Discover San Diego’s history and heritage

Trek to Old Town San Diego during your free time and learn about the city’s birthplace and cultural roots.

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Aili Acone-Chavez/THE CHIMES

Aili Acone-Chavez/THE CHIMES

Marika Adamopoulos

Marika Adamopoulos

Aili Acone-Chavez/THE CHIMES

Jehn Kubiak, Writer

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Old Town sits in the heart of San Diego within Presidio Park and near Mission Bay. The city of San Diego had its roots in this area as a pueblo town built next to the San Diego Mission and the San Diego Presidio. Full of rich Mexican culture and history, Old Town has many historical museums that share San Diego’s pueblo heritage and the town’s overall history. Although many of these buildings were burned down in the Old Town fire of 1872, the reconstructions on some of these historically significant buildings is visible.

Museums

Marika Adamopoulos
The Colorado House is currently a history museum that features a Wells Fargo stagecoach, a panoramic painting of San Diego and telegraphs. | Aili Acone-Chavez/THE CHIMES

Old Town’s museums are related to early city history. Check out the William B. Kolender Sheriff’s Museum, which holds displays of various deputy weapons, a patrol car and motorcycle and a reconstructed jail cell and courtroom. The museum also provides information and pictures about deputies who served Old Town.

Venture to the Colorado House, an old hotel that was also the first office of the San Diego Herald. The building burnt down in 1872 and was reconstructed by Wells Fargo. The Colorado House is currently a history museum that features a Wells Fargo stagecoach, a panoramic painting of San Diego and telegraphs.

Other museums to check out include San Diego’s first school house, the Mason Street Schoolhouse, and the San Diego Union building, home to San Diego’s first newspaper. The Union was one of the two early papers that merged into San Diego’s current newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune. The Union Tribune restored the building which features models of the Union’s print room and editor’s office with reconstructed newspaper printing equipment, including the Washington hand press.

Travel & Living

Marika Adamopoulos
The Seeley Stable provided stagecoach service between San Diego and Los Angeles. | Aili Acone-Chavez/THE CHIMES

Visit the Seeley Stable, named after Albert Seeley, which provided stagecoach service between San Diego and Los Angeles. Various designs of stagecoaches and wagons fill the stable with displays describing their specific design, purpose and obstacles people faced during stagecoach travel. The stable has two stories. The upstairs floor has saddles, bridles and other items related to the vaqueros, cowboys who herded cattle and were important to the development of rancho life in San Diego. While you are in the area, be sure to check out the Black Hawk Livery and Blacksmith next door and see demonstrations of metal-making and woodworking.

In addition to museums, the area contains five original adobe buildings where pueblo residents lived including “La Casa de Estudillo,” also known as the “Estudillo Museum.” This adobe house was the town house of Lieutenant Jose Estudillo, commandant of the Presidio. The historic home includes servants quarters, work and storage rooms, living rooms and dining rooms. The rectangular shaped building also surrounds a nice courtyard. It also gained the name “Ramona’s Marriage Place” after Helen Hunt Jackson wrote about the building in the novel “Ramona,” and a bench in the center of the courtyard provides information about the book.

Tour the El Campo Santo cemetery and learn about the various people from different nationalities, including Spanish, American Mexican, European and Native people buried there.

Food & Shopping

Marika Adamopoulos
Old Town remains true to its culturally Mexican roots. | Aili Acone-Chavez/THE CHIMES

True to its cultural roots, Old Town provides a wide selection of Mexican restaurants. Try Cafe Coyote where you can watch the cooks make homemade tortillas as you eat. In addition, the town hosts other varieties of restaurants including Italian and Creole.

Old Town also offers a variety of shops. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Cousin’s Candy, which sells homemade fudge, chocolates and hand-pulled taffy in addition to an assortment of old-fashioned candy. The town offers a variety of souvenir shops, some of which incorporate its Mexican heritage. One of these shops is Tienda de Reyes, which sells Mexican arts and crafts as well as “Day of the Dead” merchandise.

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Discover San Diego’s history and heritage