Tuna fish and balmy weather similar to what can be found in southern Italy attracted around 6,000 families of Genovese and Sicilian origin to San Diego in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They created an enclave of their Italian culture with brightly painted bungalows, Italian shops and meals using the flavors of their home country.
At the height of the San Diego tuna fishing industry, the neighborhood bustled with canneries, shipyards and Italian culture. Since then, San Diego’s Little Italy has, incredibly, held on to this historic heritage as downtown’s oldest continuous neighborhood business district.
Today, new Italian-American and non-Italian business owners work together to preserve the thriving district that stays true to both the past and the present.
“The neighborhood today is transformed into more than just Italian restaurants,” said Eley. “It’s now a flourishing art and design district as well. It’s a juxtaposition of historic and contemporary sites.”
Little Italy Tours let groups experience the Italian roots of the neighborhood through a number of tours, including a historic walking tour. The walking tour tells stories of the early Italian immigrants while stopping at some of the neighborhood’s landmarks, such as the public piazzas and the 1925 Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church.
Groups can also tour with their stomachs on the Little Italy Pizza Tour and Old School Little Italy Food Tour. During Italian Cooking Classes in Little Italy, participants learn cooking skills they can enjoy for years to come. One class teaches the art of making ravioli, and guests can feast on it after careful preparation.
In 1770, the future of the first European settlement in the western United States looked bleak. Near starvation, about 100 Spaniards inside a wooden fort faced either their demise or a risky abandonment of the site.
Then a Mexican supply ship sailed into San Diego Bay and saved the colony.
The colony eventually moved to Old Town; the site of the original first settlement remains preserved at Presidio Park.
“There is a cultural museum and some beautiful trails in the park,” said Eley. “It is up on a hilltop, so there are amazing views of San Diego and the bay. It is one of the most scenic areas in San Diego.”
Groups can see the foundations of the original site’s buildings, which range in age. The park also honors Father Junipero Serra’s original mission that once stood in the park with the Junipero Serra Cross. Built from remnants of historic buildings found at the site, the 1913 cross stands at the center of the park as tribute to Father Junipero Serra, who was recently canonized by Pope Francis on his recent visit to the United States.
The Junipero Serra Museum educates visitors on the site’s importance with a large collection of archaeological finds, historic objects, rotating exhibits and interactive educational programs. The 1925 museum also features Mission architecture typical of the late 1700s.