Old Town San Diego

Enjoy the quiet moments around Old Town San Diego. Perfect for getting out of the crowds while visiting historic sites, museums and experiencing local Mexican heritage. Consider walking to the many sidewalk cafés, shopping or strolling around the scenic parks. Come enjoy some one-on-one time with your loved ones!
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Old Town San Diego
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Experience True Mexican Heritage in Old Town San Diego

Dia De Los Muertos Face Painting in Old TownThe Whaley House Used to Be the General Store in Old Town San Diego

Old Town is the place that started it all, which is a claim very few towns throughout the United States can make.

Way back in 1769, this area of San Diego was home to California's very first Spanish settlement. Father Junipero Serra established the state's first mission, which then went on to span 21 more. These developments are considered the beginning of California’s colonization.

With its inauspicious beginnings consisting of a single mission and fort, Old Town has since evolved into a quaint little town that has much to offer residents as it does to visitors. Unlike other places in California, Old Town living happens at a much slower pace. That means it's a great vacation destination for people who are looking for low-key good times away from the typical hustle and bustle of urban living.

It's also a great place to visit with family, thanks to the many educational opportunities and historical buildings. There is the San Diego Zoo, museums, tours, and many other activities, all within a comfortable distance of this neighborhood’s many hotels. Don’t worry parking here is not too hard as there are a few large parking lots within Old Town. If you don’t have a car, the Old Town Trolley Station, that is part of the San Diego Trolley system, is a 5-minute walk away.

What makes Old Town unique and historic? Its perspective on the past is like no other. It's easy to forget that California wasn't always the world destination that it is today, and Old Town provides a glimpse into its beginnings through a multitude of different experiences.

You can immerse yourself in the past by visiting famous historical sites. Along with learning the history of the place, you can also marvel at the preserved architecture, which truly takes you back to a different time.

Historic Old Town is also a great place for exploring the Mexican heritage that has informed the area's culture for so many years. Whether you are Mexican-American or just interested in the culture, there's plenty of information here for you to absorb. It's also home to a dazzling Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, which takes place every November 1st & 2nd in honor of the Mexican holiday.

Local Tips
Want to try Mole?
Mole is a melding of new and old flavors, this rich sauce has multiple types of dried Mexican chilies, raisins, spices such as cinnamon, cloves & allspice and dark chocolate. El Agave Rest. & Tequileria is one of the best mole restaurants in San Diego with seven different types of mole to choose.

Food is a part of all cultures and the fare here is no exception. There is a mix of diverse cuisines in this area of San Diego, with an emphasis on Mexican and Mexican-influenced dishes. However, there is no shortage of amazing restaurants of all descriptions, whether you're looking for a fine dining establishment or are in search of a casual spot offering bites and brews. A few stand out restaurants include; Cafe Coyote, Casa de Reyes, Rockin' Baja Lobster and El Agave Restaurant & Tequileria.

This guide explains many of Old Town's highlights. When visiting, don't be afraid to stray from the beaten path to experience all that this town has to offer in terms of cultural attractions and shops. Along with the many tourist spots, there are quite a few destinations that provide a deeper perspective on California's flagship city.

Old Town San Diego
Why you'll love Old Town
Go sightseeing and visit the historic sites, and museums using the hop on hop off bus. Or explore the local cafes, shopping boutiques, and gorgeous parks.

Go Historic with Go Pass!

Whaley House
Historic Whaley House Museum
The Whaley House Museum is located in the historic Old San Diego area. With your Go Pass, take in one of the most visited attractions in the area. The complex is made up of multiple houses and museums that offer something fun for the whole family.
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Local Tips
What are the best Go San Diego Pass deals?

Some of the best deals with the Go San Diego Pass include access to San Diego’s most popular attractions.

Discount admission is offered to the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND California, USS Midway Museum, Belmont Park rides and more!

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Historic Sites in Old Town

Old Town is very walkable with all the historic sites within an easy walk. Of course, you can take a break from all the walking to enjoy a nice restaurant or shop along the way. Here are some of our favorite historical sites in Old Town.

La Casa de Estudillo

Adobes are Spanish-style houses made from earth and other organic materials. La Casa de Estudillo is a preserved adobe house that was once the envy of all who saw it. Constructed by father and son settlers in 1827, La Casa de Estudillo once contained 12 rooms, a Catholic chapel, and a turreted balcony on the roof, from which bullfights and other events would be watched.

