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Posted by on Jun 17, 2011 | 13 comments

Papillon Photos: Old Town San Diego

Before last weekend, I have never been to San Diego even though I have lived 8 years in California.  Well, I have officially been to San Diego in many occasions but I don’t count them like proper visit to the sunny city.

I have visited Sea World many times and I went once to the famous San Diego Zoo.  But inside a thematic park it is really difficult to get a taste of a city.  That is why this past weekend I decided to visit some of the most famous neighborhoods of this border city.

My first stop was Old Town.  Yes, I wanted to see where everything began or as the posters all around stated: the birthplace of California.  The park preserves the first European settlement in the West Coast.  Father Junipero Serra founded the San Diego de Alcala mission (first mission in a chain of 21 missions that were vital for California’s Colonization) in the area.  Later, a Mexican community was established around 1820.  In 1846, the United States flag was raised in the Plaza de Armas (Main Square in Old Town).  The state of California established Old Town State Historic Park in 1968 to preserve the heritage of the area.

We arrived early and had breakfast in the area. I started to like this place right away.  Where are you going to find a big breakfast plate for 3 bucks?  The idea was to have a walk around the Old Town neighborhood and around the Historic Park.  Our initial walk thru the neighborhood gave us a hint of what was coming ahead.  Old adobes, colorful paint, bright bougainvilleas, spiky cactuses and Mexican atmosphere perfumed the air.

Store located in Old Town

Once we entered the Historic Park, we got involved in the atmosphere.  I should have put on my boots that day. This was a real town so there are all sorts of buildings that were used for different purposes.

For example, there is the Mason school which is the oldest school in the San Diego country.  I took a look inside the building and was able to observe the wooden chairs and the board where the Pledge of Alliance to the United States was written with chalk.  The most interesting object was a cone hat with the word dunce on it.  I thought this was something only seen in movies but apparently teachers used to punish kids using that hat.

Oldest school in San Diego County

This is where you needed to go if you where sick.

Doctor's Office

And there are always the people who get in trouble. Therefore, the town had its own courthouse.


If there is a courthouse, there has to be some sort of jail.  In this case, they had a small cell.  I took a look inside the cell and let me tell you that it’s really small. I felt sorry for the guys who were locked there at any point.  I am sure they had a bad time in there (not the greatest place to be if you are claustrophobic).

Cell behind the Courthouse

Some of the buildings have been converted to businesses.  However, these are not typical stores or places to eat.  The charm, history and character are still there.  Take a look at the outside and inside of this coffee shop.

Outside coffee shop

The baristas were so nice.  They offered us free hibiscus and spiced tea samples. Yum!!

Inside coffee shop

You can also take a look at private residences like the Casa de Estudillo (Estudillo is a last name).  This was one of largest houses in town and it was built in the typical style of the time (L shape).

Casa de Estudillo

Casa de Estudillo

Casa de Estudillo

There are tons of decrepit (but interesting) doors and windows to discover.

Old Door

Fascinating gardens to admire.

Building near the Fiesta de Reyes Area

Shopping and dining areas for all tastes.

Hallway in Fiesta de Reyes Area

Goods for sale at Old Town

And let’s not forget about the churches.  Because there cannot be a colonial town without a church.  This one is outside the Historic Park.

Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion

For some reason, you cannot think about the Old West without thinking of burros.  There were some in the park to add to the feeling.  I mean live burros …


dead burros (this one looks like Donkey from the Shrek movie).

Another Burro

Why you should visit this neighborhood and park (or why this place rocks!):

  • The entrance to the Historic Park is free.
  • The park preserves tons of old buildings that you can visit (and most of them have exhibits).
  • There are free walking tours offered (go to the visitors center to find out the times).  The Cosmopolitan Hotel also offers a free tour of the property.
  • There are period demonstrations (ex. Blacksmith demonstrations).
  • There are people dressed in period costumes.
  • There are multiple food and shopping options.
  • Tons of ghost roam the area (read my story about this)
  • You feel like you have entered another world.

In summary, I don’t know how I have missed this place for so long.  So close and so far at the same time. Don’t worry San Diego, I will visit you again. I mean I will visit you again soon.

For more Phot Friday Fun, visit Delicious Baby.


  1. This is great Ruth! I lived in San Diego for four years and have lots of friends and family who live there now (in fact, I’m going there tomorrow for my nephew’s birthday party). I’ve been to Old Town before but only for the Mexican food. I didn’t know there was actually an “old town” there! I’ll definitely check it out 🙂
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..The Road to Dual CitizenshipMy Profile

  2. Very interesting! I had no idea this existed either. Like you, I’ve been in California for a number of years but there are many places I have yet to visit – even close to where I live.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..What is Budget Travel AdventuresMy Profile

  3. San Diego’s Old Town is beautiful, but quite touristy. There’s a lovely place for wine tasting in the middle of the main courtyard that’s wonderful, though. 🙂
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..We’re heading to London!My Profile

  4. As embarrassing as it is to admit I have not ventured to this part of town yet and I’ve been living in San Diego for a year now! Well at least I got to see what it looks like thanks to you.
    Grace recently posted..Wanderlust In Bohol ParadiseMy Profile

  5. Ruth, I lived in San Diego for nine years and LOVE Old Town. Your pictures are a sweet memory for me. Thanks!
    Lisa recently posted..Taking The Plunge to TravelMy Profile

  6. Hi Ruth,

    No matter which city I am visiting I always go to the old town if there is one :). It feels like taking the time machine every single time, I like it!
    And oh, how sweet that donkey is on one of your photos! 🙂
    Virag The Escapist Mom recently posted..Don’t you just all love Harry PotterMy Profile

  7. Really interesting! I´ve been to Old Town a number of times but don´t seem to have seen nearly as much as you uncovered. The mexican food there is reason enough to go…
    robin recently posted..TiendaMy Profile

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