Arts, Culture & Entertainment District

North Park’s on-going renaissance has been accentuated by a thriving new creative element and emerging designation as the region’s artistic hub. In 1998 North Park Main Street declared itself an Arts, Culture & Entertainment District to recognize, celebrate and foster this growing economic and cultural trend. The area’s newly established professional class of artists, designers, musicians, writers and other creative entrepreneurs, combined with a broad array of colorful and imaginative cultural events have transformed North Park into a widely recognized “Creative Community”.North Park’s creative renaissance is punctuated by the juxtaposition of two core values: preservation of the community’s historic character and celebration of its heterogeneous and avant-garde work and life styles. The “authenticity” of the North Park urban village – one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Diego – has served as a magnet to creative types and to businesses poised to provide services to this new demographic profile.The eclectic, somewhat bohemian North Park flavor is captured below by a “tour” of some of its notable historic, art, culture, dining and entertainment attractions: 

Historic Heritage

When one thinks of the North Park revival one tends to visualize the iconic, neon lit, Art Deco North Park neighborhood sign – the, single-pole monument sitting in the middle of University Avenue just east of 30th Street – at the heart of North Park Main Street. A replica of the original built in 1925, the sign sets the stage for the vast collection of historic residential and commercial gems that make up the community of North Park as a whole as well as North Park’s commercial Main Street. Stylistically, the area is characterized by a unique complexity and diversity of architecture. North Park’s downtown core contains a treasure trove of architectural styles including Streamline Moderne, Mission Revival, Spanish Renaissance, Spanish Revival, Art Deco and Beaux-arts.  Residential neighborhoods feature such styles as California Bungalow/ Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival; Mission Revival, Prairie and Mediterranean. Two Historic Districts have been designated – the Burlingame subdivision, known for its unique reddish pink sidewalks and its  well preserved Craftsman homes built between 1912 and 1914, and the Shirley Ann  Place block. A third historic district is pending, the David O. Dryden, known for charming Craftsman bungalows built between 1912 and 1918. The community hosts many important historic landmarks, including the Georgia Street Bridge and the newly restored Birch North Park Theatre, the crown of North Park’s art scene and entertainment scene.The North Park Historical Society has published an award-winning coffee table book detailing the first 50 years of North Park’s development and conducts walking tours of various neighborhoods, including the downtown commercial district in coordination with North Park Main Street (the down town tour highlights thirty-two historically significant landmarks).

The Art Scene

Today’s North Park plays host to an ever-increasing array of art galleries and studios, performing arts groups and venues, dance studios, architects and local art projects. A wide range of art-based forums and festivities, many sponsored by North Park Main Street, draw large and enthusiastic crowds from all around the San Diego region.Symbolic of the community’s burgeoning art scene is its performing arts jewel –  the Birch North Park Theater  – restored to the shimmer of its glory days in the 1920s. Previously home to a movie theater in the early 1970s and a church in the 1980s, the decaying building was eventually bought by the City and converted in 2005 to an intimate, red velvet-seat, live theater and concert venue. The acclaimed historic renovation captured the prestigious San Diego Architectural Foundation Orchid Award. The theater’s grand resurrection created a new home for the San Diego Lyric Opera (relocating from Downtown San Diego), and served as a catalyst for an entire neighborhood’s transformation.Over the past several years a stream of artistic, cultural and entertainment oriented enterprises have poured into North Park – as illustrated by the sampling below.

Examples – Artist Collaboratives, Galleries & Exhibitions     

  • Art Academy of San Diego

A 10 year tenant of East Village and victim of the East Village Petco Stadium impacts; one of the many art studios and galleries dispersed from downtown San Diego and choosing North Park for their new home. “North Park is arts friendly” says owner Stuart Burton. “Plus parking is not an issue. And the students and I like the space.” The adult-only classes include drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, stained glass, jewelry and mosaic.   

  • Art Institute of California, San Diego

Arie Kate Ashton is a well known visual artist and art educator whose work hangs in galleries and homes around the country. She likes to help budding artists find their own style.  She is one of the teachers at the San Diego Art Institute in North Park. The San Diego Art Department (SDAD), a program of The San Diego Art Institute, offers art classes, workshops, studio space for rent, and gallery space for monthly exhibitions.   

  • Art Produce Gallery:

A unique artist-run storefront exhibition space entirely visible from the sidewalk. Designed to accommodate sculptural installations, cross-disciplinary works, digital media, and performance events. The space allows for unconventional presentation opportunities for artists and unexpected art encounters for viewers. Intended to enliven the experience of the pedestrian, it is an experiment in public art. Originally built as a food market, ART Produce now houses the storefront gallery, Stone, Paper, Scissors studio, a community room, Caffe Carpe Diem, and the San Diego Shambhala Meditation Group. In 2009 the Gallery received San Diego Architectural Foundation’s  2009 Orchid award in the Public Art category.   

  • Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center (QB Center):

Housed in an 8000 square foot building built in the 1930s for the first Dixieline Lumber Company located in San Diego, the QB Center supports local musicians and artists and empowers homeless youth in San Diego. The Center provides family-friendly entertainment and cultural events, featuring live local musicians of all genres, comedy shows, spoken word and poetry nights, cabaret shows, art shows, improv and discussion groups.      

