Little Italy San Diego Still Going Strong


As we look back on 2020, locally owned and small businesses were some of the hardest hit. On Thursday, March 19, 2020 San Diego business owners were dealt a difficult blow as a stay-at-home order was announced by California Governor, Gavin Newsom. The Little Italy Association became a beacon of hope for many small businesses and a true leader throughout the pandemic due to its creativity and swift actions.


In response to the first directive modifying indoor/outdoor dining and the retail experience, the Little Italy Association launched ‘Ciao Bella!’, their reopening campaign which featured ‘Al Fresco’ dining to close streets, in partnership with the City of San Diego. The Little Italy the first neighborhood in San Diego to close streets for a new open-air dining experience. Al Fresco allowed nearly 30 restaurants including Cloak & Petal and Davanti Enoteca to take steps in recovering from the loss of sales over the last few months by expanding outdoor dining into the streets. The outdoor expansion of Al Fresco increased seating capacities from about 50 percent to roughly 95 percent while maintaining focusing on the public health.


Following the success of Al Fresco, the Little Italy Association started advocating for parklets (aka pedestrian plazas) to allow restaurants like Barbusa, Buon Appetito and Café Italia to expand their outdoor seating into adjacent parking spaces and continue to provide service outside seven days a week into the middle of 2021 and possibly longer. Today, more than 33 restaurants have the parklets as extensions of their dining experience, creating nearly 25,000 additional square feet to serve patrons outside.


The holiday season is typically one of the busiest times of the year. In an effort to help businesses in Little Italy in a new and unique way, the Little Italy Association created a Facebook group called “Dine, Shop & Support #LittleItalySD”. In the group, businesses like Vocabulary Boutique, Earth’s Elements, Café Gratitude and the Carté Hotel share their latest specials, items in-stock and all-around happenings including virtual FaceTime shopping sessions, curbside pick-up, and online orders.


Some of the most emblematic events that take place in Little Italy are the Taste of Little Italy and the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. Rather than cancel these events, Little Italy remained committed to bringing these experiences to their community and pivoted to make them safer. The 12th Annual Taste of Little Italy was adapted to Taste of Little Italy – Take-Out Edition and was extended to a week-long period, rather than one night. Each night, four or five restaurants were highlighted to create an elevated multi-course meal. Attendees were able to experience culinary nirvana by enjoying a delicious meal from over 20 one-of-a kind restaurants including Ballast Point, Bencotto, Buon Apetito, Cloak & Petal, Frost Me Bakery and Café, and Monello. The 22nd Annual Tree Lighting made its virtual debut with a 25-minute Hallmark-inspired Holiday Special, streaming on multiple platforms. The Holiday Special included an incredible performance by the Our Lady of the Rosary Choir in the historically renovated Church, a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas from Santa and Mrs. Claus and heartfelt messages from residents and business owners. It concluded with the traditional Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony led by the Little Italy Leadership with an Italian countdown by Father Joe Tabigue of Our Lady of the Rosary Church.


The Little Italy Association has led the way in San Diego and across the nation due to its adaptation and agility navigating through the constantly changing COVID climate. Because of its creative thinking and swift actions, every business within the neighborhood survived one of the most challenging times and led to several new businesses opening their doors in Little Italy for the first time, including, Pop Pops Paleta, Mr. Moto and Allegro.

About Little Italy Association (LIA)

A nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation for the public’s benefit, the Little Italy Association (LIA) advocates on behalf of its members’ best interests in the areas of public safety, beautification, promotion and economic development, while preserving the unique cultural resources that exist in the Little Italy neighborhood of Downtown San Diego. LIA stands as the only district management corporation of its kind for any Little Italy neighborhood in the United States and is run by a Board of Directors encompassing 29 people who represent property owners, residents, businesses and community at large. More information can be found by visiting or by calling (619) 233-3898.