History is the reason why Mission Hills is so impeccably put together. Cruising through the neighborhood’s windy streets, which overlook San Diego Bay and Old Town, there are six styles of architecture to behold, with prideful denizens residing in cute Spanish cottages to expansive, Colonial Revival style spreads. Modern homes along the canyon rim also share a piece of the area’s history; most of the thriving plant life there is thanks to horticulturalist Kate Sessions, the “Mother of Balboa Park,” who played a role in developing Mission Hills, besides being its maiden green thumb.
Sessions also founded the Mission Hills Nursery, which has been operational as a retail and gardening education center since 1910. Its third and current set of owners are fighting to buy the expansive gardens situated on the Fort Stockton Drive corner lot, as the property’s owners are entertaining the idea of selling it to a real estate developer. Toni Palafox, owner of the nursery along with her husband, Fausto, told us that their business isn’t just the family’s livelihood—it’s Kate Sessions’ legacy, and an important facet of the community’s heritage.
The Mission Hills Garden Club spun off from the nursery and its must-attend event is the annual Mission Hills Garden Walk. The weekend before Mother’s Day, the club organizes a public tour of the neighborhood’s most coveted yards, where residents open up their picture-perfect homes to give visitors an intimate glimpse of the region’s traditions.
Speaking of amazing yards, have you ever stumbled across Harper’s Topiary Garden at 3549 Union St. It’s a private residence, so if you go, don’t take a hike through the Harper’s front yard. Enjoy making out the shapes from the road including whales, rabbits and elephants to name a few.
Though Mission Hills is largely a residential neighborhood, there are several crops of independently owned restaurants and retail to check out while you’re there enjoying a garden-centric piece of San Diego history.
Fuel up for more local history
Check out the new Heartwork Coffee Bar (3993 Goldfinch St., heartworkcoffeebar.com), whose beans are sourced from local, independent roasters, like the popular Dark Horse. Or, grab a cup of java at the much beloved Meshuggah Shack (4080 Goldfinch St., meshuggahshack.com), so much more than a corner coffee cart with its quirky decorations and humor also found in drinks like the El Kinky Nut and Crackhead Chai.
With beverage in hand, stroll over to Pioneer Park (1521 Washington Place) and check out one of San Diego’s oldest cemeteries. It’s not as creepy as it sounds; in fact, the park also features a popular playground and on weekends, picnicking families (not ghosts of them) are a common sight.
Be charmed by these indie businesses
A huge part of Mission Hills draw is its mom-and-pop shops, some of which have seemingly frozen in time. Take for instance M-Theory Music (915 W. Washington St.), every record collector’s happy place. There’s no better spot to peruse punk rock to Bach, with plenty of current titles in the mix. Check out mtheorymusic.com for 2015 staff picks.
If Karaoke is the name of your game, then chances are you’ve experienced The Lamplighter (817 W. Washington St., thelamplighterbar.com). The place gets packed with wannabe singers who echo less-than-professional music through it, literally driving some patrons to drink.
If you’re celebrating a little one in your life, look no further than Hillside Artisans Children’s Boutique (827 W. Washington St.). This cute shop’s bright selection of handmade toys, plus outfits and accessories by brands like Tea Collection and See Kai Run, will make your gift a memorable one.
The Front Porch is a new gourmet retail store and café with gorgeous windows (928 Fort Stockton Drive, thefrontporchretail.com), opening up the space to Fort Stockton Drive, where guests (and their pups) can enjoy some al fresco vino alongside a sandwich, soup or salad. This spot appeals to domestic divas with its specialty spices, olive oils and vinegar, plus kitchenware.
Grab a bite to eat
The Front Porch is a project from the owners of nearby restaurant, The Patio on Goldfinch (4020 Goldfinch, thepatioongoldfinch.com), also new to Mission Hills. A hit since it opened last summer, the neighborhood restaurant, with its open air dining, lush living walls and local fare, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily with weekend brunch. The quintessentially Mission Hills restaurant uses many of the products and goods you’ll find at its retail shop down the street.
Izakaya Masa (928 Fort Stockton Drive, izakayamasa.com) is a popular late night dining destination for those with a craving for rich, tonkotsu ramen, skewered meats and sushi. Its recent expansion helped, but the small space is still a crowded scene, with people waiting to get inside, for good reason.