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San Diego Neighborhood Profile: City Heights


Introducing City Heights:

City Heights is a large, dense, and ethnically diverse neighborhood of San Diego. It spans the corridor of University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard, roughly from I-805 eastward to 54th Street. Long a victim of neglect and urban blight and crime, the Heights is starting to see a bit of a renaissance, with new businesses and programs moving back into the neighborhood.

City Heights' History:

The area now known as City Heights goes all the way back to the 1880s, when land speculators purchased land east of the city proper as railroad expansion brought anticipation for population expansion. It used to be referred to as East San Diego, and in fact, East San Diego was its own city until it was annexed by San Diego in 1923. City Heights is one of the more densely populated areas with residents of a lower income. For years it was plagued by high crime, but recent years has seen a resurgence, with lower crime and new businesses.

What Makes It So Special?:

Probably more than any other area of San Diego County, City Heights is a true melting pot of different ethnic groups. From Hispanic to African American to Ethiopian to Vietnamese to Cambodian, City Heights is a community of immigrants trying to carve out a life in this city. Housing in this neighborhood is more affordable relative to the rest of the city, although it is dense with a mixture of small cottages and aging apartments.

What Defines City Heights?:

By far, cultural diversity defines City Heights. If you wander through the densely packed neighborhood, you will see a plethora of small businesses: Hispanic, East African, African American, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian. And within the area defined as City Heights, you will find a lot of smaller pocket neighborhoods, like Colina Park, Fairmount Village, Fox Canyon, Chollas Creek, Azalea Park, Hollywood Park, Ridgeview, and Bayridge.

Things To Do?:

If you don't live in City Heights, then you might not think there's a reason to visit. But if you're looking for authentic ethnic restaurants or markets, City Heights is worthy of a visit. Most of the business are concentrated along the corridors of University Ave., Fairmount Blvd., and El Cajon Blvd. The award-winning City Heights Urban Village is a joint public and private City of San Diego redevelopment project which boasts the Mid-City Police Substation and Community Gymnasium, the Weingart City Heights Branch Library, and the Mid-City Adult Continuing Education Center.

Best Bets for Eats:

Looking for a good bowl of hot pho? Then head to City Heights. It goes without saying, with a large Vietnamese population, the filling beef broth soup is easily found at a number of pho restaurants. One of the best is Pho Hoa, at 4717 El Cajon Blvd. If you want to try East African food, then try Asmara at 4155 University Ave. If you want Mexican, there are too many to mention, from taco shacks to mom and pop hole in the walls. Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants abound as well. Just cruise through the neighborhood and you'll find something.

Best Bets for Drinks and Entertainment:

Bars in City Heights are strictly of the dive type. See, the place hasn't become gentrified yet, so the range is from seedy to hipster. But the drinks are usually cheap in these places. The Tower Bar at 4757 University Ave. is a landmark of sorts (though the actual tower no longer exists), with cheap drinks and dive vibe galore. The Beauty Bar at 4746 El Cajon Blvd. is a surprise because it is strictly for the hipster scene, with music and dancing. For live rock and roll, the Radio Room at 3519 El Cajon Blvd. is where you want to go to see original bands playing live.


OK, City Heights isn't where you can find hip and funky boutiques, or shops that you would travel long distances to visit. Along with your run of the mill CVS or Walgreens, you will find block after block of immigrant mom and pop shops: bodegas, take out food, thrift shops, dollar stores, and ethnic specialty stores. Not to mention the ubiquitous independent mobile phone dealers.

How to Get to City Heights:

North or south bound State Route 15 takes you through the heart of City Heights. From SR-15, exit to either El Cajon Blvd. or University Ave. (look for the cool retro transit centers on the overpasses for both streets). Traveling east or west on either streets will give you a taste of City Heights. Take Fairmount Ave. or Euclid Ave. for your primary north-south passage.

Public transportation is served by bus Routes: 1,2,6,7,908,15,19,115

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