Old Town is a must do in San Diego and best of all it is a very affordable option and you can spend all day here.
Get a free map and walk the streets. There are a number of shops in old town itself, there are also old churches, houses, parks, cemetery, stable, and museums that are worth touring. Most of these are free.
You can eat in Old Town itself or walk down the street a short way and you will find the Whaley House (it costs to tour this house) and you will find more stores and restaurants. All of the food options here are good. Look for a crowd to be sure and of course you will want to have Mexican food here. If you are here on a Tuesday ask for the Taco Tuesday Specials (all Mexican restaurants in San Diego have Taco Tuesday Specials).
Many people visit the Whaley house. You enter as part of a guided tour. I found it interesting but it wasn't a highlight for me, but I think I got a bad tour guide, it would be much better with someone else.
Make sure you visit the Mormon Battalion. It is open until 9 PM.
If you are walking to the Mormon Battalion from Old Town to the North you will see some beautiful old houses, these are a newer part of the old town area and well worth visiting.
Fiesta de Reyes is located in Old Town San Diego. Whereas the Old Town area mostly focuses on San Diego's early Far West days, Fiesta de Reyes puts the accent on that period of time when San Diego was just a tiny pueblo by celebrating Mexican culture, arts and food. It consists of several shops and a restaurant, all centered around a lively courtyard. We were there in October and we could see that the plaza was gearing up for special events to celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in pure Mexican tradition (or at least, I didn't see any Jack-o'-lantern or other Halloween props around). After doing a bit of shopping and tasting some delicious roasted cashews, we sat down at the Casa de Reyes's patio, the Fiesta's main restaurant, which of course specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine. It was too early for dinner so we only ordered drinks (my peach mojito was really good!), but at least it gave us some time to enjoy the atmosphere of the place.
The Old Town area basically is where the city of San Diego was born. Located at the bottom of Presidio Hill, the area grew from a small Mexican pueblo to a modest size town until the 1860s, when plans were laid to develop a new downtown core that was closer to the water (it became Gaslamp Quarter). Some of the historic buildings of the original San Diego pueblo have been preserved and became a national park in 1968. Old Town San Diego sort of reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg, in the sense that it's like an open-air museum in the middle of the city, where visitors are free to walk from one historic building to the next, shop, dine, and take in the history. We picked up a map of the area at the Visitors Center located in the 1853 Robinson Rose House, and walked up and down the streets to see all the sites. The Old Town area includes some museums for which there's an admission fee, but most buildings are open to visitors free of charge. It's also worth making the quick detour on foot to see the Heritage Park Victorian Village, a collection of seven houses that were built in San Diego in the 1880s and 1890s and that have been moved there to be preserved. There's also a short walking trail that leads up the hill to Presidio Park, where the first San Diego mission was built.
Whenever I go to San Diego I must visit Old Town. Aside from all the great Mexican restaurants it's (I believe) San Diego's oldest neighborhoods. You can find Victorian structures - which just seem so out of place in SoCal - and lots of stores and vendor carts.
Oh, and Mariachis. Who doesn't love Mariachis?
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park preserves a number of very interesting buildings depicting the lives of people from the common everyday settler to the richest most powerful residents during the Mexican Period (1821 to 1846) and the early American Period (1846 to 1872). The buildings now house a variety of museums, restaurants, shops and other attractions.
For a full review of the park see my Old Town San Diego SHP Page (Coming soon).
You are in San Diego, just a few short miles away is Mexico with Tijuana the border town. Tempting, but frustrating due to the traffic at the border and the crime rate in Tijuana. Bad rap or not, it is a foreign country to visit. But.....you can experience the flavor of Mexico right in San Diego at Old Town. Touristy, yeah, but so is Tijuana.
Old Town is alive and well. The restaurants of Old Town dole out thousands of Margaritas (drink)and a heck of a lot of tacos (hand food) that can be found in Mexico but now throughout the United States, but the feel of Mexico is in Old Town. Shops, restaurants, and history. Old Town is considered the "birthplace" of California. In 1769, on top of a hill overlooking what was to become Old Town, a mission (the first of 21) and presidio were built under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra. El Pueblo de San Diego was named in 1835 and in 1846, the American Flag was raised in Old Town San Diego. Many historic buildings built in the 1800's are all within walking distance of the Plaza.
While in Old Town, a visit to the Serra Museum, commonly known as The Presidio, would be interesting to history buffs. This Spanish style structure is not the original Presidio, but a commemorative effort built in 1927 to honor Father Junipero Serra and Captian Gasper de Portola who established the first Mission and fort in California.
The entrance fee is a nominal donation and the book store offers great value in unique and historical reading material of this area.
The ground level of the Presidio is set out as a museum that changes from time to time. With furniture, clothing, maps and various artifacts, the story of San Diego's development is told. Climb the stairs to see recreations of rooms used during the time Spanish soldiers lived here and protected the priests and citizens of this new land.
