“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
Little Italy was originally a predominately Italian fishing neighborhood. It has since been gentrified and now is a scenic neighborhood composed mostly of Italian restaurants, Italian retail shops, home design stores, art galleries, and residential units.
Tuna Industry: From the 19th century through the 1970s, people from Italy led the enterprise in the building the boats to found the American tuna fishing fleet and canning industry based in San Diego, the “tuna capital” of the Western US. The first large tuna cannery, the Pacific Tuna Canning Company, was founded in 1911. By the mid-1930s the canneries employed more than 1,000 people. Due to rising costs and foreign competition the last of the canneries closed in the early 1980s. A large fishing fleet supported the canneries, mostly staffed by immigrant fishermen from the Portuguese Azores and Italy, whose influence is still felt in neighborhoods like Little Italy and Point Loma.
Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, other families then moved to live at the San Diego “Little Italy” fishing colony from the Italian Riviera and from Sicily. In the 1970s, the interstate freeway construction split the neighborhood. There is a sculpture dedicated to the cannery workers in Barrio Logan and a “Tunaman’s Memorial” statue on Shelter Island.
Annual Events: The majority of events held are related to Italian culture. Most of the events center on and around India street, usually bordered by Grape street to north and Beech Street or Ash Street to the south.
Every Saturday, 8:00am – 2:00pm, on W. Cedar Street; Little Italy hosts the Little Italy Mercato. This Italian farmers’ market features freshly caught fish, vegetables and fruit from local farmers, pastries from local bakeries, flowers and plants from local farms, and art from local artists.
The Saturday before Mardi Gras, there is the Little Italy Carnevale, a Venetian mask event with several vignettes of entertainment and an open house for retail shops and restaurants.
In April, there is ArtWalk, the largest art event in the west coast with over 120,000 people coming to purchase various mediums of art – paintings, photography, jewelry, furniture and more. Also in April, there is Gran Fondo (Big Ride) Colnago San Diego, where over 3,000 bicycle riders from all over the world come to ride throughout “America’s Finest City” in a 32, 53 or 100 mile ride that starts under the Little Italy landmark sign.
In May, the Sicilian American community of San Diego celebrates the Sicilian Festival, the first Italian festival held in Little Italy, launched in 1993. It features Italian and Sicilian entertainment, a cultural pavilion highlighting the contributions of the Italians of San Diego, vendors, and Sicilian cuisine.
In May and again in November, there is the Taste of Little Italy (Spring), where attendees pay to sample food from over 20 participating restaurants and entertainment throughout the community. Proceeds from this event go to the Little Italy Association.
In September, there is the Labor Day Stickball Tournament, where several stickball leagues come to play on the streets of Little Italy. This time honored east coast game is played like baseball, but with some minor tweaks. Every third year the San Diego leagues host a West Coast Invitational where they invite New York and Puerto Rico to play on the streets of San Diego’s Little Italy.
In October, there is the Little Italy Festa, the largest Italian festival outside of New York City, with over 150 Italian food and crafter booths, three stages of entertainment, the Gesso Italiano Street Painting Festival, a stickball exhibition game, bocce ball tournament and beer & wine gardens. Also in October, there is the Bulls of St. Agata Charge Little Italy; this event showcases over 50 Lamborghinis from all over the United States.
In December, there is the Little Italy Christmas Village and Tree Lighting. This event has progressively gotten larger and larger, with Santa Claus riding in on Little Italy Fire Engine #3 kicking off the festivities of music, shopping and bubbly snow flakes for the kids. The neighborhood also showcases a life-sized gingerbread house all month long at Queenstown Public House (New Zealand inspired restaurant), which collects toy donations for local charities around the area each year
Personal Experience: Being Sicilian myself, I always feel a draw and warmth when I visit this town. It truly feels like home. The energy is wonderful out here and brimming with colors, beautiful murals, delicious food, art galleries and a good sense of the Italian culture. A great day trip indeed.
Every corner is bursting with a green thumb’s love:
The food is AMAZING out here and the decor is often eclectic and unique:
Great food and memories at this restaurant. We did not eat here unfortunately the day I brought my camera:
I like this: “Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick”
The ground tells the history of this town:
There are fabulous art galleries out here. Make sure to check them all out!
I really loved artist Mee Shim’s art. She has her own gallery here:
You’ll hopefully spot some of the neat murals out here too. This spot is a great place to watch the planes fly right over your head before they land!
If you’re a big art-lover you should attend one of their art walks!