North Park, San Diego: The Rewards of ‘Walkability’

This revitalized neighborhood, with many of its 1920s Craftsman-style homes still standing, has added vegan tacos, vintage clothing and live music to the mix.

Seeing the Sights in North Park, San Diego

North Park, San Diego: The Rewards of ‘Walkability’

Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

For Gina Farkas, the decision to live in North Park came down to one precious detail: single-pane windows.

Ms. Farkas, 30, grew up in the suburbs of north San Diego and returned to her hometown in 2016 after earning a master’s degree in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design. She was accompanied by Zack Feigenbaum, then her boyfriend, whom she had met as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the two began looking for a home that checked their specific boxes.

North Park, San Diego: The Rewards of ‘Walkability’

San Diego R.




Park blvd.

El Cajon Blvd.

University ave.


North Park

Upas St.




Laurel st.

Balboa Park



San Diego


By The New York Times

Their first requirement was walkability. Having grown up in sprawling Southern California, where a trip to the grocery store can involve a freeway, Ms. Farkas’s time on the East Coast changed her. “Even as a Californian, I knew I couldn’t go back to the old normal,” she said. “Every time I’m stuck in my car on the freeway now, it’s my existential crisis for the month.”

She and Mr. Feigenbaum, also 30, looked at a handful of San Diego’s more walkable communities. North Park, a neatly gridded enclave lined with 1920s Craftsman-style homes adjacent to the urban cultural mecca that is Balboa Park, offered the right aesthetic.

The couple settled on a rental in the neighborhood, signing a lease for a 700-square-foot house with a small yard while searching for a place to buy. It took them two years — Mr. Feigenbaum, a teacher, proposed marriage in the interim — but they eventually found the right home, paying $830,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bath Craftsman-style located one block from their rental. (The couple married earlier this month.)

North Park, San Diego: The Rewards of ‘Walkability’

Verbatim Books offers a curated selection of used and rare books, as well as new titles from local authors. They also host open mic nights, poetry readings and community gatherings.Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

“As an architect, the housing stock in North Park really appealed to me,” Ms. Farkas said. “And with this house, everything just fit. It was kind of like Goldilocks.”

Built in 1927, the house needed significant construction on the backyard deck, and its foundation was crumbling. But its windows were worth the complications.

“One of the beautiful things about this part of California is that you don’t need insulated windows, so we really wanted a home with its original, single-pane glass,” Ms. Farkas said. “Aesthetically it was such a big deal for us.”

For Darren Roach, 42, a Chicago native, walkability and night life were crucial when it came time to buy a home.

“I would rather live right where there is so much to do, and not have to drive, than live somewhere a bit cheaper but have to always pay for an Uber,” said Mr. Roach, 42, managing partner of a restaurant group that includes Dunedin, a trendy New Zealand-themed eatery on North Park’s busy 30th Street.

Earlier this year Mr. Roach and his wife, Tricia Barbieri, spent $415,000 on a two-bedroom, two-bath condo just a few blocks from the restaurant. The couple would have preferred to buy a house. But to stay on budget it would have meant heading farther east.

They looked in the nearby community of La Mesa, but felt the urban energy of North Park was more their speed. “We drove out there to see a few places and then realized, there’s no way we could live out there,” he said. “It’s just 10 minutes away by car, but it’s so much more lively here.”

3318 DWIGHT STREET | A two-bedroom, one-bath house on 0.6 acres, is listed for $699,000. 858-752-7800 Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

North Park is among San Diego’s oldest neighborhoods, and its housing stock includes a number of Craftsman-style and turn-of-the-century California bungalows. The North Park Dryden Historic District, a cluster of pitched-roof homes with wide eaves designed by the local son David Owen Dryden, sits along 28th and Pershing Streets.

There are also many Spanish revival homes in the neighborhood, as well as a handful of two-story, six- or eight-unit, Huffman-style apartment complexes built in the early 1960s.

Many of the area’s older homes have been refurbished or gut renovated, but there are still some century-old originals to be found.

3735 HERMAN AVENUE | A two-bedroom, two-bath multifamily house, with a one-bedroom, one-bath unit at No. 3737, built in 1922, listed for $1,195,000. 619-987-3066 Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

True to its name, North Park wraps around the northern edge of Balboa Park, San Diego’s sprawling, 1,200-acre cultural park. Homes within walking distance of Morley Field, which is at the park’s northeast corner, are among the neighborhood’s priciest.

Its northern boundary sits just south of Interstate 8, and its western boundary is marked by Texas Street, Park Boulevard and 28th Street along Balboa Park. Interstate 805 runs along its eastern edge. The neighborhood dips south toward Juniper Canyon, where it is bordered by the South Park neighborhood, and it encompasses the micro neighborhoods of Burlingame and Altadena.

Commerce is clustered along 30th Street and University Avenue.

3120 LINCOLN AVENUE | A one-bedroom, one-bath house with a detached studio and bathroom, built in 1922 on 0.09 acres, listed for $525,000. 619-400-9567Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

In September 2019, there were 27 single-family detached homes on the market in North Park, at a median sales price of $675,000. There were also 22 single-family attached homes available, with a median price of $378,000.

