Third Avenue, also known as old Chula Vista’s downtown, has a flavor all its own. With two beer breweries set to open by Fall and several upscale restaurants already here, this street will continue to bustle during the next few years, especially with the Bayfront becoming a tourist attraction. Visit now and you’ll be able to say: “I knew Third Avenue when the parking was a lot better.”
Old pictures show Chula Vista’s downtown as something right out of the Old West. Lemon groves covered the city and the Sunkist plant used to sit along Third and K Street. The Women’s Club also hosted the “Fiesta de la Luna” for many years.
Today You’ll Find Mom-And-Pops
As suburbia began to sprawl by the 1980’s onward, interest in this downtown area began to wane. Chain stores also made mom-and-pop shops less attractive shopping options. Third Avenue, however, has kept its small business flare. As a matter of fact, there are numerous speciality shops that are hard to find anywhere else:
- Take King Jewelers, the antique jewelry & rare clocks, for example.
- Or Burdick’s Sewing & Vacuum Center.
- Harper’s Music sells instruments and sheet music.
- Then there’s my personal favorite: South Bay Bicycles: (250 Third Avenue, Chula Vista) Owned by Steve who has been in business for 40 years, he originally started in National City on the corner of 12th & Highland. He moved here from New York City and has a rack of 1970s and early 1980s vintage bikes.
And don’t forget another reason you might come to Third Avenue: the stores selling formal wear (tuxedos, wedding dresses, prom dresses, etc.), tailor shops to help you fit them right, beauty salons, barber shops and banquet halls. Stroll along here on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see all sorts of finely dressed people dancing and having “a ball” at one of the many banquet venues.
Chula Vista started out as a dry town, but in 1932 the city lifted the prohibition laws. Steve Schoenherr of the South Bay Historical Society wrote “When the Liquor Flowed In Chula Vista” that explains the days when Third Avenue when from nice to naughty. Third Avenue was the first to have an establishment with a liquor license. And yes, within a year Chula Vista experienced protests from church and women’s groups.
You can still see this tension along Third Avenue, with naughty vices standing side-by-side with sacred spaces. I’ll show you what I mean:
- Dock’s is a dive bar that tries to draw customers in with Karaoke. It also happens to be oldest bar in Chula Vista. Started in 1933 and named after Verne H. (“Doc”) Spice, the establishment offered free lunch with a purchase of a large glass of beer for 10 cents. You can see a picture of Vern Spice and, yes, this place even has an extensive history to read.
In keeping with the lifting of Prohibition, Third Avenue has several other “naughty” delights:
- Third Avenue Alehouse is a tasting room where you can try 29 beers on tap.
They are the first and will be followed by two more beer houses set to open this Fall:
- Three Punk Ales and Chula Vista Brewery. Both already have properties along Third Avenue leased and you can see their storefront signs.
For vices other than drinking, Sunset Hookah Lounge Cafe is open from 5pm to 2am everyday. Nono Smoke Shop sells Hookah’s if those hours don’t suit you. Vapor Lair (also known as Cheshzhyre Vapes) says it offers “a wonderland of premium E-juice”.
If naughty isn’t your thing and you’d prefer “nice” — don’t worry. You’ll find it on Third Avenue as well.
First and foremost, make sure to visit My Cup of Tea. You’ll be able to choose from an array of teas, pick up some fun knick-knacks and sit down to drink tea. This place has been “found” by, among others, the San Diego Reader who featured the establishment back in 2012.
From there, you might like to wander to the sacred places of Third Avenue:
- Sun Path Academy, which offers meditation, personal growth teachings, feng shui and much more. You can buy Tibetan bowls, books and crystals.
- Christian Science Reading Room is also available next to the Chula Vista Star News headquarters.
- Catholic Storehouse (or also called Nature’s Storehouse) is a family owned natural vitamin, food and Catholic religious goods store.
- Casita Sagrados Corazones is another Catholic store with religious items such as crosses as well as Catholic books in Spanish.
- The Community Congregational Church still stands on a side street. You can admire a mural dedicated to its establishment during a time when lemon groves covered most of Chula Vista. Established in 1890, you can read about this building’s history here.
- Down the road along Third Avenue and H Street, you’ll also find St. Rose of Lima Church, built in 1913. You can read its history here (pgs. 27 & 28).
The Cafe’s And Restaurants of Third Avenue, Chula Vista
For those who would prefer something in the middle between the sacred and profane, Third Avenue has several mom-and-pop cafe’s.
- Sweet Sisters Bakery serves food, has cakes and sells baked goods, including macaroons. You can also sit back and enjoy for a while.
- D’Volada: Cafe and Smoothies is another place to hang out during the day. They have, among other delights, a caveat frappe.
- Mary’s Downtown Plaza definitely sells excellent coffee, but they also have sandwiches and lunch foods. This is a great place to catch a bite if you’re strolling down Third.
- For takeaway Mexican pastries, you must try Chico’s Bakery.
For heartier meals, Third Avenue has an array of international restaurants, including:
- The upscale Mexican restaurant, Cocina 277 Artesanal, which offers wines from the Guadalupe Valley along with incredible dishes.
- MeaKwan offers Thai Cuisine. It’s facade has German architecture that still reflects the previous owner (and previous immigrants) who had a German restaurant here. Times change and so do the immigrants and, therefore, the cuisine. I’m particularly enamored with Mea Kwan’s spring rolls and curries.
- California Sushi Bar has raw fish galore.
- Three Italian restaurants are also along Third:
The Artists… daaaahling!
The Vogue Theater still stands and according to the Third Avenue Village Association, there’s a lot of interest in activating this building. There’s a mystique about it too. The edifice operated a single-screen movie theater from 1945 to 2006. It’s been empty for almost a decade, so if you visit now, you’ll be able to say you knew it when… it needed a little TLC.
The OnStage Playhouse is alive and well, however, hosting all sorts of fine plays.
You might also want to visit the memorials.
- Chula Vista’s Memorial Bowl was built during the depression. The veteran’s memorial adjacent to it commemorates veterans of the Korean, Vietnam and WWII, among others. There’s also a park where you can stroll.
- Walk down past the Chula Vista Public Library along F Street to the Police Station and you’ll see another moving commemoration dedicated to fallen heroes from many branches of service, including the San Diego Police Department, Border Patrol, FBI and more. The sculpture is called “When Heroes Fall… We Remember,” by Mark Martensen (2004).
- Once you’ve paid your respects to our fallen heroes, if you’re a veteran, you can head back for a little tipple of something at the Fleet Reserve Club 61 at 288 Third Avenue.
Farmer’s Market Is A Good Reason To Visit Third
Finally, if vices, the sacred, coffee shops, great dining or theater productions aren’t your thing, you can also try the Farmer’s Market every Thursday at 3pm. They have fresh local produce, artisan foods & crafts. It’s also fun for kids.
Also don’t forget that the Third Avenue Village Association has an office with brochures and more information. It’s good to check their website for events throughout the year. Each year, you can come enjoy:
- The Taste of Third in March (with about 20 restaurants featuring),
- Amps & Ales in May,
- the Lemon Festival in August, and
- the a Holiday Parade every December.