fun to do kids old town san diego california   Travel for Kids
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San Diego - Old Town

Old Town

For most of the 19th century, Old Town was the heart of San Diego. Today, kids can walk around the Plaza, stopping into San Diego's first public school house, the stable and blacksmith's shop, a Spanish adobe family house, the Wells Fargo bank, commercial restaurant and the newspaper office. And also, don't miss the Presidio and Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first mission in California.

San Diego Old Town Photo Album
  Old Town State Historic Park

Robinson-Rose House (Visitor's Center) – Start your explorations of Old Town at the Visitor's Center, where you can see a cool diorama of Old Town in 1872. Tip: Pick up a calendar of Stagecoach Days, Saturdays in July and August, and Living History activities every Wednesday and Saturday.

      Seeley Stables – In the stable you'll find a well-preserved collection of carriages, buckboards, stagecoaches, harness and saddle displays, and brands used by Mexican cowboys, the vaqueros. Out back are original covered wagons and wooden freight wagons; next door are two cute donkeys.
    Blackhawk Smithy and Stable – The blacksmith's shop was essential to a frontier town – the blacksmith made hammers, saws, nails, nuts and bolts, chisels, wrenches, shovels, axes, horseshoes and wagon wheels. At the blacksmith's shop, watch demonstrations at the forge and anvil, hammering out nails, horseshoes and carriage parts.
      Mason St. School – Be sure to check out San Diego's first public school, the Mason St. School. The little red one-room school house was built in 1865. Sit down in the old fashioned desks, and imagine doing your homework with chalk on a black slate.
      Machado y Stewart House – Next to the school, take a peek into this house, simply furnished and typical of ordinary life.
    La Casa de Estudillo – This is one of Old Town's original adobe houses, built in 1829. The house is constructed around a central courtyard with a fountain. The dark, cool, rooms are furnished in the style of an upper-class family – the formal dining room, parlor, family chapel, bedrooms, large kitchen, with outdoor cooking oven. Don't miss the kid's room with antique dolls!
    Commercial Restaurant (La Casa de Machado y Silvas) – Find out what a typical restaurant looked like in the mid nineteenth century.
      San Diego Union Building The San Diego Union was San Diego's first newspaper. The first edition of the newspaper came off the press in 1868. In the exhibit you can see the editor's office, hand press and type racks.
      Wells Fargo Bank – Wells Fargo operated a stagecoach service, as well as banking for miners and prospectors. East of San Diego, the gold mines in Julian were very productive. Inside the bank is a full size stagecoach, and scales for weighing gold nuggets. Practice your Morse code (an essential skill for telegraph operators).
    Music and dance – In the Plaza del Pasado courtyard, listen to mariachi bands and watch Ballet Folklorico performances on the weekends. Also on the weekends are kids crafts and piñata breaking several times a day. Cinco de Mayo is fiesta day in Old Town.
    Tip: In May, don't miss the Cinco de Mayo Festival, colorful and fun for everyone in the family – live music on stage, equestrian groups in flowing costumes, re-creation of the Battle of Puebla (all events are free). Little ones will enjoy a ride in the Wells Fargo stagecoach.
    Old Presidio Historic Trail – From the southwest corner of the Plaza, at Mason St., walk east from Old Town, up the hill to the Presidio, site of the first California mission and military outpost. Follow the signs to find out more information along the way. It's not a long walk, and the Presidio Park is the perfect spot for a picnic.
  Junipero Serra Museum and Presidio Park – In 1769, Father Junipero Serra founded the first mission in San Diego on Presidio Hill. The hill also became the site of the first fort, presidio, built by Spanish soldiers. Long before the Spanish came, the Kumeyaay people lived at the base of Presidio Hill.
    The Serra Museum, a mission-style building, features exhibits of clothing, tools, and furniture from the Kumayaay, Spanish, and Mexican eras. Much of the Kumeyaay artifacts have been patiently excavated over the years. Don't miss the cannons and cannonballs. Climb up the tower for a bird's eye view of Mission Bay and the beaches.
      In Presidio Park, there are picnic tables, shady, grassy areas, and wonderful views of Old Town and the surrounding area.
Mission San Diego de Alcala
  Mission San Diego de Alcala – In 1774, due to a lack of a reliable water supply, the mission was moved from Presidio Hill, six miles up the valley (Mission Valley). In 1775, the mission buildings were destroyed, but rebuilt the following year. Today, you can see the whitewashed adobe brick church, a very nice bell tower, garden (don't miss the St. Francis wishing well), and ruins of the monastery. A small museum has tools and clothing from the 19th century.
  From Old Town, it's fun to take the trolley to the mission. Here's a map and schedule. You will need to walk a few blocks from the trolley stop to the misson.

Fun food


Watch tortillas being made by hand at the Old Town Mexican Cafe and Coyote Cafe (and buy them hot off the griddle). At La Panaderia in Fiesta de Reyes, pick up churros and Mexican sweets. Kids can also try old fashioned sodas and sarsaparilla at Old Town House of Jerkey and Root Beer. And throughout Old Town are lots of places to eat tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and tostadas.




Stop into shops which features folk arts, crafts and clothing of Mexico and Central America. In Old Town, you can watch artisans at work, dipping candles or making pottery.

kids books san diego old town spanish
Cinco de Mayo kids books san diego old town spanish holiday  
Cinco de Mayo
Mary Dodson Wade

Kids can read for themselves about the Cinco de Mayo fiesta, an Old Town tradition – dances, music, food and bright costumes. (Easy reader)

And also, Celebrate Cinco de May with the Mexican Hat Dance



Mission San Diego de Alcala is the first of the California missions, dedicated in 1769. Find out about daily life at the mission – how it was built, mission buildings, workshops, daily tasks, and the founder of San Diego de Alcala, Father Junipero Serra. Good historical illustrations and photographs. (Picture book)


The Spanish Missions of California kids books san diego old town
California Ranchos kids books San diego heritage  
California Ranchos
Natalie M. Rosinky

In the 19th century, large ranchos were part of life in San Diego, such as Rancho de las Penasquitos and Rancho Guajome. Read about the ranchos – adobe houses and workshops, ranching cattle, celebrations and rodeos. (Picture book)


(More children's books on other San Diego pages)
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