Old Town San Diego is the birthplace of California and 200 hundred years later continues to be the hubbub of excitement. The history, the culture, the proximity to sea and the tequila, make Old Town one of my favorite places to visit in San Diego.
Although there are said to be plenty of ghosts, this is no ghost town. There is so much to do with all the shops, restaurants, bars and historic sites. The constant hustle and bustle of activity keeps it full of life every day. With so much to see, do and enjoy, it is no wonder why I love visiting Old Town San Diego with kids on the regular.
Here’s what’s in this article:
Unique area attractions
- Toby’s Candle and Soap Shop
- Live Music at Fiesta de Reyes
- Old Town Trolley Tours
- Bazaar Del Mundo
- Cousin’s Candy Shop
- Racine & Laramie Tobacconist
- Sheriff’s Museum
- Old Town Most Haunted
- The Historic State Park
- Whaley House
- El Campo Santo Cemetery
- Mormon Battalion Historic Site
- Heritage County Park
- The Seeley Sable
- La Casa de Estudillo
- Mason Street Schoolhouse
- First San Diego Courthouse
- La Casa de Machado y Stewart
- Wells Fargo Museum
- McCoy House
- Robinson-Rose House
Where to stay
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Kid-friendly Things to do in Old Town San Diego
Toby’s Candle and Soap Shop
2645 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Not only can you buy some lovely candles and soaps here at Toby’s, you can even dip your candles! The kids love to dip their candles. It is an activity we do every time we’re in town. It’s fun, inexpensive and makes for a great souvenir.
Fiesta de Reyes
2754 Calhoun St, San Diego, CA 92110
All day there is live music and dancing going on in the plaza. It makes for a celebratory atmosphere. It is one of our favorites things to do in Old Town San Diego. The kids love to dance as well as watch the many performances going on at any given time at Fiesta De Reyes, Cosmopolitan Hotel, Casa de Maria and more. Just wander around on any given weekend and you will find live music everywhere.
Old Town Trolley Tours
4010 Twiggs Street, San Diego, CA 92110
This is a great way to see all the historic sites and attractions in Old Town San Diego, such as the Heritage Victorian Village and the many adobe homes built in the 1800’s which housed some of California’s most important historical figures. They also have a ghost tour for those who would like to see the spookier side of town.
Bazaar Del Mundo
4133 Taylor St, San Diego, CA 92110
Wander through the narrow streets in search for unique, cultural and sometimes bizarre treasures to take home. There are so many Old Town San Diego shops and galleries that everyone is sure to find something that suits their tastes.
Cousin’s Candy Shop
2711 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
If Mama gets her tequila, then it is only reasonable for the kids to get their candy! This sweet little confectionery is housed inside one of the many historic buildings within the Historic Plaza. Loaded with sweet treats, including homemade fudge, taffy and licorice, this is another favorite stop in Old Town San Diego. It has a vintage candy shop vibe and who doesn’t love a little candy?
Racine & Laramie Tobacconist
2737 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
This authentic 1846 cigar shop houses one my favorite adult treats! Cigars!!! The smell of old wood combines with the haunting aroma of cigar smoke to create a magical sensation. It just feels good.
2384 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Free admission, the Sheriff’s Museum San Diego is a fun and interactive experience where families can learn about the history of the sheriff’s department. You can see what it feels like to be locked in a cell, solve a crime scene, be a defendant in court and even sit in real Sheriff vehicles like squad cars, motorcycles and helicopters. The kids can take some fun mugshots and you can even give them a “time-out” in a jail cell! It is definitely one of the most unique things to do in San Diego with kids.
Old Town Most Haunted
2754 Calhoun St. San Diego, CA 92110
As Old Town San Diego is the birthplace of California, it has a lot of history and with history usually comes some ghost stories. There are a lot of ghost tours available in Old Town, but the Old Town Most Haunted is an easy one to do with kids. We recently took this ghostly Old Town San Diego walking tour with our family, from grandpa in a wheelchair to baby Kent in a stroller. You can watch our adventure on our YouTube channel. The host, Michael, meets the group in front of Fiesta De Reyes and starts a simple walking tour explaining the many paranormal events around this historic city. It is a great way to see Old Town San Diego at night. It is not too scary and all ages are welcomed.
Historic Sites in Old Town San Diego
The Historic State Park
4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110
Located within the main plaza, this park was established in 1846 when the American flag was first raised. The green is surrounded by historic buildings, which now house various shops, museums and restaurants. Families can still enjoy this historic jewel, letting the kids run around the same flag pole that has stood firmly for 200 years.
2476 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
According to Travel Channel, Whaley House is the most haunted place in America. It is a beautiful historic home, dating back to 1850’s, which also functioned as the town’s courthouse, public theater and general store. Although a relatively happy home, it was also the sight of some tragic events, like the suicide of daughter Violet and the hanging of Yankee Jim. You can tour during the day and at night they hold ghost walks. This is my daughter’s favorite thing to do when in Old Town San Diego, so it is a must see! Head to our YouTube Channel to see a full tour of the Whaley House.