At the top landing the view from the windows is far reaching and revealing.
The hours it is open seem to change so check before arriving.
Also, you might plan your visit to this section of Old Town with the idea of stopping, before or after for a picnic lunch. There are a few park areas here loaded with shade trees and some statues andr Memorials that are interesting to note while taking a relaxing break from a morning of sight-seeing.
In 1769 a mission and a fort were established here and this became California's first Spanish settlement. To get a feel for how far and from where San Diegans have come, a visit to Old Town may give some clues. That is if, you look beyond the touristic atmostphere.
On VT there are two pages for this area that I'm in the process of developing.
Old Town San Diego This is the section of San Diego that was originally the center of town until Alonzo Horton came in and developed the present downtown area along the harbor of the bay.
And Old Town San Diego State Historical Park This is a section of Old Town San Diego that has been restored and preserved by the State of California as it was in it's glory days. Most people refer to both areas as Old Town and both are usually swamped with tourists. However, much of Old Town SD is a residential area of San Diego and many of the "tourists" are actually locals as well.
In Old Town San Diego State Historical Park, Bazaar del Mundo was a big draw for tourists and two of the best Mexicn restaurants were, "Casa de Bandini" and "Casa de Pico"and the food was quite genuine, especially the tortilla lady making tortillas is a display of life as lived in the early days of San Diego's history .
However, Ms. Powers, the owner of the concession known as Bazaar del Mundo lost the contract and has found other locations for the shops and restaurants. The Bazar del Mundo is now located on Taylor Street, some few blocks away. Casa de Bandini moved to Carlsbad and Casa de Pico moved to La Mesa.
Bazaar del Mundo section of the Park was taken over by a company that stripped it of all the charm that brought in the tourists and residents and the food at the restaurants was not nearly as good. That company didn't make it.
Now it is being run by another company and this company seems to be interested in restoring the festive vibe. It is beginning to look much better and the food is better too. The Casa de Bandini building has been restored to it's original use, The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant. This too seems to have been a successful effort.
The old adobe buildings that house other restaurants, museums and shops along the town square are restored originals or replicas of the first buildings of San Diego. Some people dress in period costumes, such as the calveryman who patrols the area on horseback. He will stop for a photo with you if asked.
It is difficult to tell when you are in the Park and when you are not. It doesn't really matter, the whole area is fun to explore and there are other historical sites. The old court house can be seen, as well as the first newspaper office, even a haunted house can be toured. Then there are always lots of restaurants, bars and shopping all over the place.
After a day of walking around, just pick your spot, order a Margarita and say, "Salud!"
The photo is of nightlife in Old Town San Diego.
This was new to me this visit.
The Bazaar up in the Old Town has some lovely small colourful shops, music, fountains, seats in a small garden, and a couple of eateries.
The waitresses in the Mexican outdoor restaurant were dressed in costume, which added to the ambience. The photo shows an elaborate fountain at the Rancho El Nopal Restaurant and Cantina. Look closely and you can see one of the waitresses in blue/white costume.
Photo by joanj
Beginning July 28th and running through November 7th, 2010 Cygnet Theatre in Old Town San Diego's State Historic Park will be producing Alan Ayckbourn’s laugh-filled trilogy THE NORMAN CONQUESTS. The three full-length plays (Including Table Manners, Round and Round the Garden and Living Together) run in rotating repertory and feature the same six characters played by the same six actors. See one! Or see them all!
Each play in Ayckbourn's trilogy reveals the story of one hilarious weekend from a different room in an English country home and each uncovers more and more hysterical answers to each of the character's peculiar behaviors - ultimately creating a final uproarious picture.
It’s an extraordinary construct and unlike anything else being done in the country this year. It is perhaps for this reason that the most recent revival of the complete trilogy - which opened at The Old Vic in London in 2008 and transferred to New York in 2009 - became such a phenomenon, eventually earning a 2009 Tony Award for Best Revival.
The nearly four-month run will include three Conquer Norman Saturdays - with all three plays performed on the same day - at 12pm, 4pm and 8pm. True Norman enthusiasts are invited to spend the day with Norman. Anyone who sees all three plays receives an “I Conquered Norman” t-shirt.
Special ticket prices are available for audience members who wish to see more than one show from the trilogy. Additionally Cygnet Theatre is working closely with the Old Town State Park’s restaurants and hotels to create NORMAN CONQUEROR PACKAGES – with special pre fix meals, as well as discount room rates at local hotels within walking-distance of the theatre.
The Theatrical Event of the Year!
San Diego’s first commercial settlement has been either preserved or re-created in this pedestrian-only park. It is the place of the first Spanish settlement dating back to 1769, when the whole area was a part of Mexico. It was briefly also the capital of Mexico's California territory. Though, California belongs to the United States since 1850, the number of Spanish speaking people still reach almost the half of the population.