  • North Park Parking Garage Art Panels:

The North Park Redevelopment Project Area Committee and North Park Main Street have spearheaded an exciting public art project which will integrate large original artworks into the North Park garage façade. The work of North Park artist Blair Thornley will be digitally reproduced and exhibited as sixteen oversized panels of varying  sizes and shapes on the garage exterior.   

  • Ray Street Annex:

A classroom gallery and jewelry/metals studio; hosts photography and metalwork exhibitions monthly.   

  • San Diego Art Department:

The San Diego Art Department offers classes for all ages taught by San Diego artists and educators with exhibition histories in galleries and museums around the world. The Art Department is  a combined art school, studio space, and exhibition gallery. The gallery is filled with new works in the mediums of painting, sculpting, stained glass, mosaics, tiling, and other media by students, teachers, and members.   

  • Sharp Studios Gallery:

For six years Sharp Gallery has exhibited multi media fine art by local, national, and international artists. Owner Joel Sharp and Gallery Director Brian Simpson provide a warm, inviting atmosphere that differs from most traditional art galleries.    

  • Stone Paper Scissors:

Creating public art projects since 1994, Stone Paper Scissors seeks to integrate community voice and vision into the cultural and physical landscape through art and education. Owner Lynn Susholtz is an artist and educator. Her studio practice focuses on sculptural installations, drawing and painting. As an advocate for increased access to arts and culture, Lynn works locally to develop educational, social and environmental resources for youth and families. Lynn is also the owner/director of ART Produce Gallery.   

Examples –  Performing Arts and Dance Studios

  • Birch North Park Theatre:  Built in 1928, the City’s first neighborhood performing arts center, Birch Theatre has been restored to its original décor recreating the elegant atmosphere of movie palaces of a bygone age supported with the latest technology. Birch Theatre is the only theatre of its size (730 seats) in San Diego County featuring a fly-loft for legitimate live theater productions, a full-size movable orchestra pit, a projection room for motion pictures, and a built-in pipe organ for musical accompaniment, and is updated with state-of-the-art staging and lighting systems, projection equipment, and multi-channel theater sound system. Owned by San Diego Lyric Opera, Birch theatre offers lyric opera performances, other productions such as the  La Jolla Musical Society Dance Series (Paul Taylor Dance Company, Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band) , film exhibitions (from Young Frankenstein to the Italian Film Fest) and pipe organ concerts.   
  • Evoeke Dance Theatre:  Evoeke’s mission is to cultivate compassionate social action. The dance theatre performs an annual season of dance works, provides education, and  produces community building dance events . Lessons are available in various styles from hip hop to ballet. Public performances address current social issues.  
  • A Time To Dance:  Offers classes in salsa, hip hop, belly dance, regaeton, samba, burlesque jazz, bachata and wedding dance   
  • Stage 7 School of Dance:  Stage 7 is one of San Diego’s oldest and best respected dance schools. Class offerings include ballet, jazz, and Afro-Cuban dance. Students come for the joy of dancing, enhanced fitness, and professional training. Since its move from downtown, Stage 7 has launched a new Children’s Program. Professional Training Students have gone on to study at Joffrey, School of American Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham School, and other leading American dance institutions.    
  • Vernetta’s Dance Studio:  Opened in 1962. Vernetta is a choreographer and dancer, having choreographed for Bob Hope and Carol Channing, and taught at major resorts. Shehad developed dance and movement programs for special needs groups and directed the tap track used at SeaWorld’s main street. Classes offered in ballet, tap, tumbling, ballroom, Latin, swing hip hop and belly dance.   

Examples: Music  Stores & Studios:   

  • Off the Record:  Stocks great collection of new and used vinyl and c/ds. Always looking to buy or trade records or c/d collections. Also offers an off site service, converting vinyl to c/d format in 7 to 10 days.  
  • United Records and Sound: United  Records moved to North Park in 1999 and supplies quality dance music, sound, accessories and more. Their recording studio has everything needed to make a professional quality mix CD or produce music.   
  • The Windsmith: Specializing in everything for the windplayer. The Windsmith repairs and restores Professional level Woodwinds and Brass. They offer new and used Yamaha instruments rentals of exceptional quality and condition, provide lessons in flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trumpet, French horn, saxophone, low brass rents, and carry accessory supplies.

