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Old Town, San Diego – Top Things to See and Explore

Welcome to the heart and soul of San Diego’s rich history and vibrant culture – Old Town. Nestled amidst the modern city’s hustle and bustle, Old Town stands as a nostalgic portal to the past, where dirt road streets lead you on a journey through the early days of California.

This charming neighborhood is a living testament to the amalgamation of Spanish, Mexican, and American influences that have shaped the region. With its historic adobe buildings, authentic Mexican eateries, and immersive museums, Old Town invites you to step back in time and relive the stories of pioneers, traders, and settlers who laid the foundations for this captivating coastal metropolis.

In this blog post you’ll find over 55 photos we’ve taken during our own visits to San Diego’s Old Town, plus plenty itinerary ideas to plan your own visit. From first-time visitors, to lifetime locals, I guarantee there’s something new to discover in this travel guide. Plus plenty of pretty visuals for inspiration!

History of Old Town, San Diego

Old Town in San Diego holds a rich history that reflects the region’s diverse cultural heritage and its pivotal role in the early days of California. Established in 1769, it was the first permanent European settlement in what is now the state of California.

Initially a Spanish mission and presidio, Old Town later became the heart of San Diego as settlers, including Spanish, Mexican, and American populations, converged in the area. The Mexican period (1821-1848) brought significant changes, and Old Town was a bustling center for trade, commerce, and social interaction.

In 1848, following the Mexican-American War, California became part of the United States, and Old Town’s prominence began to wane as new areas of San Diego gained importance.

However, its historical significance persisted, and the preservation efforts in the early 20th century helped transform Old Town into a state historic park. Today, visitors can explore its adobe buildings, museums, and landmarks that showcase its past.

Modern Day Old Town, San Diego

Modern-day Old Town in San Diego seamlessly blends its rich history with contemporary life, creating a vibrant destination that appeals to both locals and tourists alike. The area’s historic significance is meticulously preserved through well-preserved adobe structures and informative museums that offer insight into its past.

However, the district has also evolved into a dynamic hub of activity, featuring an array of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options that cater to diverse tastes. Visitors can enjoy a fusion of cuisines, from traditional Mexican fare to innovative culinary creations, and explore an array of boutiques, galleries, and artisanal shops.

Festivals, live performances, and interactive exhibits add a modern twist to the area’s cultural charm, ensuring that Old Town remains a thriving and engaging place that honors its history while embracing the present.

Where to Eat in Old Town, San Diego

I’m going to start with the foodie options in Old Town because that is always our favorite part of visiting this particular area of the city. The Mexican food restaurants in Old Town are both authentic and world-class. I will make a bold claim and say that it’s probably some of the best Mexican food in all of California! Being that it’s located within 30 minutes from the Mexican border this is not a surprise.

Barra Barra Saloon

Situated at the northern edge of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, Barra Barra Saloon stands as a historical saloon that embodies the fusion of Mexican and American influences from the mid-1800s. This establishment offers patrons not only a glimpse into the past through its décor and offerings but also a unique culinary journey.

Beyond its role as a saloon, Barra Barra presents an immersive Old World Mexican dining escapade, serving up time-honored Mexican dishes crafted from recipes passed down through generations. Finally, Barra Barra Saloon is an integral component of the vibrant gathering spot Fiesta de Reyes.

Casa Guadalajara

Casa Guadalajara has been voted best Mexican food by The San Diego Union Tribune and USA Today. Need I say more!

A lively and vibrant entrance to Old Town San Diego, Casa Guadalajara has garnered enduring popularity for its exuberant decorations, lively Mariachi music, inviting patios, signature “Birdbath Margaritas,” and genuine Mexican culinary delights.

Menu items include prize-winning seafood delicacies like Ensenada Fish Tacos, Tequila Lime Shrimp, and dishes infused with the smoky zest of Chipotle Chile. The menu further boasts the delectable Salsa Quemada, alongside classic offerings such as Pipian Verde and Carne Asada Tampiqueña.

Placing a paramount focus on taste and quality, the house-made Cilantro Lime dressing, salsas, and sauces are crafted anew each day. Additionally, they extend an invitation to their patrons to witness the art of crafting the famous mouthwatering flour tortillas, served piping hot from the grill.

Since 1996, Cielito Lindo, the Mariachi ensemble, has been enchanting visitors at Casa Guadalajara, adding an unforgettable touch to birthdays and special gatherings. Join in the celebration and enjoy a fantastic fiesta.

Casa de Reyes

Featuring a menu of authentic Mexican comfort cuisine, Casa de Reyes calls you to its outdoor setting beneath the distinctive Carrizo arbor tree, conveniently positioned just a stone’s throw away from the Fiesta de Reyes stage. This is an ideal spot for a San Diego day of warm weather and sunshine.

Gather the entire family for a delectable experience of traditional Mexican flavors while relishing daily spectacles that span from spirited mariachi performances to immersive historical enactments and captivating traditional folklorico dances.

