Destination Main Streets

Old Town San Diego, California

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Old Town San Diego is nicknamed the Birthplace of California. It is the site of the oldest settled area in San Diego and is the site of the first European settlement in present-day California. Old Town San Diego was where the city was originally founded but not quite where it took off. It was not until the 1860s when Alonzo Horton promoted a different area where the present day downtown is that San Diego grew into its own. Today you won't find skyscrapers in old town or even many of the original historic buildings. There is still a lot of history, but what you have is the State Historic Park, which features a mix of reproductions of the historic buildings that occupied the area and some of the remaining historic adobe buildings that remain. Surrounding the state historic park are shops and restaurants.

The Old Town Transit Center is located in Old Town just next to the State Historic Park so Amtrak, the Coaster North County Transit Commuter line, and the San Diego Trolley Green Line all make stops there. Also Old Town is close to where Interstate 5 and Interstate 8 meet close to the heart of San Diego. Old Town is only about four miles away from downtown San Diego. The State Historic Park features shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, and even a theater. Other shops can also be found along San Diego Avenue and nearby Congress Avenue. If you are looking for the heart of Old Town you can set your GPS for the intersection of San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street. Other nearby Main Street areas include La Jolla, the Gas Lamp District, and Coronado.

Photo Gallery Tour

We will start our tour of Old Town San Diego at the Old Town San Diego Transit Center.  As you can see, the green line of the light rail system has a stop here.  This is one of our longer photo gallery tours.  We have a great deal to cover but there's a lot to do here so sit back and enjoy.
We will start our tour of Old Town San Diego at the Old Town San Diego Transit Center. As you can see, the green line of the light rail system has a stop here. This is one of our longer photo gallery tours. We have a great deal to cover but there's a lot to do here so sit back and enjoy.
Here is a sign welcoming us from the Transit Center into the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park itself.  On this photo gallery tour, we will be covering both the State Historic Park and the surrounding town that is both very popular with the residents and tourists from all over the world alike.
Here is a sign welcoming us from the Transit Center into the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park itself. On this photo gallery tour, we will be covering both the State Historic Park and the surrounding town that is both very popular with the residents and tourists from all over the world alike.
The State Historic Park is made up of restored historic buildings, along with early twentieth century buildings designed in the same mode.  Five original adobe buildings are part of the historic park, which include museums, retail shops, and restaurants.  This picture shows a replica of the Robinson & Rose house, which also houses the Visitor Center.
The State Historic Park is made up of restored historic buildings, along with early twentieth century buildings designed in the same mode. Five original adobe buildings are part of the historic park, which include museums, retail shops, and restaurants. This picture shows a replica of the Robinson & Rose house, which also houses the Visitor Center.
We'll start on the north end of town and work our way south.  This is the Barra Barra Saloon and Mexican Restaurant.  Barra Barra's furniture and decor provide the ambiance of a ranch home in Old Mexico and include hides and authentic reproduction collectibles and Mexican artifacts.  This is part of the Fiesta de Reyes complex that we will see more of shortly.
We'll start on the north end of town and work our way south. This is the Barra Barra Saloon and Mexican Restaurant. Barra Barra's furniture and decor provide the ambiance of a ranch home in Old Mexico and include hides and authentic reproduction collectibles and Mexican artifacts. This is part of the Fiesta de Reyes complex that we will see more of shortly.
This is a view looking out at the Plaza de Las Armas.  Old Town San Diego is considered the "birthplace" of California.  San Diego is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in California.  It was here in 1769, that Father Junipero Serra came to establish the very first mission in a chain of 21 missions that were to be the cornerstone of California's colonization.
This is a view looking out at the Plaza de Las Armas. Old Town San Diego is considered the "birthplace" of California. San Diego is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in California. It was here in 1769, that Father Junipero Serra came to establish the very first mission in a chain of 21 missions that were to be the cornerstone of California's colonization.
Here is the entrance to the Fiesta de Reyes complex on the northern corner of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.  It contains three restaurants, 19 specialty shops, and a ten room boutique hotel.
Here is the entrance to the Fiesta de Reyes complex on the northern corner of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. It contains three restaurants, 19 specialty shops, and a ten room boutique hotel.
Inside the Fiesta de Reyes, you will find a maze of shops and other curiosities if you know where to look.  Check out this dancing woman made of succulents.
Inside the Fiesta de Reyes, you will find a maze of shops and other curiosities if you know where to look. Check out this dancing woman made of succulents.
If we pop out the back side of Fiesta de Reyes we also exit the back side of the State Park proper and out onto Juan Street.  On the other side is Presidio Plaza where there are more shops, design studios, salons, gift shops, and other businesses.
If we pop out the back side of Fiesta de Reyes we also exit the back side of the State Park proper and out onto Juan Street. On the other side is Presidio Plaza where there are more shops, design studios, salons, gift shops, and other businesses.
Also on Juan Street, next door to Presidio Plaza, is La Pinata restaurant, which has been in business since 1928, billing itself the oldest restaurant in Old Town San Diego.
Also on Juan Street, next door to Presidio Plaza, is La Pinata restaurant, which has been in business since 1928, billing itself the oldest restaurant in Old Town San Diego.
We are back in the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.  The Park attempts to capture life from the early Mexican-American period of 1821 to 1872.  Here we see some more buildings in the adobe style that are part of the Fiesta de Reyes complex.  The sign out front may be hard to read but is advertising ghost tours once the sun goes down.
We are back in the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. The Park attempts to capture life from the early Mexican-American period of 1821 to 1872. Here we see some more buildings in the adobe style that are part of the Fiesta de Reyes complex. The sign out front may be hard to read but is advertising ghost tours once the sun goes down.
We continue walking on Calhoun Street along the Plaza de Las Armas and see the reproductions of various historical buildings.  Rust General Store is an 1860s inspired general store.  The Johnson House is a reconstruction of the former residence of George Alonzo Johnson who once lived on the Plaza.  The Cosmopolitan is a restored 1870s era hotel.
We continue walking on Calhoun Street along the Plaza de Las Armas and see the reproductions of various historical buildings. Rust General Store is an 1860s inspired general store. The Johnson House is a reconstruction of the former residence of George Alonzo Johnson who once lived on the Plaza. The Cosmopolitan is a restored 1870s era hotel.
Here is a view of Old Town's functioning Blacksmith Shop and next door is the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant Garden Terrace.
Here is a view of Old Town's functioning Blacksmith Shop and next door is the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant Garden Terrace.
Seeley Stable was a "well built and sturdy" two-story, square-sided, shingle-roofed barn used to stable horses and house stagecoaches.  Today it is a museum.  The 1974 reconstructed Seeley Stable houses a fine collection of 19th-century overland transportation gear and vehicles, including an ox-drawn cart, mud wagon, Concord stage, and huge two-wagon freighter.
Seeley Stable was a "well built and sturdy" two-story, square-sided, shingle-roofed barn used to stable horses and house stagecoaches. Today it is a museum. The 1974 reconstructed Seeley Stable houses a fine collection of 19th-century overland transportation gear and vehicles, including an ox-drawn cart, mud wagon, Concord stage, and huge two-wagon freighter.
Here is the backside of the Miner's Gems and Minerals store.  Here visitors can reenact panning for gold (or at least other minerals).  What's more California than that?
Here is the backside of the Miner's Gems and Minerals store. Here visitors can reenact panning for gold (or at least other minerals). What's more California than that?
On the left is a leather goods store and on the right we see some conveniently located public restrooms.
On the left is a leather goods store and on the right we see some conveniently located public restrooms.
The Cygnet Theatre Company performs in the Old Town Theatre, a fully functioning theatre in what was once a barn that had been scheduled for demolition many years ago before being saved and restored.
The Cygnet Theatre Company performs in the Old Town Theatre, a fully functioning theatre in what was once a barn that had been scheduled for demolition many years ago before being saved and restored.
We make it to the southern end of the State Historic Park.  Here we have the San Diego Old Town Market, a large market filled with dozens of various vendors.
We make it to the southern end of the State Historic Park. Here we have the San Diego Old Town Market, a large market filled with dozens of various vendors.
Wallach & Goldman Square is another collection of shops that sell everything from ice cream to jewelry, to pottery.  Well, you can see what they offer on their sign.
Wallach & Goldman Square is another collection of shops that sell everything from ice cream to jewelry, to pottery. Well, you can see what they offer on their sign.
On the left is the Miner's Gems store we were looking at earlier from the backside.  On the right is the San Diego Union Building.  This prefabricated wood-frame structure probably arrived from the East Coast by ship in 1851. The building was reassembled in Old Town San Diego.  The building was restored to look as it did in 1868.
On the left is the Miner's Gems store we were looking at earlier from the backside. On the right is the San Diego Union Building. This prefabricated wood-frame structure probably arrived from the East Coast by ship in 1851. The building was reassembled in Old Town San Diego. The building was restored to look as it did in 1868.
Captain Fitch's Mercantile sells a wide variety of gifts, books, music, collectibles, and other eclectic items.  And even cold drinks.  Since these shops are on a State Historic Park, they bid for the right to locate there and then must comply with specific interpretive rules.
Captain Fitch's Mercantile sells a wide variety of gifts, books, music, collectibles, and other eclectic items. And even cold drinks. Since these shops are on a State Historic Park, they bid for the right to locate there and then must comply with specific interpretive rules.
We continue down San Diego Avenue along the Plaza de Las Armas.  Toby's is a candle and soap shop.  Here you can watch candles be made and you can even dip your own candles.
We continue down San Diego Avenue along the Plaza de Las Armas. Toby's is a candle and soap shop. Here you can watch candles be made and you can even dip your own candles.
Cousin's Candy Shop has a massive assortment of candy and they even make their own.  In this picture, there are signs pointing to San Diego's First Public Schoolhouse and La Casa de Machado y Stewart, one of the oldest dwellings in Old Town San Diego.
Cousin's Candy Shop has a massive assortment of candy and they even make their own. In this picture, there are signs pointing to San Diego's First Public Schoolhouse and La Casa de Machado y Stewart, one of the oldest dwellings in Old Town San Diego.
This is the First San Diego Courthouse Museum.  On March 27, 1850, the state legislature incorporated the town of San Diego.  From that time until 1869, the building served as the city and county courthouse.  It was also used as a meeting place, church, school, and polling place during elections.  The building was destroyed in a fire in 1872 but was reconstructed in 1992.
This is the First San Diego Courthouse Museum. On March 27, 1850, the state legislature incorporated the town of San Diego. From that time until 1869, the building served as the city and county courthouse. It was also used as a meeting place, church, school, and polling place during elections. The building was destroyed in a fire in 1872 but was reconstructed in 1992.
On the left, La Casa de Machado y Silvas is one of the five original historic adobes in the State Historic Park.  It had remained in the Machado family until the 1930s and eventually became part of California State Parks in 1968.  Next door is another gift shop called the Tinsmith.
On the left, La Casa de Machado y Silvas is one of the five original historic adobes in the State Historic Park. It had remained in the Machado family until the 1930s and eventually became part of California State Parks in 1968. Next door is another gift shop called the Tinsmith.
The reconstructed building on the left is known as the San Diego House or the Light and Freeman building.  It is named after two African American settlers who came to the area when it was still part of Mexico and opened the area's first saloon.  Today it contains a Coffee and Tea shop.  On the right, Tafoya and Son sells pottery, jewelry, and other items.
The reconstructed building on the left is known as the San Diego House or the Light and Freeman building. It is named after two African American settlers who came to the area when it was still part of Mexico and opened the area's first saloon. Today it contains a Coffee and Tea shop. On the right, Tafoya and Son sells pottery, jewelry, and other items.
Here is another view of the Plaza de Las Armas as we almost complete our circle of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Here is another view of the Plaza de Las Armas as we almost complete our circle of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
And one more view of the Plaza de Las Armas looking back in the direction we had just come from.
And one more view of the Plaza de Las Armas looking back in the direction we had just come from.
We had back out to the corner of San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street on the periphery of the Old Town State Historic Park.  Here we see the Old Town Market we were looking at before.  Also we see a stop for the San Diego Trolley Tours which travels around the city of San Diego.
We had back out to the corner of San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street on the periphery of the Old Town State Historic Park. Here we see the Old Town Market we were looking at before. Also we see a stop for the San Diego Trolley Tours which travels around the city of San Diego.
Here is another close up view of the Old Town Market that you can enter from more than one direction.
Here is another close up view of the Old Town Market that you can enter from more than one direction.
There is more to see of Old Town besides what is in the State Historic Park.  So now let's head southeast along San Diego Avenue, which acts as the Main Street for this part of Old Town.  Here we see the Immaculate Conception Church, which dates back to 1769.  The cornerstone for this building was laid in 1868.
There is more to see of Old Town besides what is in the State Historic Park. So now let's head southeast along San Diego Avenue, which acts as the Main Street for this part of Old Town. Here we see the Immaculate Conception Church, which dates back to 1769. The cornerstone for this building was laid in 1868.
Across the street on San Diego Avenue, we see restaurants and shops.  Watch out for cars.  While the Old Town State Historic Park was free from vehicular traffic, you're back in the modern day in this part of San Diego so you will find cars driving past you on the streets here.
Across the street on San Diego Avenue, we see restaurants and shops. Watch out for cars. While the Old Town State Historic Park was free from vehicular traffic, you're back in the modern day in this part of San Diego so you will find cars driving past you on the streets here.
Along San Diego Avenue, we find gift shops with a Latin American flair.  Also up ahead are eateries appealing to tourists and more restaurants.
Along San Diego Avenue, we find gift shops with a Latin American flair. Also up ahead are eateries appealing to tourists and more restaurants.
More gift shops and other businesses that attract tourists and other visitors.  Notice the Navy flag on the right?  The Navy has a strong presence in San Diego.
More gift shops and other businesses that attract tourists and other visitors. Notice the Navy flag on the right? The Navy has a strong presence in San Diego.
We continue working our way down San Diego Avenue and come across a sign pointing out various small businesses.
We continue working our way down San Diego Avenue and come across a sign pointing out various small businesses.
A surf shop in Old Town isn't too far off the mark since the beach is only a few miles away.
A surf shop in Old Town isn't too far off the mark since the beach is only a few miles away.
We turn right and make a small detour down Harney Street where we find a few more shops in Old Town San Diego.
We turn right and make a small detour down Harney Street where we find a few more shops in Old Town San Diego.
Back on San Diego Avenue, we find the Whaley House.  Built in 1857 in the Greek Revival style, it was the home of Thomas Whaley and his family.  Built where a graveyard was once located, it is believed to be haunted.  The house has been a general store, the county's second courthouse and the first commercial theater in San Diego.  Today it is a museum.
Back on San Diego Avenue, we find the Whaley House. Built in 1857 in the Greek Revival style, it was the home of Thomas Whaley and his family. Built where a graveyard was once located, it is believed to be haunted. The house has been a general store, the county's second courthouse and the first commercial theater in San Diego. Today it is a museum.
A "Five & Dime" located at the corner of San Diego Avenue and Harney Street.  It's actually a gift shop that sells other necessities.  Check out that cool bell on the roof.
A "Five & Dime" located at the corner of San Diego Avenue and Harney Street. It's actually a gift shop that sells other necessities. Check out that cool bell on the roof.
We continue heading south along San Diego Avenue and find merchants that are selling their colorful goods right out on the sidewalk.
We continue heading south along San Diego Avenue and find merchants that are selling their colorful goods right out on the sidewalk.
Also on San Diego Avenue are patios where diners can eat outdoors while people watching and enjoying Mexican food.
Also on San Diego Avenue are patios where diners can eat outdoors while people watching and enjoying Mexican food.
Along San Diego Avenue we find more gift shops and a saloon with an adobe shaped front.
Along San Diego Avenue we find more gift shops and a saloon with an adobe shaped front.
One thing Old Town San Diego is known for is its Mexican food, especially its handmade tortillas.  Many of these places make their tortillas right in the front windows to let the visitors know they're fresh.
One thing Old Town San Diego is known for is its Mexican food, especially its handmade tortillas. Many of these places make their tortillas right in the front windows to let the visitors know they're fresh.
Although the area is known for its Mexican food, the 1890s era house on the left serves New Orleans style creole food, which is proof that you can find just about anything in the area if you look hard enough.  Newer style mission homes populate the hills overlooking the historic district in Old Town.
Although the area is known for its Mexican food, the 1890s era house on the left serves New Orleans style creole food, which is proof that you can find just about anything in the area if you look hard enough. Newer style mission homes populate the hills overlooking the historic district in Old Town.
Here are more of the those Mexican restaurants offering up fresh tortillas in Old Town San Diego.
Here are more of the those Mexican restaurants offering up fresh tortillas in Old Town San Diego.
And this is another view looking across at the those Mexican restaurants along with the houses up in the hills over looking Old Town San Diego.
And this is another view looking across at the those Mexican restaurants along with the houses up in the hills over looking Old Town San Diego.
More gift shops and an ice cream place and even a hotel in the background.  Not too sure what that Four Winds Trading shop sign is trying to convey.
More gift shops and an ice cream place and even a hotel in the background. Not too sure what that Four Winds Trading shop sign is trying to convey.
Here is an example of one of the Mexican restaurants, the Coyote Cantina, where a lady is making the tortillas in the window so you know they are fresh.
Here is an example of one of the Mexican restaurants, the Coyote Cantina, where a lady is making the tortillas in the window so you know they are fresh.
This is part of the Old Town Esplanade, a series of shops and restaurants on San Diego Avenue in Old Town San Diego.
This is part of the Old Town Esplanade, a series of shops and restaurants on San Diego Avenue in Old Town San Diego.
Here is another view of the Old Town Esplanade, and another view of the Coyote Cantina, which is a part of the Esplanade.  Here you can see another lady making fresh tortillas.
Here is another view of the Old Town Esplanade, and another view of the Coyote Cantina, which is a part of the Esplanade. Here you can see another lady making fresh tortillas.
Across the street on the corner of Conde Street and San Diego Avenue is another Mexican Restaurant.
Across the street on the corner of Conde Street and San Diego Avenue is another Mexican Restaurant.
San Diego Avenue starts to turn in a more southern direction from a southeastern direction.  Here we find this colorful gift shop.
San Diego Avenue starts to turn in a more southern direction from a southeastern direction. Here we find this colorful gift shop.
Across the street we find another gift shop selling souvenirs, gifts, and t-shirts in Old Town San Diego.
Across the street we find another gift shop selling souvenirs, gifts, and t-shirts in Old Town San Diego.
Although we have traveled a bit away from the center of Old Town San Diego, there is still more to see.  We have finally made it to another Visitor Information Center.  Check out the cowboys in front of the place.
Although we have traveled a bit away from the center of Old Town San Diego, there is still more to see. We have finally made it to another Visitor Information Center. Check out the cowboys in front of the place.
These bells are common in California.  It reads, "In 1906 guidepost bells were placed along the El Camino Real to guide early travelers and to preserve this historic route, which linked California's missions beginning in 1769."
These bells are common in California. It reads, "In 1906 guidepost bells were placed along the El Camino Real to guide early travelers and to preserve this historic route, which linked California's missions beginning in 1769."
This is El Campo Santo Cemetery, which was not well preserved over the years.  In fact, the cemetery was bisected by a street car line in 1889 and parts were later paved over in 1942 to become San Diego Avenue.  Eventually the cemetery would be preserved in its current state but yes many bodies are buried beneath the road and sidewalk.
This is El Campo Santo Cemetery, which was not well preserved over the years. In fact, the cemetery was bisected by a street car line in 1889 and parts were later paved over in 1942 to become San Diego Avenue. Eventually the cemetery would be preserved in its current state but yes many bodies are buried beneath the road and sidewalk.
More shops, including a model railroad store in an interesting log cabin style motif in Old Town San Diego.
More shops, including a model railroad store in an interesting log cabin style motif in Old Town San Diego.
The Sheriff's Museum covers the entire history of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department from its inception in 1850 through today.
The Sheriff's Museum covers the entire history of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department from its inception in 1850 through today.
Just so you know that it's not all Mexican restaurants in Old Town San Diego, here's an Italian restaurant.  We've reached our furthest point on San Diego Avenue so we'll head over to Congress Street where we will find some more shops and restaurants.
Just so you know that it's not all Mexican restaurants in Old Town San Diego, here's an Italian restaurant. We've reached our furthest point on San Diego Avenue so we'll head over to Congress Street where we will find some more shops and restaurants.
We'll start on the southern side of Congress Street and work our way northwest along Congress Street.  This Street is a little quieter than some of the other parts of Old Town San Diego but there are still some businesses here worth checking out.  Also, Congress Street is just one block south of San Diego Avenue so it's not out of the way.
We'll start on the southern side of Congress Street and work our way northwest along Congress Street. This Street is a little quieter than some of the other parts of Old Town San Diego but there are still some businesses here worth checking out. Also, Congress Street is just one block south of San Diego Avenue so it's not out of the way.
Here are some more shops and businesses along Congress Street in Old Town San Diego.  It is funny how some of these houses have more of a modern suburban feel to them but are still occupied by businesses.
Here are some more shops and businesses along Congress Street in Old Town San Diego. It is funny how some of these houses have more of a modern suburban feel to them but are still occupied by businesses.
We get to the corner of Twiggs Street and Congress Street.  This a large gift shop with an adobe front facade facing Congress Street in Old Town San Diego.
We get to the corner of Twiggs Street and Congress Street. This a large gift shop with an adobe front facade facing Congress Street in Old Town San Diego.
Across the street on the same intersection of Twiggs Street and Congress Street is this Mexican Restaurant in Old Town San Diego.
Across the street on the same intersection of Twiggs Street and Congress Street is this Mexican Restaurant in Old Town San Diego.
As we head down Congress Street, we see this Bar & Grill that seems to have a real beach party vibe in Old Town San Diego.
As we head down Congress Street, we see this Bar & Grill that seems to have a real beach party vibe in Old Town San Diego.
Here is a restaurant serving Latin cuisine in Old Town San Diego.
Here is a restaurant serving Latin cuisine in Old Town San Diego.
Some colorful shops along Congress Street in Old Town San Diego.
Some colorful shops along Congress Street in Old Town San Diego.
Our tour comes to an end along Congress Street in Old Town San Diego.  Here we see a coffee shop with a lot of signage.  Again this part of Old Town has a lot of businesses in suburban style houses so that may explain the signs.  But there is still a lot to do here and you're still not far from the heart of Old Town so you can head back into town whenever you are ready.
Our tour comes to an end along Congress Street in Old Town San Diego. Here we see a coffee shop with a lot of signage. Again this part of Old Town has a lot of businesses in suburban style houses so that may explain the signs. But there is still a lot to do here and you're still not far from the heart of Old Town so you can head back into town whenever you are ready.

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