Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Little Italy, San Diego

  • Published 2022/12/14

Little Italy, San Diego, is one of the best neighborhoods in San Diego County, California, if you want to do lots of things in one day.

As one of the prime attractions of San Diego, this place is home to some of the best Italian restaurants in America, along with tons of art galleries and specialty stores.

With rich cultural heritage stemming from its Italian and Portuguese communities, this neighborhood also has a charming Mediterranean ambiance.

Besides, Little Italy San Diego is just a few minutes away from the biggest attractions in the city, such as Balboa Park and the USS Midway Museum.

These great features make this neighborhood a must-visit in any San Diego itinerary.

To help you map out all the exciting establishments and attractions here, check out the best things to do in Little Italy, San Diego, California.

Walk around Piazza della Famiglia

The grounds of Piazza della Famiglia

Liz Albro Photography /

Piazza della Famiglia is the centerpiece of Little Italy, marked by the iconic Little Italy Fountain.

The fountain is a beautiful piece of art sculpture, accentuating the beautiful buildings and pavement surrounding Piazza della Famiglia.

The entire layout of this area is picturesque, transporting you to Italy with its unique form and architecture.

At night, the place becomes even more beautiful as various lights from establishments illuminate the plaza.

Piazza della Famiglia and its water fountain are at the intersection of West Date Street and India Street.

Get Your Fill of Seafood at Ironside Fish and Oyster

Little Italy San Diego is also renowned for its coastal characteristics as it’s situated right along San Diego Bay.

Before, the neighborhood was a port, so restaurants like Ironside Fish and Oyster made seafood their signature dish.

One of the most visited and famous restaurants in Downtown San Diego is Ironside Fish and Oyster.

It is the one-stop shop for all things seafood across the farmers’ market on India Street.

Besides food, this restaurant has one of the most aesthetically pleasing interiors in Little Italy.

One of the unique decorative features of the restaurant is a massive wall made from the skeletons of piranhas.

Try their Oyster Rockefeller, clam chowder, lobster roll, and Siberian sturgeon caviar, along with your favorite cocktail, for the complete experience.

Enjoy a Delectable Food Adventure at Little Italy Food Hall

Building sign of Little Italy Food Hall

Michael Vi /

One of the can’t-miss things in Little Italy is the Little Italy Food Hall, home to some of the most exciting food shops in Downtown San Diego.

Little Italy Food Hall isn’t known for authentic Italian cuisine.

Instead, it’s home to a continental menu featuring all sorts of favorites worldwide.

Several food stations specialize in different areas, including tacos, mac n’ cheese, hamburgers, and pizzas.

There is also a wide selection of alcoholic drinks here if you’re in the mood for a margarita or a Bloody Mary.

Little Italy Food Hall offers lots of seating and has a fantastic ambiance where many tourists gather, so give it a visit.

You can visit Little Food Hall along West Date Street Suite B, near Piazza della Famiglia.

Grab an Authentic Italian Meal at Buon Appetito Restaurant

While there are many Italian restaurants in Little Italy, Buon Appetito Restaurant is one of the first and one of the best.

Established in 2003, the restaurant has risen above its competition, remaining busy while earning several awards.

Their pasta dishes here are some of the best, while their meat dishes have earned raves from patrons.

Try the osso buco risotto, linguine neri, and filet mignon in mushroom sauce.

There are also plenty of wines here, making it an excellent place for a dinner date.

Right across Ironside Fish and Oyster, Buon Appetito Restaurant can suffer from long lines, so you might want to reserve a table.

Grab Fresh Produce at the Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market

Sausages for sale at Little Italy’s Mercato Farmers’ Market

Lyonstock /

Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market is another fantastic destination for shopping for items besides food.

This farmers’ market is vast, offering well over 100 stores that sell all sorts of merchandise and food items.

The place is known for lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

However, it’s another place to try out fantastic food and drinks, as it’s teeming with all sorts of local food stalls.

The place has a nice scenic ambiance, making it a delight to walk around and explore.

The Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market is also along West Date Street.

Bring Your Pooch to Amici Park

Amici Park is Little Italy’s neighborhood park that doubles as a dog park located along the western end of the neighborhood.

Amici Park Park offers vast spaces where your pup can roam freely and mingle with other dogs.

The grassy fields here are some of the best you’ll find, making it a great place to play catch with your pet.

Besides its dog park, Amici Park also has plenty of other amenities, making it a relaxing stopover if you want to kick back and relax.

Visit the San Diego Firehouse Museum

Exterior of the San Diego Firehouse Museum

Roman Eugeniusz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

San Diego Firehouse Museum makes for a quick and exciting stopover during your trip, located along Columbia Street.

The museum shows a lot of antiques and vintage exhibits that showcase the firefighting history of Downtown San Diego.

One of the best displays at the museum is its vintage fire trucks, beautifully maintained as if they were still in use today.

You can also see exciting firefighting equipment here, from extinguishers to water hoses.

San Diego Firehouse Museum also has a corner where you can see historical photographs dating back to the 19th century.

Some photos are of the unsung heroes fighting fires to save lives.

Visit the Mee Shim Fine Art Gallery

The Mee Shim Fine Art Gallery is another place you might want to check out, especially if you’re into contemporary art.