Indulge in conversations around the warm fire pit with friends, or simply unwind while soaking in the engaging entertainment gracing our open-air stage.

El Sueño

While many of the restaurants in San Diego’s Old Town are considered traditional and nostalgic of old Mexico, El Sueño is a much more modern and trendy venue. The decor is colorful jungle theme with Instagrammable details all throughout the restaurant. The outdoor patio space is especially inviting with twinkling lights, while the interior has colorful mood lighting and contemporary digs.

Notable menu items include crab empanadas, quesa birria tacos, elote, lobster tacos, Del mar burritos, enchiladas and ceviche. The cocktail drinks are fun with unexpected flavors.

Rose’s Tasting Room

Rose’s Tasting Room is located inside Fiesta de Reyes plaza. Being a San Diego native, the owner Julie is keen on championing her city, leading Rose’s to offer locally produced beer and wine. They actively source craft beer and boutique wine from fellow family-owned enterprises, emphasizing a sense of community. Their commitment extends to supporting items made within San Diego County whenever feasible, aligning with our dedication to promoting and celebrating local businesses.

During events such as San Diego Wine Week, they offer a customized flight of San Diego wines plus a souvenir wine glass!

Street Tacos!

Street Tacos! is a very cheap and casual dining option in Old Town. This counter serve style taco stand has 3 meat options for tacos. You order up at the window, and the take your tacos to go. They tend to only be open on busier days like the weekend. Locals love these tacos, and the prices too!

El Mercadito

Nestled within the Fiesta de Reyes plaza, El Mercadito is a bustling Mexican bakery and snack spot with a wide assortment of sweet and savory delights. Ranging from freshly baked pastries to traditional Mexican refreshments, El Mercadito caters to folks looking for authentic Mexican treats.

A notable attraction at El Mercadito is their assortment of freshly crafted Mexican pastries. From sweet churros to savory tamales, their baked creations are meticulously prepared using genuine Mexican recipes and ingredients. The pan dulce collection rotates consistently, promising new flavors with every visit.

Beyond pastries, El Mercadito boasts an expansive selection of Mexican snacks, encompassing options such as ice cream, chicharrónes, and tostitos. For those seeking a fresh beverage, they have Mexican agua frescas, mangoneada, and a colorful collection of Jarritos sodas.

Casa de Maria

Casa de Maria captures the essence of Mexican cuisine with its authentic flavors and Old Mexico ambiance. This restaurant has been one of the anchors of Old Town for many years.

The menu showcases a variety of traditional dishes, from savory tacos to zesty enchiladas, all crafted with a dedication to preserving the true taste of Mexico.

If you are a fan of margaritas, Case de Maria has a variety of colorful flavors. Patrons love their cucumber, mango and tajin, jalapeno and tajin, strawberry and mint margaritas. If you can’t decide on just one flavor, you can order a margarita flight!

Living Room Cafe & Bistro

If I am being honest, I only recommend the Living Room Cafe if you happen to get to Old Town early and need a morning coffee drink and light snack or breakfast food. They are one of the few places in Old Town that offer breakfast. If you’re looking for a good Mexican meal, this is not the place.

Historical Sights to See in Old Town, San Diego

Immerse yourself in history by exploring the remarkable historical sights of Old Town, San Diego. This doorway into the past invites you to step back in time and relive the moments that shaped the region.

Wander through the preserved adobe structures, such as the iconic Casa de Estudillo, where the echoes of early Californian life still resonate. Discover the Whaley House, often deemed one of the most haunted houses in America, and delve into the stories that have unfolded within its walls.

Stroll along the streets that once echoed with the footsteps of pioneers, and visit museums that chronicle the transformation of San Diego from a Mexican pueblo to a vibrant American city.

Old Town State Historic Park

Established in 1968, the Old Town State Historic Park serves as a preserved window into the birthplace of California. This area was the site of the first European settlement in California, founded by Spanish settlers in 1769. The park showcases a collection of original and reconstructed adobe buildings, illustrating life in the 19th century Mexican and early American periods.

Admission Prices to Enter Old Town in San Diego

Entry to the Old Town State Historic Park and its museums comes at no cost. In other words, visiting Old Town is free!

For a fee, visitors can enjoy a guided tour.

The museums are accessible from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, Monday through Friday, during the period of October to April.

McCoy House

Originally from Antrim, Ireland, Sheriff James McCoy of San Diego arrived in America in 1849, making his way to Old Town following his service in the U.S. Army with Magruder’s Battery. In his newfound home, McCoy donned various hats, serving as Sheriff, County Assessor, and eventually attaining the esteemed position of California State Senator in 1871.

Constructed in 1869, the McCoy House was a heartfelt present for his young wife, Winnifred Kearny. It graced the grounds of the original Kumeyaay village of Kosa’aay, standing as an embodiment of architectural opulence in contrast to the conventional dwellings of Old Town. The Greek Revival style, distinguished by its grandeur, showcased McCoy’s influential standing within the community. Painted in white, adorned with green shutters, and enclosed by a quintessential picket fence, the stately mansion presided over Old Town’s landscape until its eventual dismantlement in the early 20th century.

