Welcome to Seaport San Diego: Talking Southern California’s Urban waterfront connection to the Sea, Sun and So Much More

James Mellor April 5, 2022

The San Diego Bay has long been associated with its roots as a Port and Naval base. Recognized as some of the best weather in the country, San Diego is also home to numerous museums, parks, commercial fishing and serves a bi-national community, yet there is an obvious lack of connection between the city and the beauty of the waterfront.

Enter Seaport San Diego: a proposed, redevelopment to transform a key section of San Diego’s Central Embarcadero. Today, CRTKL Principal James Mellor, tells us more about this exciting opportunity to redefine San Diego’s urban waterfront. 

Our purpose for Seaport San Diego is to make a place that enables connection and leads with CRTKL’s “people first” value. The team started with two planning framework fundamentals: first, to optimize connections to and from the water and second, to optimize open space along the water – both meant to create human connectivity to the water.

Today, the assortment of themed buildings at Seaport Village are retail and dining focused and geared towards tourists. Established in 1980, it has a quaint feel with a clustered arrangement of buildings that create inward-facing courts and narrow pathways. The primary access roads into Seaport are Pacific Highway and Kettner Blvd. Today, visitors arrive into surface parking lots, and the views of the water are walled off so there isn’t a sense of arrival or realization of where you are in relation to the bay.

It was very important to us that these major arteries that tie back in the city are celebrated arrivals and become experiences in their own right. So, we are decluttering and widening the view corridors, so the Bay takes center stage as soon as people arrive. The new buildings are organized to define and activate the arrivals with programs that are unique to the water.

Despite the low scale of Seaport Village today, the actual walking width of the Waterfront Embarcadero is only 18-20 feet wide, which is prohibitive, as people move along the water and is only really suitable for walking or slow careful jogging.

By prioritizing open space on the waterfront, we are increasing the Embarcadero width up to 80 feet. This creates a flexible, accessible space for everyone to enjoy active and passive uses. So, you’ll be able to set up an easel on the water, cycle safely, read a book on the lawn, enjoy an alfresco brunch with friends or double-date with strollers — we want this to be a place for everyone to engage in free recreation at their will.

Public waterfront space for everyone: a re-envisioned Embarcadero

While the first opportunity was to optimize the Embarcadero’s public open space at the water level, after a certain setback distance the feeling and views being along the water lessen and so this opened a second opportunity to introduce an elevated coastal park experience: the Green Strand.

The Green Strand expands the public realm and introduces new views of the water, above the boats and across the bay to Coronado and beyond, but it also allows for buildings that are typically private at level two and above to be publicly accessible — doubling the façade activation opportunities along the waterfront by expanding the number of uses and experiences along the water and for people to take different journeys throughout the project. The buildings are experiences in and of themselves and are designed to be experienced by everyone.

Elevated coastal park – The Green Strand

Above the Green Strand, the buildings have a continued responsibility to be accessible and offer unique, expansive views of both bay and city — which we are offering with the Observation Tower and diverse range of dining, hospitality and amenities.

Another signature physical move is the introduction of the Seaport Steps, which ties into the Green Strand and is a new social gathering place and amphitheater – and, really, a place for all to take in new vantage points of the bay, Coronado, the new Ruocco Park and the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. Whether you’re on a date night, relaxing or meeting with friends, this is an outdoor living room for events of all scales and sizes – from a picnic with friends to fireworks on the Fourth of July.

San Diego’s Living Room: The Seaport Steps, looking over the new Ruocco Park

Today, although the Marina peninsula is a combination of roads, surface parking lots and irregular open space; it offers spectacular water frontage and views. As part of our “people first” value, we are removing all cars from the waterfront and relocating them underground – prioritizing a diverse range of new recreational experiences along the waterfront such as living shorelines, the new Ruocco Park, interactive playgrounds for young families and an urban beach.

The Urban Beach introduces another unique connection experience with the water: a safe, secluded spot to take little ones without the anxiety of huge waves; where you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, play volleyball and enjoy beach games and BBQs.

Waterfront Recreation – The Urban Beach

Another important connection story is from the water into the city when arriving by boat. One of the new public access opportunities was to introduce a new pier, which we’re calling the California Pier. The new pier is designed to reach out from the city’s fabric; to be a place where you can dock and dine at the end of the pier’s signature restaurant or go for evening strolls, taking in the context of San Diego, people watching and experiencing the water in a new way.

New water connections – The California Pier

World-class urban waterfronts are identified by their architectural landmarks and world-class cities by their unique skylines.

When you close your eyes today and think about the city of San Diego, we think it’s clear that there is an opportunity for something special that achieves both – and, while we have a good start with what’s there today, the collective architecture at Seaport has a responsibility to enhance both the identity of the city and the waterfront with a world-class landmark.

Seaport is a uniquely visible site, and the skyline has been thoughtfully studied as a collection of buildings with an intentional mix of hierarchy and forms to create an urban richness from both the city and the water.

The dynamic Iconic Tower, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, is juxtaposed between modular and vertical façade expressions while strong horizontal facade lines create a visual cadence that ties the eye back to the land.

We are continuing to evaluate different vantage points to ensure facades are balanced from both the city and the water, during the day and night. Bayview Park in Coronado is one of the most beloved views of the City, so, here, the hierarchy and silhouettes of the building profiles have been studied to ensure Seaport feels like a part of the waterfront, symbolizes San Diego as a gateway and looks comfortable in the context of the city — all while enhancing San Diego’s skyline.

San Diego’s Identity – View from Bayview Park
San Diego’s Identity – View from Bayview Park at night

Author Spotlight

James Mellor
As a Principal within CRTKL’s global commercial practice, James has a diverse architectural background -- specializing in complex and large-scale mixed-use projects. With a passion for experiential design, great streets and waterfronts and an expert at delivering full-service projects, he enjoys guiding clients through the design and delivery process. James’ global experience of cultures and technologies enriches his projects, amplifying their design innovation and delivery value.