Hillcrest is an urban neighborhood in San Diego, California, northwest of Balboa Park and south of Mission Valley.
Hillcrest is known for its “tolerance and acceptance,” its gender diversity, and locally owned businesses, including restaurants, cafés, bars, clubs, trendy thrift-stores, and other independent specialty stores as well as for its strong “non-monogamy” movement. Hillcrest has a high population density compared to many other neighborhoods in San Diego, and it has a large and active lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and polyamorous community.
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 part of San Diego history.
In 1870, Mary Kearney obtained a deed from the city for the land that eventually became Hillcrest. In 1871 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 the 1910s, Hillcrest became one of the many San Diego neighborhoods connected by the Class 1 streetcars and an extensive San Diego public transit system that was spurred by the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and built by John D. Spreckels. These streetcars became a fixture of this neighborhood until their retirement in 1939.
In 1940 the “HILLCREST” lighted sign at the intersection of University and Fifth Avenue was first erected, donated by the Hillcrest Women’s Association, a group of local female shopkeepers. After falling into disrepair, it was taken down and rebuilt in 1984.
After World War II, Hillcrest was left with an aging infrastructure and population.