Residents and visitors interested in San Diego’s history need look no further than Old Town San Diego, known as the birthplace of California after the first Spanish settlement on the U.S. West Coast was established in the late 1700s. Today, the 12-acre site nestled in the heart of the city recreates the setting of California life during the Mexican and early American periods from 1821-1872.
Old Town San Diego is a robust community consisting of four major parks: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, Old Town Victorian Heritage Park, a City of San Diego Whaley House Park and the city-owned Serra Museum and grounds. It also boasts colorful shops, early-California-style restaurants, a theater and the restored Cosmopolitan Hotel. Docents dressed in period attire provide tours of the many museums.
For a vibrant experience, head to Fiesta de Reyes, a flower-filled square inspired by 19th-century Mexican pueblo life. The pretty plaza boasts 19 specialty shops, ranging from one-of-kind art and jewelry pieces to garden decor, ethnic-inspired clothing, Mexican pottery and an amazing array of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) merchandise. Diverse succulents and native trees adorn the beautifully landscaped courtyard, which is also dotted with Mexican folk artwork and informative signage noting San Diego’s history as a cosmopolitan frontier. In the courtyard’s center, colorful Folklorico dancers and mariachi bands take center stage, performing daily for visitors who sometimes come just for the entertainment. The venue also features three distinct restaurants — Barra Barra Saloon, Case de Reyes, and Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant — for those wanting to complement their experience.
Just steps away is Diane Powers' Bazaar del Mundo Shops, a charming village marketplace overflowing with carefully selected fashions, accessories, folk art, colorful home accessories, artisan jewelry and crafts, handwoven textiles, and so much more. Many are one-of- a-kind collectibles. The Shops also feature an intimate courtyard where guests can read or relax by a sparkling fountain. Steps away, shoppers are invited to nibble on antojitos (appetizers), savor festive gourmet platters or linger over the legendary birdbath margaritas at the award-winning Casa Guadalajara Mexican restaurant.
With so much to learn and see in and around Old Town, including San Diego’s first one-room schoolhouse, newspaper, a Sheriff's Museum and the impressive Presidio Park, where Father Junipero Serra founded the first of California's Spanish missions in 1769, all who visit are sure to appreciate this memorable place.
For an easy way to reach Old Town, hop on the scenic north-south COASTER commuter train, serving eight stations between Oceanside and downtown San Diego (including a stop at Old Town Transit Center at 4005 Taylor St.), or the east-west SPRINTER hybrid rail, connecting Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido, serving 15 stations along the Highway 78 corridor. Visit GoNCTD.com for fares and schedules.