Learn More About California's History At This Charming Neighborhood

California's beautiful terrain is as unique as its history. From the Native American period to early European explorers, the Gold Rush, and its rapid growth of large cities, the history of the Golden State is truly interesting. One Southern California neighborhood, in particular, is a fascinating place to visit for history buffs. It is beautiful and charming and offers ample opportunities to learn more about California's storied past.

San Diego is the site of the first Spanish settlers and California's first mission. This mission, established in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra, overlooked the historic neighborhood we now know as Old Town. U.S. military personnel raised the American flag in Old Town's plaza in 1846. Much later, in 1968, to preserve the area's rich history, California's Department of Parks and Recreation established Old Town State Historic Park, which is now oozing with opportunities to learn.

Old Town San Diego is worth a visit and easy to get to. From the I-5, simply exit at Old Town Avenue (exit 19). It's also conveniently located for public transportation. The Old Town Transit Center is accessed via trolley, bus, shuttle, and taxi.

Things to do in Old Town San Diego

San Diego is a popular city for family adventures, and Old Town offers countless attractions, including some must-visit American historical sites and museums. Popular things to do in Old Town include visiting La Casa de Estudillo, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Serra Museum, and the Whaley House. The La Casa de Estudillo is an 1825 adobe home formerly belonging to a Spanish aristocrat. Guests can tour the property to discover what life was like during the 1800s. It's free to enter, but donations are accepted. The historic Church of the Immaculate Conception began construction in 1868 but wasn't completed until 1919. The Serra Museum (free, but suggested $10 donation) tells the story of Old Town's first residents, the Kumeyaay. It also includes photos and exhibits chronicling the town's history to the present day. And the Whaley House Museum (from $13.30) offers a glimpse into early California history. Plus, it is the most haunted house in America, according to the Travel Channel.

Shopping is another popular pastime in Old Town. There's a diverse range of options. The Old Town Market offers more than 40 shops in a gorgeous historic setting. Cousin's Candy Shop sells old-fashioned sweets — their salt-water taffy is very popular! And Toby's Candle Shop lets customers make their very own candles as well as witness an old-fashioned candle carving technique.

Where to eat in Old Town San Diego

Old Town is known for its Mexican cuisine as well as its history. And no place better combines the two than the Barra Barra Saloon. Their menu and the décor illustrate the merging of Mexico and the U.S. in the 1800s. Two indoor dining rooms with hides and colorful Mexican artifacts sit on either side of the saloon. The outside patio has firepits, chandeliers, and views of the State Historic Park.

Two more popular places are Café Coyote and El Agave. Café Coyote is an award-winning Mexican restaurant. Open since 1989, it's considered a landmark in Old Town. The outdoor courtyard is full of flowers, guests can sip margaritas while listening to mariachis, the tortillas are handmade, and delicious dishes contain authentic and fresh ingredients created by Mexican chefs. El Agave, similarly, is also an award-winning Mexican restaurant. Open since 1996, El Agave's food is delicious, but what really makes it stand out is its tequila museum, which offers more than 2,000 different tequilas.