Humphreys’ Guide to Old Town San Diego

San Diegans are proud of their history, and for good reason — after all, this was the site of the first European settlement on the West Coast of the present-day United States. Understanding a bit about how the city came to be definitely adds to the enjoyment of exploring the area. Thankfully, you don’t have to simply read about it in books or online — San Diego’s history is something you can see for yourself. Walking through Old Town is like stepping back in time, providing you with an authentic look at how the area looked hundreds of years ago. Our guide to Old Town San Diego has the lowdown on the best historical attractions, shopping, and dining here, so you can make sure you make the most out of your visit.

(Photo credit: @fiesta_de_reyes)


As the Spanish expanded north from present-day Mexico, they built the San Diego Presidio, a military outpost, in 1769. In the same year, Father Junípero Serra founded Mission San Diego de Alcalá nearby. The two were built on a hill above the San Diego River, and while the mission was eventually moved a few miles inland, the town of San Diego grew at the base of Presidio Hill. 

Over the next few decades, the town became the commercial and governmental center of the region. After Mexico gained independence, the town was briefly granted pueblo status, and when California became part of the United States, in 1850, San Diego became the seat of San Diego County. It remained the heart of the city until the 1860s, when people began relocating to present-day Downtown San Diego in order to be closer to shipping.

Today, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park invites visitors to experience what the city was like during the Mexican and early American periods, from its settlement in 1821 to its decline in 1872. The most popular historic sites include the Whaley House — one of America’s most haunted — and the Sierra Museum, located on the site of the original San Diego Presidio.

(Photo credit: @sambrand)


Shopping in Old Town San Diego is known around the county for its unique souvenirs and beautiful arts and crafts. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, browsing the stalls and boutiques here is a colorful experience you won’t want to miss. Old Town State Park is a great place to start, with 32 historic sites transformed into unique shops selling traditional Mexican and early-American crafts. Bazaar Del Mundo is another hot spot, where you’ll find jewelry, folk art, fashion, and home decor. Fiesta de Reyes is also a favorite, with 19 specialty shops for you to browse. Lastly, Main Street is lined with fascinating boutiques for you to explore.

(Photo credit: @tiendadereyes)


Foodies visiting the area will not want to miss the dining in Old Town San Diego. With the area’s Spanish and Mexican origins, it’s no surprise that this is where you’ll find some of the best Mexican food in the city. On top of that, the colorful ambience and traditional decorations make this one of the best places to dine in San Diego. Here are a few of our favorites:

(Photo credit: @forrestaurantswithlove)

Casa Guadalajara

4105 Taylor St, San Diego, CA 92110

Casa de Reyes

2754 Calhoun St, San Diego, CA 92110

Cafe Coyote

2461 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110

Old Town Mexican Cafe

2489 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110

(Photo credit: @casaguadalajara)

Plan Your Visit

Ready to plan your visit to Old Town San Diego? Don’t miss the exclusive special offers from Humphreys Half Moon Inn — that way you’ll leave plenty of funds for your Old Town adventures. See you in San Diego.