El Campo Santo Cemetery
2410 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
This quaint old cemetery was established in 1849. Located in the heart of Old Town San Diego this historic landmark is a great way to step into San Diego’s past and mingle with the locals. This is also known to be a hotbed of paranormal activity and is a popular stop on ghost tours. We love to make frequent visits to the cemetery, say hello and give the old souls some company. Also keep your eye out for the little medallions sprinkled around the streets and sidewalks of Old Town San Diego as they make grave sites that were built over.
Mormon Battalion Historic Site
2510 Juan St, San Diego, CA 92110
This historic site commemorates the members of the Mormon Battalion that joined the United State Army in the Mexican-American War of 1846. You can get a guided tour taking you through journey of the men and their families had to make as well as view historical artifacts.
Heritage County Park
2454 Heritage Park Row, San Diego, CA 92110
This is a collection of restored Victorian Homes as well as the city’s first synagogue. It is a beautiful spot to wander around exploring the homes of wealthy residents from the 1880’s-1890’s. The sites include, the Senlis Cottage (1896) in a Nineteenth Century Vernacular style, the Sherman-Gilbert House (1887) and the McConaughy House (1887) in Stick Eastlake style, the Bushyhead House (1887) in Italianate style, the Christian House (1889) in Queen Anne style, Burton House (1893) and Temple Beth Israel (1889) in Classic Revival style. There is also an easy little trail behind the Christian House, that the kids will love and gives you great views of San Diego.
The Seeley Sable
2648 Calhoun St, San Diego, CA 92110
After Albert Seeley bought the Bandini property in 1869, turning it into the Cosmopolitan hotel, he expanded the original barn. Now you can visit the stable and view the collection of 19th century overland transportation gear and vehicles, like a carreta, mud wagon, concord stage and two-wagon freighter.
La Casa de Estudillo
4000 Mason St, San Diego, CA 92110
This historic 12 room adobe home was built in 1827 and housed one of the state’s most distinguished families, the Estudillos. Left to ruin in 1887, the home was given new life as “Ramona’s Marriage Place” thanks to the famous novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona. La Casa de Estudillo encircles a tranquil courtyard and was restored to its former glory that we all can enjoy today.
Mason Street Schoolhouse
3966 Mason St, San Diego, CA 92110
This cute single room schoolhouse was San Diego’s first public school built in 1865. It is located in the historic plaza just behind the many shops the surround the park. Our kids love visiting historic schoolhouses and this one gives that old wonderful feeling of being in another time.
First San Diego Courthouse
2733 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Built by the Mormon Battalion in 1849, this was originally supposed to be the town hall, but was used as the Boundary Commission headquarters for the Mexican and U.S members. Then it served as the courthouse from 1850 until 1869 as well as a church, school and polling place.
La Casa de Machado y Stewart
2707 Congress St, San Diego, CA 92110
This 1830 adobe building was home to corporal Jose Manuel Machado. Machado and his wife raised 11 children in this modest two-room home! It became the Stewart house when one of his daughters, Rosa, married a New Englander named Jack Stewart and inherited the house. Descendants lived in the home as recently as 1966 before it was sold to the state and restored to its 1830’s glory.
Wells Fargo Museum
2733 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
Housed inside the historic Colorado House, the Wells Fargo Museum was originally a two-story hotel in 1851. The building went on to function as many things over the years and now it is run by Wells Fargo as a museum featuring an original stagecoach from the 1800’s and a working telegraph.
4002 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110
Built in 1869 this is the reconstructed former home of Old Town’s sheriff and state senator James McCoy and his wife. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you explore this Greek Revival historic home museum.
4098 Mason St, San Diego, CA 92110
Built in 1853, this home function as Mr. Robinson’s grand residence and law office. The funny thing about this house was that the bottom floor was adobe and the second floor was wood, but the bottom floor was painted to look like wood and the second floor was painted to look like adobe. Weird. The home was sold to a Mr.Rose in 1968 upon Robinson’s death and served many functions over the years.
Family-Friendly Old Town San Diego Restaurants
Casa De Reyes
2754 Calhoun St, San Diego, CA 92110
This is one of the best restaurants in Old Town San Diego and my favorite to hit up, because of the great food and proximity to live entertainment. All outdoor seating, Casa De Reyes feels like you are at a party in the backyard. The portions are large, perfect for sharing family-style. It is loud and wild, perfect for dining with kids. It is one of our favorite places to go to hear live music with the kids. Check out why we love it and other places in the US to hear live music with your kids in our Hot List.
Old Town Mexican Café
2489 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
In operation for over 30 years, this restaurant in Old Town San Diego has great homemade tortillas and hosts amazing tequila dinner showcases which feature different brands of tequila paired with food throughout a four-course dining experience.
2304 San Diego Ave B, San Diego, CA 92110
A little off the beaten path, but still walk-able from the plaza, this restaurant focuses on upscale Mexican dishes that incorporate the universal flavors that come from greater Mexico. With over 2,000 tequilas including their private label, El Agave Artesanal, El Agave Tequileria is not just a restaurant, but a tequila museum.