La Casa de Estudillo is located right in the middle of the Old Town San Diego Historic Park.

Whaley House

Do you prefer your local history to have a tinge of spookiness? If so, The Whaley House is perfect for you. With more than 125,000 guests on a yearly basis, the Whaley House is extremely popular among travelers all over the world. It will be left up to you to decide whether the historic building is truly haunted, but you're bound to enjoy the quaint stylings and the glimpse inside Old Town life in the 1800s when the house was first created.

Cosmopolitan Hotel

What today is Cosmopolitan Hotel started as an adobe home built in 1827 by a revolutionary named Don Juan Bandini. For its time this U-shaped adobe home was a grand mansion and the social center of town. It took about 10,000 adobe bricks weighing about 60 lbs. each to make the structure that still stands today. It is said that one of Bandini’s named Ysidora was on the roof and fell but was caught by Lt. John McHenry Hollings who was on horseback, saving her life.

Then in 1869 it was sold to Albert Steeley and plans were made to make it into a hotel with a parlor and saloon to serve meals and drinks. A second story was added on top of the original adobe building, not actually attached to the adobe but directly on top in a Greek Revival architectural style. The focus of the building was a balcony that went all the way around this U-shaped hotel so that its guests could watch all that was happening in the plaza.

Today the Cosmopolitan Hotel is still a functioning hotel and it is meant to be one of the most haunted hotels in San Diego. If you ask around you will hear that Ysidors, the original owners’ daughter, visits room 11 of the hotel and likes to turn on and off the lights and stroke the long hair of women. There is even a ghost tour that is centered at this hotel where you can try to communicate with the ghosts!

Colorado House

Originally constructed as a hotel in 1851, the Colorado House was completely rebuilt after a fire destroyed the structure in 1992. In its reconstructed state, it still looks similar to the style of buildings at the time. The Colorado House is now home to the Wells Fargo Museum, which offers a step back into Old Town's historic past.

The McCoy House

The original McCoy House was constructed to be the living place of Sheriff James McCoy. It was designed in the Greek Revival architectural style which was so popular at the time. While the home has long since been reconstructed, this style has been preserved to show what 19th-century life had to offer. It's now home to a museum, which tells the story of this house and of James McCoy. It is definitely worth a visit!

Presidio Park

Presidio Park was home to the very first European settlement in 1769. It comprises 40-acres, which overlooks Old Town itself. Pack a picnic to enjoy in the park grounds or visit the shops and museums to learn more about this historic landmark. The Junipero Serra Museum features exhibits on the Kumeyaay people, who inhabited the land thousands of years before the first settlers made their way here. There are also exhibits devoted to Mexican settlers, as well as Spanish explorers, both of which had a major influence on local culture.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is home to numerous attractions within walking distance suited to the whole family. Along with La Casa de Estudillo, the Colorado house and the Cosmopolitan Hotel, this park also features some other areas of interest, including the Pedrorena-Altamirano House, Seeley Stable, La Casa de Machado y Stewart, and La Casa de Rodriguez.

Many of these buildings have been restored over the years so they resemble structures from the era they were created in. Most of these restored buildings are museums and they also have small shops that let you take home your memories of Old Town. Make sure to stop by the Information Visitor Center, next to Cafe Coyote, where you can get a map of Old Town and get any questions answered.

Your trip to this State Park can also include some shopping and dining excursions. Pick up some homemade candy or hunt for nautical-themed gifts and books to take back home to your family as souvenirs. You can also peruse the handmade selection of pottery, as well as many other crafts made using traditions handed down from generation to generation.

If you're feeling hungry during your visit, choose from many different Mexican or steak and seafood restaurants. Don’t miss out on the many margaritas from unique flavors to fish bowl sizes. There are also numerous shops devoted to sweets and other desserts.

Featured Activity

Front of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego
USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
Located in downtown San Diego, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum provides history of aircraft built in California. The museum includes over 60 exhibits with restored aircraft and tours of the carrier.
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Día de Los Muertos

Día de Los Muertos, which translates to Day of the Dead in English, is an iconic Mexican holiday. It's intended to honor deceased loved ones by surviving friends and family.

You may recognize festivities by the colorful skull masks that are so ubiquitous during celebrations. It's also common to place remembrances on homemade altars erected in the spirit of the person lost. Items typically placed on these altars range from knick-knacks and figurines to food and beverages for the deceased to enjoy during their journey to the afterlife.