Rebuilt as a museum in 2000, the McCoy House offers a distinctive experience. Unlike conventional house museums, it boasts a parlor as its sole domestic representation. The remaining expanse of the museum unfolds as a chronological journey through various interpretive settings. Departing the parlor, visitors are transported to the village of Kosa’aay, then guided through the eras of the Mission and Rancho. A sudden shift immerses them in the world of a New England hide and tallow merchant ship, leading further to a 19th-century grog shop and an express office. The second story is a canvas for rotating exhibits, archaeological showcases, and meeting venues tailored for lectures.

La Casa de Machado y Stewart

La Casa de Machado y Stewart was erected around 1835 under the guidance of Juan Manuel Machado, a retired Presidio soldier who had journeyed to San Diego as part of the Leather Jacket Company in 1781, this unassuming adobe brick edifice commenced as a modest arrangement featuring two primary chambers: a living area known as the “sala” and a bedroom.

Following the raising of his sizable family within these walls, Machado handed down the home now known as La Casa de Machado y Stewart to his daughter Rosa upon her union with Jack Stewart. Stewart, a pilot boat operator hailing from Maine, held a unique connection to maritime history as a former shipmate of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. Notably, he played a pivotal role in the dramatic local trial of Yankee Jim Robinson, who faced conviction for attempted grand larceny related to his endeavor to commandeer the Plutus, Stewart’s very own pilot boat. Stewart’s involvement in the trial, where he served as a juror, culminated in Yankee Jim’s capital sentence and subsequent hanging at the location that would later accommodate the Whaley House.

Within these walls, Jack and Rosa Machado y Stewart raised a family of eleven children, prompting structural enhancements such as room additions, the introduction of multi-paned windows, and the application of whitewash to the walls. The residence remained in the stewardship of the Machado y Stewart lineage until Carmen Stewart Meza, the final family resident, inhabited the space for a half-century until 1966, when a flood forced her departure. Subsequently acquired by California State Parks, the house underwent restoration to recapture its original semblance in 1973.

La Casa de Machado y Stewart is now a public museum with free admission. The inside of the house has been restored and furnished to reflect the real-living scenario from the historical residents.

La Casa de Estudillo

The construction of La Casa de Estudillo took place in 1827, commissioned for the residence of Presidio Comandante José María de Estudillo and his family. This structure stands as the oldest example of a customary one-story Spanish-Mexican adobe townhouse within San Diego County.

Designed in a U-shaped configuration enveloping a central courtyard, the original layout comprised thirteen chambers linked by an exterior veranda encircling the courtyard itself. This open space hosted fruit-bearing trees, a kitchen garden, a well, and an adobe oven known as an “horno,” as much of the culinary and household activities occurred in the outdoors.

The adobe walls, in some regions, reached a formidable thickness of three to five feet, all adorned with a safeguarding layer of lime whitewash. An exceptional original attribute of the house was a circular cupola situated atop the central apex. This cupola served as a vantage point for family and friends to partake in the spectacle of bullfights and rodeos occurring in the plaza below.

Over generations, the Estudillo family continued their lineage within these walls, extending their care to numerous orphans adopted by Señora Estudillo. Beyond being a living quarters, the dwelling emerged as a communal hub, undertaking multifarious roles including that of a residence, post office, municipal assembly hall for meetings, festivities, and “fandangos.” Additionally, on Sundays, it transformed into the community’s chapel until the establishment of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in 1858.

Incorporated into the California State Park system in 1968, La Casa de Estudillo has been open as a museum for close to six decades. Ongoing endeavors to restore the dwelling to its authentic form are always in progress.

La Casa de Machado y Silvas

One of the original five historical buildings within the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, this rectangular adobe situated by the plaza was erected during the early 1840s by a pioneer of Old Town’s earliest days.

Born around 1756, likely in Sonora, Mexico, José Manuel Machado arrived at San Diego in 1781, serving as a corporal in the Leather Jacket Company stationed at the Presidio. La Casa de Machado y Silvas was bestowed as a matrimonial gift to his daughter, María Antonia, and her spouse, José Antonio Nicasio Silvas. The unassuming whitewashed construction comprised four rooms, featuring three entrances facing the plaza and a requisite kitchen garden tucked behind the structure.

In 1846, María Antonia dashed from this very abode to the plaza, where she lowered the Mexican flag from the flagpole. Safeguarding it from the new American occupation, she secreted the flag within her home.

As the 1850s dawned, María Antonia established and managed the Commercial Restaurant within these walls, retaining ownership until the 1930s. Subsequently, the building transformed into a boarding house and later a saloon. It then found purpose as the Machado Memorial Chapel before undergoing restoration by California State Parks in 1975, eventually reopening La Casa de Machado y Silvas as a museum. Presently, the museum showcases the legacy of María Antonia’s Commercial Restaurant.

