While I had the pleasure of visiting San Diego years ago, it was only for one night, and I didn’t come close to exploring the area. Much to my delight, I found myself back down in San Diego with more time for wandering, and in an area I knew nothing about: Old Town San Diego. It’s an incredible area, and if you are even vaguely interested in California history, this is the place to come. The area was settled by pensioned soldiers and their families in the early 1800’s. The entire area is now a designated historic state park. As an added bonus, they have some incredible restaurants, shops and hotels to make your stay that much more fun.
If you have never been to the area, where do you go?
We headed straight for the Cosmopolitan Hotel. While the parts of the hotel date back to 1827 (it was originally a private home), the structure was expanded and formally opened as a hotel in 1869. Throughout the years it functioned as a stagecoach stop, gathering spot, canning facility and all manner of hospitality accommodations before being entirely renovated in 2010. The preservation work is outstanding, and because of its status as being part of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the park service strictly oversees all aspects of the hotel from the color of the linens to the what is served in the restaurant. From the moment you walk into the antique-filled room, you feel like you’ve stepped back into time. Though fear not, your modern comforts (including Wi-Fi) are readily available. There are even rumors of the place being haunted, though we slept easy and cannot confirm any of those stories.
While the park is open for self-guided tours, the Visitor’s Center does provide guided tours. If you are interested in learning about the history of the various buildings within the park, and how it all came to be, it’s time well spent.
Shops, Shops, Shops
Many of the adobes that are still standing have been converted into shops. I found the silver jewelry particularly delightful, but all manner of metal work can be found there, as well as a significant number of paintings and sculptures. You’ll notice right away that the shop keepers are all dressed in period costumes. It’s a fun touch that allows you to keep connected to the history of the park. Be sure to check out the plaques outside each of the doorways. They give you the history of the home and renovation details.
It’s no surprise that this area is full of museums. From Well’s Fargo museum to the first San Diego Courthouse, you will get to see artifacts from the mid-1800’s and onward. California history buffs will find these stops particularly interesting as they really highlight a period of great change for the evolving state. And if you are endlessly fascinated with hauntings, take a short walk down to the Whaley House. It’s noted as being the first two-story brick building in the San Diego area, and there have been many spectre sightings over the years.
You could easily spend a week trying out the different restaurants in and around Old Town. If you only have a weekend, I recommend two spots: Barra Barra Saloon and the Cosmopolitan Hotel Restaurant. Barra Barra has fantastic margaritas and delicious Mexican-style food. The portions are large and the prices are reasonable. Plus, it’s located just outside Fiesta De Reyes district and next door to the Visitor’s Center. The Cosmopolitan Hotel has an excellent restaurant attached to it that is brimming with historic charm. We opted to eat outside in their courtyard and enjoyed both the live music and the excellent food. Normally, I would recommend trying to go outside of the hotel to eat, but the twinkle lights and lure of terrific evening swayed me in its direction. Also, if you stay at the hotel, check to see if they have any “wine and dine” packages available. Not only does it bring considerable savings, but it may help you narrow down some of your options.
(This article was originally posted on Examiner.com. Due to that site’s closure, it has been republished here).