Orchids & Onions

What to know about O&O…

Orchid or Onion? You Help Decide.
Ever ask yourself why a place becomes a favorite spot that people return to time and again to make memories that last a lifetime? Or what makes San Diego “San Diego”? Why is our city so special, and could it be even more special? And what about the future of our downtown, the waterfront, the parks, the neighborhoods we call home?

To answer these questions, we turn to you—yes you! SDAF’s Orchids & Onions program brings San Diegans together to decide which parts of the built environment—be it building, park or plaza—make our city a better place to live. Each year brings in a whole new crop of projects, spaces and places to consider, nominate, comment on and vote into fame or infamy. Get involved and make your voice heard!

What Makes a Project an Orchid or an Onion?
Making San Diego an even better place then it already is by designing and building inspiring spaces and places, starts with thinking about the elements of design. Here are the criteria that are used to evaluate projects. 


  • Exemplifies good place making, i.e. it is a functional and memorable place or space to be

  • Contributes to its surrounding context and adds to community character

  • Skillfully and thoughtfully detailed and crafted – showing respect for materials and the community

  • Expresses something relevant to our time and place – San Diego, right now, as well as its function

  • Provides social and economic benefit to San Diegans

  • Encourages social interaction or a quiet moment

  • Elicits a sense of civic pride

  • Is technologically or environmentally innovative

  • Supports community building


  • The opposite of an Orchid

  • A missed opportunity

  • A blight or eyesore that shows a lack of commitment to quality design and our community

Here is how it works

It all begins with you—proud San Diegans who share a vision to make our city all it can be. The nominations period is typically in the month of June. Visit the Orchids & Onions nominations page during this time and nominate your favorite projects. Categories include architecture, interior design, urban planning, landscape architecture, historic preservation and “miscellaneous”-anything not covered by other categories. This can range from public art and environmental graphics to sustainable and technological innovation in design. Be sure to share and comment on your favorite entries as those that get the most attention from the community will make the shortlist for consideration by the public for the People’s Choice award.

Jury Process
After nominations close, a multidisciplinary jury convenes to cull the nominations for the year’s harvest for best and worst. Made up of design professionals, plus one student and one member from the general public, the jury tours the cream of the crop, traveling to each project for firsthand evaluation. Jurors then deliberate on which entries earn a spot at the winner’s table (our orchids) versus those that need to be composted (the onions).

Cast Your Vote for People’s Choice
You and other San Diegans determine the nominees and winners for each year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion*. This is how it works. All nominated projects are fair game for the People’s Choice Award. Votes are cast online to determine the year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion*.

Step Up to Sponsorship
When you become a sponsor for this vital and vibrant program, you not only support its continued and future success, you also make your organization visible to a unique audience of professionals and fellow citizens committed to inspired place making. Your support will be recognized throughout the season, from opening of the nominations through to the exciting awards ceremony. Click here to learn more about sponsor benefits, levels of sponsorship and how to become a sponsor.

Awards Gala
Join us for a fun-filled, thought-provoking night of commentary and discussion about San Diego’s built environment as we award the orchids and onions. Attendees include design enthusiasts, industry professionals and city leaders who all bring their energy and insights. The Orchids & Onions Awards Gala is held each year in October, we hope to see you there!

*For 2022 there will be no public vote for onions however, the jury may still award onions, at their discretion.