942, the Midway is recognized for playing a key role during the Cold War, becoming the first American carrier to brave the sub-Arctic zone.

Part of the USS Midway Museum

EarthScape ImageGraphy /

Today, the aircraft-turned-museum is a popular destination where tourists can explore various exhibits that start from the engine room up to the bridges.

Over 30 restored aircraft and helicopters decorate the USS Midway, as well as hangar, flight, and below deck exhibits that tell the aircraft carrier’s story.

Side exterior of USS Midway Museum

meunierd /

Get lost in the hollow halls, tour the captain’s cabin, and embark on a self-guided audio tour as you listen to Midway pilots describe their experiences while operating more than 20 aircraft on the flight deck.

You can also try the museum’s heart-pounding Air Combat 360 experience or see if you have the guts to become an F/18 pilot via the Virtual Reality Flight Experience: Screaming Eagles simulator.

Display at USS Midway Museum

Ganeshkumar Durai /

Experience the Downtown Nightlife at the Gaslamp Tavern

Are you a fan of sports and local beer?

Swing by the Gaslamp Tavern at Fifth Avenue!

This neighborly sports bar is one classic example of how the people at Gaslamp spend their nights.

Cheer on your favorite teams while grabbing a few handcrafted cocktails from this famous sports bar.

Sing along to some live music and satisfy your cravings with their famous giant burgers and fried chicken.

Witness Magic Up-Close from Illusions Theater & Bar

Be entertained while grabbing a few drinks at the Illusions Theater & Bar on Fourth Avenue.

Illusions Theater & Bar is the only place in San Diego that combines magic, great food, and of course一drinks.

Instead of music or comedy acts, Illusions Theater & Bar offers a unique spin on live entertainment by hosting a magic show for its customers.

Participate in a couple of magic tricks from some of the most talented magicians around.

Have a great time with your friends and rack your brain trying to figure out how the magician pros do their tricks (if you can).

Catch Live Performances at the Balboa Theater

Name sign of Balboa Theater

travelview /

There’s no better place to watch live performances other than the Balboa Theater down on Fourth Avenue.

The historic vaudeville and movie theater opened its doors to the public in March 1924, however, it stopped operating for 20 years.

After its renovation in 2008, the theater once again welcomed spectators and performers and continued to keep the wonders of performing arts alive since then.

Exterior of Balboa Theater

f11photo /

The theater itself is already lauded as a work of art with its intricate pillars, high ceiling, and decorative patterns.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this classic theater continues to fill its once empty space with laughter, tears, and music from artists all over the world.

Exterior and entrance of Balboa Theater

Harun Ozmen /

Listen to Live Underground Music in Prohibition Lounge

Feel the vibes from the 1920s as you step inside the Prohibition Lounge on Fifth Avenue.

Established in 1920, this speakeasy-style lounge is located underground, making it even more unique.

Enter the secret bar door labeled “Eddie O’Hare’s Law Office,” and find yourself standing in a lounge from a different era.

Live the Great Gatsby lifestyle with the bar’s stylish and red-lit interior.

Sip on your cocktails as you listen to some live music in San Diego’s most elusive bar.

Party from a Trailer at Trailer Park After Dark

Gaslamp Quarter is famed for its bustling nightlife, and Trailer Park After Dark is a testament to that.

Enjoy the night from a one-of-a-kind, trailer park-themed bar on Fifth Avenue.

Have your own party from a variety of trailers that give off vibes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Enjoy live music and dance along to the tunes as you sip on some signature cocktails.

You can also dine on the picnic tables while sitting on pallets if you’re looking to get an outdoor feel.

Take Your Kids to The New Children’s Museum

Exterior of The New Children’s Museum

Alan Islas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unleash your kids’ creativity in The New Children’s Museum on Island Avenue.

The museum was originally situated in La Jolla upon its opening in 1983 and was formerly called The Children’s Museum of San Diego.

In 2008, the museum was renamed “The New Children’s Museum” to highlight the establishment’s mission in providing art installations for kids to enjoy and explore.

Side exterior of The New Children’s Museum

Omar Bárcena, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Let your kids immerse themselves in interactive art installations from a team of contemporary artists and discover a different world behind each door.

You can also participate in various family-friendly activities, such as painting the flower truck, which is an old Dodge pickup from the 1950s, taking clay art workshops, and building something unique in the innovator’s lab.

Light a Cigar from the Cuban Cigar Factory

Authentic Cuban cigars can be hard to find, but at the Gaslamp Quarter, you can buy one on Fifth Avenue.

Established in 1995, the Cuban Cigar Factory offers premium, hand-rolled cigars made by cigar makers from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Cigars used to be produced on-site, but today, the factory sources its products from the Dominican Republic and Honduras.

Light a cigar and smell the aroma of Cuban-shredded tobaccos from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras.

To complete the experience, grab a glass of micro-brewed or Belgian beer and hang out by the cigar lounge.

Get a Tattoo from Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo Parlor and Museum

Nothing beats getting a tattoo to commemorate your Gaslamp Quarter adventure.

And there’s no better place to get inked around the area other than Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo Parlor and Museum.

This parlor down Fifth Avenue is the oldest operating tattoo parlor on the west coast of America.

Established by legendary tattoo artist Tahiti Felix Lynch in 1949, the parlor specializes in traditional Americana and custom tattoos.

But aside from that, the parlor also doubles as a museum, showcasing an impressive collection of antique tattoo machines and artifacts, as well as a collection of original, hand-painted vintage flashes that date back to as early as the 1930s.

Final Thoughts

Gaslamp Quarter may only be a small part of San Diego, but make no mistake一this neighborhood remains a popular destination for tourists and Californians alike.

From live entertainment theaters and bars to museums and restaurants, you’re sure to find the best places for this downtown at Gaslamp Quarter.

And if you’re planning to visit the neighborhood for the weekend, you might want to book a longer stay because two days won’t be enough to explore everything Gaslamp Quarter has to offer.

Make sure to change those dates to a week-long trip because there’s a lot to see and experience in this downtown neighborhood.

So, what are you waiting for?

Plan a trip to Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego today!

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