Old Town State Park, Heritage Park, San Diego Avenue
2 hrs or longer
1 Mile (1.6 km) loop
Easy to add to all tours if you come here in the evening
From Del Mar:
Use I- 5 South and exit at Sea World Drive/Tecolote Rd. From there make a left into Fiesta Rd/Pacific Hwy and follow the road. Underneath the Interstate bridge make a left into Taylor Street and turn right into Congress Street. To your left are two public parking lots but you can also find parking along San Diego Ave and in the side streets.
From Mission Bay: Take W Mission Bay Drive towards the airport and merge onto Sports Arena Blvd. Follow the Arena Blvd until the intersection of Rosecrans Street. Continue on Rosecrans, cross the Interstate bridge and follow Taylor Street. Make a right into Congress Street. To your left are the public parking lots but you can also find parking along San Diego Ave and in the side streets.
From Downtown: Take I-5 North and exit at Old Town Ave.
Coming down the ramp make a right into Hortensia Street and an immediate left into San Diego Ave. You either can park along San Diego Ave or at the side streets or the public parking lots along Congress Street.
From Point Loma: Follow Rosecrans Street to the north and cross the I-5 bridge. Behind the bridge continue straight ahead on Taylor Street and turn right into Congress Street. To your left are two public parking lots but you can also find parking along San Diego Ave and in the side streets.
From Coronado Island: After crossing the Coronado Bay Bridge take I-5 North and exit at Old Town Ave. Coming down the ramp make a right into Hortensia Street and an immediate left into San Diego Ave. You either can park along San Diego Ave or at the side streets or the public parking lots along Congress Street.
If the two parking lots at Congress Street are full there is alternative parking at Taylor & Calhoun Street, Juan & Mason, and Twiggs & Juan Street. Moreover there are parking meters along San Diego Ave and in the side streets..
Old Town State Historic Park
The best way to start your walk through Old Town’s State Park is to follow the little paths at the left from the parking lots at Congress Street to the corner of Wallace & Garden Street. Inside the Robinson Rose Building you will find the state park’s visitor center (next to the restrooms).
The visitor center provides you with free walking maps including detailed information about all historic landmarks. Alternatively you can download a map under the following link: http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/663/files/OldSanDiego.pdf
Settlers founded the Old Town area around 1820. It’s considered the birthplace of California. They decided to start building homes at the foothills of the Presidio Hill instead of surrounding the Presidio and Mission on the hilltop. Old Town was the governmental and commercial center until 1860 and had a few hundred residents.
Picture: Old Town San Diego State Historic Park/www.parks.ca.gov
Only 40 years later new residents, including Alonzo Horton, a realtor, decided to move closer to the waterfront. The move was meant to take advantage of the navigable water, which shortened the way of transporting goods to and from the residents. Old Town was quickly abandoned and in 1871 most residents had moved to Horton’s New Town - today’s downtown area. For more information visit the Old Town Guide under: http://www.oldtownsandiegoguide.com/history.htm
1st stop: Historic Buildings in Old Town
The majority of the old buildings are lined up along Garden Street at Washington Square. Coming from the visitor center you pass five buildings (to your right) that were built from 1821 – 1872. By today they were transformed into shops or museums.
Crossing Mason Street the sightseeing continues to both sides up to San Diego Ave. At the corner of Mason and Garden Street you have the Casa de Estudillo. The casa is the most famous adobe in the park and was built and finished by the Predio’s commander in 1829.
Down Mason Street follows the Mason Street School the first public school house in San Diego. The building was completed in 1865 and is open to the public daily from 10am – 4 pm.
Behind the school you are approaching Casa de Machado y Stewart. Stroll around the house to discover one of the lovliest gardens in Old Town. The house was built in the 1830s.
Return to Garden Street and look at the house next to the Casa de Estudillo, the Casa de Pedrorena. A ship agent that married one of the commander’s daughters planned this house in 1842. When the ship agent died in 1850 the house still was under construction. His son finished it in 1869.
Instead of leaving the park turn left and make another left into Calhoun Street to explore the other side of the park. Here you have the former theatre, old stables and the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Todays Cosmopolitan Hotel was known as Casa de Bandini, the social center of the former town. A Peruvian settler who became a Mexican citizen and later one of the commanders’ sons-in-law completed it in 1829.
At the end of Calhoun you are approaching ‘Plaza del Pasado’ with several shops and restaurants. The many shops, galleries and restaurants inside the historic park might give you the impression of a tourist trap. This is partially true but aside its commercialization, the buildings and grounds are beautiful and you shouldn’t miss the scenery. The advantage coming here during the evening is that it is less crowded.
2nd stop: Heritage Park
If you are interested in Victorian houses you should make a little detour to the Heritage Park located at the corner of Harney and Juan Street. The seven historic houses were relocated when the Downtown area was expanded after World War II. The relocation was paid by private funds and preserved the houses from demolition. More details about each house and its history are listed under the Heritage Park’s website: http://www.heritageparksd.com/
3rd stop: San Diego Avenue
Along San Diego Avenue and its side streets you have even more Latin American shops and restaurants. Although it’s quite touristy it’s fun to spend an evening here and to enjoy authentic Mexican and Latin American food and drinks.
It’s hard to tell if you should eat at Plaza del Pasado or around San Diego Avenue. Just follow your guts and go for the nicest location in your opinion.