In Old Town, Día de Los Muertos is celebrated beginning at sundown on November 2nd, which is the official start of the holiday all over the world. Festivities include a parade, which begins at the intersection of Twigg St. and San Diego Ave. The procession will then continue down San Diego Ave. until reaching the El Campo Santo Cemetery, which is where the parade winds up.

Of course, there is so much more to this thrilling event. Expect live entertainment, traditional musical stylings, face painting, lovingly-crafted altars honoring the deceased, and a visual feast for the eyes.

There will also be an abundance of Mexican-style street food from multiple vendors, as well as hand-crafted gifts and other items to remember this celebration of life and love. Make sure you roam around the many shops that are lit up with Día de Los Muertos remembrances.

Featured Hotel
Cosmopolitian Hotel
Restaurant Sitting Area at Cosmopolitian Hotel
Couples
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Historic
Shopping
Shopping
2 Stars2 Stars
The Cosmopolitan Hotel is a historic landmark located in downtown San Diego. Complete with vintage furniture & timely details, the hotel has a haunting charm.
Prices Starting at $99
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Cafes
Cafes
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Museums
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Parks
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Shopping
Trolley Stop
Trolley Stop
Walkable
Walkable

Areas of Interest Outside of Old Town

Old Town is rich with history, but it also has something to offer in terms of modern attractions. Here are a few fun nearby things to do outside of Old Town.

The Gaslamp Quarter

If you're looking for fun things to do at night during your stay, the Gaslamp Quarter has so much to offer. The former home of iconic lawman Wyatt Earp way back in 1885, the Gaslamp Quarter is now brimming with trendy eateries, exciting nightclubs, and shops offering one-of-a-kind items.

The San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo is another spot that you will not want to miss. Less than 10 minutes away the zoo is unlike any zoo that you have ever been to. Spend the entire day exploring themed areas from the Elephant Odyssey that has life size statues of prehistoric animals that used to roam Southern California to walking through tropical aviaries with toucans flying over your head to Africa Rocks where you can see many of the animals from the savanna to the sea of Africa.

Are you looking to get a discount for the zoo? Consider buying the San Diego Go Pass. This pass will help you save up to 55% off of regular admission prices to not only the San Diego Zoo but many other local attractions like the USS Midway and SeaWorld San Diego. Additionally, by using our link to purchase the San Diego Go Pass you will get an extra discount and you can save even more.

USS Midway Aircraft Museum

If you're a fan of nautical history, visiting the USS Midway is a must during your trip. Although not in Old Town it is less than a 10-minute drive to the Embarcadero in Downtown San Diego along San Diego Bay.

This world-renowned San Diego museum is situated on an aircraft carrier, which served the country for a good portion of the 20th century. Self-guided tours allow you to explore the carrier, including sleeping quarters, control centers, and many other locations of note, so you can get a feel for the experience of the Navy crew who traveled aboard it.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is the jew of San Diego. With 65 miles of hiking and biking trails and over 17 museums, Balboa Park never gets boring. If you are looking to explore Balboa Park think about purchasing the San Diego Go Pass, not only will you get into most of the museums but you can also get access to the San Diego Zoo all for one low price.

Old Town San Diego
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Hop on Hop off Bus
Hop on Hop off Bus
Museums
Museums
Old Town
Old Town
Sidewalk Cafés
Sidewalk Cafés
Known For:
Parks
Parks
Walkable
Walkable
This Month's Forecast
66℉ / 82℉
Sunny in September
Oct
61℉ / 81℉
Sunny in October
Nov
53℉ / 75℉
Sunny in November
Dec
48℉ / 69℉
Sunny in December

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Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Old Town
Near SeaWorld
3 Star Rating3 Star Rating3 Star Rating
Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Old Town
from $143 / night
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Courtyard by Marriott Old Town
Family Friendly
3 Star Rating3 Star Rating3 Star Rating
Courtyard by Marriott Old Town
from $152 / night
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Cosmopolitian Hotel
Near Old Town
2 Star Rating2 Star Rating
Cosmopolitian Hotel
from $99 / night
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Holiday Inn Express San Diego Airport - Old Town
Near Old Town
2 Star Rating2 Star Rating
Holiday Inn Express San Diego Airport - Old Town
from $136 / night
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