First San Diego Courthouse

Initially built as a municipal assembly hall, the First San Diego Courthouse brick edifice held the distinction of being San Diego’s inaugural fired-brick structure. Its construction was undertaken by the Mormon Battalion, whose contributions to the town extended beyond the battlefield. They spearheaded numerous enhancements, including brick-lined wells and the establishment of pathways.

Regrettably, the structure fell victim to the conflagration of 1872. However, in 1992, California State Parks orchestrated its reconstruction.

Old Town Jail

Right outside the First San Diego Courthouse, you’ll find the old jail. The dimensions and structure of this iron jail cell replicate the original courthouse jail of 1850. Violate the law, and this could be your new home!

Mason Street Schoolhouse

The significance of the Mason Street Schoolhouse is monumental, as it holds the distinction of being San Diego’s first public school. Its mere existence was a groundbreaking opportunity for education, previously inaccessible to the population of the city. Education held transformative potential, offering individuals the means to secure better employment prospects and enhance their quality of life for both themselves and their families. Acting as an educational nucleus, the Mason Street Schoolhouse fulfilled this role until 1872.

With the initiation of another school’s construction in 1872, the Mason Street Schoolhouse ceased operations. Its structure was dismantled and reassembled at a different location, where it embraced new roles such as a family residence, and later, a tamale restaurant that continued until 1952.

The San Diego County Historical Days Association (SDCHDA) took possession of the building in 1952, preventing further deterioration and leading restoration efforts. Relocated to its present spot within the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the structure was revitalized to mirror the appearance of a typical one-room schoolhouse from its era.

In 2013, ownership of the building was transferred from SDCHDA to the State of California, ultimately attaining the esteemed status of a California State Landmark. Continuously fulfilling its educational purpose, the original schoolhouse remains a beacon of learning well into the twenty-first century, offering students from across San Diego County a glimpse into the nineteenth-century classroom experience.

Seeley Stable

The Seeley Stable played a crucial role in accommodating horses and housing stagecoaches. Not only did Seeley’s Stable provide carriage repair and preparation services, but it also offered storage, boarding, and rental options for horses and mules. During the era when horse-drawn conveyance was essential, the stable stood as a cornerstone of the town’s commerce.

The initial Seeley Stable, constructed around 1869, was dismantled in 1920. In 1974, the stables were painstakingly reconstructed, employing the very same wood that adorned the original structure.

Within the stables’ confines, an impressive assortment of 19th-century overland transportation equipment and vehicles is on display, featuring notable inclusions such as an ox-drawn carreta and a mud wagon. The collection boasts a Concord stagecoach and a sizable two-wagon freighter. Many of these authentic wagons and carriages were generously donated to California State Parks by Roscoe E. Hazard, a former rancher and retired highway contractor. The narratives behind these wagons, accompanied by historical anecdotes, are brought to life through informative signs and captivating exhibitions within the stables.

A visit to the Seeley Stable museum will grant you insight into the functioning of stables in the past and their pivotal role in daily existence. This museum experience comes at no cost and spans two floors, occupying the historic premises of the former Seeley Stable.

The first level predominantly showcases an array of wagons and coaches from diverse decades. Meanwhile, the second level offers a glimpse into stable life, featuring items associated with cowboys of the era and valuable artifacts from Native American history.

Plaza De Las Armas

Find the heart of Old Town in La Plaza de Las Armas. Surrounded by preserved historical buildings, this plaza stands as a large gathering place. Shaded by lush trees and framed by the remnants of adobe walls, the plaza invites visitors to step into a different time. It was here that the town’s lifeblood coursed through in the form of bustling markets, lively gatherings, and vibrant celebrations. This plaza evolved into the central town square, hosting horse races and bullfighting spectacles. Presently, you can still sense the vibrant vitality that once animated this very square.

If you are new to Old Town and are trying to figure out where to begin exploring, Plaza De Las Armas is a great starting point. It gives a visual layout of the park and allows you to preview several museums, shops and restaurants.

Covered Wagon

The Covered Wagon is a fun novelty photo spot within the nostalgic setting of Old Town San Diego. With its rustic charm and old world vibes, the wagon instantly transports visitors to a bygone era of pioneering spirit and exploration. The weathered wood on the wagon evoke the spirit of the American frontier, making it a picturesque backdrop for photos that tell a story of adventure and history.

You can find this wagon permanently parked in the Plaza De Las Armas, in front of the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Blacksmith Shop

A testament to the indispensable role of blacksmithing in shaping frontier life, the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town tells a story of resourcefulness and innovation. From forging essential tools for everyday life to creating larger industrial items, the blacksmith’s skilled hands were instrumental in building the foundations of the past. Today, this historical gem stands as a living exhibit, offering visitors a chance to witness the artistry of the blacksmith firsthand and gain a deeper appreciation for the dedication that defined an era.

I will also include that the large cactus garden outside the Blacksmith Shop is a another great photo location, especially if you like whimsical bohemian vibes.

Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant

A handsome relic of the past, the Cosmopolitan Hotel ranks among the most oldest structures in San Diego County. Built in 1829, this establishment formerly served as the residence of Juan Bandini and his family, esteemed figures among San Diego’s inaugural settlers and colonizers.

Juan Bandini, a skilled artisan, not only envisioned but also brought to life his own abode. Notably, it reigned as the city’s largest dwelling during its era. His foremost objective centered on ensuring comfort for his wife and two daughters. Undoubtedly, he succeeded, as the dwelling boasted seven bedrooms, an inviting entrance hall, a sheltered courtyard, a corral, and a variety of sheds and barns.

Upon the Seely family’s acquisition, the dwelling transformed into a hospitable haven for weary travelers seeking rest and amusement. Primarily, those lodging at the Cosmopolitan Hotel during the 1870s were passengers journeying on Seeley’s stagecoaches to and from Los Angeles.

A focal point of the hotel was its majestic second-story balcony, enveloping the building. In time, one of Bandini’s grandsons converted it into a lodging and dining establishment. Evolving into an upscale hotel in the 1950s, the establishment coincided with Old Town’s official renaming as Old Town Historic Park in the 1960s.

End of the Kearney Trail

The Southern Emigrant Trail, referred to as the Gila Trail, the Kearny Trail, and the Butterfield Stage Trail, emerged as a vital overland conduit for migrants journeying from the eastern United States to California during the fervor of the California Gold Rush. This trail traced a path akin to the Santa Fe Trail, leading to New Mexico. Diverging from its northern counterparts, this route allowed pioneer wagons to traverse it year-round, escaping the hindrance of snow-covered mountain passes. However, the trail’s drawback lay in the scorching summer temperatures and dearth of water across the arid landscapes of New Mexico Territory and the California Colorado Desert. Consequently, it evolved into a thoroughfare for travel and commerce connecting the eastern United States to California.

In the center of the grassy knoll inside Plaza De Las Armas, there’s a very large stone with a plaque indicating the exact spot where the Kearney Trail ends.

Whaley House Museum and Hauntings

Starting on May 6, 1856, Thomas Whaley embarked on the construction of his upcoming residence, confidently stating, “My forthcoming abode, once finished, will stand as the most exquisite, comfortable, and well-situated dwelling in town or within a radius of 150 miles.”

Designed by Thomas Whaley himself, the two-story Greek Revival Whaley House dwelling was fashioned from bricks sourced from Whaley’s very own brickyard on Conde Street. Adorned with opulent mahogany and rosewood furnishings, adorned with Brussels carpets, and demanding a price tag exceeding $10,000 upon its completion, the Whaley House garnered widespread acclaim as a groundbreaking achievement, setting a new standard and becoming the premier home in Southern California.

The Whaley House, renowned for its historical significance, also carries an enduring reputation for being haunted. The spectral tales that surround the house have captured the imagination of many visitors and enthusiasts of the paranormal. Over the years, numerous accounts of ghostly apparitions, unexplained sounds, and mysterious occurrences have fueled the belief that the spirits of past inhabitants linger within its walls.

Heritage Park Victorian Village

Heritage Park Victorian Village in San Diego is a historic park and open-air museum that showcases a collection of well-preserved Victorian-era homes and buildings. Situated near Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, Heritage Park spans almost eight acres and is designed to preserve and display San Diego’s historic Victorian architecture.

The park features a variety of Victorian architectural styles, including Italianate, Stick-Eastlake, Queen Anne, and classic revival. These buildings were relocated from their original locations throughout the city to Heritage Park in order to protect and showcase their historical significance. The relocation effort was a collaborative project involving San Diego County and the Save Our Heritage Organisation.

Heritage Park is open to the public and provides a glimpse into San Diego’s past through its carefully restored and furnished Victorian buildings. While most of the homes are not accessible, visitors can explore the exteriors and gardens of these beautifully restored structures. Some of the buildings are open for special events or house shops, such as a tea shop.

Overall, Heritage Park Victorian Village offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the architectural and cultural heritage of San Diego’s Victorian era.

Presidio Park

Presidio Park offers a remarkable opportunity to retrace the steps of California’s early European pioneers. This destination marks the very spot where Gaspar de Portola and Junipero Serra established the San Diego Presidio and the Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769.

These foundational structures, the fort and the church, together with the bustling community that took root around them, embody the inaugural European settlement in what is now California. While the mission later relocated inland, the fort stood as the capital of Baja California during Mexico’s rule over the region.

Perched atop a hill overlooking Old Town San Diego, the Presidio Park encompasses 40 acres of lush green spaces, inviting picnic spots, and memorials, all affording breathtaking vistas of the encompassing landscape, including the San Diego River Valley and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site

The Mormon Battalion Center narrates the compelling tale of the 1846 Latter-day Saint volunteer army regiment. This immersive experience encompasses an interactive video tour, showcases historical artifacts, and offers engaging demonstrations on activities like gold panning and brickmaking.

