Even though Downtown San Diego has a building height limit of 500 ft (152 m) due to the proximity to our international airport (the planes landing at Lindberg Field has to descend to it right over parts of Downtown area), there are still some spectacular skyscrapers to give our city’s skyline a jolting good look. Here are a few distinct looking ones that are easily visible from the waterfront:
Our tallest building is One America Plaza at the congruent of India, Kettner, and Broadway in Columbia District (between Little Italy, Gaslamp Quarters, and the Marina District). At 500 ft (152 m) tall… which is the maximum height that anything can be built in Downtown area, this Helmut Jahn designed is the tallest building on the list. It has a rather distinct obelisk-top shape that inspires the locals to nickname the thing ‘the Phillips screwdriver building’. The Crow’s Nest on top of it offers spectacular bird’s eye view of the area and the bay. One America Plaza is a multi-tenant office building with its own trolley station and is adjacent to our Museum of Contemporary Arts. It also houses the fastest elevator in San Diego, traveling at the rate of 1,200 ft/min on its ascend.
Electra, the 475 ft (145 m) tall looker with distinct reddish-brown glass cover at the congruent of Kettner, Broadway, and E St, is San Diego’s tallest residential building. The lower levels of this thing is actually the old San Diego Gas and Electric Company building (built in 1911), but the top is very modern with a catchy red tinge. Electra is only a stone’s throw away from the boardwalk, Seaport Village, and Santa Fe Depot.
Emerald Plaza now houses The Westin Hotel (formerly Wyndham Emerald Plaza) San Diego. It is a complex of 7 hexagonal buildings of various heights designed by C.W. Kim. Lighted up at night, it is perhaps the most recognizable building in the downtown area. Actually, this complex doesn’t even require good lighting to catch your eyes. You can see it from most parts of the Columbia, Little Italy, Core, and Marina Districts in Downtown.
Pinnacle Museum Tower at Market and Front St is the 2nd tallest residential building in town, logging in at 450 ft (137.2 m). It’s an airy building with of white concrete and green window. On the bay-facing site of it is our abstract-looking 3 storey New Children’s Museum. This tower is recognizable by its ~ roof shape.
Horizons Towers are little, compared to the others on this list, but their pleasing greenness makes them more eye-catching and identifiable than many. These two residential towers are right across Front St from Pinnacle Museum Tower, and are within a short stroll from the Convention Center, Seaport Village, and historic Gaslamp Quarters.
Park Place, like Horizons Towers, isn’t very tall at 288 ft (88 m) high. It’s a quirky building, though… only looking symmetrical from two angles, is very white, and with that odd Asiatic little red roof on the top. It is a residential tower located in the Marina District (just a few blocks west of Pinnacle Museum Tower). I don’t think it lights up all that well at night. Even during the day, I think it rather ugly… but it is uniquely recognizable.. Maybe that is the point, ay?
Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Marina District (Market Pl and Harbor Drive) boasts two similar towers. The Hotel tower is 497 ft (151m) tall, the tallest waterfront building on the US west coast. The Seaport Tower is a bit shorter at 446 ft (136 m). The two are similar in shape, with the long tapering roof (Seaport Tower has green cap, while the Hotel Tower is concretes up to the top). The complex has its own traffic light, since Market St runs right into it. Being flanked by cute-as-a-button Seaport Village and the San Diego Convention Center, you’ve better not be close to your credit card limit when you check in to this place!
Harbor Club Towers. The 424 ft (129 m) tall dark twins of downtown are located at the junction of 3rd Ave and Harbor Dr in the Marina District. Completed in 1992, each tower offers 41 storeys of residential condos with penthouses on top, a gym and a swimming pool on the 6th floor. It has underground parking, but living here would require no car at all unless your workplace is out of downtown area. It’s right on the MLK Promenade, just a rabbit’s hop from the Trolley (orange line), and there are plenty of buses to catch on Market St or on Harbor Dr. This place is as close to Gaslamp Quarters as it is to the Convention Center.
Marriott San Diego Hotel and Marina. This complex of two broad semi-circle glass building isn’t tall (only 361 ft or 110 m tall), but it sure it eye-catching. Situated right on the bay, with its own 446 ships marina, this dream hotel is withing walking distance of the famous Convention Center, the historic Gaslamp Quarters, and Petco Park baseball stadium (home of the San Diego Padres).
To make identification a bit easier, a slide-show of the buildings on this list are available on Youtube. And no, yours truly doesn’t live in any of these high rises… My feet are firmly on the solid ground. Thank you very much!