Ready to know more about San Diego?


San Marcos’ New $2 Billion Downtown

Sea Breeze Properties is investing in a vibrant downtown for all of North County, including 3,400 new residential units
Photo Credit: Dan Kirksey
North City by Dan Kirksey.jpg

North City by Dan Kirksey.jpg

Photo Credit: Dan Kirksey

Darren Levitt wants you to walk to work. And happy hour. Then he’d like you to meander over to the market, drop your cold cuts and produce at home, and stroll to the climbing gym for a little bouldering. Might as well head to dinner on foot, too.

“[In North County], our town squares are the grocery store parking lot,” says Levitt, vice president at Sea Breeze Properties. “That’s where you might bump into your neighbor.” Sea Breeze hopes to change that—by transforming 200 acres of land just north of CSU San Marcos (CSUSM) into a pedestrian-friendly, urban downtown called North City.

The $2 billion development will eventually bring a total of 3,400 new residential units to housing-crunched San Diego County. It’ll also have 345,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel with 250-plus rooms, and up to a million square feet of offices and labs. “[North City] will draw all of North County to San Marcos someday,” says Tess Sangster, community and economic development director for the city of San Marcos.

Sea Breeze first started acquiring land in 2004, but the majority of construction has taken place in the last decade, adding 10 buildings to the area east of Twin Oaks Valley Road. Sea Breeze teamed up with CSUSM to extend the campus to North City, building student housing, classrooms, and a dining hall. A pedestrian bridge connects these new additions to the main school grounds.

But North City, Levitt emphasizes, is not a college town. Sea Breeze aims to make the area attractive to people at varying life stages—and create an environment where CSUSM grads can put their diploma to work right away in one of the offices or companies that call the area home.

Mesa Rim Courtesy CoSM .jpg

Mesa Rim Courtesy CoSM .jpg

Courtesy of CoSM

Rather than bringing in big-box stores, Sea Breeze courts small businesses and regional chains, including local cider house Newtopia Cyder, craft coffee spot Copa Vida, and indoor climbing gym Mesa Rim. “We’re not in a rush to fully lease all of our retail space,” Levitt explains. “It’s about picking the right [business] that’s going to add a sense of vibrancy and another use that doesn’t already exist.”

The development also provides a launching pad for new companies, like family-owned ice cream shop Wynston’s. Founders Chris and Sarah Wynn incubated their business at Union Cowork’s North City location, wheeling tubs of ice cream from a nearby coffee shop kitchen they were renting to a tiny retail space inside the building. After attracting queues that stretched to the sushi restaurant next door, they moved to their own brick-and-mortar across the street. Soon, empanada-and-wine outpost Milonga Empanadas will take over their outgrown space in Union.


In their North City shop, Chris and Sarah Wynn of Wynston’s churn award-winning chocolate and vanilla ice cream, creative seasonal options (including Sarah’s favorite, a lush avocado flavor), and vegan choices.

West of Twin Oaks Valley Road, Sea Breeze and partners Shae Homes and Lennar will break ground on a community of about 600 single-family homes and townhouses and a 20-acre public park. Fifteen percent of North City’s residential stock—about 400 units—will be affordable housing. “[Those units are] going to be mixed throughout the community,” Levitt says. “It’s all about creating this sense of place that has people from all walks of life.”

These efforts are paying off. In the nearby Block C apartments, only about 30 percent of residents are affiliated with CSUSM, Levitt reports. The rest are families, young professionals, even empty nesters trading large suburban homes for apartments with more amenities. They mingle with students and visitors at North City’s restaurants and Tuesday farmers market.

Block C by Dan Kirksey.jpg

Block C by Dan Kirksey.jpg

Photo Credit: Dan Kirksey

According to Levitt, there’s nowhere to go but up. Sea Breeze has its sights set on constructing a 12-story, mixed-use apartment building—the tallest north of UTC. The structure’s plans are currently certified LEED Gold, the second highest rank for sustainability. It’ll also have an energy storage system, a massive battery that draws power from the grid during times when energy use is light and then utilizes it during peak hours.

These environmentally minded initiatives extend across the development. The majority of buildings in North City are equipped with solar, and Block C renters can pay a sub-SDGE rate for energy thanks to the building’s net metering program. Moreover, North City’s density lets North County inhabitants check off chores and seek fun in fewer car trips.

Sequoia by M. Palmer.jpg

Sequoia by M. Palmer.jpg

Photo Credit: M. Palmer

A centralized parking garage offers a convenient car port for visitors and Block C residents while allowing North City to prioritize pedestrian walkways, not street parking. “Stacking vertically as opposed to horizontally frees up more of the land for what it should be: open space,” Levitt emphasizes.

All that space, Wynston’s owner Sarah Wynn says, provides a place for North County folks to gather, gossip, and form new friendships. “It feels like a real community,” she muses.

By Amelia Rodriguez

Amelia Rodriguez is San Diego Magazine’s Associate Editor. The 2023 winner of the San Diego Press Club's Rising Star Award, she’s covered music, food, arts & culture, fashion, and design for Rolling Stone, Palm Springs Life, and other national and regional publications. After work, you can find her hunting down San Diego’s best pastries and maintaining her three-year Duolingo streak.

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA