OLD TOWN HISTORIC STATE PARK
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park presents the opportunity to experience the history of early San Diego by providing a connection to the past.
Learn about life in the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872. Even today, life moves more slowly in this part of San Diego, where the hustle and bustle is balanced with history and fiestas. Visitors are offered a glimpse into yesteryear, as converging cultures transformed San Diego from a Mexican pueblo to an American settlement. San Diego became California’s first Spanish settlement when a mission and fort were established here in 1769. Later, it passed into the hands of the newly made Mexican government before gaining statehood in the United States after the Mexican-American War.
The core of restored original historic buildings from the interpretive period are complemented by reconstructed sites, along with early twentieth century buildings designed in the same mode. Five original adobe buildings are part of the historic park, which include museums, unique retail shops, and several restaurants. The Historic Plaza remains a special place for gatherings and historic activities. Visitors can also experience a working blacksmith shop, enjoy music, see or touch the park’s burros, and engage in activities that represent early San Diego.
Location and Directions
The park is located on San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street in San Diego, and is conveniently adjacent to the Old Town Transit Center, with Coaster, Trolley, and MTS Bus service.
Free Parking Lots near Old Town San Diego State Historic Park:
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RESTAURANTS IN OLD TOWN
Known for its authentic Mexican cuisine, Old Town’s dining is lively and vibrant. For traditional flavors and techniques in an upscale atmosphere, head to El Agave. This second-floor hacienda-style hideaway boasts a mind-blowing tequila collection and a menu specializing in upscale dishes that celebrate indigenous Mexican ingredients. Café Coyote enchants with its festive décor, massive margaritas, strolling mariachis and open-air atmosphere. You’ll also find authentic fare at Old Town Mexican Cafe y Cantina or any of the other local cantinas. Taste the expansive world of mezcals paired with Oaxacan bites at Tahona Bar. Explore even more of Tahona with reservations at Oculto 477, a neo-speakeasy bar adjacent to the iconic Campo Santo Cemetery graveyard.
Beyond the excellent Mexican cuisine, Harney Sushi offers creative Japanese dishes and sushi roll concoctions, such as the “Mike Check” roll featuring lobster, cilantro, garlic ponzu and wonton chips, as well as expertly prepared traditional nigiri.
SHOPPING IN OLD TOWN
Shopping in Old Town State Historic Park reflects the history of the 1800s and captures the essence of San Diego’s colorful past. A diverse selection of stores can be found in Old Town like Cousin’s Candy for fresh homemade taffy, Toby’s Candle Shop where you can make your own candles and the Johnson House specializing in millinery. Old Town Market Place, an open-air courtyard, is home to a variety of carts and shops that sell handcrafted trinkets, clothing and accessories traditional to the Mexican culture.
Nestled in the heart of Old Town State Historic Park, Bazaar del Mundo, a San Diego shopping and dining institution, is popular for food, folklore and fun. Translated as “marketplace of the world,” Bazaar del Mundo features award-winning restaurants and international shops with a dazzling array of ethnic clothing, jewelry, pottery, furnishings and many other treasures. Countless special events also make Bazaar del Mundo an attraction year-round.
Live mariachi performers can be seen every day in old town as well as seasonal and special event shows throughout the year. View the calendar of events for the Fiesta de Reyes stage in Old Town State Park for when the Ballet Folklórico dancers perform, a wonderful spectacle of Mexican heritage that’s not to be missed.
Current & Upcoming Exhibitions
One of the main reasons to visit the Old Town is that you can see the very first houses that formed the settlement of San Diego. Most of the houses have been rebuilt, but are still just as interesting. Admission is free to all the houses.
- Casa de Estudillo. The main building overlooking the Old Town square was the home of the Spanish aristocrat Antonio de Estudillo. Built in 1825, it became a refuge for women and children during the American occupation in 1846. Although the building is the original house, in 1887 the caretaker who managed it sold all the tiles, doors, and windows, so part of what we see today is the result of renovations made in 1910 by architect Hazel W. Waterman with funds from the Spreckels family. The rooms are furnished with period furniture and objects and overlook the inner courtyard.
- Robinson Rose House. The Visitor Center itself is a house museum. It is located in one of the oldest buildings in the city. Built in 1853, this house functioned as a court, an operating room, a prison, a school, a newsroom, a shop, and a private home. James Robinson, who built the house, was a member of the first Masonic Lodge in San Diego, and the symbols and curiosities related to the Freemasons fill the house with intrigue.
- James McCoy House. Behind the Visitor Center, slightly isolated from the rest of the village, is one of the best-preserved house museums. The James McCoy House dates back to 1869 and is the home of California’s first sheriff. It is not actually the original building; in fact, it is just a reconstruction. However, everything has been reproduced in great detail and you’ll also find volunteers in period clothing to entertain you during your visit.
- Casa Machado Silvas and Casa Machado y Stewart. Two of the oldest houses in Old Town were owned by the Machado family. The roofs have been rebuilt, but the walls are the original ones. The two houses have early 19th century furniture and some replicas. The Machado y Stewart House dates back to 1836, while the Machado Silvas House was built a few years later for Jose Manuel Machado’s daughter.
- Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant. The building that houses the Cosmopolitan Hotel dates back to 1827. This is the oldest hotel in San Diego. Over the years it has changed use several times, but has now returned to its original function. Although you may not be staying at this hotel, it is certainly one of the most interesting buildings to see outside.
- Wells Fargo Museum. The small but interesting museum revolves around an old stagecoach for transporting valuables and tells a piece of the history of the economic development in California during the 19th century.
- First San Diego Courthouse and Jail. The First San Diego Courthouse and Jail is a 1992 reconstruction of the original building.
- Whaley House. Apparently, this house is haunted. In fact, according to Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted, it’s the most haunted house in the United States. It was transformed into a museum in 1960, since then there have been many publications about paranormal phenomena within these walls.
- Casa de Wrightington. Built in 1840, this house that overlooks the square belonged to Thomas Wrightington and his wife, Juana. After his death in 1853, his widow lived in the house until 1890 and rented the house to Dr. George McKinstry Jr. for a long time. For thirty years, the doctor provided medical assistance to Native Americans with the help of Juana Wrightington, who spoke three languages and was able to interpret for him.
- Casa de San Diego. Dating back to 1830, it was originally a shop run by Richard Freeman and Allen Light, the first two African Americans to settle in Old Town. It is one of the houses that were reconstructed according to photos of the original one.
- Casa de Lopez. Juan Francisco Lopez, one of the first Spanish settlers in San Diego, built this house in 1835, then known as the Long House for its size. In 1846, it became the residence of Juan Matias Moreno, secretary to Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California. Since then it has been rebuilt and today it houses a restaurant.
- Mason Street School. Built in 1865, this was the first school in San Diego. It only has a single classroom and it is without doubt one of the most interesting buildings in Old Town.
Visit Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
4002 Wallace Street
San Diego, CA 92110
Visitor Center & Museums
10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Park Restrooms Open 10am-Dusk;
4090 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110