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Top 5 Things to Do in Old Town San Diego for Families

by: Welk Resorts | April 27, 2018

A trip to America’s Finest City would not be complete without visiting Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. It’s a place that locals and visitors alike enjoy spending quite a bit of time as it’s beautiful, historic, and full of interesting things to do. Old Town provides a step back in time, back to what San Diego was like for early settlers in the area. It also provides quite a few attractions for those who are not as interested in historic offerings.

Explore History

Museum in Old town San Diego

Photo by Ken Lund

Not only is Old Town San Diego viewed as the birthplace of San Diego, but it’s also considered by many to be California’s birthplace. This is because the first European settlement was established here in 1769. Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest from Spain, arrived then and founded Mission San Diego a few miles away. The area then started growing in population and stature throughout the 1800s before this place was recognized by the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1968. The history of San Diego from 1821–72 has been celebrated here ever since.

One of the more memorable things that you can do in Old Town San Diego is visit its historic buildings such as Mason Street School, the city’s first schoolhouse; Padrorena-Altamirano House, an adobe house that dates to 1869; Casa de Bandini, one that was built from 1827-29 and is now known as the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant; Casa de Estudillo, one constructed in 1827 and known as one of the area’s finest during that time period; and Casa de Carrillo, the city’s oldest house, which was built in 1817.

Enjoy the Cuisine

The Mexican influence on the area is very obvious in the eateries that are located in Old Town San Diego. Much of the food on offer here celebrates the influence of Mexico as well as Spain. Foods local to the area include avocados, beans, squash, peanuts, vanilla, and chocolate while Spanish explorers brought with them foods such as milk, cheese, beef, lamb, pork, wheat, and vinegar.

If you’re not interested in Mexican food, rest assured that tasty Italian, Creole, and Japanese food are amongst the other offerings that you can enjoy here. Some of the top places to eat in Old Town San Diego include Harney Sushi, Cafe Coyote, and Old Town Mexican Cafe.

Visit the Shops

Old Town San Diego is one of the most interesting places to go shopping in the greater San Diego area. The Whaley House Museum Shop provides an incredible variety of historic items to peruse and purchase. The building itself is interesting in its own right with classic architecture from the 1870s. For jewelry, the Covered Wagon has an impressive assortment of Native American pieces and Celebrity Gems & Jewelry also has some beautiful jewelry. Art enthusiasts should visit Bazaar del Mundo as the Mexican-inspired artwork on display here is amazing, as well as oil tablecloths, Talavera dishes, and hand-blown glassware. You can even buy ethnic cookbooks so that you can create your own tasty meals at home.

Other interesting places include Awesome Hot Sauce, Del Cobre and its copperware, Geppetto’s and its toys, Javier’s Handcrafts and its utilitarian items, Nibble Chocolate, Old Town Gift Company, and Treasures of Mexico and its artwork and hand-crafted items.

Learn in the Museums

History buffs will most likely be especially interested in Old Town San Diego’s museums. The Whaley House Museum is one of Southern California’s most popular, and many travel here from throughout the world. It used to be San Diego’s primary general store, courthouse and performance venue. It’s also known for being home to some ghosts.

The African Museum in Casa del Rey Moro provides a fascinating look at 6,000 years of African history, both related to that continent as well as the impact of the African diaspora as it spread throughout the world. The focus, at this museum, is on those with African-American, African-Mexican, and African-Spanish heritage.

Recreated schoolhouse in Old Town San Diego

A recreation of a historical school room. Photo by NBC San Diego

Sheriff’s Museum Old Town, which is located 100 feet from where San Diego’s first jail—made out of cobblestone—was located, offers an interesting look at the history of San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Exhibits and artifacts from the past 150 years are on display, including uniforms, handcuffs, badges, and guns as well as a patrol car, courtroom, and jail cell.

The Junipero Serra Museum offers a number of photos and exhibitions that provide visitors with a greater understanding of the history of San Diego. Some recent exhibits have celebrated San Diego’s Jewish community and Dr. Seuss, who settled down and lived the last several decades of his life in nearby La Jolla.

Attend Special Events

La Posada procession in Old Town San Diego

La Posada procession in Old Town San Diego. Photo by San Diego Tourism Authority

One of Old Town’s most popular events takes place here on most weekends: Old Town Harney Street Market. It’s the city’s largest artisan market with a variety of items such as paintings, pottery, glasswork, and photography are available for perusal and purchase. Cygnet Theatre provides a variety of productions throughout the year and is an attraction that regularly welcomes San Diegans looking to enjoy an evening of the performing arts.

Cinco de Mayo is always a fun time, and the 2018 celebration is the 35th annual and will include dozens of bands, lucha libre wrestling, Mercado, arts and crafts, dance performances, and an impressive display of lowriders. The 4th of July festivities are fun as well as Independence Day is celebrated in a frontier style. A parade is held on this day of celebration while crafts and activities are available as well.

Stagecoach Days in Old Town San Diego

Guests learn about local flora during Stagecoach Days. Photo by San Diego Union-Tribune

Stagecoach Days, which takes place on most or all Saturdays in July and August, celebrates the Old West and a different theme is celebrated every weekend, with past themes including, games, women, soldiers, trades, and wagons. Once Stagecoach days are over, the focus at Old Town turns to the Fall Festival. This event takes place in October and provides crafts and activities reminiscent of San Diego in the 1870s as well as pumpkin-carving demonstrations and musical entertainment. Halloween is also a great day to spend in Old Town with trick-or-treating opportunities and many of the shops adding extended hours on this evening.

The day after Halloween is Dia de los Muertos, which is also known as the Day of the Dead, an important holiday in Mexican and Latin American culture. During this time, life and death are both celebrated as families pay respects to those who have died. Arts and crafts, dancing, and face painting also take place.

Make Welk Your Base of Operations

Old Town San Diego is only the beginning of the history and culture the region has to offer. Make sure to book a stay at Welk Resorts San Diego so that you can start exploring everything that the city of San Diego, as well as San Diego County as a whole, has to offer.

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