The Best 48 Hours in Hillcrest!

Bobby Dyer


4:00 PM

You just checked into ITH Colive Balboa Park – located in the heart of Hillcrest.

Kumeyaay Indians originally lived in villages throughout San Diego before Spanish colonization brought the first 29 California Missions. In 1870, Mary Kearney acquired a deed from San Diego, which eventually became Hillcrest. The eclectic neighborhood of Hillcrest broke ground in the 1920s.

By the 1970s, Hillcrest was booming and became populated by the gay community. It was commonly known as the center of shopping in San Diego. To this day, it continues to be an accepting community filled with gay culture. Hillcrest vibe and charm illuminate the streets with lots of life and color. Some of the crosswalks are even painted rainbow.

If you’re into fashion- this is the spot for you. There are thrift shops galore on University Avenue. Buffalo Exchange is a classic offering lots of unique pieces in this shop. If you’re looking to spice up your wardrobe or change your look, you’ve found the right place.

Thrift Store San Diego Fpo

5:00 PM

Across the street from Buffalo Exchange, you’ll find Flashbacks, another consignment shop. Inside you’ll feel as though you stepped into another decade.

There are so many fun outfits in here; you may have to sell your other clothes to make room for your new wardrobe!

Indian Food San Diego Fpo7:00 PM

The food options in Hillcrest are just as eccentric as the people you will meet here. If Indian food is your thing, there’s a delicious spot on University Ave called Taste of the Himalayas. As a New Yorker, I’ve had my fair share of Indian food, and let me tell you- this place is incredible. I ordered the paneer in a tikka masala sauce. It was mouth-watering, life-changing stuff. Of course, I got some garlic naan to dip in the extra sauce.

The outdoor seating gives you a fantastic view of Hillcrest.

University Ave has eccentric, colorful shops and a large selection of food options. Right around the corner from Taste of the Himalayas is the Hillcrest sign located above the street (perfect for any photos you want to snap!)

9:00 PM

After eating, you may crave something sweet. If so, you have to head over to Chocolat, located at 3896 5th Avenue.

They serve a selection of sweet and savory crepes- they pair well with the chai tea latte. Not to mention, they have ice cream as well as a wide variety of sweets and pastries. The cakes are ideal for sharing with someone else, and the macaroons are perfect if you’re on a solo date.

8:00 AM

Good morning! You wake up to a breakfast selection of cereal, bananas, eggs, bread, and coffee at the hostel.

Whole Foods San Diego Fpo9:00 AM

Hillcrest has some fantastic grocery shopping options that are very close to the hostel. Whole Foods is the nearest grocery store you can access by walking. Trader Joe’s and Ralphs are within about 10-15 minute walk.

48 Hours In Hillcrest 1 Fpo11:00 AM

After shopping at one of the local food stores, you bring your groceries over to the park for a picnic. Balboa Park is about a 5-minute drive or a 15-20 minute walk from the hostel. Entering the park feels like you’re driving under the Arc de Triumphe. The architecture in Balboa Park is yet another reason why San Diego is so charming; each neighborhood is as if you have entered a different world.

Balboa Park has a Japanese rose friendship garden, if you’re looking to spend some time in solitude. There’s a beautiful structure in the middle of this garden that is a perfect spot for meditating.

There are plenty of beautiful areas in Balboa Park, but perhaps the most beautiful spot is next to the coy pond. There are often vendors selling different services along the pathway leading up to the pond. Ranging from henna body art to face paint and lemonade, Balboa Park has art and culture that will leave you breathless.

5:00 PM

Located right next to the hostel is the Lotus Thai Restaurant. You can’t go wrong with ordering the classic pad Thai dish. Cool off with a refreshing Thai tea- it pairs well with everything on the menu.

9:00 AM

For your last day in San Diego, Crest Cafe is the perfect spot to grab breakfast. It’s a short walk from the hostel, just past the Rite Aid to your left.

The external walls of the Crest Cafe showcase some incredible local art. The vibe of the restaurant is like a diner, but with a quaint feeling of Brooklyn mixed into it.

The breakfast menu ranges from sweet options like the raspberry ricotta French toast, pancakes and waffles, to savory options like the wide range of original omelet they serve. The sunrise salmon omelet has fresh grilled salmon, capers, chives, and red onions. Their hangover omelet has fresh jalapeños, avocados, spicy chicken sausage, and jack cheese, topped with chimichurri sauce.

Balboa Park Live Music Fpo11:00 AM

After breakfast, I would highly recommend walking around downtown Hillcrest and exploring the different kinds of wall art. Talented artists have painted murals in various alleyways and on the sides of buildings.

You can find the murals in an alleyway behind the Mint Cafe and Lounge. If you’re walking down University Ave towards First Ave, you will turn left on Fourth Ave. You’ll see the murals on your left in an alleyway.


12:00 PM

Located within an outdoor shopping mall is a sushi place called RB Sushi. My friend Sage and I ordered seaweed salad (delicious)- and the Heart Attack Roll. This roll was excellent. It had spicy tuna, crab, jalapeño, cream cheese, and it was deep fried with eel and spicy mayo sauce on top.


2:00 PM

After lunch, you may want to get your nails done. Luckily, there’s a lovely spot located right next to the hostel. It’s called Tippy Toes- there’s an outdoor area that you can sit at as well. Also, if you leave the hostel and exit left, you’ll see a massage parlor with affordable prices if you want the ultimate spa day.

Ramen In Hillcrest Fpo4:00 PM

For your last dinner in San Diego, I would suggest heading over to the Tajima Ramen Bar. It’s located to the right of the hostel as you’re facing the entrance.

The pho is delicious, and the outdoor seating is just as beautiful as the dishes they serve. Like many other restaurants have done in San Diego, Tajima built a wooden platform to create outdoor seating on the street.

After 48 hours in Hillcrest, you will probably leave with an entirely new wardrobe from the eccentric thrift stores and having tried a mirage of international foods. Paired with our International Travelers House, it feels as though you visited multiple countries in your 48 hours within Hillcrest.



Cofounder of ITH Hostels. I love traveling, hosting, gardening, golfing, fishing, and sailing.

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