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Old Town
Category: San Diego Sightseeing
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Old Town is home to some of the most unique retailers, historical destinations, museums, authentic Mexican restaurants, drinking establishments, art galleries and hotels.

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. Father Serra?s mission and Presidio were built on a hillside overlooking what is currently known as Old Town San Diego. At the base of the hill in 1820?s, a small Mexican community of adobe buildings was formed and by 1835 had attained the status of El Pueblo de San Diego. In 1846, a U.S. Navy Lieutenant and a Marine Lieutenant, raised the American flag in the Old Town San Diego Plaza.

In 1968, the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation established Old Town State Historic Park to preserve the rich heritage that characterized San Diego during the 1821 to 1872 period. The park includes a main plaza, exhibits, museums and living history demonstrations.

Historic buildings include La Casa de Estudillo, La Casa de Bandini, La Casa de Altamirno Pedrorena and the Mason Street School, San Diego?s first one room schoolhouse. Just up the hill from Old Town San Diego Historic State Park, you?ll find Heritage Park where several of San Diego?s most notable Victorian homes have been relocated and authentically restored to their original splendor. Just a short walk down San Diego Avenue is the Whaley House, an officially designated haunted house, the Little Adobe Chapel on Conde Street, the first Church in Old Town San Diego and El Campo Santo on San Diego Avenue, a 1850 Catholic Cemetery.

Getting there:
Click here for map of Old Town

Some of the attractions in Old Town include:

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park:
Old Town State Historic Park is where the city of San Diego began. The original mission and presidio were nearby; the town developed below as retired soldiers and settlers built homes here. In the mid-1830s, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. described Old Town as "about forty dark brown looking huts.. and three or four larger ones, white-washed...". Today's Old Town recreates the setting of California life during the Mexican and early American periods, 1821-1872. It became an historic park in 1968. Three original adobes have been restored, the Casa de Estudillo, Machado y Stewart and Machado y Silvas. Buildings now house museums, shops and restaurants.

The Stars and Stripes was first raised over the plaza in 1846 by Marines from the U.S.S.

Location: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, plaque located W side of plaza at 4016 Wallace Street, San Diego

Old Town Plaza:
This square was the center of public life and recreation in Old San Diego from the earliest days. Promenading gave way, on some Sundays and feast days, to bull-and-bear fights, and bullfights in which there were no professionals -- anyone was welcome to join in for as long as he chose. On such occasions fences enclosed the dusty open space across the streets entering it. Games, ceremonies, and trials were held here, too. On a pole in the plaza the American flag was first hoisted in Southern California to signify United States domination.

It was on July 29, 1846; Lieutenant Stephan C. Rowan, of the U. S. Sloop-of-War Cyane, landed and occupied the town with blue jackets from the ship, and men of Fremont's California Battalion. San Diego had to be taken again in November. Then the Mexican flag was cut away from the pole and carried off by Senora Maria Antonio Machado de Silvas, who wanted to save it from disgrace, even, as she thought, at the risk of her life. There being no halliards with which to send up the American flag, Albert B. Smith climbed the pole and nailed it fast.

After the American conquest the plaza, renamed Washington Square, continued to be the center of San Diego life. To bullfights and Judas hangings were added noisy Fourth of July celebrations, with oratory, band concerts, and cannon fire. The place could be very full of racket on any Saturday night. A coroner's daughter recalled in later years that two or three fatalities over a weekend, from gunfights, were not unknown. In those days the town's best saloons and billiards parlors faced on the square. From 1850 to 1876 the old cannon in the plaza, El Capitan, was set in the ground muzzle down, for use as a whipping post for Indians who misbehaved.

Location: Old Town Plaza (Washington Square), Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Heritage Park Victorian Village:
This 7.8-acre county park is dedicated to the preservation of San Diego's Victorian architecture. Expansion downtown after WWII threatened these structures with demolition on their original sites. Public and private funds paid for the acquisition, relocation, and restoration of these buildings. Now owned by the county, the structures are leased to private and commercial entities responsible for interior renovation and operation in keeping with the park's Victorian theme. Wedding services, a doll shop, bed and breakfast inn, law office, antique store, and a community meeting place operate in Heritage Park.

Alvarado House (Alvarado Provisions):
As is the case with many of Old Town's historic dwellings, Alvarado House lives now through its incarnation as Alvarado Provisions general store.

Operated as a "disorderly house" (illegal liquor sales) by Francisco Alvarado in the mid 1800s, the house was maintained through 1874.

Today, the location serves up all kinds of pre-packaged "general store" treats, including vintage sweets from Walnettos to rock candy and licorice. The store's wood-plank floors creak with the footfall of curious tourists, and a strong scent of sassafras hangs in the air.

A comfortable place to stop, with its low-lit, cooling shade inside and welcoming benches outside, tiny Alvarado Provisions sells jerky, baking mixes, coffee, spices, jellies and cookbooks. The small store also has an extensive collection of hot sauces -- as do many tourist shops in San Diego.

Casa de Bandini:
Born in Peru, Juan Bandini came to California with his father, master of a trading vessel, in 1819. He became a Mexican citizen and son-in-law to Jose Maria Estudillo in 1822. La Casa de Bandini was completed in 1829 and soon became the social center of Old Town. Juan Bandini held various offices during the Mexican regime. When Americans took over, he supplied them with horses and supplies from his rancho. In the early 1850s, Bandini was forced to sell his home because of financial losses. Alfred Seeley purchased the crumbling home in 1869, added a second story and opened the building as the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Later the building was used as a store pickle factory and motel annex, and now hosts a Mexican restaurant.

Serra Museum:
Just up the hill from Old Town, at the site of the original San Diego presidio, this museum holds artifacts from the presidio excavation, temporary and permanent exhibits, l6th-18th century Spanish furniture. Museum is available for private events and special bookings. Operated by the San Diego Historical Society. 2727 Presidio Drive

Wells Fargo History Museum:
Cave Couts, who married Ysidora Bandini, built the Colorado House in 1851. This building was a successful hotel, saloon and gaming parlor. Museum covers the topics of banking, mining and overland travel in the early American West. Exhibit features an authentic 1867 Abbot-Downing Concord stagecoach, an audio-visual theater, plus documents, maps, photos, early coins and balance scales.

First Brick San Diego Courthouse:
The Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego in January of 1847 to support the American military garrison in the pueblo during the Mexican War. When not engaged in military duties, they assisted the community by building the first fired-brick structure in Old Town. Originally designated as a town hall and schoolroom, once the state legislature incorporated San Diego as the first city in California, it became the office for Mayor, City Clerk, Board of Supervisors. Reconstructed in 1992, the First San Diego Courthouse Association is planning reconstruction of the original jail cell behind the building.

San Diego Union Museum:
This wood-frame structure was prefabricated in Maine and shipped around the Horn in 1851. It became the first office of the San Diego Union newspaper. The building is restored, as it was when the Union printed its first edition on October 10, 1868 and was published as a weekly. It contained four pages and, as was common in those days, the first and last pages were mostly literary efforts -- a short story, some dreary humor and a few ads. Gatewood, an attorney, advertised his services in an ad, but the biggest ad on the page was from George Irvine, a meat packer in San Francisco.

Visitors can view the original print room with a Washington press and the editor's office.

San Diego Presidio:
Soldiers, sailors, Indians, and Franciscan missionaries from New Spain occupied the land at Presidio Hill on May 17, 1769 as a military outpost. Two months later, Fr. Jun?pero Serra established the first San Diego Mission on Presidio Hill. Officially proclaimed a Spanish Presidio on January 1, 1774, the fortress was later occupied by a succession of Mexican forces. The Presidio was abandoned in 1837 after San Diego became a pueblo.

Location: Next to parking lot across Presidio Dr from Serra Museum, Presidio Park, Old Town, San Diego

Congress Hall:
This building was originally a two-story public house built by George Dewitt Clinton Washington Robinson about 1867. From this building one of the last survivors of the pony express rode north.

Location: Vacant lot, S side of 2734 Calhoun St, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Plaza San Diego Viejo (Washington Square):
This plaza was established as the center of the Mexican Pueblo of San Diego, which elected its first ajuntamiento in 1834. On July 29, 1846, at 4 p.m., Lieutenant Stephen C. Rowan, U.S.N., from the U.S. sloop-of-war Cyane, raised the American flag over the plaza.

Location: Old Town Plaza (Washington Square), Old Town San Diego State Historic Park


 Things to do in San Diego 
  Sea World Tickets
  Wells Fargo Museum
  San Diego Childrens Museum
  Carlsbad Flower Fields
  La Jolla Childrens Pool
  San Diego Harbor Excursions
  Ferry Landing Marketplace
  Westfield Horton Plaza
  Star of India
  Birch Aquarium
  Casa de Estudillo
  Marston House Museum
  Little Italy
  Mission Trails Regional Park
  Casa de Machado y Stewart
  Spanish Village Art Center
  La Jolla Cove
  Bernardo Winery
  Outlet Mall - Carlsbad Premium Outlets
  Missions of San Diego

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