Old Town, San Diego
Spainish settlers and clerics established footholds in what is now southern California when America was in its early stages of white colonization. As a result, San Diego and other cities in the area are older than one might think. The oldest settlement area of San Diego has now become a state historical site and a popular destination. Besides the recreations of early businesses, you can find some neat shops and an array of outstanding restaurants featuring Mexican food. (See my section of restaurants regarding Casa de Bandini.)
Great restaurants and shops in a recreated village. Part of the area is a state park with building restored to the original state. This is the core city upon which SD was built. It wasn't till much later that an American built up the area (now downtown) by the harbor.
In 1542 the Spanish first came to what is now San Diego, but settlement did not start until 1769.
In 1821 Mexico won independence from Spain, and along with it, California.
In 1848 the Mexican War saw the annexation of California to the United States.
From about 1868, San Diego's 'New Town' began to be built in what is now the Gaslamp Quarter. This led to a general decline of Old Town up until 1969 --the 200th anniversary of San Diego- when the city's Bicentennial celebration returned Old Town to the public eye, and to the heart of San Diego.
From here you can find: hotels, shops, restaurants, map,or just take a photo tour of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
For a real thrill, tour Old Town's Haunted Places.
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 neighborhood. 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?
Part history museum and part tourist shopping/dining mecca with properties individually owned and managed by state, city, county and private nonprofits, Old Town is one complicated piece of real estate.
In a nutshell, this was the site of the first permanent European colony in what eventually became the U.S. state of California. In 1769, a Spanish military outpost (presidio) and Catholic mission - San Diego de Alcala - were established by Gaspar de Portolá and Padre Junípero Serra on an arid hillside above the bay first “discovered” by navigator Juan Cabrillo in 1542.
It had a rough start: attacked by indigenous locals within weeks, and losing a critical supply ship and many sailors to scurvy via initial expeditions to the settlement. Lack of water saw the mission relocating to a more agriculturally hospitable spot just five years later, and after the Mexican War of Independence the presidio served as the Mexican Governor’s Residence for a number of years before being abandoned and falling into ruin. In the meantime, residents of the fort gradually migrated downhill to form the settlement that would formally become El Pueblo de San Diego in 1835, and what is known as Old Town today.
So what we have here is a slightly bewildering array of buildings both original and re-created, museums (some free; some with entry fees), parks, tchotchke shops, restaurants and shopping/entertainment plazas, and the whole shootin’ match jazzed up with special events, “living history” demonstrations and whatnot. The fact that many of these are operated by separate entities adds to the confusion as there appears to be no single website that supplies information for all of them. That said, here’s where you can go to plan your visit:
General info and coupons:
Map of attractions/restaurants/shops/hotels:
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park:
Whaley House/Adobe Chapel/Derby-Pendleton House:
Wells Fargo Museum:
I’ll cover a few of these in separate tips - including our choice for dinner. Entry to the general area is free as are some of the parking lots (see map) but finding a space can be a challenge so save yourself the headache and jump the Green Line trolley from downtown hotels.
Oh, and ladies, forget the heels and strappy little sandals: you’ll want comfortable footwear for this one as there are some dirt streets and uneven surfaces to deal with.
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.
Just a 10 min trip from downtown is Old Town, a charming part of the city that has the feel of the "good ol' days", where there were not cars and when it was a great pleasure to walk and take in the local environment. If you want to see the classic "Americana" style mixed with a great Mexican/Spanish influence, you will absolutely love it here.
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.
They were very old…
Julianna Cornelia “An Indian Woman Aged 108 Years”
…and very young.
Luis Gonzaga Serrano, Infant Son,”Little Luis was one 13 children…”
They were saints…
Maria Josefa Zamorano,”Her purity, her truth, her meekness and gentleness…”
James W. Robinson, "...known as Yankee Jim, suffered the extreme penalty for stealing the only rowboat in San Diego Bay” (he was hung)
Some were illustrious…
Juan Maria Mendoza, “He was the first alcade (mayor) of San Diego in 1835”
…and others nameless.
Magdalena (Unknown), Melchior (Unknown), Jesus (Unknown)…
Between 1849 and 1880, 477 early settlers of El Pueblo de San Diego were buried in “The Sacred Field.” It is a dusty, rather desolate piece of ground with only a few spots of color to lighten the bleak piles of stone or stark-white palings that mark the grave sites: the cross of Maria de los Angeles, “An Indian Babe” peeks above a cheerful cluster of red geraniums.
Some of the interred lie outside of the low adobe wall that surrounds the cemetery, covered over by San Diego Avenue in 1942. A walk along the perimeter turns up small metal discs stamped “Grave Marker” embedded in the sidewalk and street that indicate the resting places of nearly two dozen men, women and children.
Not much is known about most of the departed but when there’s a story to tell it’s posted on placards by the plots. Amusing to me was centenarian Rafael Mamudes: the grave digger rumored to have “made a murderous attack on his good wife” and whose penance was to ring the church bells whenever the occasion demanded. “Never did he miss a church service.” I guess he decided to be a good boy? More somber was Antonio Garra; a tribal chief executed for treason, robbery and murder by a firing squad next to his open grave. Two others involved in the Garra Uprising - a revolt spurred by taxation without voting rights - were hung and buried in this cemetery as well.
Only one of the original markers survives - that with the initials of one Edward L. Greene - and only half a dozen from a restoration in 1933. The cemetery is a popular spot with ghost hunters (it’s reported to be haunted) and attendees at Old Town’s Día de los Muertos event.
Enjoyed visiting the old part of town of San Diego.
Gives the atmosphere of Zorro where early Californians and Mexicans are putting down their influence that makes California so famous in Wild Wild West movies.
The architecture and exhibitions of what daily instruments and things used in that era was interesting. Instead of parking the car, I can imagine tying one horse. Wonder how to keep a horse from being stolen.
Ok I really wanted to go to Tijuana so that I could put another stamp in my passport and say I made it to Mexico, but I also heard it's not a very safe place to travel alone as a single female. So my alternative to feel a little Mexico was to go to Old Town San Diego. I must admit it is mainly a tourist trap now containing old period buildings that sell objects supposedly reminiscent of the Old West but the prices would make you think otherwise. Literally it took me maybe 15 minutes to maneuver the whole town. There are available bus tours through this area which may make the trip more worth it.
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.
What a lovely place to visit !! There are nice old town where I can imagine the old day of this place. Lots of shop to see and not to big to walk around.
I've been there for 2 times and I feel like I'm not bored to go back there again.
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.
Take a trip to the Old Town and grab a great meal at almost any restaurant. There are plenty of shops for those needing to depart with some cash and the architecture and history behind the buildings is very interesting.