Insider’s Guide to OH! San Diego 2021

With OH! San Diego 2021 upon us, what better way to celebrate this year’s showcase than through the eyes of those who know it best — the program’s co-chairs Kathy Breedlove and Anne Militante. Here’s a look at some of the most exciting offerings of OH! San Diego 2021, as told by Kathy and Anne. We hope you enjoy reading about them  — and seeing them in person March 5-12!

Kathy’s Picks

Curating the 2021 OH! program has been an amazing experience and I came away from it so inspired by all the ways that design is making a difference in our communities. It’s so hard to choose just a few of these experiences to share . . . . but here are my top picks:

Photo by Linda Pennington

Azalea Park Water Conservation Garden and Poplar Street Art Walk/City Heights. I lived in Kensington for eight years, City Heights was right next door, and I never knew this hidden gem of a neighborhood existed until I stumbled across it while researching potential sites for OH!  I reached out to local artist Vicki Leon and she invited me on a guided tour.

Late afternoon on a beautiful San Diego day, we took a leisurely (and masked) walk with our dogs along Poplar Street and she told me of the grassroots efforts of a dedicated group of community members over several years to beautify their neighborhood through art. Visit during OH! and experience this artsy community vibe for yourself. While you’re there, get a birds-eye view of another OH! site, the Ocean Discovery Institute, from the Manzanita Gathering Place overlook.

Image credit: City Farmers Nursery

City Farmers Nursery and Nates Garden Grill/City Heights. Not a new discovery, but a longtime personal favorite. Located not far from Azalea Park is City Farmers Nursery and Nates Garden Grill. If you have kids, you don’t want to miss this one. Started by “Farmer Bill” Tall when he was just out of high school, his children now carry on the traditions. Visiting City Farmers feels like a walk through an (urban) family farm – and when you leave, you feel like part of the family.  Say hi to the goats, Olive and Pickle, and don’t miss the homemade biscuits at Nate’s Garden Grill.

Image credit: Elementary Institute of Science

Elementary Institute of Science/Southeastern San Diego. Okay, so this one is kind of a tie between Elementary Institute of Science and Access Youth Academy. Both offer incredibly inspirational programs for youth, and both are in Southeastern San Diego, essentially across the street from each other. EIS gets the nod because, well, it looks like a magic castle. In the words of Executive Director Jim Stone:

While the exterior design of the building is evocative of science, the true value of the building is its ability to inspire kids to believe in their abilities and capabilities. When children are inside the facility, the setting speaks to them and conveys that they are valued and welcome in the world of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Anne’s Picks

Planning OH! 2021 has been such a rewarding experience. I’ve learned so much about our city, and I’m especially excited to be sharing two communities that are close to my heart — my hometown, National City, and my home for the last (almost) 20 years, Chula Vista. While it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few, here are my top three picks for this year:

Image credit: Anne Militante

Third Avenue Walking Tour, Chula Vista

Having served as a main hub for the city since the early 1900s, Chula Vista’s Third Avenue has long been home to many of the area’s local businesses. Lining its sidewalks were shoe stores, repair shops, bakeries and clothing stores, even a movie theater. As times changed, people began to spend more time shopping nearby malls and less time at Third Avenue. For a night out, people would often leave Chula Vista and drive elsewhere.

As the needs and interests of the community shifted, movement and prosperity on Third Avenue slowed considerably and several businesses moved out or closed entirely. But several back, vacant storefronts began to be replaced by event halls; people held quinceneras, receptions, and other celebrations. Soon Friday nights on Third Avenue turned into a popular trend. Crowds spilled onto the sidewalks and food trucks began to line the streets. It wasn’t long before breweries and tasting rooms arrived to liven up the scene.

Change that occurs organically often leads to the most authentic result; it is borne out of a response to the wants and needs of a community and tunes itself accordingly. In the case of Third Avenue, this change has led to a unique and thriving downtown, a pleasant place to stroll in the daytime and a weekend scene that rivals any main street in San Diego.

Image credit: Brady Architectural Photography

Sheldon’s Café

My love for history, adaptive reuse, and delicious coffee, leads to my second pick, Sheldon’s Café. While it’s now home to the aforementioned coffee house, the building actually began life as one of the first gas stations in La Mesa. It was built in the 1920s, a decade of changes in industry, technology and society. It served its patrons who were looking to fuel up their motor vehicles.

One hundred years later, we find ourselves once again in a time of change. Now Sheldon’s is a place for us to fuel our bodies and maybe slow down for a little while. Grab a coffee, find a seat on the patio, and watch the world go by.

Image credit: Brady Architectural Photography

Paradise Creek Educational Park

For many years this natural creek, which runs through National City into the San Diego Bay, was overlooked and underappreciated. The water had been dredged and the result was a muddy, inaccessible area which became a magnet for trash and a breeding ground for invasive plants.

However, beneath the muck lurked the primeval essence of the earth and it would take the spirit and efforts of a local schoolteacher to find it. In the 1990s, Kimball Elementary School’s Margaret Godshalk began to teach her students about saltwater marshes. She brought the kids outside the school see it firsthand. After learning about the creek’s past and its importance to both the ecosystem and the community, her students were inspired to clean up the area and restore the creek. This led to the founding of Paradise Creek Educational Park in 1999.

Since that time, the creek bed has been returned to its natural state by the removal of invasive plant species and the reintroduction of native drought- and saltwater-tolerant plants such as grasses and shrubs. It is now home to wildlife including egrets and other birds who live along the creek and thrive on the food source it provides. Next to the creek lies a new park with paths and nature-viewing opportunities as well as picnic areas for families to come take some time off and enjoy themselves in the midst of this revitalized destination.

This park and the community’s preservation efforts exist as an example of how, with care, we can preserve natural habitats while simultaneously creating recreational spaces for people to relax, exercise, and enjoy the peace and serenity that exists for those willing to seek and find it.

We hope that you find something new to discover about Design + Community during this year’s OH!, and that you are as inspired by your experience as we were in crafting the event. We would love to hear from you!  Contact us:

Contact Us

San Diego Architectural Foundation



P.O. Box 122228
San Diego, CA 92112-2228
Federal Tax ID: 95-3513927

Sign Up

Stay on top of your Architectural news

San Diego Architectural Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to education and promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

Get in the Mix