Visiting Old Town in San Diego – a tour and top things to do in the historic district and surrounding area

The old town section of San Diego is colorful, easy to walk around and very historic. The district is both a California State Historic Park and also a National historic monument that features the actual look and feel of what San Diego was like in its early days with stores that showcased the typical wares, day to day functions and staff dressed in period outfits with knowledge about each of their represented storefront and sharing day to day life around the Old Town area.

History of Old Town

Old town is the recognized origin of the City of San Diego and this is also where Father Junipero Serra set up the first mission of California called Mission San Diego de Acala in 1789. It was here that he had his 21 visions and spearheading the colonization of California

The favorable year round weather, safe harbor area and rapid growth had made this an attractive area to settle down and create a vibrant community.

Today many of the preserved historic buildings and museums in Old town commemorate the early days of San Diego’s beginnings from the 1820s to 1870s. These buildings have been converted into living museums, shops and restaurants. Next to Old Town is the recreated Old Town Village which houses more restaurants, shops and galleries for visitors to explore with some restored and new buildings built to match the same look and feel to the entire Old Town ambiance of the area.

Here’s a profile of the Old Town San Diego history and community

Visiting Old Town in San Diego – a tour and top things to do in the historic district and surrounding area

Historic buildings of Old Town

Some of the historic old buildings to visit at around the Old Town of San Diego includes the following buildings and areas:

Old Town State Historical Park

Old Town State Historical Park

The main square and park area of old town is line on the perimeter with 20 original homes and businesses that were typical of the early Spanish Colonial timeframe. Places to explore here includes: the school house, Old Adobe house and cemetery. Sun dried adobe brick was the typical building material used for these adobe homes. Other historic buildings include an adobe mansion that was now converted into the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the wooden built public school and the first brick building built in 1847. Other historic buildings include the sheriffs building, a boarding house, general store and restaurant.

Other attractions and things to see around Old Town

Other attractions and things to see around Old Town

  • The Whaley House – Designated as an actual haunted house in California, the Whaley House was built on a gallows site in 1856 and was the family home for the Whaley family one of the first settlers and influential families in the area. The home became a San Diego’s first theater and was also once used as a county courthouse.

Junipero Serra Museum

Junipero Serra Museum – located in the Old Town’s Presidio Park which has a museum house collections of Father Junipero Serra and the first mission of San Diego with gorgeous views of downtown and the coastal areas of San Diego. Serra built the first mission next to the Presidio out of a total 21 in Alta California.

Heritage Par

  • Heritage Park – showcases six restored Victorian era homes of local families in the 1800s including the city’s first synagogue
  • Presidio Park has some beautiful formal gardens, walking trails like the Old Historical trail and a nature preserve.
  • Experience a Taste of Mexico at the area of the Fiesta De Reyes, a grouping of 19 shops, galleries and restaurants around a small square that is filled with outdoor seating, lush gardens and a stage for performances. The Fiesta De Reyes evokes the typical fiesta feel of the square with mariachi bands, live performances and other events in the square.

Here’s a video tour of Heritage Park and the Victorian homes that were moved here to represent a historic San Diego village.

  • Cygnet Theater Group – showcases 6 to 7 event productions yearly covering different types of entertainment from Broadway musicals, Classical music and world premiere performances in the 202-seat theater.
  • The Story of the Mormon Battalion

Located at the Mormon Center, a group of 500 members from Council Bluffs Iowa traveled to San Diego and join the local militia army in 1846 to fight in the Mexican American war. The center displays historical artifacts and collections with an interactive video tour and live demonstrations of brick making and gold panning.

  • Check out the Robinson Center which is a visitors’ center with displays and information about Old Town and guides to help explain the Old Town and layout in more detail. Or you can pick up a brochure and do your own DIY tour of the historic park grounds.

  • Stay at the Victorian Cosmopolitan hotel or have a delicious meal – the historic hotel used to house an adobe mansion and later converted to the hotel which was the popular hang out spot in the Old Town and restored to the 1870s look and feel down to the wall paper on the walls.

La Casa de Estudillo Museum – done in traditional Spanish Colonial architecture, this traditional adobe home was constructed in 1827 of the wealthy Estudillo family with reproductions of the period of furniture, collections and décor of its day. There are local crafters in period dress to show various crafts like looms and tool making presentations.

Stay at the Victorian Cosmopolitan hotel

  • Seeley Stable Museum – an enlarged barn houses rare artifacts and 19th century vehicles along with carriages, carts, wagons and a wagon freighter showing how people got around in the early 1800s with a variety of collections showcased at the museum.
  • Harney Street artisan market – on weekends Harney Street has an art vendor fair with arts and crafts, jewelry and hand made products from local artisans for sale.
  • El Campo Santo Cemetery – the 2nd oldest cemetery in the historic district and was reduced in size with the building of a street that divided the cemetery and has a haunted presence in the Old Town
  • Wells Fargo History Museum – with a large and vintage Wells Fargo stagecoach in the original Colorado House which displays artifacts and other collections of coins and other historical imagery and stagecoach pieces.

Wells Fargo History Museum

An actual Wells Fargo Carriage in good condition.

San Diego’s haunted Cemetery – find out why below

Here’s an actual walking tour of the Old Town district

Places to eat around Old Town

Places to eat around Old Town

With so many delicious food venues around the Old Town, you have an extensive choice of eating venues here covering traditional Mexican cuisine, American dining and many other popular bistro fare foods with delicious local drinks and specialties.

Cosmopolitan Restaurant – the Victorian area hotel built in 1827 and is still functioning also has a restaurant done in vintage style and serving American and Mexican cuisine

Fiesta De Reyes – Mexican food is the popular eats in the plaza area with the open-air Casa Reyes with outdoor dining in the main plaza delicious Mexican food and drinks

Miguel’s Cocina – Mexican food with the best tacos in town and other tasty Mexican dishes and you can eat outdoors in their patio area

Cafe Coyote – serving traditional Mexican cuisine for over 30 years and recognized as one of the consistent and best restaurants in Old Town.

Old Town Tequila Factory – located high above Heritage Park, this Mexican restaurant with fantastic views of the area and delicious Mexican food.

Where to stay around Old Town San Diego

Where to stay around Old Town San Diego

With so many different types of accommodations covering different price points, you have you choice of well reviewed hotels and inns here for updated prices, availability and calendar.

Westin San Diego Downtown – easy convenient location in the Gaslamp district, modern, quiet and spacious rooms and comfortable beds.

Legasy Resort Hotel and Spa – value priced and good location close to old town, fantastic customer service, clean and comfortable rooms with a resort vibe.

The Lafayette Hotel – Clean and spacious old heritage hotel with excellent service, great location and easy walking to shops and dining.

Check out all these top review sites in the San Diego through TripAdvisor here with current prices, availability and booking calendar.

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Things to do in Old Town San Diego
Things to do in Old Town San Diego
Things to do in Old Town San Diego

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