Visit Old Town San Diego, the birthplace of California.
Old Town has a festive atmosphere, with a dozen restaurants, shops and entertainment, in an authentic, Spanish-style setting.
It's located 3.5 miles northwest of downtown San Diego, at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
It's easy to forget that you're actually walking through an open-air museum, with many of the original adobes, plazas and 19th century buildings still intact. Step inside these buildings to get a glimpse of San Diego's earliest days.
Old Town is California’s birthplace, and the site of the first permanent European settlement in California by the Spanish.
In 1769 the Spanish staked their claim over the new territory of Alta-California by constructing a mission on Presidio Hill overlooking Old Town. It was the the first of 21 missions established by the Spanish in California. They were later ousted by the Mexicans in the 1821 Mexican War of Independence. Mexico then lost Alta-California to the United States after the 1848 war.
10 best things to do in Old Town San Diego
1. Enjoy the festive atmosphere at Casa de Reyes Restaurant.
One of the best places to soak up this festive atmosphere is Casa de Reyes restaurant. It has an enchanting outdoor setting overlooking the Fiesta de Reyes Plaza. Enjoy authentic Mexican food and a refreshing margarita.
2. Browse shops and watch mariachi bands at the lively Fiesta de Reyes Plaza.
The Fiesta de Reyes Plaza has interesting shops with Mexican folk art, hand hammered copper artwork, and hand painted ceramics. Watch mariachi bands and folklorico dancers perform at the Plaza Stage.
3. Explore museums and historic buildings at the Plaza de Las Armas.
The Plaza de Las Armas is the center of Old Town. It has plenty of historic buildings and museums to explore.
4. Visit five original Spanish Adobes.
Explore five original adobes around the Plaza de Las Armas. These were constructed between the 1820’s to 1840’s when Old Town was under Spanish rule.
Three of these adobes are authentically restored as FREE museums with living quarters to explore, and two are a gem shop and the Cosmopolitan Hotel Restaurant.
Casa de Pedrorena was constructed in 1869, the final adobe constructed in Old Town. It's now a mineral and gem shop, and a fun place to pan for gold!
Casa de Aguirre is an adobe constructed in 1853, and is now a museum.
5. Tour 19th century Colonial Buildings.
Explore 19th century wood framed, colonial buildings in Old Town, from when Alta California became part of the United States after the 1848 war.
These buildings now house FREE museums, including a schoolhouse, newspaper, sheriff, stables, stagecoach stop, and blacksmith.
6. Visit the McCoy House Museum.
The McCoy House is FREE to visit. It was built in 1869 by an early Irish immigrant and prominent San Diego politician.
7. Step inside the haunted Whaley House.
The greek revival Whaley House was built in 1857. Purchase a ticket to see it’s beautifully restored interior. It’s supposedly haunted!
Whaley House Museum.
Whaley House Museum
Whaley House Museum
Whaley House Museum Shop.
8. Load up on maps at the Visitor Information Center.
If you want to learn more about Old Town’s history, pick up a map or book a walking tour at the Robinson-Rose Visitor Information Center. It's at the Plaza de Las Armas.
9. Drive up the hill to the breathtaking Junipero Serra Museum.
Drive up to nearby Presidio Hill to visit the first of 21 missions established by the Spanish franciscans in California. This stunning mission was constructed in 1769, then relocated six miles east in 1774 to the Mission San Diego de Alcala. It’s FREE to visit and now houses the Junipero Serra Museum (2727 Presidio Dr).
10. See original Victorian homes at Heritage Park Row.
Just 3 blocks south of Old Town, visit a street with some of San Diego's most stunning Victorian Homes. There's a tiny museum in one of the homes. The Coral Tree Tea House is in another.
Know before you go
- Location: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (3.5 miles NW of downtown).
- Parking: free parking lots.
- Restaurants: Casa de Reyes, Barra Barra, Cosmopolitan Hotel Restaurant.
- Museums: Whaley House, McCoy House, Junipero Serra Museum, and a schoolhouse, newspaper, sheriff, stables, stagecoach stop, and blacksmith, and five original Spanish adobes.