In 1937, the bold red letters spelling out El Cortez were added to the luxury "apartment hotel," and could be seen from several miles away.
Located on the highest point in Downtown , today, the illuminated signage calls attention to the architectural icon, designed by Walker & Eisen architects, on the plot of land formerly home to Ulysses S. Grant Jr.'s residence. While you can no longer stay as a guest in the building-it closed as a hotel in the 70s and was converted to condominiums in the early 90s-the Don Room, which serves as a grand ballroom with sweeping views of the city, is available for event rentals and is a quintessential San Diego location for weddings.
Now, Cortez Hill-one of San Diego's oldest neighborhoods, named after its landmark hotel-is a quiet, predominantly residential area with plenty of historic homes and architecture to admire, amid a crop of high-rises that have shot up in the last decade and a half. There's even a paved loop surrounding the community's several complexes, serving as a dog walking area and urban park, known by locals as Tweet Street.
There's something about this community that feels separate from Downtown; maybe it's just the bird's eye view paired with steep hills that seem to keep passers-through to a minimum. Either way, you're most likely due for a visit to this less-trodden part of town, if for nothing else than window shopping for real estate, grabbing a quiet bite where you're not likely to see anyone you know, or maybe just a leg burning workout. Here are some more ideas for exploring Cortez Hill.
Hang out with the locals at Soleluna Café (702 Ash St., solelunacafe.com) during the morning coffee rush. The outdoor patio area is a charming location to kick back before starting your day over a cup of joe and some reading materials.
If personalized yoga classes are your thing, The Little Yoga Studio (702 Ash St., Suite B, bestyogasandiego.com) is exactly what it sounds like. Under the same ownership as Bird Rock Yoga, this intimate studio has a great reputation as being a challenging, yet friendly workout zone.
There's a brand new fast casual restaurant concept in the neighborhood with Cocina 35 (145 Sixth Ave., cocina35.com), which dubs its food "old school Mexican," is open for breakfast at 8 a.m. True to its moniker, the menu features classics like chilaquilas verde and huevos rancheros. During lunch, we dig the ceviche tostadas (3 for $9), made with fish or shrimp varieties. But if you only get one, go for the shrimp ceviche with tangy tomatillo and avocado mixed right in. Daily agua frescas are also top notch at Downtown's latest "build your own" bowl, sandwich, salad concept from the owners of La Loteria in Otay Mesa.
Though it's technically just outside the border of Cortez Hill, the San Diego Symphony (750 B Street, San Diego) is worth mentioning as so many denizens are able to walk just two blocks to see and hear world-class musical performances at this tier 1 orchestra that has been going strong for over 100 years. For a complete schedule, visit sandiegosymphony.org.
For a behind the scenes peek of a symphony rehearsal, there are free monthly tours of the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center. Call (619) 235-0800 for dates and times of the upcoming hour-long tours.
More neighborhoods to explore
Anza Borrego, Balboa Park, Coronado, Del Mar, East Village, Encinitas, Fiesta Island, Golden Hill, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, North Park: Part 1, North Park: Part 2, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, San Carlos, South Park, University Heights