For Elexia de la Parra, a cross-cultural identity is a way of life. The founder of Artelexia, a stunning kaleidoscope of a gift shop located in the heart of North Park, was born in San Diego and grew up in Tijuana. During her childhood, she spent weekday mornings crossing the border to attend school in the U.S. before heading back to Mexico in the afternoon. “I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to both cultures—I just loved it,” she says.
Some of de la Parra’s fondest memories include going to markets all across Mexico with her grandfather. “The markets are packed with people, and full of delicious smells. It’s all very colorful, with artwork and fresh fruit and juices everywhere,” she says. “It’s like candy for the eyes, really for all of the senses.”
After attending college in the U.S., de la Parra lived in Europe, San Francisco, and New York before the pull of home brought her back to San Diego. Not sure of her next career move, de la Parra decided to experiment with an idea born out of her early market memories. She started selling folk art she’d found in her travels in Mexico at a local farmers' market. Her concept took off and soon she opened a brick-and-mortar location.
Artelexia now lives on a lively corner in North Park—the beautiful mural outside makes it impossible to miss. De la Parra says that the San Diego neighborhood is the perfect spot for her business, as well as the home she shares with her husband and her puppy, Fideo (Spanish for “noodle”). “There’s a huge sense of community here,” she says. “Everyone is really friendly—you’ll notice that right away.”
For any San Diego–bound travelers, de la Parra highly recommends making North Park home base. “The walkability is huge. There’s a really cool vibe with a lot of great little bars and restaurants—it’s mostly mom-and-pops,” she says.
To get a taste of the neighborhood’s deep-rooted Mexican-American culture, de la Parra strongly suggests you start at her go-to, El Comal. “Everything at El Comal is amazing,” she says. “It’s very homestyle Mexican cooking. I like their tamales, tacos, barbacoa, and their sopa de pollo, which is a chicken soup.” De la Parra also loves exploring Mexican folk and fine art at Mingei International Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art, both in Balboa Park.
With independently owned boutiques, restaurants, and bars dotting nearly every block, de la Parra says North Park is the kind of place where you can spend a day window shopping and noshing. Some of her favorite snack spots include Nomad Donuts, Holsem Coffee, and Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream, where you can “get a tray of like 15 different ice cream flavors and they come in these teeny little cones.” Don’t skip the “really cute” Pigment gift shop or Verbatim Books, “one of the places you can just lose yourself in.”
The pedestrian appeal extends beyond shops and eateries, too: “There’s a really great six-mile hike called Seven Bridge Walk that goes right through North Park. It takes you across all of these different walking bridges that are super-duper different and so lovely. There’s the Cabrillo Bridge, built in 1915; the First Avenue Bridge, built in 1931; the Quince Street Bridge, which suspends 60 feet above Maple Canyon; and the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge—that’s a really fun one.”
De la Parra says if you need directions or want a local recommendation for anything at all, the best thing to do in North Park is ask. “People here are so open. Everyone here is really quick to help and offer suggestions,” she says.
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Explore like a local with more of de la Parra’s top recommendations in her eclectic neighborhood.
Perfect pizza: "During my kitchen remodel, I have been living off Tribute Pizza. Every week, you can see the owner at the farmers' market getting all the vegetables for his restaurant, and they have a really great staff. My favorite pizza is called the Classic Combo Supreme. It’s a play off the famous Costco Food Court pizza—but made with all organic ingredients. I also love their Elaine Benes Little Big Salad. It’s all amazing."
People-watching: "Encontro is a little bar right on the corner of University and 30th Street. They have an outdoor patio, and their bar on the inside faces outward so even if you’re sitting at your table you’re looking outside. It’s always fun for people-watching. You’ll see a lot of neighborhood people, 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds walking their cute dogs."
Best spot for beers: "There are lots of breweries, but I love California Taproom. They’re known for having all of the local North Park beers, so you can try everything in one place. You’ll always see the owner, Boomer, and it’s a super fun place with amazing pretzels. They’re big into the Eagles, so whenever there’s an Eagles game you will hear shouting and cheering like crazy."
Picnic spot: "I love Bird Park. It’s one of the few parks in North Park where you can have drinks, so it’s super popular for picnics. You can see people doing dance classes, practicing the cello, and you have an amazing view of all of downtown—it sort of feels like a utopia. It’s a very family-oriented neighborhood, so no one is getting rowdy. It’s just lots of people hanging out and listening to music."
Best bookstore: "Verbatim Books is right around the corner from my shop and it’s amazing. It’s a huge bookstore that’s really cute from both the outside and the inside with artwork and cool furniture. It’s one of those places you can just lose yourself in."