Formed in 1846, the Mormon Battalion comprised around 500 members of the Latter-day Saints community who voluntarily enlisted in the United States Army. This decision was made during the Mexican-American War as a means to offer financial assistance to their families and fellow Mormon pioneers.

Operating under the command of military officers from July 1846 to July 1847, the Mormon Battalion undertook an arduous journey spanning almost 2,000 miles across the southwestern region of the United States. Although the battalion was not involved in any military conflicts, the grueling trek resulted in the loss of 20 members.

The soldiers of the Mormon Battalion left an indelible mark on the westward expansion of America. As they progressed, they enhanced trails, contributed to the construction of Fort Moore in Los Angeles, and participated in the building of Sutter’s Mill. This very mill became the site where the discovery of gold occurred, a pivotal event that triggered a significant migration of people to the West Coast. Following their service, most members of the battalion reunited with their families and associates either in the Salt Lake Valley or in regions such as Iowa and Nebraska.

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Old Town in San Diego

Arriving on November 12, 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno anchored three ships in the vicinity of present-day Old Town. Bestowing the name San Diego de Alcala upon the area, he enlisted Carmelite Fathers to conduct the inaugural mass in California. This pivotal moment unfolded near the location of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. The Old Adobe Church, erected in 1858, preceded the current edifice, which was unveiled in 1917.

In the heart of Old Town, Saint Junípero Serra conducted his inaugural Holy Mass in California on July 2, 1769, close to the present location of the Immaculate Conception Church. Moreover, it was atop the hill that overlooks Old Town where he established the cross, signifying the spot of the Mission and the Presidio.

Shopping in Old Town, San Diego

Shopping in Old Town, San Diego, offers a captivating journey through time and culture. This historic district, known for its vibrant atmosphere, presents an array of unique boutiques, artisan shops, and specialty stores.

Strolling along its charming streets, visitors are treated to a diverse selection of goods, from locally crafted artworks and handcrafted jewelry to Mexican imports and traditional souvenirs.

The bustling marketplace captures the essence of the region’s rich heritage, with shops offering intricate pottery, colorful textiles, leather goods, and intricate handicrafts that pay homage to the area’s Mexican and Spanish influences.

Cousin’s Candy Shops

Experience quality and delectable sweetness at Cousin’s Candy Shop, all within a historical setting that transports you to the enchanting era of the mid-1800s. Their renowned salt water taffy stands as a testament to excellence, crafted daily in generous batches, with each piece lovingly wrapped by our devoted artisans.

As a delightful complement, their creamy fudge hits the spot when chocolate cravings hit. Immerse yourself in an array of licorices, ranging from nostalgic childhood favorites to an expansive collection of sugar-free options.

Discover an abundance of delights, including Jelly Belly beans, huckleberry jams and candies, and an assortment of chocolates. Whatever your craving, rest assured, they have it all!

El Centro Artesano

At El Centro Artesano you can step into an outdoor courtyard adorned with traditionally hand-painted Mexican pots, accompanied by classic terracotta pots, sunfaces, and charming figurines – all perfect for adorning your home and garden.

Wander through the expansive indoor gift shop, where a diverse collection of merchandise from around the world awaits. I especially love to find embroidered styles of clothing and home textiles. Immerse yourself in a truly exceptional shopping journey that promises something distinct and captivating for every visitor.

Old Town Market

Nestled within the charming Old Town Historic State Park, the Old Town Market offers a delightful retail excursion in Old Town San Diego. The enchanting premises comprise three historic edifices from the mid-1800s: a Convent, a Carriage house, and the Casa De Aguirre. Moreover, the Casa De Aguirre houses a captivating small museum awaiting your exploration.

Shops inside Old Town Market include:

  • Blanket Supply – Selling Mexican-made textiles
  • Best Of Old Town – Handcrafted items from Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala
  • Bonita Blanket – Mexican textiles
  • Casa De Corazon – Handcrafted Milagros “Sacred Hearts” and Crosses that represent love, healing and gratitude from San Miguel De Allende
  • Gourde Art – Peruvian gourde artists
  • Hint of Heritage – Native and Indigenous items
  • La Paloma Casual – Old Town souvenir shop
  • La Sirena Silver – Collection of sterling silver and turquoise jewelry
  • Love My Pet, Old Town Gifts – Pet supply store
  • MI CASA es MI CASA – Mexican party store
  • San Diego Art – Sea shells, shell novelties and shell artwork
  • Shai Enterprises – Hat store

Miner’s Gems and Minerals

Miner’s Gems and Minerals‘s team is ready to support all your geological queries. As a 3rd generation, family-owned, and operated rock and fossil emporium, they proudly originated in 1978 within the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

Distinguished as the preeminent gem and mineral establishment in Southern California, their team boasts extensive expertise in gemology, mineralogy, and paleontology. Your journey into the world of rocks and fossils begins in their shop.

