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I love Hillcrest, now let me count the ways we can celebrate it

Who doesn’t love Hillcrest?

It is one of those neighborhoods that has a special appeal unmatched by any other neighborhood in the county. Could you go vintage clothes shopping, jog through the most beautiful park in the city, have a cocktail in a sea of pink flamingos, watch a drag queen or two walk by, and then walk home - in a neighborhood like Clairemont? I think not.

Everyone has a Hillcrest story. Mine actually began on May 3, 1980 when I was born at UCSD Medical Center (back then I’m told it was commonly referred to as University Hospital). Some say my popping out of the womb in the center of Hillcrest was the first sign of my impending gayness – I was destined to be a future Hillcrester.

I was born and raised in a safe, comfortable little suburb near the eastern border of the City of San Diego called Allied Gardens. While this neighborhood is no gay mecca, it was fairly easy to be myself around there, and because of its proximity to SDSU where I was going to school, I lived at home with my über gay-friendly mom until I was about 25.

There was a five-year period in my late teens in which my mother married and moved-in her second husband, who is probably the most homophobic, redneck, white-trash man on Earth. He has since been dealt with and moved on.

Back to Hillcrest. Since I was about 15, I have felt like this ‘hood was my true home, although to this day, I have never been an official resident of Hillcrest (I currently reside in the also fabulous North Park). But Hillcrest is more than just a regular old neighborhood. It really is home to so many people, whether they live there or not.

When I first came out, I met most of my gay friends in Hillcrest. The old Living Room Coffeehouse (now BITE) and Euphoria Coffeehouse (now a fenced off building being retrofitted next to Rich’s) were some of my original stomping grounds. It was at these places where I found the community and knew that I was always welcome. I am glad to see places like Babycakes and Filter emerge in Hillcrest as community gathering points today.

In the past, I have participated on the Hillcrest Clean TEAM, a group of community members who sweep the streets of the neighborhood in organized cleanup events.

Never having lived in Hillcrest, I've been asked many times why I would come to Hillcrest early on a Sunday morning to clean the streets of a neighborhood I am not a resident of. My answer every time is that “Hillcrest is special.” It is one of the few places that anyone can go to and feel like they are at home, even if they live a continent away.

From running across the street in nothing but booty shirts after a foam party at Rich’s, to rallying for equal rights, to eating, shopping, relaxing, working, and exercising, I have done it all in Hillcrest. This neighborhood is special, unique, and my home away from home.

Every summer, two of Hillcrest’s most fabulous residents, Ann Garwood and Nancy Moors (publishers of the popular HillQuest Urban Guide), host a series of fun events that are part of the reason that Hillcrest has been named one of the top 10 neighborhoods in the United States. The first event was the annual “Hop in the Hood Block Party” that happened on July 11.

They have two more events coming up:

Movie on the Roof: This will be the third or fourth year that Whole Foods Market has turned their upper level parking lot into an outdoor movie theater. The event is totally free and this year’s movie will be “Julie & Julia.” Movie on the Roof will take place on Wednesday, August 4 at dusk. Bring a chair or blanket to sit on.

Toast to Hillcrest: The fourth annual “Toast to Hillcrest” will take place on Thursday, August 12, from 5:30-8 p.m. This is one of the most exciting events held in Hillcrest each year, and Ricky and I have the pleasure of being the hosts of the party! It's a "21 and over" event only, as dozens of local cocktail lounges, restaurants, wine bars and pubs offer up "toasts" (as well as tastes) to participants as they stroll throughout the neighborhood. This event is a fundraiser for the Hillcrest History Guild and provides a red, double-decker bus to move participants throughout Hillcrest, beginning at 5pm. The bus will continue to circle the area with revelers until 9pm - with complimentary coffee available on the upper level.

Look for Ricky and me on top of the bus all night long! Visit www.hillcresthistory.org to buy tickets.

Ann and Nancy work really hard all year long to make Hillcrest a fantastic place. Many people have proclaimed themselves to be the “mayor” or “first lady” or “ambassador” or “queen” of Hillcrest. In fact, Kathy Griffin was named the “Queen of Hillcrest” when she performed at San Diego Pride in 2008. But in my opinion, Ann and Nancy are the grand duchesses, the queens, the first ladies, the crème de la crème of this neighborhood. Check out their great website at www.hillquest.com.

And of course, Hillcrest’s largest community event (next to Pride) is CityFest.

This amazing day of food, drinks, music, entertainment, vendors and fun in the sun will take place on 5th & University Avenues, Sunday, August 8 from noon to 8 p.m. CityFest is an awesome, free celebration, that draws over 50,000 people out onto the streets to celebrate everything fabulous about our ‘hood. Check out http://www.hillcrestcityfest.com/ for all the details.

So, Hillcrest – our gay home away from home. Next time you are there (if you don’t already live there) stop for a minute to appreciate everything beautiful about the place. There is a place for everyone in Hillcrest, so make it your own!

Ben Cartwright is SDGLN's Higher Education & Nonprofit Liaison and has been a campus and community activist in San Diego for over 10-years. His community involvement began as a student at SDSU and from there he launched into a number of other community activities. He has written for a number of local publications including Update, Hillquest, and GLT. Cartwright won the Lambda Archive's 2007 "Community Hero Award"; 2008 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Community Activist"; and a 2009 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Writer/Columnist".