Old Town San Diego

#6 in Best Things To Do in San Diego
Old Town San Diego picture1 of 4
Old Town San Diego2 of 4
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Key Info

4002 Wallace St

Price & Hours

Free
Museums open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily

Details

Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums, Parks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/Area Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
4.3

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 4.5Food Scene
  • 4.0Atmosphere

Take a trip back in time at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, a mile-long stretch of restored shops and houses on the grounds of the first European settlement in California. Widely considered the "birthplace of California," Old Town San Diego shows visitors what it was like to live through different eras of California history, from the time of Spanish explorers to the California gold rush. Some important stops include the Whaley House, a former granary and courthouse which was originally built in 1857, and Casa de Estudillo, a house built in the 1820s which utilizes traditional furniture and decor to illustrate how people lived years ago. The Junípero Serra Museum, named for the Spanish monk who helped colonize San Diego and other areas of California, is also a must-see because its architecture and location have helped make it a famous San Diego landmark. It sits on a hill in Presidio Park near green spaces, picnic areas and memorials, and it provides great views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.

There are plenty of shops in the Old Town area, many of which sell handcrafted items from Mexico and other Latin American countries. The town's Mexican heritage is also preserved through the various restaurants that dish out authentic Mexican food and often hand out homemade tortillas for travelers to sample. Previous visitors enjoyed simply strolling through the streets, relaxing on the green spaces and listening to mariachi bands.

Admission to the Old Town State Historic Park and the individual museums is free of charge. However, some museums, such as the Junípero Serra Museum, encourage small donations upon entrance. Free parking is available on-site. Museums are open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. but from October to April, they close at 4 p.m. on weekdays. For more information, visit the Old Town San Diego website.

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#1 Balboa Park

Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo. this 1,200-acre park is the city's cultural hub. Located in downtown San Diego (about 2 miles north of the city center), Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, bike ride or picnic. Wander around the park's many gardens while admiring the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture that permeates the grounds (the best examples are the California Building and the House of Hospitality). The Botanical Building is a great starting point in Balboa Park. The building is one of the most photographed places in Balboa Park and is one of the largest lath structures in the world. But don't just look at it. The famous botanical building features more than 2,100 permanent plants, including striking collections of tropical plants and orchids. The park also features a cactus garden, rose garden, a Japanese-style garden as well as a palm tree canyon, among many others.

But if you find yourself growing antsy just walking around and smelling the roses, there are plenty of attractions located here (many of them free). Take in a show at the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, visit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to see one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs, or the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater if you got the kiddos in tow. Museums are just as aplenty, with enough to suit all types of interests. Art lovers will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts and Mingei International Museum while science enthusiasts will enjoy the Fleet Science Center and the Museum of Man. If you're traveling as a family, take some time to check out the San Diego Air & Space Museum or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the world's largest operating model railroad museum. There's also an automotive museum and the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, dedicated entirely to San Diego's sports history.

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