Known as the authentic “birthplace” of California, the 4 hectares of Old Town San Diego hold significant remnants of the city’s first Spanish settlement, its Mexican influence and the evolving coastal California lifestyle of the 19th century. With 21 Spanish missions established by the early 1800s, the old town area is now a living history destination that’s chock-full of adobe architecture, significant mission buildings, and courtyards with strolling mariachi performers, festive décor and many tequila-laced cantinas.
The open-air Old Town Market Place highlights San Diego’s Mexican heritage, with colourful stalls selling handcrafted Mexican pottery, jewellery, trinkets and art, while Bazaar Del Mundo in Old Town State Historic Park features traditional ethnic cuisine, clothing and folklore presentations. Also at the park, tourists can get a glimpse of early colonial life in San Diego, with a collection of 19th century buildings, ranch homes and a schoolhouse. Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, the site of California’s first Spanish mission in 1769, perches on a hillside above Old Town at Presidio Park, which also hosts Junipero Serra Museum, generally recognised as the spot where California began.
The Old Town neighbourhood spans 93 hectares, with access via Interstate 8 on its northern border and Interstate 5 along the western edge. Public transportation centres around the Old Town Transit Center, which gives access to the Green Line of the San Diego Trolley, the city buses of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, the Coastal commuter rail line and the regional Amtrak rail system.
Old Town San Diego holds the dubious honour of harbouring one of America’s “most haunted houses.” Now open to the public as a museum, the 1856 Whaley House occupied the spot of an ancient gallows and served as the city’s first commercial theatre, a granary, ballroom, billiard hall, school, polling place and courthouse. Reported paranormal activity and hauntings are commonplace, with the Travel Channel’s America's Most Haunted once naming Whaley House the most haunted house in the United States.