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10 Things to See and Do in Old Town San Diego

Updated on December 26, 2017
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Finn Liam has a career in librarianship, having worked in a variety of library settings. He currently lives in California's Central Valley.

Some Sights and Sounds of Old Town

If you happen to find yourself walking down the streets of old town San Diego, past the cafe's with their colorful electric lights, the aromatic shops full of sweet spices, galleries with sculptures silhouettes, you may notice the mission with the bell and steeple.

Juaniperro Serra in a bold font. A garden and some statues with garlands of flowers ambient seating under a canopy of leaves that rustle in the autumn wind.A few steps further you will see the signs where the walkway changes and a quaint arrangement of buildings that beckon your presence.

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There is a lot to do in old town and not all of it involving eating at a cafe. There are shops to see, many of them museums as well with exhibits and proprietors dressed in clothing authentic to days gone by.

If you feel like taking a little jaunt and want to take a small step back in time you can learn a few things along the way. Visit Old Town San Diego and here are a few recommended places to look at.

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1. San Diego Courthouse

This structure dates back to the Mexican American War and was the first brick building erected in the city. Built by Mormon's in 1847, it also served as the mayor's office as well as other town related activities. Behind it is the jail which appears to be a one man cell, very primitive by today's standards.

Destroyed in a fire in 1872, it was rebuilt and is now a registered historical landmark.

The Courthouse Jail

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2. The Commercial Restaurant

The Commercial Restaurant will give you an idea of what the dining experience was like in the 1800's. With the kitchen and dining areas filled with replicas of authentic foods, you can see what people enjoyed for dinner during this time period.

Originally called the Casa de Machado y Silvas, the house was built by José Manuel Machado and given as a wedding gift to his daughter María Antonia, and her husband, José Antonio Nicasio Silvas. The simple adobe building was converted into a modest restaurant by its owners in the early 1850s. Today it stands as one of the five historic adobes in Old Town San Diego.

Commercial Restaurant

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3. Robinson House

Built in 1853, this was once the actual home of James W. Robinson. Later it housed The San Diego Herald and was a major part of the commercial district. Now it serves as the park's visitors center with a miniature replica of the city as it looked in its heyday inside.

Robinson House

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4. Rust General Store

This place probably looked slightly different when it was operating in the 1800's but you get the idea. Shelves with jars and wooden floors and counter-tops. The coffee i am sure is fresh though and the sweets are definitely appetizing.

According to their official website: "RUST General Store is an 1860s inspired general store located within the Old Town San Diego, State Historic Park. The products are meant to reflect the history and culture of people living in, and the places trading with San Diego during the American/Transitional time period from 1846-1872."

It looks like a great place to taste some coffee as well as many other refreshing beverages, fine treats, tasty meats and cheeses and acquire unique spices. Definitely worth a look with a pleasant aroma.

Rust General Store

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5. Cosmopolitan Hotel

A restoration of what was once one of the original adobe buildings in the city that dates from 1827. Remodeled in 1869, the structure is still a functioning hotel with ten rooms that contain authentic furniture from the time period.

Once owned by Don Jaun Bandini, a Spanish gentleman and American patriot, it remains an active part of this community.

You can walk around the building an imagine what it was like to arrive and trying to find a place to stay or eat and drink.

6. Cosmopolitan Hotel

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7. Fountain Plaza

A nice place to relax while walking through Old Town. The cool and comforting waters from the fountain will add a nice music to your eats. The colorful flowers will brighten your day and the aroma of fine Mexican cuisine will tease your senses and inspire your appetite.


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8. Seely Stable Museum

Built in 1869, this is one of the original stagecoach stops from the Yuma to San Diego route. Albert Seely, the original owner, also ran mail from San Diego to Los Angeles. Find out what it was like in the old days when transport was done by horse and buggy. Could you have ridden this taxi across the western plains in the hot weather or rain?

It's also a great recommendation if you have kids. You can see a variety of coaches - some for human transport, others for cargo. Imagine the horses and the sounds you would have heard as you came into town.

There is also a nice Native American exhibit with baskets and Kachina dolls. Upper floor provides a nice view. Authentic photographs from the time period. Great learning experience!

Seely Stable Museum

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Seely Stable part 2

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Native American Artifacts

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9. U.S. House Tinsmith

The tinsmith may not be one of the original authentic shops in Old Town, but it certainly is worth a look. I am certain the tinsmiths of that time period had better creations to work on than colorful star like objects you hang in your garden or on your front porch.


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10. Ghost Tours

One of the interesting things about this city is that is is rumored to be one of the most haunted regions in the country. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but there are plenty of areas here where one might encounter ghosts.

From the Whaley house - once the site of execution grounds - to the spooky graveyard, ghost tours are popular here.

There is even a trolley that will take you around to some of the haunted places in the community where you are given an apparition meter that will assist you in the detection of spirits.

If you are a believer or not, it probably might be worth a chance, if you have a night and are not afraid.

Ghost Tours

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Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to read this brief article. I hope you found it somewhat informative. I didn't really have the chance to explore San Diego as much as I would have liked to, but I know that I plan to go back.

If you do find yourself in Southern California and are looking for something to do with the family that is interesting and not too costly (you are under no obligation to buy anything and admission to most places is free) check out Old Town.

If you do visit, let me know what you thought about it.

I'll leave you with some more photos.

The Restaurant

The food may be authentic from the period....
The food may be authentic from the period....
...but the prices sure are not
...but the prices sure are not

Some More Photos of Old Town

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And a Few More

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