Tucked behind the freeway between Mission Bay and Balboa Park in the heart of San Diego, sits the lively neighborhood of Old Town. The first settlement in California, Old Town is a place devoted to maintaining an ancient way of life. A place where people in colorful dresses and suits mingle amongst the tank tops and flip flops of the modern world.
Head west on San Diego Avenue on an early Saturday morning to visit the lively restaurants, covered archways, and even a haunted house. Start your morning at the Artisan Farmers Market, located on Harney Street between San Diego Avenue and Congress Street. This community of artists offers hand-blown glass jewelry, painted tiles, framed photography, and wooden baskets. Munch on a breakfast of fresh papaya as you stroll through the stalls. Watch the artists at work or chat with them about their artistic passion.
Once you’ve walked Harney, head towards Twiggs Street to meander through the shops of the Bazaar Del Mundo. Look for better deals on Saturdays when the kiosk prices compete with those of the farmers market. At Twiggs Street and San Diego Avenue you’ll also find the Old Town State Park where you can take a walk through the days of yesteryear. At this historic park, you’ll find the society members dancing under brightly colored paper swags, a make-your-own candle shop, and a pottery barn.
At the end of the park, walk toward Taylor Street for lunch at Casa Guadalajara. Sit outside on the patio, enjoy a margarita, and listen to the mariachi band as you wait for your chicken chimichanga, enchilada con carne, or bean burrito. The food is delicious and quick, and the service is always friendly. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. It is vacation after all, even if for just one day.
Walk off lunch with a trip back up the hill towards Heritage Park. Be sure to stop into Temple Beth Israel for the park’s self-guided tour through the seven Victorian-style buildings. Even if you only make it to the Temple, it has beautifully simple architecture and will be worth the walk. Sit and relax under the shade of the palm trees, and take in the view of the surrounding hilltops.
Next, be sure to check out the Old Town Trolley Tour of San Diego. The information and entertainment alone will make the trolley ride worth your time and money. You’ll get a glimpse of San Diego that the locals don’t always see, as well as photo opportunities that you’d never get on your own (think great shots over the cement barriers of the Coronado Bridge). This ride is geared towards an older crowd-a.k.a. cornier jokes than some are used to-but the driver and the trolley are charming and the complimentary coupons are a nice bonus. Climb aboard with the knowledge that you’ll be gaining an experience and not just a ride to your final destination.
End your day with dinner back in Old Town or at one of the many stops along your circular route. Come back to this busy neighborhood for a ghost tour or Taco Tuesday. There’s always something new to do in Old Town.
What and Where:
Casa Guadalajara (4105 Taylor Street; 619-295-5111)
Old Town Artisan Farmers Market (Harney Street. Runs from 9AM to 4PM every Saturday)
Old Town Trolley Tour of San Diego (4010 Twiggs Street; 619-298-8687)
San Diego Haunted Ghost Tours (4041 Harney Street; 1-800-213-2474)
Helpful Hint: Park anywhere along the street or in one of the large parking lots off the main drag, but be sure to get there early on Saturday; parking goes quickly.
Click here for information on the 2 Day Old Town Trolley San Diego Pass
Stephanie Marie Chizik, a transplant to San Diego, brings a background in newspaper, magazine and literary writing from the East Coast. She graduated from Chatham College with her Masters in Fine Arts and has been published in various publications, including Pittsburgh Magazine, Conte Online Journal and Bay Weekly. She currently works as an Associate Editor for a trade publication.