Downtown Regeneration: 3 Family-Friendly Urban Spaces

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Joni Mitchell may have sung that they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, but the city of San Diego is defying that exact idea. If you cruise through downtown, you’ll see empty lots being regenerated into thriving urban spaces. These awesome lots are giving back to the community and creating fun go-to destinations for the family to explore. Here’s a look at three of San Diego’s best urban regeneration projects.


Photo Credit: Diana A via Yelp 

Waterfront Park
Along San Diego’s bay front you’ll find the new Waterfront Park. Over $50 million has been poured into turning a group of government staff car parks into an urban space that the whole community can enjoy. Your kids will go ga ga for the splash park with more than 850 feet of interactive fountains that splish and splash streams of water across 40 shallow pools. Once you’ve dried off, take in a view of the harbor over the expansive grassy area or the kids can explore the garden and play equipment.

The Waterfront Park does get very busy, especially on warmer days. So plan ahead and be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen. There are some trees within the park but the splash area is open to the elements. There’s also not a lot of snack options in walking distance, so pack a few bites to be safe. There is paid parking at the underground parking lot accessible from Ash Street, and there are plenty of public restrooms, which include outdoor showers for rinsing off.

Waterfront Park
1600 Pacific Hwy.
San Diego, Ca 92101


Photo Credit: Lenya McGrath

Head down to the corner block of Park and Market Street and you’ll find Quartyard. This once empty lot of land is now a thriving urban park. Developed by a team of graduates from San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture and Design, this regenerated space makes perfect use of city-owned land that’s not ready for development. The park hosts a 5,000-square-foot dog park, coffee shop, daily rotating food trucks and a beer garden.

Families are welcome, especially on Sundays where you’ll find a great cup of Joe at Meshuggah Shack Coffee Shop (see if your kids can spot the cats on the front counter). Or enjoy a tasty snack from S&M Sausage and Meat. Then enjoy the sunshine while doing a bit of dog spotting or hacky sack playing.

There is limited street and paid parking next to the park. The paid spots are a bit on the expensive side so you may want to allow extra time to find street parking. There are also bathrooms and an ATM on site.

1102 Market St.
San Diego, Ca 92101

Screen shot 2015-04-20 at 3.29.12 PM

Photo Credit: Smarts Farm

A farm in the middle of the city? SMARTS Farm is a great example of turning a concrete lot into a piece of paradise. Run by the non-profit Humane Smarts, this urban community is an oasis amongst the hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego. When you visit SMARTS, you’ll find a community garden where people from all different ages and backgrounds come together to get their hands dirty and enjoy a little bit of nature.

They have a great selection of kids’ programs and events, and you can even rent a planter box to grow your own veggies.  You bring the seeds and SMARTS Farm will provide everything else you need from soil, water and storage for your tools. You’ll need to find parking on street and facilities are limited. So we suggest taking those potty breaks before you visit.

F and 15th St.
Downtown San Diego, Ca

Do you have an downtown urban regeneration project you love? Tell us and we may include it in a future article!

— Lenya McGrath

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