The story of the Victorian buildings in San Diego

A one of the beautiful Victorian homes in San Diego
A one of the beautiful Victorian homes in San Diego | Photo via Hidden San Diego

Take a look around — you’re bound to see some fascinating buildings in San Diego. Our city’s architecture draws inspiration from various geographic regions and time periods but Victorian style tends to stand out.

This style is common with buildings erected in the late 1800s (during Queen Victoria’s reign), with one of San Diego’s most iconic examples being 1888’s Hotel del Coronado.

Hotel del Coronado
The Del, known for its Victorian + San Diegan beauty | Photo via Hotel del Coronado

What makes a Victorian “Victorian?”

As the name implies, these homes incorporate an architectural style popularized during the reign of Queen Victoria. It doesn’t take an architect to spot these buildings — here are a few features to look out for:

  • Steep-pitched roofs
  • Walls with varying colors + textures
  • Asymmetry, often due to a porch
  • Decorative exteriors including spindles + banisters

Why are they in San Diego?

In the late 1800s, Alonzo E. Horton redesigned the city layout, which prompted new residents + new homes. At the time, Victorian architecture was in style across the globe, and the growing population wanted fashionable homes. Victorian homes are relics of early population growth in the city. While the city’s population was only ~20,000 near the end of the 19th century, it grew rapidly in the 20th. By the time World War II began, only 15% of the homes incorporated Victorian styling.

A uniquely Victorian Home in Golden Hills
A uniquely Victorian Home in Golden Hill | Photo via Hidden San Diego

Where can we find them?

Victorian architecture is scattered throughout the city, and many notable locations incorporate designs (The Del isn’t the only hotel). But, some neighborhoods see more Victorian influence than others. Heritage Park — a small neighborhood by Old Town — is noted for having many homes in this style. Bankers Hill, Coronado, Golden Hill + National City are also known for their prominent Victorian architecture.

 In fact, if a San Diego landmark is older than 100 years — it’s probably either Victorian itself, or has some close neighbors.

What’s going on with the building now?

Victorian homes were built quickly, and that doesn’t always mean they were built to last. While many of them have been destroyed, the surviving ones have experienced different fates, such as these notable transformations:

A uniquely Victorian Home in Golden Hills | Photo via Hidden San Diego
Another charming Victorian | Photo via Hidden San Diego

Want to experience one?

On a nice day, simply take a walk in the right neighborhood, the Victorian homes aren’t hard to find — Heritage Park even has some museums. Hotels + restaurants occupy some of the old Victorian buildings, like the Horton Grand Hotel. You can grab a drink at Salt & Whiskey and enjoy the Victorian ambiance. 

Occasionally, Victorian homes are for sale, but they’re rare + attract many prospective buyers. Just because they’re available doesn’t make them affordable. The city has a limited quantity, and these homes draw attention for their size and unique design. But that’s why we love them so much.