Hillcrest is known for its tolerance, diversity, and locally-owned businesses, including restaurants, cafés, bars, clubs, trendy thrift-stores, and other independent specialty stores. Due to Hillcrest's grid street pattern and relatively high population density, pedestrian activity is relatively high.
Hillcrest is the residential and commercial hub of San Diego's gay and lesbian community. Most gay bars in San Diego are located in Hillcrest and surrounding neighborhoods. The LGBT community center ("The Center") is also based in this neighborhood.
The Hillcrest Association, a business improvement organization, and Uptown Planners, an organization representing residents interested in planning issues, work to make Hillcrest attractive for shoppers and residents.
Hillcrest is an older neighborhood going through gentrification, which is mostly residential with a large amount of retail and features tree-lined streets, traditional homes, and apartments. The neighborhood is bound by Mission Hills to the northwest, Bankers Hill and Balboa Park to the south, and University Heights and North Park to the east. A large ridge overlooking San Diego Bay borders the neighborhood to the west.
Nearby Balboa Park provides recreational and cultural opportunities to Hillcrest residents, as does the neighborhood's proximity to Downtown San Diego. Hillcrest and Mission Hills are home to Scripps Mercy Hospital and the UCSD Medical Center.
San Diego Gay Pride is an annual celebration for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Festivities take place the second to the last weekend in July; there is a Gay Pride parade, then a two-day festival in Balboa Park. The route of the annual Pride Parade runs through University Avenue to Sixth Avenue, ending at the west entrance to Balboa Park. San Diego Gay Pride is considered to be the largest civic event in the city of San Diego. For more information, see http://www.sdpride.org.
Hillcrest "CityFest" is an annual street festival which features food, live entertainment, a beer garden and street vendors. This event takes place annually in August.
Other regular events in Hillcrest include a weekly farmers market, Book Fair and Mardi Gras.
Hillcrest is a walkable neighborhood with many of the cafés, restaurants and shops near the main residential pockets. It is common to see pedestrians, cyclists and scooters throughout the neighborhood and surrounding communities. Centrally located within San Diego, Hillcrest has easy access to freeways, beaches and the downtown area.
Hillcrest is served by State Route 163 at the University Avenue, Washington Street and Robinson Avenue exits. University Avenue and Washington Street are the major east-west thoroughfares in Hillcrest; Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Avenues connect Hillcrest to Downtown San Diego through Park West and Bankers Hill.
There is substantial bus service connecting to Downtown as well as to the Mission Valley trolley stops because of the presence of the University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard transit corridors, the two busiest in the metro region.
Initially, Hillcrest was a chaparral-covered mesa. Kumeyaay Indians inhabited numerous villages scattered throughout the San Diego region. Spanish colonization brought the first of twenty-nine California missions with the founding of the nearby San Diego Mission. Presidio Park in Mission Hills, and Old Town just down the hill, are a treasure trove of San Diego history.
In 1870, Mary Kearney obtained a deed from the city for the land that eventually became Hillcrest. In 1871 C. D. Arnold and D. Choate, two real estate developers, obtained that property. George Hill, a wealthy railroad tycoon, then purchased the land. Real estate development began in 1910 and the area was built out by 1920. During the 1920s and 1930s Hillcrest was considered a suburban shopping area for downtown San Diego.
In 1940 the "HILLCREST" lighted sign at the intersection of University and Fifth Avenue was first erected, then later restored in 1977 and rebuilt in 1987. After World War II, Hillcrest was left with an aging infrastructure and population, but by the 1970s gays and lesbians began to settle in Hillcrest and revitalize the community.
The Hillcrest Town Council is an organization of local residents that was formed in 2007. The group of renters and owners meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Joyce Beers Community Center in the Uptown District. Their mission statement is “To provide a voice & enhance the quality of life for Hillcrest renters & homeowners while supporting actions that benefit our neighborhood.”
1970: Members of the LGBT community begin to establish residences, businesses and organizations within Hillcrest.
1980: The Center for Social Services founded in Golden Hill in 1973 -- now called the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, and generally known as "the Center" --moves to Hillcrest.
Protesting the city’s refusal of a parade permit, 200 gays and lesbians march through the streets of downtown for the first time.
1986: Maureen O’Connor is elected mayor. She becomes the first elected official to ride and march in the Pride parade. 1993: Christine Kehoe, now a state senator, is elected as the community's representative to the San Diego City Council. She is the first openly gay/lesbian elected official in San Diego.
1994: A new Vermont Street pedestrian bridge is completed. The span, featuring public art, costs $1.2 million.
Former Mayor Roger Hedgecock heads a group of protesters calling themselves “The Normal People”. They want to march in the Pride parade. A court denies them permission.
1999: Hundreds of gay-pride marchers and spectators were tear-gassed July 24 when an unidentified man threw a military-issue tear-gas grenade into the Family Matters (i.e. LGBT parents and their small children) contingent during the 25th annual Pride Parade. The suspect has never been found.
2001: Mercy Gardens -- formerly the Sisters of Mercy Convent, which housed nuns from 1926-1990 -- is remodeled for use by the HIV-positive community.
Local public television station KPBS airs the documentary “Searching for San Diego — Hillcrest.” Hillcrest Business Association president Hulda “Sissy” Isham is one of many featured individuals in the documentary. 2002: The Fourteenth Annual Open Air Book Fair moves from Normal Heights to Hillcrest’s Fifth Avenue, drawing 5,000 literary enthusiasts.
Superior Court Judge Bonnie Dumanis, a Hillcrest resident, is elected San Diego District Attorney. She becomes the highest ranking, openly lesbian law enforcement officer in the nation.
2005: City Councilmember Toni Atkins, who represents Hillcrest, is elected Acting Mayor of San Diego by her fellow Councilmembers following the resignation of Mayor Dick Murphy and conviction on corruption charges of Deputy Mayor Michael Zucchet. San Diego becomes the nation's largest city with an openly gay or lesbian chief executive. She would step down from the post following the November election of new mayor Jerry Sanders.
2006: The 32nd Annual Gay Pride Festival was held July 28-30. 150,000 people gathered to watch The 25th Annual Gay Pride Parade. A group of six men were assaulted while exiting the gay pride event in Balboa Park.
Four suspects were arrested a few days later. All four eventually pled guilty. The only minor was sentenced to 10 years in a state youth detention center. Two adults attackers were respectively sentenced to 8 and 11 years in prison. A third adult attacker was sentenced to 32 months for being an accessory to the crimes Reportedly he got a smaller sentence because he showed remorse for his actions.
2007: The Hillcrest Town Council is formed to give residents a voice (http://www.hillcresttowncouncil.com)