Story by Erik Lennox – Photography by Justin Enriquez
The history of California’s earliest days lies within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park with it being considered as the “Birthplace” of California.
In 1769, Father Junipero Serra established the first mission in a chain of 21 missions that would be considered the foundation of California’s colonization. This mission was built on the hillside that is now the location of San Diego’s Old Town.
Old Town indulges visitors into a historical setting of California with its vibrant experience. Walking through it you enter another time period; So much Mexican-American history and culture have been preserved in the town.
As you enter the heart of the park the “Plaza de Las Arnas” you are surrounded by a multitude of different stores, restaurants, and historic houses. At the center of it is a grass area with kids playing and families taking a rest. You may walk past Casa De Maria Restaurant and hear some live classical Mexican music. Alongside of hearing Mexican music you will catch a whiff of the tantalizing aroma of Mexican cuisine. You’re welcomed into these restaurants by men and women dressed in traditional Mexican attire. Old Town’s restaurants and some stores dress in traditional wear to give visitors an even more spirited visit.
Most widely known in Old Town is the Robinson-Rose House. This house was built by James W. Robinson to serve as residence and Law office. As claimed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, “Over time, the building served as law and medical offices, jail cell, schoolroom, newspaper office, store, residential apartments, and the County Clerk’s office.”
James W. Robinson was a respected man who was involved in almost every aspect of developing the town. A fun fact about the Robinson-Rose House is the first floor is made out of adobe and the second floor was made out of wood. The integrated Mexican-American culture is truly felt as you walk through Old Town.
According to an article in the Southern California Quarterly, “The park gives insight into California life during the Mexican and early American periods from about 1821 to 1872 and portrays the evolution that took in San Diego after the Spanish occupation in 1769.” This precisely depicts the time period Old Town San Diego is sharing with visitors of the park.
This history-jammed location is shared between tourists exploring one of San Diego’s best location and locals who are cherishing their city.
“People who live in San Diego and are from the area should be proud. It is a great tourist trap for sure but it is quaint and a great place to come,” says Tourist Lizzie Dunn Pelayo from Kerrville, Texas.
Old Town is very important to Mexican history in California. The museums within Old Town holds information about San Diego’s time as a Mexican pueblo after the Mexican War of Independence ended the Spanish rule in 1821.
Visitors can find a lot about the Mexican history of Old Town at the Junipero Serra Museum. The museum has the history, while the park’s grounds show the Mexican heritage through architecture and native plants that were there when San Diego was still a pueblo. The Mexican historical buildings include “Santa Fe style” architecture while the flora of the park includes agave, cacti, and more.
Tourist Pelayo, who says she is Hispanic, feels impacted by her visit to Old Town “because of my heritage. It reminds me of grandmother and grandfather’s hacienda. All the cactus, just the whole place itself reminds me of ancestors’ old towns.”
“It is very nostalgic to me like I told you when I was a young child and would visit my grandmother’s and grandfather’s place in Jalisco,” she added. “It is just very interesting. It makes me feel great.”
Old Town impacts the people who visit it in a variety of ways but how does it impact the city of San Diego.
Old Town Historic Park is a part of the many tourist attractions in San Diego, which bring in a large sum of money. San Diego Tourism Authority states “ San Diego hosts nearly 35.8 million visitors each year, and is a top U.S. travel destination. The industry generates $940 million annually in state and local transient occupancy, sales, and property taxes.”
Old Town Historic park provides a large number of jobs for local workers and generates an estimated revenue of “20.5 million annually.” So not only does it impact the people in San Diego but it greatly impacts San Diego’s economy.
Old Town San Diego Historic Park is the place to be if you’re looking for a mixture of relaxing/learning experience as it offers a variety of museums and classical scenery for visitors to gander. Learn about San Diego’s time as pueblo after the Mexican War of Independence which Spanish rule in 1821 or about the earliest American settlement in California within the museums of Old Town. Take a stroll through the park and you’ll find many areas to take a seat and relax as you observe the park’s scenery. San Diego’s usual year-round sunny weather is a bonus as it provides for the perfect experience at Old Town. A clear sky day walking through the park enjoying views of the historical California setting and smelling the fragrance of the flowers then discovering all the museums and exploring the various shops within the park, that is the perfect experience.
If museums and restaurants are not enough for you there is even more. Since 2008 Cygnet Theatre has been performing at Old Town and has five different shows that are year-round but plan according as they are seasonally based. Come around the holidays and be able to watch a holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” or in the summertime when you’re trying to stay out of the heat watch “Two Trains Running.”
Old Town has a scene for those young and old with its massive amount of variety. A destination for families, couples, and those who are just curious about what Old Town has to offer.