Hillcrest, Mission Hills, North Park: Neighborhoods full of culture, character and charm.

Uptown encompasses some of S.D.’s most diverse, artsy and eclectic neighborhoods—including Hillcrest, one of the county’s most progressive areas, as well as North Park, South Park, University Heights and Mission Hills, all of which are filled with Craftsman-style homes, trendy eateries and hipster boutiques.

Hillcrest
The hub of Hillcrest, at the intersection of University and Fifth avenues, is always a buzzing, heavily trafficked scene throughout the day, with cars lined up in both directions and joggers, dog-walkers and coffee-sippers crowding the sidewalks.

Fabulous shopping begins at University and First avenues and runs 12 blocks to Park Boulevard. Shop among 250 herbs, seasonings and gifts at Penzeys Spices (1274 University Ave.); retro urban footwear at Mint (525 University Ave.); and hip men’s fashions and home accents at House Boi (1435 ­University Ave.). Just off the main drag, you’ll find all manner of headgear at the Village Hat Shop (3821 Fourth Ave.). Leave time to peruse 5th Avenue Books (3838 Fifth Ave.) ­and ­Bluestocking Books (3817 Fifth Ave.), whose rustic shelves are lined with out-of-print and rare tomes.

By night, Hillcrest lights up with restaurants, bars and dance clubs, and a great art-house movie theater, the Landmark (3965 Fifth Ave.).

University Heights and Mission Hills
Northeast of Hillcrest on Park Boulevard lies quaint University Heights, home to ethnic eateries and good shopping at places like Frock You (4121 Park Blvd.), a clothing store whose helpful staff knows its stuff when it comes to vintage fashion. University Heights also has an astonishing number of cafés for such a small neighborhood, each catering to a different clientele. We love the back patio at quiet, well-designed Monica’s at the Park (1735 Adams Ave.) for a cappuccino break.

The streets of Mission Hills, northwest of Hillcrest, are lined with stately homes, quaint cafés and boutiques. Isabela (1111 Fort Stockton Drive) is an elegant skincare boutique; Emma Jane (928 Fort Stockton Drive) carries feminine women’s clothing; and Maison en Provence (820 Fort Stockton Drive) is stocked with French country home accessories.

Presidio Park, at the western edge of ­this neighborhood, is historically significant as the site of the first European settlement in California (619.692.4918). Scenic trails lead to the neighboring Junípero Serra Museum. The museum, built in 1929, is a ­replica of the mission erected there in 1769.

North Park
Centered at University Avenue and 30th Street, North Park is San Diego’s newest arts district, thanks in part to the restoration of the historic 1928North Park Theatre (2891 University Ave.). Gallery-hopping events are held select Saturday nights on and around Ray Street from 6 to 9 p.m.; check out northparkarts.org for details.

The area is also home to dozens of independent clothing and décor boutiques. We love the organic cotton baby clothes and stylish art books sold at Pigment (3801 30th St.), while Mimi & Red (3032 University Ave.) has trendy women’s clothing and accessories. After dark, North Park comes alive with dozens of bars, hipster clubs, eclectic restaurants and lively coffeehouses.

South Park

About a mile south of University on 30th Street lies the quiet neighborhood known as South Park. Though largely residential, South Park has several great eateries and bars, and it’s an ideal place to shop for gifts while supporting local independent merchants.

Favorite retailers in this area include The Grove bookstore (3010 Juniper St.), which also has a crafting nook inside; modern home furnishings and design emporium, Progress (2225 30th St.); Make Good (2207 Fern St.), with locally made clothing, home accents and jewelry; and Grant’s Marketplace (2953 Beech St.) for gourmet groceries and deli items.

Have your canine kids with you? Spruce them up at South Bark Dog Wash (2037 30th St.), a widely popular staple of the community, known for its “Blueberry Facial” and fun inventory of doggie treats and toys.