Quirky Attraction: Horton Plaza Park and Shopping Mall in Downtown San Diego

horton plaza park

Horton Plaza Park and Horton Plaza Shopping Mall
Location: San Diego, California (address: 397 Broadway, Downtown)
When to visit: During daylight hours
Cost: Free
Time needed: 15-30 mins
Website: https://hortonsd.com

For many years, Horton Plaza Mall was one of the coolest shopping malls in America, thanks to its quirky design and architecture that made it look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

It was especially cool because there weren’t many big shopping malls located right in Downtown San Diego. That original mall has closed, but it’s now being redeveloped with office and retail space.

And in the meantime, Horton Plaza Park has opened as a small public space where folks can gather.

I visited the original Horton Plaza Mall years ago, and I recently visited the updated version and the adjacent Horton Plaza Park greenspace. Here’s what you’ll find today at the Horton Plaza site.

Horton Plaza Shopping Mall: Is It Closed or Still Open?

As of this writing, the Horton Plaza shopping mall Downtown is finally closed. But the building hasn’t been demolished. It’s being renovated.

I visited recently and saw the fencing and the closed up mall.

downtown san diego shopping mall

The Westfield Horton Plaza complex was sold to Stockdale Capital Partners for a cool $175 million. They plan to turn it into “The Campus at Horton,” which will include tech office space, restaurants, retail, and entertainment options.

The original Horton Plaza shopping mall actually stayed open longer than many people realize. Post-2000, like many malls in the U.S., it started steadily losing business and enduring closed storefronts.

Nordstrom closed in 2016. After the mall was sold in 2018, it remained open, but with only a small number of tenants. Macy’s and the rest of original Horton Plaza shopping mall in Downtown San Diego finally closed up for good in 2020.

Today, while the retail center of Horton Plaza remains under construction, a few points of interest remain accessible for visitors. Like the statue of former mayor (and Califoria governor) Pete Wilson.

pete wilson statue

And this statue of the plaza’s namesake, Alonzo E. Horton. He was the real estate developer who sold this land to the city of San Diego back in 1895.

horton plaza statue

The Westin Hotel (officially the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter) sits adjacent to the plaza and remains open for business. You have to think this hotel is really going to take off once the office campus opens up.

westin hotel downtown san diego

Downtown is still one of the coolest neighborhoods of San Diego, thanks to the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter. I’m excited to see what becomes of the new Horton Plaza design.

Quirky Architecture: Pictures of the Old Horton Plaza Mall

Like many folks, I miss the original Horton Plaza Mall, which opened in 1985 and had nearly a four-decade run.

Its quirky designed was created by architect Jon Jerde, inspired by an essay from author Ray Bradbury called “The Aesthetics of Lostness.”

horton plaza san diego downtown shopping mall

He wanted to create a large shopping mall where it was quite literally possible to get lost. That concept resulted in odd staircase locations, unusual storefront designs, and vivid colors not seen in most typical shopping centers.

The architecture at the old Horton Plaza was unlike anything I’d ever seen from a mall. It was like a 10-year-old designed it – sharp angles, bright colors, weird stairways, unusual geometry.

horton plaza clock
View inside the old Horton Plaza shopping mall in Downtown San Diego.

The famous Jessop’s Clock that stood in the middle of the old mall was placed into storage in 2019. It was built in 1907 and stood in Downtown for many years. Perhaps someday it will re-emerge!

Horton Plaza had some additional quirky touches, like the giant-sized chess and checker boards. These are more common nowadays, but this was the first time I’d ever seen one. Checkmate!

horton plaza giant chess

Among the more than 130 stores located in the mall were Starbucks, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Coach, Express, Sam Goody, Planet Hollywood, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, and the Madhouse Comedy Club.

Visiting the New Horton Plaza Park Greenspace

It took a long time for the park itself to come to fruition. Plans for Horton Plaza Park (at an $8 million price tag) were first announced back in 2010, but a year later, Governor Jerry Brown slashed statewide redevelopment funds, and the plan was put on hold.

In 2011, the city bought the land from Westfield, which had operated the old mall. They razed the old Robinsons-May building to make room for the new plaza park.

horton plaza park - downtown san diego

The next year, San Diego city council approved $14 million in funds to develop the park. In May 2016, after a few years of construction, Horton Plaza Park finally opened.

This park is located adjacent to the Horton Plaza shopping mall and aims to preserve the history of the plaza area. The Broadway Fountain, which had been in a state of disrepair, was restored and looks better than ever.

The small green space that is currently open to the public is more of a parklet actually. It features walking paths and a lawn area, although the grass is currently roped off “for turf rest and maintenance.”

A row of tall palm trees lines the edges of the park.

horton fountain

The park also features an amphitheater and food vendors when it’s fully open. But in 2020, most of the park was closed again, and it’s remained closed since then.

On my recent visit, I saw that only the small grassy area around the fountain is open. The rest is still behind fencing, including the amphitheater.

In 2022, the city announced yet another new vision for the park. Horton Plaza is being converted into an office campus, and the park will feature a dining deck, new artwork, and additional outdoor areas.

Bradley Building will be converted into a food court. The plaza’s expected hours will be 9 am to 8 pm once the new vision has been completed.

Visiting the plaza may not be at the top of everyone’s list given how many other cool things there are to see in San Diego, such as the Maritime Museum, the San Diego Zoo, Cabrillo Monument, the great beaches, and the Kissing Sailor statue.

Horton Plaza Park isn’t a place you’d go out of your way to visit. But if you happen to be walking around Downtown San Diego, you may want to stop by.

Up for a road trip? See my guide for driving from San Diego up the Pacific Coast to Seattle, which includes a stop in La Jolla to see the famous seals and sea lions of Children’s Pool Beach and La Jolla Cove.

Have you ever visited Horton Plaza – the new park or the old shopping mall?