The Historic District One of San Diego's most famous attractions is the historic neighborhood of San Diego, which is considered the birthplace of California. I live in San Diego and have visited Old Town many times.
In 1769, Father Junipero Serra established the first of California's 21 missions, which was the region's first permanent Spanish settlement. However, the Mexican-American era in the mid-1800s, when Old Town was the center of San Diego, is the timeframe you'll learn about the most during your visit. Via historical edutainment, restored and replica structures, and museum displays, you'll learn about life in the past.
But it isn't the only thing that needs to be done. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy the neighborhood's appealing mix of popularized Mexican cuisine, tourist-oriented shopping, and occasional live entertainment, particularly on sunny days (of which there are many in my city). Some may claim that these events contribute to Old Town San Diego's touristiness.
In this guide, I'll cover everything you need to know about planning a trip to Old Town San Diego, including what to do in Old Town San Diego, our favorite Old Town San Diego restaurants, and other important information.
Having visited Old Town San Diego several times over the years, I've compiled a list of must-see Old Town attractions (dining and shopping to follow) that highlight San Diego history and are enjoyable for the entire family.
There are many more historic buildings and small museums to enjoy as you walk by on your way somewhere else, particularly in the Old Town State Historic Park. This map of Old Town is not to scale, but it will help you get a sense of where you are and how close things are.
The Whaley House was built in 1857 in the Greek Revival style. It is possible to walk through it and look through each of the restored rooms (sometimes behind glass). It served as a general store, a jail, a residence, and a theater all at the same time. It was also constructed on the site of a former cemetery, with public hangings taking place in the backyard.
The Whaley House has also earned a reputation as one of the most well-known haunted houses in America. Strange sounds and sightings have been recorded, which may be the ghosts of Whaley family members or James "Yankee Jim" Robinson, who was hanged there for stealing a boat. Haunted tours, in addition to day and night guided tours, are available for booking.
Since it is not a large museum complex, children can easily visit it in a half-hour or less. Children under the age of five are admitted free. However, general admission is $10 for adults and $8 for veterans, military personnel, and children aged 6–12.
The Go San Diego pass includes tickets to the Whaley House. If you plan on visiting multiple famous attractions during your visit to San Diego, this is one of the best-bundled attractions passes available.
The Mormon Battalion historic site in Old Town San Diego has a canon.
The Mormon Battalion Historic Site is a visitor center in Old Town San Diego that commemorates the Mormon Battalion's arduous journey. From Council Bluffs in the Lowa area to San Diego, the overland march followed the Santa Fe Trail.
In 1846, the Mormon Battalion, a party of about 500 Mormon saints, enlisted in the United States Army. They did so to help support their families and community financially.
A free immersive video tour is available to help you better appreciate the Mormon Battalion's significance. Here you can hear about the men who volunteered for the march and those who accompanied them, as well as their devotion, dedication, and faith. The tour will take about 45 minutes.
Following the walk, you can see gold panning and brick-making demonstrations, as well as historical objects from the past.
El Camp Santo Cemetery has outdoor grave sites.
The El Campo Santo Cemetery is located in Old Town and is the city of San Diego's second oldest cemetery. The cemetery shrank in size as San Diego's Old Town expanded, and many graves vanished beneath the pavement. The cemetery that exists today is just a small portion of the original cemetery that once existed.
Old Town residents built a streetcar line through a section of the cemetery in 1889, which later became San Diego Avenue. It was paved over in 1942, leaving graves under the street and sidewalk.
Today, visitors will take a Ghosts and Gravestones San Diego Tour that lasts an hour and 15 minutes. This tour takes visitors through the cemetery and to other parts of San Diego through the Old Town Trolley. Guests can hear about the Old Town's haunted past as well as other historical stories.
The Historic District The California State Park System founded San Diego State Historic Park to preserve San Diego's heritage from 1821 to 1872. Much of your time here will be spent exploring the historic houses, museums, and businesses that depict colonial life. Not to mention the occasional living history exhibits and the park's central grassy field, where kids can let off steam.
The park's name is sometimes abbreviated as Old Town State Historic Park, but it's the same location. The main entrance is located at the corner of Twiggs and San Diego Avenues.
House of Robinson-Rose (Visitor Information Center)
Pick up a map and learn more at the park's Robinson-Rose Visitor Information Center to make the most of your visit. It's in the Robinson-Rose building, which is a reproduction of the original two-story structure made of adobe on the first floor and wood on the second. To cut a long story short, it was founded in 1853 by Judge James W. Robinson, a prominent lawyer who was instrumental in the advancement of the San Diego community at the time.
It has also been said to be haunted. Judge Robinson had a few skeletons in his wardrobe, including a family he had lost before moving to San Diego. Visitors and workers have confirmed hearing strange footsteps, seeing lights flash, and getting their hair pulled.
The word "museum" makes the Wells Fargo Museum seem much larger than it is. It's just a few rooms in the Colorado House, a historic home on the park's grounds.
It houses a number of interesting objects and details from the stagecoach/gold rush era of California history, including an authentic vintage stagecoach (not a replica) as well as numerous coins and other mementos from the period.
It emphasizes the importance of banking and Wells Fargo in California history, as the title suggests. Is it therefore a smidgeon of corporate promotion? Yes, of course. It is, however, free to enter, and it is very well done, interesting, and not overbearing.
The white tower of the Junipero Serra Museum in Old Town San Diego.
The Junipero Serra Museum is one of San Diego's most prominent landmarks, located above Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and near Bazaar del Mundo. There are exhibits about the area's past. It is situated on the hill that is thought to be the birthplace of California.
It appears to be a part of the mission, but it was built much later, between 1928 and 1929. Admission is open to the public thanks to an anonymous donor, but they do accept donations if you so like.
The Presidio Park, which surrounds the Junipero Serra Museum and is 40 acres in size, is ideal for those seeking some peace and quiet. It has some lovely hiking trails.
It is also the location of the original Presidio, where Junipero Serra planted a palm tree in the park when he first arrived in California (fort). There are no surviving buildings from the original presidio. The Presidio Cross near the Junipero Serra Museum, on the other hand, is made of remnant tiles from the original Presidio.
Guests will be able to see sweeping views of San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, and even the San Diego river basin from some points in the park.
The Victorian homes of Heritage Park, which is located near Old Town San Diego.
San Diego's Old Town Heritage Park has historic buildings.
Take a stroll up Juan Street to Heritage Park to see six restored Victorian homes and Temple Beth Isreal, all from the late 1800s.
The historic structures were relocated from different areas of San Diego. Senlis Cottage, one of the houses, is open daily as a historic house museum. The city's first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel, is now open to the public.
Last but not least, Old Town San Diego isn't that big. As a result, you don't have to worry about which side of the park you park your car on. All is within walking distance, which is one of the reasons it's a fantastic half-day destination.
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