There’s always something new to learn in Old Town, and thanks to the abundance of cultural and historic preservation efforts, understanding the town’s extensive history is both accessible and engaging.
The Whaley House Museum is one of the best-known attractions in the Old Town area and a historic building full of incredible history that’s worth a visit. This magnificent 1850’s brick mansion was created when its founder Thomas Whaley moved to Old Town and designed the house himself, which makes it one of San Diego’s oldest buildings. Since then, it has been home to many significant events in Old Town’s history.
The Whaley House has taken many forms over the years. It was first and foremost the home of the Whaley settlers, who also rented out the house as San Diego’s first commercial theater. It has also been used as a granary, a general store, and even a courthouse.
You can visit the Whaley House Museum to learn more about its founders and the starring role it played in Old Town’s development. Take in the Greek revival architectural style of the exterior design, then head inside for a tour. The rooms have been renovated to reflect what the house would have looked like at different periods in San Diego’s past.
If you’re planning on visiting the Whaley House Museum, don’t forget to take advantage of the great savings you can get with the Go San Diego Pass. If you purchase a pass ahead of time, you can save an additional discount on your trip by purchasing via the link on our website.
The Whaley House is also well known for its ghost sightings. Caretakers of the house and visitors to the museum alike have reported seeing shades from the past. Nighttime tours highlight these supernatural encounters and go into more detail about each member of the Whaley family that may still be haunting the grounds.
Junipero Serra Museum
The Junipero Serra Museum is part of the San Diego History Center. It rests in the same location as the original San Diego Mission led by Father Junipero Serra that eventually led to the founding of San Diego and the establishment of Mission Valley. The museum also includes the renovated Presidio fort, which was an active military base from 1769 to 1835.
At the Junipero Serra Museum, you can observe an accurate rendition of the Spanish Revival architecture of Mission Valley. You can also ascend the tower and enjoy the breathtaking aerial view of historic Old Town. If you’re interested in more information about California’s history, the huge library inside the museum contains hundreds of history books and primary source documents.
The museum also includes an extensive art collection maintained by the San Diego History Center. Each piece in the collection is related to San Diego’s history, helping to bring greater recognition to the artists that have enriched the culture of the area for hundreds of years.
The Mission San Diego de Alcalá and Presidio fort are crucial parts of the story of San Diego’s history. Seeing them in person is an incredible experience that is well worth the trip. When you visit Mission Valley, you’ll really feel like you’re stepping back through time, directly into the earliest days of the original Old Town settlement.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
The Old Town San Diego Historic Park commemorates important moments throughout the history of Old Town and San Diego’s early years. The state park is full of restored historic buildings as well as recreations of buildings that have been lost to time. By preserving these structures, the state park preserves San Diego’s past.
Visitors who walk through the park learn the story of Old Town’s early days all the way through the acquisition of California by the United States.
Take a peek back into history and discover how San Diego went from being a Spanish settlement, to a Mexican pueblo, to an American city. Observe the ways architecture has changed throughout the years and take in various statues and other artifacts from Old Town’s past.
At the center of the state park is the Historic Plaza, where educational and entertaining events are frequently held. The park also contains a functioning blacksmith shop, so you can experience what it would have been like to be in hundreds of years ago.
Heritage County Park
The Heritage County Park in Old Town spans nearly eight acres, and each acre is packed full of history. The park includes dozens of old Victorian-style homes which have been renovated to appear exactly as they would have when Old Town was founded. The park also contains the Temple Beth Israel, which was San Diego’s first synagogue.
Visitors can enter the Temple Beth Israel to see the interior for themselves. Take in the intricate construction work and step directly into a part of history.
The Sanlis Cottage is also open to the public. Here, you can explore a nineteenth century Vernacular style building originally built for Eugene Senlis, a working-class resident. The house was originally constructed without any of the amenities we use today like gas, electricity, or plumbing, so walking inside is like transporting yourself back in time.
Other houses in the historic park include the Sherman-Gilbert House constructed in the Stick Eastlake style, the Burton House in the Classic Revival style, and the Christian House built in the Queen Anne style. The buildings date back between the mid-1880s to the turn of the century in the late 1890s.