At Miner’s Gems & Minerals, their mission revolves around offering a space where visitors can procure terrestrial treasures that span both local and global origins. Equally significant, they are committed to imparting comprehensive education about various facets of Earth science, encompassing geology, mineralogy, gemology, paleontology, lapidary arts, and mining methodologies.

Their expertise extends to enlightening visitors about the remarkable exploration of our region, including the renowned California Gold Rush, the lesser-known San Diego Gold Rush, and the legendary tourmaline deposits within our county.

La Paloma Old Town

La Paloma stands as Old Town’s foremost destination for all things souvenir in a Mexican-American theme. With vibrant colors and festivity, this expansive store spans over 3000 square feet and offers an array of resort wear, travel essentials, and fashionable attire for ladies.

It’s also a treasure trove for local art and cultural crafts. Look no further than La Paloma Casual for Old Town’s most extensive collection of tee shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies available in both adult and children’s sizes, all at reasonable prices with fun designs.

Additionally, the store boasts an extensive showcase of San Diego magnets, shot glasses, keychains, novelty socks, and much more.

Tinsmith Old Town San Diego

Tinsmith specializes in curating and selling tin products made by artisans in Mexico. This illuminating boutique sells a large collection of meticulously handcrafted tinware, ranging from timeless Mexican candle holders and lanterns to contemporary home decor pieces like wall art and picture frames.

Upon entering the establishment, patrons are greeted by a burst of colors and intricate designs adorning the tinware. The most popular and notable products are the petalo tin star chandeliers that are lit up and hanging from the ceiling. When you walk into the boutique, there’s sparkles and twinkles everywhere.

The owners of Tinsmith have a profound admiration for the traditional artistry of Mexican tin craftsmanship. They’ve fostered collaborations with skilled artisans across various Mexican regions, channeling their creations into the store’s shelves. The selection process is marked by a meticulous eye for high-quality and ethically-sourced products, meticulously fashioned through techniques passed down through generations.

The shop is thoughtfully organized by product type, simplifying the search for desired items. Each piece is unique, and the staff is enthusiastic about sharing insights into the historical and cultural significance of each creation.

From traditional Mexican tin ornaments and candle holders to contemporary home accents like wall art and picture frames, the selection caters to diverse tastes. The boutique further showcases an assortment of tin jewelry, including bracelets and earrings.

Rust General Store

Rust General Store embodies the essence of a 1860s-inspired emporium. The curated collection pays homage to the history and cultural milieu of the individuals inhabiting San Diego and the locales engaging in trade with the city during the transformative American period spanning from 1846 to 1872.

While the theme may be old timey, the Rust General Store products sold are actually very new, modern and trendy. They are mostly giftable items made by small artisan crafters. You can find personal care products like soaps, small-batch foods, candies and chocolate, books, decor and much more.

Old Town House of Jerky & Root Beer

For all aficionados of fun and unique snacks, look no further than Old Town Jerky & Root Beer. This munchie haven presents an unparalleled assortment of unique jerky options, coupled with a large collection of over 50 Root Beer brands and other nostalgic sodas. Quench your thirst and satisfy snack cravings with an abundance of choices!

Their knowledgeable and welcoming staff is poised to craft a custom Root Beer float for you and your companion. And here’s a treat, the floats always come with a Buy One Get One FREE offer.

Their reputation for extraordinary jerky precedes them. Feel free to request samples from the most popular flavors. With a selection spanning over 100 varieties, from Elk to Alligator for the daring souls, and classic Turkey Jerky, Beef, and Bacon for more conservative palates, there’s something for every taste.

They’re confident you won’t leave without discovering a new favorite. Make a visit to Old Town Jerky and Root Beer not only a tradition, but stock up on snacks for your trip.

Javier’s Handcrafts

Javier’s Handcrafts pays homage to Mexico by offering an array of meticulously crafted home and decor pieces. A great shopping spot for those seeking to infuse a hint of Mexican essence into their home or office. You can find Day of the Dead skulls, painted pottery and so much more. Javier’s Handcrafted goods also make excellent gifts.

Temecula Olive Oil Company

In the heart of Temecula Valley, The Temecula Olive Oil Company stands as a testament to the artistry of producing exquisite olive-based goods. Going back to 2001, this family-owned establishment has mastered the craft of cultivating and pressing olives to craft premium, high-quality olive oils.

Their commitment to sustainable and organic practices not only ensures the exceptional taste and purity of their products but also reflects their dedication to environmental stewardship.

Beyond their renowned olive oils, The Temecula Olive Oil Company offers an array of gourmet treats, from infused oils to balsamic vinegars, all contributing to their reputation as a cherished destination for those seeking exceptional culinary delights.

The Temecula Olive Oil Company has an olive oil tasting room in Old Town where you can sample and shop their olive oils. Their onsite staff is very knowledgeable and open to educating the public about their products. This is a great place for foodies to gain some insider info!

