From Empty Nest to Downtown Digs
Michael and Carmen O’Riordan traded their Rancho Santa Fe home for a Columbia District condo and a new lifestyle
By Katelyn O’Riordan
San Diego is a quintessential California city: An urban core radiates into sprawling satellite suburbs that run along the coast, up the mountains and out into the desert. Empowered by cars and freeways, most San Diego County residents make their homes outside of the city, in self-contained communities that offer abundant amenities. From Valley Center to Chula Vista, from Oceanside to Point Loma, San Diego is a city of suburbs.
But of course, times are changing. The once neglected city center is rapidly transforming into one of the most vibrant, eclectic, and liveable areas in the county. Downtown emanates an irresistible magnetism that attracts all kinds of people. A surprising trend in this new wave of urbanization is the movement of baby boomer couples to the city center. With children raised and paid for, new considerations arise that make living Downtown especially attractive. Here is the story of one couple, Michael and Carmen O’Riordan, who have re-created their lives in Downtown San Diego.
Michael and Carmen O’Riordan’s home in Rancho Santa Fe became an empty nest, with their children grown and newly vacant rooms and maintenance that was unnecessary for two people. Longtime residents of North County, they began contemplating high-rise living in the city.
There are plenty of matters to consider before making such a drastic change. Comparative cost of living, proximity to work, opportunities to establish new friendships, apartment living vs. the space offered when living in a bigger house — a catalog of important questions that must be answered before making the adjustment from a suburban way of life to urban living.
For the O’Riordans, moving to a metropolitan hub had the explicable appeal of abundant entertainment, hip restaurants, nearly diminished commutes and a spare bedroom for their grown children in a place bursting with cool diversions.
“With one child in San Diego, one in Hawaii, one off at college in Colorado and one in high school, we decided it was a great time to reevaluate what we wanted for our lives and how we wanted to be able to spend our time, now that it was primarily the two of us,” Michael O’Riordan says.
Their reevaluation came in the form of a Downtown high rise apartment on the water. They purchased a 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo in the Sapphire Tower, a 33-story residential tower that offers panoramic views of the San Diego harbor and cityscape. They quickly moved their life from the suburbs to the bustling streets of Downtown. Before choosing their eventual home, they carefully evaluated Downtown’s eight distinctive neighborhoods — Core, Columbia, Cortez Hill, East Village, Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza, Little Italy and Marina, each with its own character and lifestyle.
Located in the Columbia District, at 1262 Kettner Blvd., the Sapphire Tower is 70 percent sold out, and it’s no mystery why. The O’Riordan’s now live in a flowing floor-plan up in the clouds, in new accommodations outfitted with wood floors, dramatic floor to ceiling windows, not to mention a front desk security and concierge, media room, gymnasium, pool, spa, sauna and laundry service. The building’s location is in close proximity to Little Italy, Seaport Village and the Embarcadero Marina Park and offers easy access to the San Diego Santa Fe Depot.
“I really enjoy entertaining. We have friends over for dinner and I love that I can be cooking in the kitchen while still being part of the party, since the space is completely open,” Carmen says. If their apartment has a downfall, Carmen says, it’s the noise from the trains. “Some of the conductors just lay on the horn, and it can be really aggravating. Just stop already!” she says. But Downtown residents gathered on June 22 and the San Diego City Council approved the “Quiet Zone” designation, which once in place will fine conductors for using their horns between 11p.m. and 6 a.m.
The O’Riordan’s new lifestyle is a celebration of the evolving and thriving Downtown, where more than 35,000 people live. They are surrounded by vibrant people, charming neighborhoods, theater and shows, professional sports, street-side cafes and bustling pubs.
“One of the great things about living Downtown is that we can go to a great restaurant or head to a Padres game and not worry about the drive home. We have everything right at our fingertips — the convenience is ideal,” Carmen says.
Their favorite place to dine on fine Italian cuisine is Po Pazzo in Little Italy, just a stone’s throw from their home at Sapphire. They love to listen to music at Croce’s in the Gaslamp, where they can be social and spend time with a crowd they say is “around the same age.” And you can be sure to catch Michael watching World Cup games at authentic Irish pub, The Field, while indulging in a traditional Irish breakfast and cheering with other local fans.
In addition to entertainment and restaurants, the O’Riordans physical activity has increased. They now walk most places instead of drive, and they also purchased bikes so that they can explore the streets of Downtown together and coast along the Embarcadero.
Michael O’Riordan has been in the insurance industry since 1983 and is president of his own firm, O’Riordan & Associates, which specializes in estate planning and life and health insurance. He opened a new office in Old Town after his move south.
“I’ve spent years of my life driving a half hour without traffic to get to work. It’s a reality that because San Diego is spread out into so many suburbs, commuting is a part of living here,” Michael says. “For me, it’s a luxury to be able to eliminate a lengthy work commute from my life, and spend that driving time doing something else.”
The O’Riordans have now lived Downtown for a year, and are just one example of the many individuals and couples who are making the move for the accessibility to an evolving metropolis.
“If we still had young children, we probably wouldn’t have moved Downtown,” Michael says. “Our kids being away definitely made us reevaluate our day-to-day life together. Living Downtown has its advantages and also some downsides, but for where we are in life, it s been so enriching. We feel very fortunate.”
(Editor’s Note: Katelyn O’Riordan is the “one child in San Diego” mentioned in the story. She is a freelance writer.)