Opening a Window to the Bay

North EmbarcaderoSan Diego, CA—USA

A waterfront plaza and promenade strengthens the connections between San Diego and its vibrant port, giving people and businesses more opportunities to engage with the water, and making the city healthier.

Civitas has worked closely with the Port of San Diego for decades to shape its long term strategy for improvements to its busy, working waterfront. San Diego Bay is active with cruise ships, tour boats, water taxis, commercial fishing, two popular museums, as well as the San Diego International Airport. With such diverse and dynamic uses, the project required a lengthy series of public meetings with the Port to define the issues, program, and possibilities, and the results were clear: there was opportunity to make improvements along the waterfront to ensure it is more welcoming for visitors and residents and to maximize views and experiences.

Port of San Diego
Vision Planning, Urban Design, Landscape Architecture
Project type/category
Pier, Plaza, Public Realm, Waterfront
San Diego Architectural Foundation, 2015 Orchid Award
port of san diego at night

This port is a primary point of entry to San Diego for many.

In a typical year, cruise ships can bring 250,000 passengers to the city, often 10,000 people at a time; and San Diego International Airport has an annual passenger volume of close to 20 million.

san diego port aerial shot
people walking along the port of san diego
map of the port of san diego
North Embarcadero pier
People walking on North Embarcadero pier

Previously perceived as a barrier between the city and the water, Harbor Drive was repositioned as an available asset, and was narrowed to create a 1,000’-long linear park and 105’-wide continuous public esplanade that greatly improves pedestrian visibility and accessibility. A soft-surface running path and green space were added between the road and the water, while architecturally bold shade pavilions, ticket kiosks, restrooms and cafes now punctuate the promenade and provide users with much needed amenities and placemaking.

  • 1000'
    length of linear park
  • 105'
    width of public esplanade
tree lined road in san diego

The linear park features a landscape of local jacaranda trees that frame the pedestrian entrance into the city on Broadway, which itself is lined with palm trees and artful light fixtures. A discreet undular paving pattern ties the spaces together, as it loosely recalls the coastal setting and softens the appearance of concrete pavers specified for their durability.

landscaping along waterline at san diego harbor
san diego north embarcadero
san diego north embarcadero
ticket booth design at the san diego port north embarcadero
People enjoying activity along the North Embarcadero pier

Also key to the promenade was the implementation of a comprehensive green stormwater infrastructure system. An underground water quality band serves as the visual tie for the length of the promenade, and sets precedent for sustainable principles as it cleanses the urban water that flows to the bay using structural and biological cleansing.

People enjoying activity along the North Embarcadero pier
san diego north embarcadero

A Holistic Approach

The Port of San Diego has goals to improve the entire Port District over the next 30 years and tasked Civitas to test the various policies developed in the Port’s Master Plan Update to ensure the policies are functional and purposeful for the long term. Civitas Principal Scott Jordan explains: “We looked at the entire waterfront area holistically and rebalanced open space, potential development, and circulation systems to take advantage of the space available. We maximized the publicly accessible open space while making sure the rest of the urban systems, such as stormwater, mobility, resiliency, parking, universal access, and human comfort all function smoothly.”

san diego north embarcadero
san diego north embarcadero
sculpture on the san diego north embarcadero