Geppetto’s Toys

Geppetto’s Toys has been a long-standing San Diego mom-and-pop toy chain, with their first toy shop location opening up in Old Town over 40 years ago. You can find them inside the Fiesta de Reyes shopping plaza.

Geppetto’s specialize it high quality crafted toys that help spark the imagination of children. Their selection of toys and activities includes puzzles and games, musical instruments, dress-up and pretend to outdoor play. This is a great place to shop for Christmas presents for the little ones in your life, or have your kids pick out an activity for vacation.

Casa De Corazon

Casa De Corazon is a small boutique that specializes in handcrafted Milagros “Sacred Hearts” and crosses. These symbols are a very iconic part of Mexican culture, and they are also very pretty to look at. They come painted in vibrant color combinations and make for great statement pieces in your home decor.

Kosay Kumeyaay Market

The Kosay Kumeyaay Market pays homage to the native tribe that originally lived on the land where Old Town stands today. Upon the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the Kumeyaay guided them to this settlement. Recognizing the Spaniards’ profound exhaustion and malnourishment, the Kumeyaay generously gave them with sustenance and refuge, facilitating their recovery. The Spanish denoted the village as Cosoy, an adaptation of the native term Kosa’aay. Remarkably, if you venture up the nearby hill to Presidio Park, you’ll find a street named Cosay Way.

Adjacent to the Kosay Kumeyaay Market stands an e’waa, a traditional shelter crafted from willow and tule, as depicted in their logo.

Within the moderately sized market, a variety of traditional handmade products from local Kumeyaay bands are on offer for purchase. These encompass customary baskets, jewelry, pottery, attire, dolls, paintings, and more. It’s advisable to return regularly, as the assortment will consistently undergo changes.

Martha Rodriguez established this market as a means to honor the Kumeyaay and other Yuman communities residing in the area. Apart from managing the market, Martha also imparts teachings on basketry, pottery, and culinary traditions at Kumeyaay Community College. In doing so, she carries forward her family’s heritage and the wisdom of the Kumeyaay people to forthcoming generations.


MI CASA es MI CASA is a Mexican-themed party, celebration and souvenir store. Discover all you need for your festive gathering with friends and family. From sombreros and serape ponchos to maracas, piñatas, Mexican cut-out banners (papel picado), candies, hot sauces, and margarita glasses.

MI CASA es MI CASA has an extensive collection of handmade talavera ceramics for decoration and serving is sure to inspire your next fiesta. Rejuvenate your guests with authentic Mexican beverages, including Mexican Coca-Cola and Jarritos fruit sodas.

Tours and Shows in Old Town

Immerse yourself in the vibrant history and captivating culture of Old Town San Diego through engaging tours and captivating shows. Having a tour guide provides insightful historical context and local anecdotes, enhancing your exploration with a deeper understanding of the area’s significance. Plus, local tour guides can often show you hidden corners and secret gems not known by the public.

Cygnet Theatre

Since being founded in 2003, Cygnet Theatre has expanded to become one of San Diego’s premier theater companies, renowned for its year-round presentation of daring, captivating, and intellectually stimulating professional live performances.

By 2008, Cygnet had relocated to the 246-seat Old Town Theatre within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This move enabled Cygnet to engage with an annual audience of over 40,000 individuals, steadfastly dedicated to showcasing diverse perspectives on stage.

Their high-quality production shows include a mix of from the classics, to original premieres to Broadway-style musicals.

Old Town Trolley Tours

If you are visiting San Diego and you do not have a car rental, I suggest exploring the option of the Hop On Hop Off San Diego Tours. This bus tour will take you to many popular tourist destinations in San Diego, which includes Old Town. If you have several spots around the city that you’d like to see, this tour can save you money by avoiding many expensive ride sharing apps.

The History of Haunted Old Town

With its cobblestone streets, preserved historic buildings, and tales passed down through generations, Old Town exudes an eerie ambiance that has captivated locals and visitors alike. The history of this haunting locale is intertwined with the narratives of its early settlers, Spanish missionaries, and Native American communities.

Whether it’s the chilling tales of the Whaley House, the ethereal presence at the El Campo Santo Cemetery, or the inexplicable occurrences within the historic buildings, the history of Haunted Old Town beckons the daring to delve into the realms of the unknown and the unexplained.

Ghosts & Gravestones Tour San Diego

Join us on the Ghosts & Gravestones Tour onboard the Trolley of the Doomed for an unforgettable spooky journey.

Embark on an expedition through Old Town, meandering through the eerie El Campo Santo Cemetery before culminating at the Whaley House – two locations notorious for their numerous accounts of supernatural phenomena.

Renowned as the United States’ most haunted house, according to the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted, the Whaley House harbors a rich history of unexplained occurrences. While we refrain from definitively asserting its haunted nature, the substantial record of paranormal events at this site presents a compelling argument. And if indeed spirits inhabit the Whaley House, questions arise like who are these entities, and what draws them to this place? Get possible answers from the experienced tour guide.

This tour encompasses an exploration of the exterior of the Whaley House and its surrounding grounds.

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