Full of exciting paintings, Mee Shim Fine Art Gallery is a haven for fine art buffs who are all about technique when appreciating art.

You can find many art styles and varying themes here, ranging from abstract usage of landscapes and post-impressionist portraits to surrealist paintings.

Despite these varied approaches, the gallery features paintings from only one talented artist, Mee Shim, who also manages the place.

You can find Mee Shim Fine Art Gallery along India Street.

See Iconic Cartoons at Chuck Jones Gallery

Entrance to the Chuck Jones Gallery

BrokenSphere, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because of Italy’s intrinsic love for art, it’s no surprise there are several art galleries here that add personality to Little Italy.

Chuck Jones Gallery is one of the most famous ones in the neighborhood, located along Kettner Boulevard on the northern side of Little Italy.

The Chuck Jones Gallery is well-loved because of Jones’ iconic cartoons and drawings on display.

Relive Saturday mornings watching your beloved Looney Tunes characters by visiting the gallery.

It is also a great place to take pictures.

Buy Italian Food Products at Mona Lisa Italian Foods

Mona Lisa Italian Foods is a local business unique to Little Italy, San Diego.

It’s known for its delicious Italian home cooking and its wide range of Italian food products, as it doubles as a deli.

You can find many Italian grocery goods here, ranging from sauces and meats to beverages and bread.

Whether you’re craving good pasta or looking to make one, this is the place to go.

Mona Lisa Italian Foods is along India and West Hawthorn Street.

Shop at Blick Art Materials

Building sign of Blick Art Materials

Michael Vi /

Buying or appreciating artworks aren’t the only things you can do at Little Italy San Diego.

Blick Art Materials is a famous art shop where you can buy tons of materials.

Located along the corner of India and West Fir Street, Blick Art Materials is a must-visit if you like painting or other arts.

It’s a large shop with many art products, including acrylic and oil paints, canvases, brushes, watercolor pigments, and pencils.

Blick Art Materials also has a dedicated aisle for younger children.

If you’re a student or educator, Blick Art Materials provides incredible discounts, too.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Visit the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Exterior of the Maritime Museum of San Diego

f11photo /

San Diego Waterfront Park is another iconic nearby attraction, just across Pacific Highway, the eastern border of Little Italy.

There are a lot of fun family activities to do here, but the most famous is a trip to the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The museum comprises several large vintage ships, housing all sorts of interesting exhibits about the maritime history of California and the U.S.

A ship docked at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Debbie Ann Powell /

Since there are a lot of ships docked here, it’s highly recommended you go on a boat tour for the whole experience.

You could easily spend five hours in the Maritime Museum of San Diego, making it a perfect day trip for the family.

This place is only five minutes from Little Italy San Diego.

Interior of the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Raimundo79 /

Have a Blast at Music Box

Since Little Italy is a melting pot of tourists from around the world, it’s no surprise there’s a prominent nightclub across West Ash Street, Little Italy’s south border.

This nightclub is Music Box, a three-story upscale club that doubles as a concert venue where you can sing and dance the night away.

The place is always booming and festive, but it’s also an intimate spot if you want to spend a night with a loved one.

They serve great food and cocktails to complement the various band performances throughout the year.

With a great sound system, tight security, and spacious balconies, Music Box is an excellent addition if you’re looking for a loud and fun time.

This club is seven minutes from Little Italy San Diego.

Explore the USS Midway Museum

Exterior of the the USS Midway Museum

meunierd /

Another maritime icon you can easily access from Little Italy San Diego is the USS Midway Museum, which takes just about seven minutes.

Unlike the Maritime Museum of San Diego, USS Midway comprises only one gigantic ship.

You can explore many areas of the USS Midway, a World War II aircraft carrier that was once the largest ship in the world.

People touring the USS Midway Museum

WaitForLight /

Some of the best things to do include seeing its aircraft landing strip and the inner workings of its engine and torpedo system.

The USS Midway Museum is one of the most visited attractions in San Diego, so check it out if you’re in the area.

Interior of the USS Midway Museum

f11photo /

See the Sprawling Attractions at Balboa Park

Tourists at Balboa Park

meunierd /

Balboa Park is perhaps the most iconic attraction in San Diego, besting even the USS Midway Museum.

Just a five-minute drive east of Little Italy San Diego, Balboa Park is one of the largest historic parks in the world.

It is home to 17 museums, several sports complexes, and the iconic San Diego Zoo.

There’s more in store for you beyond those places, as it also doubles as an urban park with sprawling gardens and trails.

Botanic garden at Balboa Park

f11photo /

San Diego Zoo alone may take up most of your day.

Balboa Park’s proximity to Little Italy gives you a ton of flexibility in planning your schedule.

Moreover, Balboa Park is a world-famous place you must visit if you’re coming from Little Italy San Diego.

San Diego zoo at Balboa Park

LMspencer /

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, or an art enthusiast, Little Italy San Diego has a little bit of something for everyone.

It’s one of the most gorgeous and cleanest places in San Diego, making it a picturesque neighborhood that deserves a place in your memory.

Are you ready to go?

This list of the best things to do in Little Italy, San Diego, California, is a surefire way to maximize your stay.

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