The Italian community in Little Italy dates back to the late 19th century. At its peak, 6000 Italian families lived here. In old San Diego, Little Italy was a major center of the tuna industry. Skilled Italian workers here helped San Diego develop into the booming city that it is today.
Little Italy honors its historic Italian roots and is a vibrant 21st-century neighborhood. The streets here brim with delizioso dining and eclectic shops. Contemporary lofts stand next to homes from another era – marrying the new and the old.
My ties to Little Italy go back to the late 1970s, when my family and I moved from New York City to San Diego. Upon arriving in California, our cab driver recognized our Italian-American accents. Kindly, he brought us to San Diego’s Little Italy.
My Mom, sister and I were soon exploring Mimmo’s Italian Village, the Solunto Bakery, Mona Lisa Grocery and Pete’s Quality Meats. The Italian food we loved and the jovial banter of the customers and shopkeepers made us feel at home right away.
After our first introduction to Little Italy, we’d return each week to “fare la spesa” – shop for our beloved Italian groceries. Storekeepers would greet us with a friendly “How have you been?” or a “How’s your mother?” or even the occasional “Don’t worry, you can pay me later.”
We’d call our grocery orders in by phone. Then, we’d go to “the neighborhood” to pick up our order — packaged and prepared with care just for us. My sister and mother are deceased now but I remember them fondly every time I shop in Little Italy.
So how did Little Italy Tours begin? Fast forward to 1997, I was working for a small PR firm. We were hired to find sponsors — locally and in Italy — to support the annual Columbus Day Festival. We also were tasked with finding attractions for future festivals. Because of this, I worked very closely with the newly formed (in 1996) Little Italy Association of San Diego. They were created to oversee and expedite the revitalization and beautification of this neighborhood. They represented property owners, residents, and businesses of Little Italy. Every good thing that has come about in the neighborhood can be traced to the Little Italy Association. They made it happen and continue to make it happen!
At that same time, I read an article in the New York Times that cultural heritage/culinary tourism was a coming trend. And so, with the encouragement of the Little Italy Association, we began to offer historical tours of the neighborhood in March 1997. These tours chronicled and highlighted the rich history of the area as well as all the exciting plans that were in store for Little Italy, San Diego. We were pleasantly surprised by the reception we received from the public! Customers asked for more. We expanded to offer a variety of food tours, wine tastings, Italian cooking classes and corporate events all held in the Italian quarter.
Thanks to the continued efforts of the residents and the long-term vision of the Little Italy Association, Little Italy has become the most successful Little Italy in the USA and one of the few that is growing and expanding. We are in the midst of a revitalization right now. Slated to open Spring of 2017, the Piazza della Famiglia is a 10,000 sq ft European-style Piazza. Here you will find retail, residential and restaurant space as well as farmer’s markets, concerts and cultural events. San Diego residents want to be here. They want to live here. They want to be a part of this thriving part of our city. The future is bright and we feel fortunate to be a part of this really great neighborhood!
– Anthony Davi, General Manager