Special Events: Arts & Culture

North Park Main Street (NPMS), the North Park Community Association (NPCA), and private art and culture associations sponsor events throughout the year, offering something for everyone – from family friendly fun to bust-out arts activism. Some of the more prominent events are highlighted here:    

  • Bird Park Summer Concerts: Free concerts from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. in the 3 summer months. Bring the family and friends and pack a picnic! Kick back or kick up your heels to the tunes of local bands – from Cajon and blues to rock and jazz.  For over eight years these concerts sponsored by North Park Community Association have drawn hundreds of neighbors for good music and camaraderie.   
  • North Park Farmers’ Market:  Open every Thursday 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Herman Street – come rain or shine.  The market features over 30 independent vendors presenting fresh, locally grown seasonal and organic produce and flowers, handmade arts and crafts, and tempting selections of prepared gourmet foods. Live music provides the backdrop to a gathering place for friends and neighbors to meet, swap stories, and celebrate being in the hood! Sponsored by NPMS.   
  • North Park Festival of the Arts: A day of arts, culture and old-fashioned family fun – attracts over 30,000 festival enthusiasts each year. Truly something for everyone, including  juried fine arts, handcrafts, five stages of live entertainment, enticing vendor booths, food, drink, and artisans from around the globe….plus a Festival of Beers sponsored by San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Music Foundation representing the finest microbreweries in San Diego. On stage some of San Diego’s hottest bands;  global sounds from places like Ghana, Iran, Bali, Africa, Ireland, plus folk, classical guitar, jazz, rock and punk. And dance troupes from all over the region. Special attractions for children, including art activities, child aerial art/ circus acts, and much more. Sponsored by North Park Main Street with support from the City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.   
  • North Park For The Arts (formerly North Park Nights): A collective of more than 30 North Park businesses dedicated to promoting arts, culture and business in the North Park neighborhood. North Park for the Arts (NPA) includes select businesses along University Avenue from the 805 freeway west to 28th Street  and along 30th Street from Polk on the north  to Upas Street on the south. The group is known for hosting the monthly North Park Nights art gallery walk. The collaborative’s new name reflects its transition from an event-based organization to one that is more broadly  focused on marketing and supporting North Parks’ businesses and artists. NPA is supported by The San Diego Art Institute and will continue to host quarterly events in and around North Park designed to promote and expand arts and culture. NPA’s is launching the North Park Arts and Entertainment Guide – part walking guide to local art events, part coupon book, part art-zine, it’s a pocket size guide to accessing San Diego’s premier Arts and Culture district   
  • Ray at Night:  Held 2nd Sat of every month. Eight year-old Ray at Night continues to sparkle and grow! It’s the largest and longest-running monthly art walk in San Diego. The gallery walk event showcases over 24 merchants on one-way Ray Street between University Ave and North Park Way. “This is the hub of arts and culture of San Diego,” says Gustaf Rooth, owner of Planet Rooth Studios and founder of Ray at Night. Ray at Night now attracts Saturday night crowds of up to 2000 art enthusiasts who enjoy viewing art of various mediums including oil, acrylic and mixed-media painting, sculpture, photography, furniture, ceramics, jewelry and other fine arts. Rooth helped to secure grants for streetscaping upgrades along Ray Street (new sidewalks, curbs, trees, benches, etc) when the area wasn’t so appealing. As the popularity of the event escalated, property values did too. “Now people want to move their businesses here” he says. Laura Crow, owner of Red Crow Studio adds “There is no other place I’d open up. I believe in the arts, in community, in the neighborhood. Ray Street is the only place that I know of where that all happens on a daily basis.”   
  • Toyland Parade: Previously known as the Lions Parade, this holiday classic has been delighting people of all ages since 1931. After WW II, this holiday tradition evolved into one of the nation’s most renowned parades, second only to the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, drawing over 300,000 spectators. Bbefore the 1958 parade, the original North Park neon sign was replaced, with a message changed to read “North Park – Home of the Famous Toyland Parade”. Following a period of dormancy for almost 20 years (as the business district fell into economic decline with the loss of customers to the suburban shopping malls), the parade resumed in 1985 and has continued ever since, today drawing some 20-30,000 spectators. Crowd pleasers Include bands, floats, equestrian groups, community groups and a special group of grand marshals.

Eating, Drinking, & Entertainment

The buzz about North Park has reached high pitch when it comes to exciting new and trendy restaurants, bars, clubs and coffee houses. Some 14 years ago the buyer of a home in North Park was wished well by the exiting sellers: ”Hope you like fast food!” But if you think that’s the story today, you’re definitely out of touch. Way. And as for the North Park bar scene, this is best expressed by the Redwing Bar’s ads which read “North Park’s Last Dive Bar”. Not to say that the bar scene isn’t still colorful – and definitely eclectic. And filled with MUSIC. Live music with real live musicians. Places like Urban Solace, Bar Pink, The Office, U21, West Coast Tavern, Blue Foot, Mosaic, Claire de Lune…..And then there is the recently bestowed honor by Men’s Magazine naming San Diego as one of the “Top 5 Beer Towns in the U.S.” and 30th Street as “clearly the nation’s best beer boulevard” for its fresh local beers, exotic imports and eagerness to experiment. 

  • Taste of North Park: First introduced in 2009, A Taste of North Park
    received rave reviews from both tasters and participating businesses
    alike. More than 30 restaurants, microbreweries, local galleries and
    boutiques threw open their doors on a Saturday afternoon and tempted
    tasters with tantalizing sample cuisine. From pear and gorgonzola pizza
    to from spicy fresh ceviche; from cream cheese macadamia nut pie to 1 oz
    self-serve shots of premiere Italian wines….. This inaugural event
    sponsored by North Park Main Street secured its place on every food and
    wine lovers’ calendar for years to come!   

Facebook