"This post contains affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you if you click on one of the product links, we may earn a commission."
There are thirty-three states in the US that have their version of Little Italy and we explored the one in San Diego, California. What makes Little Italy a special part of San Diego? Thanks to redevelopment, this charming neighborhood is full of new and exciting shops, cafes, and eateries. In 2014, Forbe’s listed this community one of the Top 10 Neighborhoods for Millennials and unlike other Little Italy’s in the US, this one is booming. There are no signs of it slowing down and it just keeps getting better and better. Below are some of our highlights from our weekend in Little Italy.
1. Explore the Maritime Museum at Little Italy’s Waterfront Park
The Waterfront Park is located right along San Diego’s beautiful harbor and one of the things you can do here is explore the Maritime Museum. We had no idea that San Diego maintained one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the US and had a fantastic time exploring the various ships and even climbed into a couple of submarines.
2. Eat Fresh Baked Pastries at Frost Me Cafe - A CupCake Wars Champion!
If you are a pastry and dessert fan, you can’t miss this cafe whose owner and baker is a CupCake Wars Champion. We couldn’t get enough of their freshly in-house baked “Morning Bun” that we went back for seconds. They are open all day, and also serve European style savory dishes and alcoholic beverages. In addition, they serve cupcakes, cakes, and mini desserts with plenty of gluten-free and vegan options. If we lived in the area, we could see ourselves eating here all the time.
3. Watch Planes Fly Over Nolita Hall
We couldn’t believe how close the planes were flying overhead at Nolita Hall and couldn’t get enough of their huge Split Flap display. The display posts flight information at the precise moment that a plane flies overhead. It’s quite mesmerizing watching this huge board constantly flip information as planes fly by at such close range.
4. Grab a Cup of James Coffee at the “Space”
James Coffee is quite unique as it shares its “space” with other local retailers in the building. You can grab your coffee and also do a little shopping or even get a hair cut at the Urban Shave. The shops are catered more for the male demographic, but the surrounding areas have adorable boutiques for the ladies. It’s a space with a great mix of boutique shops and it’s also pet friendly.
5. Try Tons of Local Treats at the Mercato Farmer’s Market
We had such a fun morning trying a variety of local bites and drinks at the market. Everyone is super friendly and they really encourage you to try their products. A lot of the shops have an online presence, so if you can’t take things home with you there are alternative options for those of us who are traveling and aren’t a local resident.
6. Slurp Japanese Noodles at Rakiraki Ramen
Ramen in Little Italy? It sounds strange, but Little Italy in San Diego has a variety of cuisines that aren’t just Italian. We can’t help but try ramen wherever we go, so of course we had to try Rakiraki Ramen. We are happy to report that the ramen was delicious and we really enjoyed their broth as it was a little different from the ones we are used to. The broth had a hint of citrus flavor to it that tasted like yuzu.
7. Take A Photo at Little Italy’s Landmark Sign
You can’t miss Little Italy as this sign stands out from afar. It may be a bit tricky taking photos in front of this nautically themed sign during the day, but if you go right at sunrise you’ll pretty much have the entire sign to yourself. It was constructed to pay tribute to the immigrant neighborhood and if you look closely at the mosaic tile work (on the poles at each end) you will find stories about the neighborhood.
8. Drink Craft Cocktails at Born & Raised’s Stunning 6.5 Million Dollar Midcentury Marvel
If you want to sit outside and soak in the gorgeous sunset and views of Little Italy, Born & Raised is an excellent spot to grab some fancy cocktails on their rooftop bar. If you want to dine here, located below is their steak restaurant. Even if you skip on dining here, we highly suggest popping your head in to view the IMPRESSIVE interior. It is so grand that it exudes luxury and it should be considering that it cost an astounding 6.5 million dollars to build.
9. Shop or Have a Classic Italian Deli Sandwich at Mona Lisa Italian Foods
Little Italy is rapidly growing with exciting new establishments, but there are also some classics in the neighborhood that are likely to stay forever. Mona Lisa Italian Foods was established in 1956 and is in its third generation of ownership. This place was bustling when we popped in as you can find an array of pasta, cheese, wine, and much more.
10. Roam the Quaint Streets on A Rideshare Scooter
We initially had no intention of hopping on a rideshare scooter, but it was so hard to resist once we got a taste on our first ride. It may not be necessary to take a ride down the busier streets, but it was great taking a stroll around the colorful side streets. There are so many cute historical buildings and we even had fun finding various “Legends of Little Italy” signs throughout the neighborhood.
11. Wolf Down Handmade Ice Cream at Salt & Straw
Instead of going for a classic gelato, we wanted to try Salt & Straw’s small batch handmade ice cream. They have limited locations in the US (only six) and their flavors are fun and unique. We both tried a variety of samples before we settled on the Honey Lavender and Gingerbread Cookie Dough.
12. Enjoy Your Dessert Outside at the Beautiful Piazza delia Famiglia
The Piazza delia Famiglia is still fairly new and is a charming 10,000-square-foot European-style piazza. On one end is a gorgeous tiled water fountain and on the other end you can get a beautiful view of the San Diego Bay. It’s a great place to hang out and enjoy the amazing weather, so after we purchased our ice cream from Salt & Straw we sat at one of the many community tables outside.
13. Devour Award Winning Desserts at Extraordinary Desserts
If you search google for “desserts in San Diego”, Extraordinary Desserts will be on every list you find. The executive pastry chef and owner, Karen Krasne, has been honored and featured in several outlets including Forbes Magazine and the Food Network. The desserts here really are exceptional and the attention to detail are phenomenal. We walked in this place and spent nearly 15 minutes just looking at all the dessert options that were so beautifully decorated.
We had such a great time in Little Italy and can’t wait to go back and explore it some more. The area is constantly growing and there are so many exciting new establishments in the works. Want to find out more about our time in Little Italy? Check out these related posts: