Old Town State Historic Park

The Best Things To Do At Old Town San Diego

Have you heard of Old Town San Diego? Maybe yes, maybe no? Want to learn about all of the fun things to do in Old Town San Diego? 

We love visiting Old Town in San Diego.  We have been more times than we can count. There are so many things to do in Old Town San Diego that will keep you busy for a few hours or even an entire day.

The Old Town San Diego activities and shops are a fun way to spend a day in San Diego California! 

In this post, we are going to explore this amazing historical location of San Diego and learn what to do in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

We will give you a little background and history and then list all of the fun San Diego Old Town museums,  some of the Old Town San Diego activities and shops, entertainment options, and even recommendations for restaurants in Old Town San Diego CA.

There are lots of Old Town San Diego attractions to explore.  Let's get started with the best things to do in Old Town San Diego!

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What Is Old Town San Diego CA?

Old Town San Diego

San Diego is the birthplace of California.  There is so much history and culture in this area that the state has made a special historic district dedicated to preserving the history of San Diego.

Colonizing San Diego

Old Town San Diego was the first permanent European settlement in California. In 1769 Father Junipero Serra came to establish missions and colonize California.  In 1821 Mexico declared independence from Spain and California became Alta California under Mexican rule.

Mexican – American War

Fast forward to the Mexican and American War of 1846 and that's when things became pretty exciting in the San Diego area.   The people who lived in San Diego were conflicted between being loyal to Mexico or claiming independence.  A man named Fremont staked his claim of independence and became territorial Governor.

The Mormon Battalion from the United States Army arrived in 1847 in San Diego and established close relationships with the people of San Diego.  They helped establish the city until the war was over in 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred San Diego to the US!

Gold is Discovered


The county of San Diego contained gold and other precious gems such as tourmaline, kunzite, morganite, topaz, garnet, and gold, spurring immigration and development in the area.

California Statehood

California Map

In 1850, California was granted statehood.  The Old Town San Diego State Historic Park represents the history of San Diego from the years 1821-1872.

Where is Old Town San Diego Located?

map of San Diego

Old Town San Diego is located about 13 minutes from the San Diego International Airport, about 11 minutes from the San Diego Zoo, 15 minutes from the USS Midway Marina District, 10 minutes from Sea World, and 8 minutes from Balboa Park.

Old Town San Diego Historic Park

Mormon Battalion Museum Tour

Old Town San Diego is a blast from the past. This living history park allows you to take a step back in time to see how people lived and worked in the time periods of 1821-1872.

There are many things to do in Old Town San Diego such as museums, restaurants, shopping, and live music entertainment.

Admission and Hours

This is a free thing to do in San Diego!

The hours are from 10:00 am – 4:30 or 5:00 pm depending on the season.

Parking at Old Town Historic Park

There is street parking all along the area.  If it is busy you may want to plan extra time to find a spot.  There are 5 parking lots located on both sides of the Old Town Historic Park. 

The parking on the street is free and we were able to find a great spot during a very busy time.  The community lots are great if you arrive early or are visiting at a time that is not busy, but at other times there can be lines of cars circling for a spot at Old Town in San Diego.

Tours of Old Town San Diego Historic Park

Meet at the visitor center at 11:00 am or 2:00 pm for a guided tour from the park services.  Another amazing thing to do in Old Town is to go on a guided Ghost tour of San Diego Old Town.

Things to Do in Old Town San Diego – Museums

Museums at old Town

The museums are the best part of Old Town San Diego.  There are a lot of places to check out but a lot of them are as simple as walking through.  Some are more in-depth and will take more time.

  • Visitor Center
  • Mormon Battalion Museum
  • Whaley House – $10 admission
  • Adobe Chapel
  • Black Hawk Livery and Blacksmith
  • Casa de Estudillo
  • Casa de Machado y Silva
  • San Diego Sheriff's Museum & Educational Center
  • Seeley Stables
  • San Diego Union Building
  • Junipero Serra Museum

Old Town San Diego Attractions

The museums are fun for the whole family.  In historic Old Town San Diego, you will see all of these buildings how they were in the 1800s. You can walk and explore the blacksmith shop or visit the bank. 

During certain seasons there are San Diego Old Town activities for the kids to do as they look at the different houses. 

Things to Do in Old Town San Diego – Shops and Entertainment 

Old Town Market Shopping

Shopping is also one of the top things to do in Old Town San Diego historic park. There are so many fun Old Town San Diego shops to explore. 

You will find handmade items as well as specialty shops that have a little something for everyone.

Magic ShopShops at Old Town

If you are looking for things to see in Old Town San Diego, make sure to stop at the magic shop.

My kids loved going to the magic shop.  The shop wasn't very big but the owner has lots of tricks up his sleeves if you know what I mean. 

It was fun seeing all the magic tricks and looking at the items in the store.

Old Town San Diego Live Entertainment

Entertainment at Old Town

If live music is your thing you will not be disappointed.  We enjoyed sitting around and listening to music. 

It is a great way to spend some time resting and enjoying the day. This was definitely one of the best things to do in Old Town San Diego.

More Old Town San Diego CA Shops

Shopping at Old Town San Diego

As you walk along San Diego Old Town what you will find is that there is a courtyard with museums and shops but all throughout this area there are many more shops with local amazing cultural items that you will love. 

You could easily spend an hour or two exploring the streets of Old Town San Diego just shopping.

Best Restaurants at Old Town San Diego 

Old Town Mexican Food

When I go to Old Town San Diego one of the things I look most forward to is eating!  There are some amazing Mexican restaurants in this area. 

Everything is made fresh you can even watch as the restaurant prepares fresh tortillas.  I haven't had a chance to eat at all of these restaurants but most recently we went to Cafe Coyote and really liked it. There are also food tours in this area. 

Here are the best restaurants in Old Town San Diego according to USA Today:

Mexican Food in Old Town

  1. Cafe Coyote
  2. Old Town Mexican Cafe and Cantina
  3. Miguel's Cocina
  4. Casa de Reyes
  5. Casa Guadalajara

One thing that surprised me is that the Sushi in Old Town is supposed to be the best in all of San Diego.

Non- Mexican Restaurants in Old Town San Diego

  1. Sushi Tadokora
  2. Harney Sushi
  3. Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant
  4. Jack and Giulio's Italian Restaurant
  5. Barra Barra Saloon

Hopefully, you will get to try a few of these places out! If it is your birthday you may even get to be serenaded by a mariachi band!

Happy Birthday in Old Town San Diego

I loved visiting Old Town San Diego for my Birthday! It was a so fun! I highly recommend going to the restaurants at Old Town San Diego Ca! 

Annual Events at Old Town San Diego 

Day of the Dead Old Town

There are lots of fun things to do in Old Town San Diego during special Mexican holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos. 

There are also great events for normal American holidays like 4th of July and Christmas.

Old Town Fiesta Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is the most lively time to go to Old Town San Diego Historic Park.  This event attracts over 100,000 people from all around. 

There are over 40 Latin bands.  A competition for Mariachis and the Ballet Folklorico is located in the Old Town historic state park.  One of the highlights is Lucha libre wrestling. All weekend long you can cheer on your favorite wrestler!

Old Town 4th of July Celebration

An old-fashioned celebration with parades, crafts, and early Old Town San Diego activities.  There are lots of demonstrations of music and clothing from the early San Diego era.

Old Town Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

Day of the Dead

Old Town San Diego Dia de los Muertos event starts with a candlelight processional that expands the entire mile and a half of the Historic Old Town Park.

The weekend events include traditional face painting and mask making.  This is the holiday to honor the dead, and a public alter is located in El Campo Santo cemetery where everyone is encouraged to add memories of their loved ones.

Old Town Los Posadas (celebration of the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem)

This celebration is from December 16-24 to honor Mary and Joseph's journey to deliver the baby Jesus.  Decorations are everywhere!  There is a piñata after the processional.

San Diego Old Town is where you will want to be during these holidays! 

Things to Do in Old Town San Diego – Tours

Things to do in Old Town San Diego

If you are looking for things to do in Old Town San Diego consider going on a tour. There are lots of fun tours in the San Diego area.

Old Town Trolley Tour San Diego: Hop On Hop Off

Things to do in Old Town San Diego - Tour

This Old Town Trolley Tour actually takes you all over San Diego.  So it is great if you do not want to drive, it will pick you up at various places in San Diego.

 Also, if you start at Old Town and want to see more of the city it will take you to your next location.  This is a really popular tour.

Guided Tour of San Diego with Dinner Cruise

The Guided San Diego Tour with Dinner Cruise is a great option to learn and discover things that only a tour guide would know!

Are You Ready for All the Fun Things to Do in Old Town San Diego?

Old Town San Diego Shops

On our three days in San Diego, Old Town San Diego was one of our favorite stops!  We loved all of the fun things to do in Old Town San Diego.  Hopefully, this post gives you lots of ideas of what to do in Old Town San Diego.

I know you will have so much fun! 

San Diego is one of the best cities in California and is a great family vacation. I highly recommend it!

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    1. For sure! I hope we get to go back soon, we were suppose the day everything closed like Legoland! We canceled our trip but want to go back and go to the Zoo.

  1. We stayed one night near Old Town last summer during our California trip. It was a Marriot that even had a Mexican vibe to it. We’d spent the morning at La Jolla, and then we spent the afternoon and evening in Old Town. I loved it. We ate dinner at Old Town Mexican Cafe, and then we did the ghost tour of the Whaley House. (I need to catch up on some writing about the area!)

    1. As I was writing this I learned that an empress from China had her people come to San Diego to mine for a certain jewel that was in this area. Almost all of it went to China.

  2. We head over to Old Town SD every single time we visit, it’s such a fantastic place! I love milling around the shops (RUST General Store and Cousin’s Candy Shop are two of our favorites!). We always find some fabulous food too!

  3. Old Town San Diego is a lot of fun. Honestly, one of our favorite places to spend the day in San Diego

  4. I love Old Town San Diego. You’ve highlighted several places I haven’t experienced before so will definitely check them out when I return.

  5. I must admit I haven’t heard of Old Town San Diego, but good to know it’s just a few minutes away from San Diego Zoo. Interesting history and looks like a cool town to explore when out in that area.

  6. This is such an informative post and looks like such a fun place to visit! Looking at the food is making me hungry too! 😋

  7. Wow, that looks so cool! San Diego is one of the few places out west that I would like to travel to. If I ever make it, Old Town will be on my to do list.

  8. It looks like there is a wide variety of fun activities and interesting things to see in San Diego. Love it!

  9. We used to get out to Cali every other year before we had our second child. Now, our visits are few and far between. However, if and when we go back out, this will definitely be on our list! Thanks!

  10. So much amazing information here! Thanks for all the tips and info. I’ve been to San Diego before but not for a while… hope to go back again after all this craziness is over!

  11. Great visual tour! Thanks for sharing. My middle son and his wife live at Twentynine Palms – this might be great for a weekend outing or next time we get to go visit! 🙂

  12. I didn’t know that their is an Old Town San Diego. It’s nice to know the history of San Diego and they were able to find some gold in the old times. Do they still have golds around the area? Like a gold mining or it is all gone?

  13. Lisa this was GREAT! I’ve actually had the chance to go out to San Diego and see “Old Town.” There is SO much to see you’re right it could take an entire day. It was a blast and the food was amazing too 😊💜

  14. I have never visited San Diego but want to. I would definitely eat all the Mexican food I could get, and take the Hop on Hop off tour. Those are always great tours.

  15. San Diego is for sure on the top of my list of must visit place. I cannot wait when this pandemic is over so we all can continue our travel adventures.
    Thank you so much for sharing this. Lots of great information. I will surely use it when visiting this place some time soon.

  16. I absolutely love Old Town, it has been many years since my last visit, but i truly had a wonderful time while there.

  17. I love hearing about the towns that aren’t at the forefront. I like old towns. San Diego may be a definite stop during a California trip.

  18. I’ve never been to Old Town San Diego! Looks like a great place to spend some time and definitely to eat! 🙂

  19. I’ve been to San Diego but not to Old Town. Looks like I may need another trip out west when we can travel!!

  20. I had no idea there was even such thing as old town San Diego. So full of history thank you for sharing!

  21. Ive lived in SD for years but i must admit I just did not tour it. I know SD is a tourist spot but i never once become a tourist in my own backyard. I got caught up with work and stuff. I think its time to slow down and savor what’s around me. Ive. Heard of the old town bus tour-guess I’d start there. Thanks!

    1. It’s hard sometimes to tour your own city. I haven’t wrote hardly anything about Salt Lake City even though I have lived here for 10 years! I need too!

  22. Looks fantastic. We’ve never been to California but we have friends who live in San Diego, so hopefully they can show us some of these amazing sites when we go.

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