In 2018, there were 33 detached single-family homes for sale, with a median price of $695,000, and 20 attached single-family homes with a median price of $419,500, according to the North San Diego County Association of Realtors.

For renters, studios start in the low $1,000s; two-bedroom apartments run about $2,200 a month; and single-family detached homes can be found for around $3,000 to $5,000 a month.

3250 FIR STREET | A three-bedroom, two-bath house, built in 1980 on 0.15 acres, listed for $815,000. 619-280-1530Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

With its mustachioed locals, third-wave coffee shops and vegan tacos, North Park is a nexus of San Diego hipsterdom. Its population skews young and tattooed, and its business drags are packed with craft breweries, vintage clothing shops and boutiques offering terrariums and sans-serif stationery. It’s walkable, liberal and just a tiny bit gritty.

But Scott DeMoss, 52, a local realtor and longtime North Park resident, takes the long view.

“Is there hipster culture here? Sure,” he said. “If you’re looking for a really good beer selection or phenomenal coffee, that’s all here in North Park, and it’s hipsters who were the first ones to pay for it. But you need to look more closely. There’s a diverse and aware community here, of all kinds of people.”

North Park is about four miles from downtown San Diego, with Balboa Park separating them, and it was only in the late 1980s, after developers began pouring money into revitalizing San Diego’s city center, that the tide of refurbishment crept into the neighborhood. Many of the area’s Craftsman-style and Spanish Revival homes were rehabbed in the following years. Later, new businesses, live-music venues and restaurants moved into 30th Street and University Avenue, its two main drags.

A state-funded redevelopment program, which purchased and refurbished buildings throughout California, brought restoration to several North Park structures, including the North Park Theater and the Lafayette Hotel. A complex offering affordable housing for seniors opened on Iowa Street in 2016.

Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street, a business-improvement district, grew up in the neighborhood and has watched it change. “In the 1980s there was a lack of interest from the residential district in their abutting commercial district. Redevelopment changed that,” said Ms. Landsberg, 50.

But as new businesses have come in, some of the old ones, like Controversial Bookstore, a metaphysical book shop on University Avenue, and several family-owned hardware and liquor stores, have been able to hold on.

“I so appreciate the diversity in North Park,” Ms. Landsberg said. “We still have some of the mom-and-pop shops, and it hasn’t been totally beautified — there’s still an element of grit.”

The standardized-test scores of students in North Park’s neighborhood schools often lag behind those in the full San Diego Unified School District, especially for older children.

“I worked recently with a family relocation from the East Coast and they wanted walkability,” said Sarah Heck, 38, a local real estate agent with Coldwell Banker West. “North Park would have been perfect for them, but the schools couldn’t compare, so they ended up elsewhere.”

Elementary-aged children attend either Garfield, Jefferson or McKinley elementary schools. In the 2018-19 school year, 72.7 percent of students at Garfield met or exceeded standards for English and Language Arts (ELA) on California’s Smarter Balanced Assessment test; 62.8 percent did the same in math. At Jefferson, 54.7 percent met or exceeded standards in ELA; 58.2 percent did so in math. At McKinley, 77.3 percent met or exceeded standards in ELA, 72.7 percent in math.

Overall in the district, 57.7 percent of elementary-school students met or exceeded ELA standards, and 55.3 percent did so in math.

Middle school students attend Roosevelt Middle School, where in 2018-19, 50.6 percent met or exceeded ELA standards and 34.1 percent did so in math. Districtwide, 54.8 percent of middle school students met or exceeded ELA standards, and 44.5 percent did so in math.

Students attend high school on the opposite side of Balboa Park at San Diego High, a community with three small schools on the same campus: the school of Business and Leadership (17.3 percent in ELA, 5.3 percent in math), the school of International Studies (71.6 percent in ELA, 36.8 percent in math), and the school of Science and Technology (37 percent in ELA, 12.4 percent in math). Districtwide, 60.5 percent of high school students met or exceeded ELA standards, and 35.7 percent did so in math.

Close to downtown and with easy access to multiple freeways, North Park offers residents relief from San Diego’s crushing traffic.

“I love the heartbeat of this area, and it’s a really great community for commuters,” said Heck, the real estate agent. At rush hour, “you’re against traffic heading both south and east. And you’re 15 minutes from downtown.”

A number of public buses also run between the area and downtown; the ride costs $2.50 and takes about half an hour.

Alonzo Horton, the American real estate tycoon known as the Father of San Diego, first suggested to friends that the areas around Balboa Park were ripe for development in the 1870s. In 1893, James Monroe Hartley, a realtor and insurance agent, purchased 40 acres of those acres for lemon groves. He named the area “Hartley’s North Park,” which stuck, according to the North Park Historical Society. James Hartley’s son, Jack Hartley, and son-in-law, William Stevens, later built the area’s first residential and commercial buildings, while John D. Spreckels, the transportation and real estate magnate, brought life to the area when he connected it via his Class 1 streetcars in the early 1900s.

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