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Visiting Historic Old Town in San Diego, California.

Updated on July 26, 2013
Old Town State Historic Park
Old Town State Historic Park
Casa de Estudio
Casa de Estudio
Dining Room
Dining Room
Casa Machado Y Stewart
Casa Machado Y Stewart
Mason Street School
Mason Street School
The Haunted Whaley House
The Haunted Whaley House
El Campo Santo Cemetery
El Campo Santo Cemetery

The History of Old Town State Historic Park.

In 1769 Father Junipero Serra established the first of 21 missions in Old Town, San Diego and the colonization of California began. Old Town is considered the birthplace of California.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was first built on a hill overlooking Old Town and was later moved to what is now known as Mission Valley to better serve the native Kumeyaay Indians in the area.

In 1968 The State of California established Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to preserve the many historic buildings located in the area including Casa de Estudillo, Casa Machado Y Stewart, and The Mason Street School.

Take a walk down San Diego Avenue and visit the Whaley House, an officially designated haunted house, and El Campo Santo, an 1850's Catholic Cemetery.

Located in the park:

The Casa de Estudillo (House of Estudillo) was constructed in 1825 as the home of Don Jose Antonio de Estudillo, a Spanish aristocrat, and the Commandant of the Presidio, a fortified base built to protect against pirates, hostile native indians, and enemy colonists . It became a sanctuary for women and children during the American occupation of California in 1846. This 170 year old adobe hacienda is a great example of San Diego life in the 1800's.

The Casa Machado Y Stewart was built in 1836 by Corporal Jose Manuel Machado for his family. His daughter, Rosa, lived there after his death and married John Stewart, a sailor. The house has a dirt floor, vegetable garden, and a large hole in the yard where adobe brick was made.

The Mason Street School was built in 1865 and was the first one room public school house in San Diego. The first teacher was Mary Chase Walker. Her salary was $65 a month. Mary later quit teaching to marry Ephraim Morse, president of the school board.

Located on San Diego Avenue:

The Whaley House was built in 1856 by Thomas Whaley, a succesful businessman, who moved to San Diego from San Francisco with his family. It was the only two story brick house in San Diego, a marvel at the time.

The Whaley House is an officially designated haunted house. People report seeing Thomas Whaley standing in the parlor or on the upper landing of the stairway.

Another reported resident ghost is Yankee Jim Robinson who was hanged on the property in 1852 for stealing a horse.

When we visited the house a few years ago someone, or thing, tugged at my husband’s shirt twice. Almost as if a child wanted to play.

We were standing by the kitchen entrance when the first tug happened and at the top of the stairs looking at a bedroom with childrens toys on display when the second tug happened.

When my husband figured out it wasn't me doing the tugging he moved so fast down those stairs and out of that house you would have thought the house was on fire!

When we visit Old Town today and walk toward the house my husband moves as far across the street as he can get. I haven't had any luck talking him into going back.

El Campo Santo Cemetery was established in 1850 and used until 1880. Most of San Diego’s early pioneers are buried here including Yankee Jim. Old Town expanded over the years. Today some of the pioneer graves are now located under San Diego Avenue and Linwood St and marked only by small markers in the sidewalk.

So come get your fiesta on. Maybe you will catch Thomas Whaley or Yankee Jim sitting next to you!

Tips: There are many good places to eat in Old Town. Two restaurants make their own tortillas and you are welcome to come watch and sample. Cafe Coyote y Cantina and Old Town Mexican Cafe are both located along San Diego Avenue.

Take a hike. Great hiking trails in Mission Valley and the surrounding area.

Be sure to visit the USS Midway Museum downtown.

The Rancho Guajome Adobe in Vista, Ca. is another great example of an old adobe hacienda.

Are we there yet? What to take on a road trip:

An ice chest with food, snacks and drinks for everyone. Forget sharing.

Don't forget your chargers, headphones, earplugs, meds, and a bag for garbage

Take along your Kindle and cell phone to keep yourself and the kids occupied on long road trips. Down load any e-books and apps that will help you.

Remember to take along a great camera. We found the Sony Nex-5 to be light weight and user friendly.

Freeways, streets, and traffic jams are frustrating. Take along a good GPS system and visit off season.

Cosmopolitan Hotel

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Albondigas (Mexican Meatball Soup)

Cook Time

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 10 min
Ready in: 30 min
Yields: Serves 6-8


  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1 Lg. Onion
  • 2 Lg. Garlic clove
  • 3 Qts. Chicken base, stock, or broth, (add water if base)
  • 1/2 C. Tomato sauce
  • 1/3 C. Raw white rice
  • 1 Lb. Ground beef, or turkey
  • 1/4 C. Chopped parsley, or dried
  • 1 Raw egg, or 1/4 C. egg beaters
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp. Pepper
  • 1 Tsp. Mexican oregano, chipotle chili pepper, chile powder
  • Dash Hot sauce, soy sauce
  • XLg. bag Mixed vegetables


  1. Heat oil in a 5-qt pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until tender. Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, and spices to taste. Bring to a boil.
  2. Prepare meatballs. Mix rice, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix in raw egg, Form 1-inch meatballs.
  3. Add the meatballs to the simmering soup. When the meatballs float to the top add the mixed vegetables. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Let sit until the vegetables are done but not over cooked.
  4. If desired garnish with cilantro and add mint leaves to the meat mixture. You can also vary the vegetables. For example fresh zucchini or peas in their pods.


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