Things to Do Old Town San Diego: Your Exclusive Exploration of Old Town’s Secret Gems

Imagine stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the 19th century: that's what exploring Old Town San Diego feels like.

Enriched with a rich historical backdrop, cultural diversity, and a nostalgic ambiance, this area is brimming with unique attractions that lure countless visitors each year.

You can literally hang out here all day and never get bored. From restaurants and theaters to wine tasting and shopping, the Old Town San Diego activities in this neighborhood are limitless! Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a foodie, or simply an avid traveler, it has something for everyone.

Since most people don’t have all day to dedicate to just one area of San Diego, we’ve made it easier for you to explore Old Town with our list of the best things to do in Old Town. Follow along as we delve into the boundless charm of Old Town San Diego.

  A photograph of Fred's Mexican Cafe, a restaurant serving delicious Mexican dishes.
photo credit: Old Town San Diego via Facebook

Eat Mexican Food

One of the best things to do in Old Town San Diego is to enjoy an unrivaled foodie experience. From traditional local fare to novel food creations, this place is a gourmet’s paradise.

About 85% of all of the restaurants in the Old Town area are Mexican, so you won’t have a problem finding plenty of authentic dishes. With an array of authentic Mexican eateries and tequila houses, the food scene in Old Town is a culinary adventure in itself. If you’re into sampling different foods and learning about the history, hop onto the Tequila, Tacos and Tombstones Tour. You will cover a lot of ground in 2.5 hours on this walking, historic, and food tasting tour.

Make sure to grab a freshly made tortilla or a fresh churro. If you’re up for ordering some Mexican favorites at any of the restaurants, you may want to try: Chicken and Mole, Chile Relleno, Carnitas Tacos, Carne Asada Fries (uniquely San Diego), and bunuelos for dessert.

Better yet, uncover leading gastronomical treasures by putting these dining establishments on your radar, as they combine tantalizing meals, vibrant environments, and unforgettable memories. Here are some of the most delicious dining places to visit in Old Town San Diego:

Cafe Coyote – Renowned for its hand-made tortillas, Cafe Coyote serves traditional Mexican food with a contemporary twist. No wonder many called it one of the best Mexican Old Town San Diego restaurants. Their generous servings and festive atmosphere have turned it into a beloved local favorite.

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Barra Barra Saloon – Here, traditional recipes merge with innovative culinary techniques. Offering a unique take on Mexican cuisine, Barra Barra Saloon’s menu speaks to the experimental food lover in you.

Old Town Mexican Cafe – Home to some of the best carnitas in town, this cafe is a go-to place for meat lovers. Come for the food, stay for the warm, vibe that turns visitors into regulars.

Casa de Reyes – This outdoor dining experience allows you to savor your meal under the San Diego sun or stars. The carne asada and the enchiladas are must-tries, and their refreshing margaritas make for the perfect accompaniment.

Old Town Tequila Factory – This San Diego Mexican Old Town place is more than just a restaurant. It features an extraordinary view of the Old Town, a lively atmosphere, and a dedicated tequila-tasting bar. Gorge on their signature dishes like sizzling fajitas and Azteca quesadilla while sipping on over 40 varieties of tequila. This vibrant restaurant ensures that every meal is a celebration, illuminated under the San Diego sky.

Close up photo of street tacos with lots of white onion
photo credit: Xavier crook via Facebook

Explore Historic State Park and Free Museums

Old Town represents an era when Early San Diego was officially Mexico, as well as when Americans were introduced after the Mexican American war. The State Park has many replicas of the original establishments of 1820-1870, and the businesses housed in the buildings are also from a simpler time.

So, if a fascinating journey into history interests you, Historic Park should be added to the things to do Old Town San Diego. Just a short drive to San Diego Avenue and Twigs Street in San Diego and you’ll reach the Town State Historic Park. This attraction lets you encounter a myriad of reclaimed historic buildings, free museums, and stunning landmarks. From the onset, you’ll be sunk in the characteristic charm of the city’s legacy.

While in the area, be sure to visit the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant located at 2660 calhoun st san diego ca 92110. This delightful spot offers a great dining experience and friendly atmosphere, all within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

Then, seize the opportunity to discover the intriguing museums tucked away in Old Town San Diego. There are quite a few house museums that showcase what life in the “Old West” was like, such as the La Casa de Estudillo, the Stagecoach Museum, and the old Mason Street Schoolhouse.

The Casa de Estudillo is a preserved casa from the Mexican era. With its sprawling adobe structure, picturesque courtyard, and timeless decor, it’s known as one of the finest houses in Mexican California. This historic site emerges as one of the most significant remnants of San Diego’s Spanish-Mexican heritage, offering a glimpse into the elegant lifestyles of the 19th century.

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Make sure to take a trip to the Stagecoach Museum, an absolute treasure for history enthusiasts. Offering more than just a showcase of archaic stagecoaches, this museum spins an enchanting narrative about the Wild West, the advancement of transport, and the lifestyle of the early settlers. As you stroll through, you can almost hear the whispers of bygone pioneers, traders, and gold prospectors.

