5th Avenue: San Diego, California


The nine blocks of Fifth Avenue forming the heart of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter provides a unique pocket of Victorian, Italian Renaissance, and Spanish Revival architecture surrounded by an eclectic mix of contemporary buildings.

Designated Area

Nine blocks between Broadway Street to the north and Harbor Drive to the south.

Bustling pedestrian traffic and outdoor dining is ubiquitous along 5th Avenue. Decorative banners hang from 19th-century style 5-ball lampposts and add to the street's historic character. Photo courtesy of Marlon I. Pagnilinon.

Planning Excellence

Instead of a cacophony of traffic horns, screeching tires, and accelerating vehicles typically heard downtown, here voices of conversing pedestrians, the music of Latin jazz and live blues, and sidewalk tables being set for restaurant guests fill the air. Eminently walkable, Fifth Avenue is bustling with foot traffic day and night, from the waterfront to the central business district.

Defining the street's facades are rows of historic buildings fronting the sidewalks on both sides of the street, encouraging window shopping and impromptu exchanges with friends and neighbors. To ensure the integrity of Fifth Avenue's historic character, during the 1970s the city adopted guidelines for adaptive reuse of historic buildings within the Gaslamp Quarter; these guidelines established limitations on building heights for infill development and adopted design guidelines.

Since 1975, Gaslamp Quarter and downtown have attracted more than $7.5 billion in public and private investments, including expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and construction of the San Diego Padres baseball club's PETCO Park, both of which are near Fifth Avenue. These investments have pumped new life into Fifth Avenue at the same time the street remains true to its 18th and 19th century origins.

The iconic Gaslamp Quarter sign welcomes visitors to the 'Historic Heart of San Diego.' Seen in the background, the San Diego Convention Center forms the southern terminus of 5th Avenue and can be accessed by light rail. Photo courtesy of Marlon I. Pagnilinon.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Historic Heritage

  • Alonzo Horton builds wharf (1869); provides marine connection to San Diego retailers, establishing Fifth Avenue as backbone of the fast-developing city
  • Gaslamp Historic District has more than 100 historic buildings; 1980 added to National Register of Historic Places
  • Four gas-operated lamps, recalling original street lamps for which district is named, installed at intersection with Market Street (2002)
  • Watts-Robinson Building (1913), 903 Fifth Ave., is one of San Diego's first skyscrapers; 1979 added to National Register
  • Louis Bank of Commerce Building (1888), 904 Fifth Ave., reflects twin-towered Baroque Revival style; has oyster bar owned by lawman Wyatt Earp in the late 1800s

Downtown Revitalization

  • Business, property owners petition city council for $100,000 to aid revitalization efforts (1974)
  • Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC) created (1975) to help restore economic vitality along Fifth Avenue following decline from post-World War Two suburbanization
  • Gaslamp Quarter Planned District Ordinance and Urban Design Manual, adopted 1976 (amended 2010), aid district's National Register nomination (1980); building heights limited to 60 feet; no setbacks allowed in order to promote sidewalk and street-side activity
  • Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation (1981) helps promote and preserve historical integrity of Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter

Pedestrian Orientation

  • Large archway sign — the "Historic Heart of San Diego" — erected on Fifth Avenue near L Street; funded  by Centre City Development Corporation (1988)
  • Fifth Avenue utility boxes painted by local artists; inspired by Urban Art Trail started in 1997 to combat drug dealers using boxes as make-shift offices
  • Intersection at Market Street inlaid with a large, brick Gaslamp Quarter medallion signifying center of neighborhood
  • Intersection at Broadway Street highlights architectural contrast between shorter  historic structures and taller, more contemporary buildings
  • City's first diagonal pedestrian signal at Market Street intersection (1992)

Vibrant Street

  • Fifth Avenue intersects with all three major east-west thoroughfares downtown: Broadway Street, Market Street, Harbor Drive
  • Trolley stop at southern end of Fifth Avenue part of 39-mile-long light rail system
  • Fifth Avenue venue for festivals and celebrations drawing thousands of residents and visitors, including ShamROCK and Mardi Gras Parade
  • Eighty-eight affordable housing units along Fifth Avenue; 44 units at Cole Building (Fifth Avenue and G Street) and 40 units at Lincoln Hotel (536 Fifth Ave.)

The Louis Bank of Commerce Building exemplifies 5th Avenue's historic architecture and character. Built in 1888, the Baroque Revival style building once housed an oyster bar owned by legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. Photo courtesy of Marlon I. Pagnilinon.