Much of the town was destroyed in a fire in 1872, but of the park's 20 structures, 7 original structures still remain, including homes made of adobe; the rest are reconstructed.
Adobe is a style of architecture, characterized by thick earthen walls, small windows, doors and covered by a flat or slightly sloped thatched or clay tile roofs. The bricks are made of soil and water, usually with straw or grass added, pushed into a wooden form, and then dried in the sun for at least 2 weeks.
Robinson-Rose House is the headquarters of Old Town. Here you may look into the past of the town, a model introduces how the area looked like hundred years before. There are a lot of informations material for a self-guided tour. You can wander into the Old Town’s houses and find museums, shops inside. They remind you of a combination Mexican, Spanish and Old Western-style Williamsburg.
Some of the most interesting sights:
- the town plaza used for bullfights, executions and fiestas,
- La Casa de Bandini , one of San Diego’s most famous and wildly popular mexican restaurant, where the wait for a table can stretch to over an hour.
- reconstructed barn houses original carriages and wagons from the Wild West.
- Wells Fargo History Museum, Casa de Estudillo, California's first schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, the state's first newspaper office and a stable.
- Machado y Stewart and Machado y Silvas adobes with period furnishings
- Catholic Church Of The Immaculate Conception,
Many of the park shops sell a lot of kitsch, quilts, souvenirs and Western clothing; you will do better in the lovely shops of Bazaar del Mundo presenting the best of Latin America; Mexican folk dancers and mariachi bands perform amidst guatemalan weavings and mexican folk art.
Update: Bazaar del Mundo has a new location at Taylor and Juan streets, just two blocks from the northwest entrance to the park.
For some trips, the destination is the reward. If you live to shop, you will fall head over splendor of famous Bazaar del Mundo.
Built in Spanish colonial style, the building has a large open central courtyard with vibrant collection of festive shops on all four sides offering bright and colorful but mostly useless merchandise.
The courtyard of the bazaar is full with flowers, foliage, pennants, and umbrellas. Mariachi bands on the courtyard stage fill the air with cheerful Mexican music.
There are 15 (or so) shops in Bazaar del Mundo that have pottery, dinnerware, fabrics, books, confections, and arts and crafts....mostly from Latin American countries. From inside each shop, you can generally access the shop next door without going outside. However, going outside in the rain is not a problem, since the walkways facing the attractive courtyard are covered.
The Whaley House is said to be the most haunted house in the US, according to the Travel Channel. Historically the Whaley house is important to San Diego because it was the County Court house, San Diego's first commercial theater, a general store, a ballroom, a billiard hall, school, and polling place, as well as the Whaley's personal residence. It is said to be haunted because the original home site was built on the public hanging grounds and Mr. Whaley's daughter commited suicide and died in the house. We visited at night because what the heck-maybe you would have a better chance of seeing ghosts?
The tour is completely self guided, which disappointed me I would rather have someone guide me through the house explaining the history. Instead you will be given several sheets of laminated paper with information on it. We found the docents to be very friendly and if you ask for more information they are more than happy to give you some background information-less reading for me.
I enjoy visiting old houses whether they are haunted or not. The night tour is $10 and the day tour is $6. I would visit again, but during the day is less expensive and I don't believe ghosts care what time of day it is.
Old Town San Diego was just a short walk from my hotel so I headed over there both nights I was staying there, the 1st night everything was already closed up and I just had dinner but on my 2nd visit many of the buildings were still open, most are free to visit and have displays on life in Old Town. I think the Whaley House was the only place with an admission fee.
The Old Town State Historic Park recreates the early days of San Diego from 1821 to 1872, shortly after the Mexican War of Independence to 22 years after California became a state. You can pick up a map of the park or join a walking tour at 11am and 2 pm daily at the Robinson-Rose House, 4002 Wallace St. The park consists of 20 structures, 7 of them original, the rest are reconstructed. Some of the structures you can visit are La Casa de Estudillo, a mansion with a garden courtyard; Mason Street School, California's first public schoolhouse; the San Diego Union Printing Office, the city's oldest surviving newspaper office; and the Seeley Stables Museum, with exhibits on transportation and a collection of wagons, carriages and stagecoaches.
Frommer's has a nice online walking guide to Old Town.
I am told that the concessions for Old Town were bought by a German company.
It's not a bad thing!
I visited again recently. Most of the restaurants in the park now have a historical menu and the wait staff are all in costume. It's like a tasteful Disneyland.
The two-story Cosmopolitan Hotel (Casa de Bandini) is being renovated, for what purpose is not quite clear yet. The Hazard collection of wagons has been moved indoors; I guess even in SD's mild climate they are starting to age. The erstwhile Opera House has gome back to its old duties as wagonhouse.
Old Town is looking good, and the best is yet to come.