Then, check out of the hidden treasures of Old Town San Diego, the Junipero Serra Museum. Here, you can delve into the rich history of California, discovering captivating artifacts and engaging exhibits.

Lastly, check out the Old Mason Street Schoolhouse, it’s the first public school in San Diego. This place offers a unique glimpse into the past, telling the story of education with its vintage desks and blackboards. Witness and grasp the roots of Old Town’s earliest educational beginnings.

crowd on a sunny day with stalls and palm trees at Fiesta Old Town Cinco De Mayo in San Diego, California, USAAdmire Heritage Park

Take pleasure in exploring the fascinating Diego architecture, particularly those captivating structures from the Victorian Era. Heritage Park showcases a collection of some of the most beautiful Victorian buildings built in San Diego.

All of the buildings have been plucked from their original location and situated on the east side of Old Town. You can explore through the park, admire the intricate facades, and discover all the exciting things to do in San Diego Old Town.

This hidden gem invites you to explore its seven beautifully restored Victorian homes, each with its own rich history as well. Make sure to capture splendid photos, or catch a stunning event too. The park also serves as a backdrop for historical reenactments and vibrant festivals year-round, offering a compelling gateway for guests to experience the charm of a bygone era.

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When you get to the end, be sure to stop in for teatime at the Coral Tree Tea House. Should your schedule allow, don’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the historic sites – Presidio Park. This striking space perched atop a hill offers panoramic views over Old Town San Diego.

exterior view of the whaley house museum in old town in San Diego, California, USAVisit the Whaley House

For those daring enough to go beyond the ordinary on their Old Town San Diego to do list, why not elevate the experience with a haunted tour that promises thrills and chills?

You may feel compelled to say, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” while at The Whaley House Museum. It is known as one of America’s most haunted houses, and since it was built on the grounds where the original gallows once stood, it’s no wonder why.

This magnificent Greek Revival style residence invites visitors to peep into the layered past and ghostly legends that envelop its walls. Each room paints a vivid picture of personal histories of the Whaley family. Taking a guided tour, you’ll not only hear about the history but also the mysteries and ghost stories associated with the house. Be it the faded echoes of Thomas Whaley, his wife Anna, or their children, these spectral narratives continually intrigue, chill, and fascinate visitors.

The house is open to the public, and the staff will give you a briefing of the history of the home including the spirits that still haunt to this day. You will walk through the house, and if you’re lucky, you might run into one of the late Whaley’s.

Bring your camera with flash, and you might capture something spooky on film! Located at 2476 San Diego State Historic Park. Don’t miss the extraordinary opportunity to delve into history at the Campo Santo Cemetery during your excursion around the area.

Close up of brightly colored masks, mostly red, of different animals and faces on the Tijuana Up & Down City Tour near San Diego, California, USA
photo credit: Tijuana Up & Down City Tour

Stop by Fiesta de Reyes

A lot happens at Fiesta de Reyes. Picture this: you’re wine tasting, then watching a live Mexican folk dance, and you’re doing it all with the glow of a fire pit before you. Welcome to Fiesta de Reyes, where history lives and the fiesta (or vacation) lasts forever. Get ready to be swept up in the festive atmosphere of this place, a lively Spanish plaza nestled under the radiant San Diego sun.

For gastronomy enthusiasts, you’ll be spoilt for choice between the traditional Mexican eateries that comprise Fiesta de Reyes. Casa de Reyes and Barra Barra Saloon offer scrumptious courses that will introduce your palates to the delightful flavors of traditional Mexican cuisine. Pair your meals with a chilled Margarita, and you’ve got yourself the perfect alfresco dining experience.

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This little corner of Old Town boasts many unique shops, Mexican food, local art, local wine tasting, and entertainment. You’ll love walking through this area and shopping at some of your favorite stores. You can buy plants, seeds, and other random gifts here.

Explore the Old Town San Diego shops and town market that line its walkways. Boutique del Bazaar del Mundo, unique for its eclectic mix of international gifts and home decors, or Geppetto’s Toys, a local San Diego icon known for its quality playthings, are just a couple of gems waiting to be discovered.

Old Town San Diego is a vibrant mix of history and modern culture. Filled with inviting restaurants, charming shops, and fascinating streets, each corner teems with stories waiting to be discovered. Get lost in its captivating charm and let every unique aspect of this town. While we’ve highlighted five must-do activities, there’s a plethora of other engaging events and hidden treasures to explore.

So whether you’re deeply interested in history or simply seeking new exciting ventures, Old Town San Diego State promises an expedition teeming with rich culture and memorable adventure.

Tell Us, What’s Your Favorite Thing to Do in Old Town?

Did we miss any of your favorite spots or activity? Leave us in the comment below.

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Written by Anne Joyce Raymundo

Anne is a Filipino writer who formerly managed and created marketing strategies and materials for numerous websites and eCommerce platforms. Now, her voice...

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