4016 Wallace St, San Diego, CA 92110
Same executive chef as Casa De Reyes, but here the menu takes a more complex twist. Like El Agave, Barra Barra branches out from the comfort food familiar to the masses as it tries to represent border Mexican cuisine. Location is great, right within the plaza with an awesome patio overlooking the historic state park.
2467 Juan St, San Diego, CA 92110
It is a rare trip to Old San Diego that we don’t eat at the Tequila Factory. We usually stay at the Hacienda Hotel and always start our day with an amazing Mexican brunch and live music. Actually, we end up having so much fun here that we end up booking another night just so we can keep the party going. The patio has amazing panoramic views of the Old Town that make you feel on top of the world.
2547 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
This casual farmhouse-style restaurant is usually our first stop when we arrive in Old Town San Diego. The food is traditional American comfort food, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, soups and more. The kids will usually enjoy some munchies here, but we come for the half-yard beers. They have really nice craft beer selection and prices are reasonable.
Fred’s Mexican Cafe
2470 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
This local Mexican Old Town San Diego restaurant has a very colorful and funky atmosphere. The giant covered patio is perfect enjoying a meal alfresco day or night. They usually have really good specials going on for happy hour for both food and drink. Yes, like many of the Mexican restaurants in Old Town San Diego, Fred’s also make homemade tortillas.
Best hotels in Old Town San Diego
4041 Harney St, San Diego, CA 92110
This charming hotel is in the heart of Old Town and walking distance from all the shops and restaurants. The Spanish-style facade with romantic patios, balconies and courtyards are reminiscent of early Californian missions. We love the atmosphere of the Hacienda as well as the location. They also have large rooms for families that include two-queens and a sofa bed. For more details about our favorite hotel in Old Town San Diego, see my full post, Here.
2660 Calhoun St, San Diego, CA 92110
Built in 1827 as a private residence, this boutique hotel has only 10 rooms which are all beautifully decorated with furnishings from the 1870’s in Victorian-style, staying true to the time. The Cosmopolitan is centrally located within the main plaza, but isn’t the best for big families. The rooms are more for couples, containing only one queen to twin size beds. It is also said to be haunted and if you are into that added spook factor check out the history on my post: Haunted Hotels in San Diego. Considering the location and history, the rates aren’t too bad either. Check rates HERE.
That’s a Wrap!
Hopefully this post gave you lots of ideas for what to do in Old Town San Diego. After writing this post I am about to throw the kids in the minivan and head to Old Town San Diego. I am thirsty for some tequila and I am thirsty for a good time! What better place to take the kids than a town all about celebrating family, culture and history! Come celebrate life with me in Old Town San Diego with kids!
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I love visiting Old Town in San Diego. When we have out of town guests, we always take them there first. There’s so much to do without spending any money at all, and if you want to dine there, the options are plentiful. You didn’t mention one of our favorite activities — visiting the Mormon Battalion Visitors Center. There, they have lots of interactive displays and themed rooms that depict the longest military march in US history. Rooms include a desert campsite, a general store where kids are dressed up and “outfitted” for the march, and a replica of the first San Diego courtroom. Kids get to make adobe bricks and pan for gold in the back yard. Anyway, there’s a lot more there than I’ve written about. If you haven’t been, you should check it out. It’s completely free, and there’s even a dedicated parking lot for it!
Yes! So much to do and I just love the history. It is our favorite place in San Diego. Plus, it is walking distance from the train station!
Looks like a lot of fun ( and tequila) in San Diego. I’m due for a return trip and definitely inspired now.
Oh yeah! Good times in SD.
Heading to San Diego end of October so this article comes at a perfect time! Sounds like you all enjoyed yourselves!
This looks like a great place for families. From the food to the adventure, it looks like a win/win. In my opinion, January is always a good time of year to go anywhere south.
Old Town is seriously so much fun and January is great, because the crowds are gone!
I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!!
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*blushing* Why thank you! Please come back and visit often, I write new content every week, and we update our YouTube channel every Monday at 8:30am PST. http://www.YouTube.com/c/hotmamatravel
It looks like a lovely place to visit. The drinks, especially, are interesting! I would also love the candle dipping and visiting the historic park.
Old Town is the best. We love hanging out in the historic plaza.
Being European, it’s lovely for me to see a place in the U.S. that offers some culture and history. I think San Diego would suit me – I must visit one day.
Yes, San Diego has plenty of culture and history…and tequila!
I love the idea of the trolley tours. Even the ghost tour sounds like fun. It is a pity I don’t live in the States or else I would be heading to San Diego to go exploring.
Well, when you do get to the states, definitely add Old Town San Diego to the list.
Old Town sounds like a blast! Definitely going to add it to my list of West Coast stuff I want to do. The food and drinks are right up my alley.
Yes, we love going to Old Town to eat and drink! That’s the main thing on our to-do list.
The Sheriff’s Museum is a great stop for all ages, and the entry fee is simply a donation. They have a lot of cool props and photo ops too. They aren’t open every day though, so check their website for hours: http://sheriffsmuseum.org
Yes we have visited there a few times and have a few sheriffs in the family. Will actually add a section in this post about the museum.