San Diego

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

Information center and bars
Information center and bars

Back in the 1800s Mexicans and Americans built a bunch of buildings in what is now Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. The primary purpose of this construction was to give modern-day visitors a place to walk off and metabolize the margaritas they drink in Old Town San Diego. Otherwise, the incidence of drunk driving would be much higher than it is.

Saloon
Saloon

OK, I made that up. I doubt that the settlers of San Diego were that prescient. (Was horseback riding and stagecoach driving under the influence of alcohol a serious problem back then?) Nevertheless, I found that the state historical park served that purpose quite well.

Just one margarita, which was all I had, and by far not the largest size available, was enough to put me in need of some metabolizing before driving. What can I say? I’m a cheap drunk.

Gem store
Gem store

When pondering the title for this post I was planning to leave out “State Historic Park” and just call it “Old Town San Diego.” I decided to put the park part in because it is indeed a California State Historic Park.

However, keep the word “historic” firmly in mind. If you’re looking for a park with a lot of trees, wildlife and natural scenery, you won’t find it here. There is some grass, bushes and a few trees. The occasional bird flitters by or sneaks along the pavement of the outdoor bars to scrounge for nacho droppings. And, although I didn’t see any, there are likely animals of the squirrel variety scurrying about. But that’s pretty much it for vegetation and non-human animal life.

Cigar store
Cigar store

The park is made up of a collection of primarily nineteenth century buildings, or reconstructions of nineteenth century structures, built around a grassy square. For the most part, these buildings are put to commercial use today.

Included among the establishments are unique restaurants, bars, coffee shops, a hotel, a candy shop, a general store, and other retail and service establishments of the sort you would expect in a tourist area. Sorry, there aren’t any Starbucks or McDonalds.

Rust General Store (it also has coffee)
Rust General Store (it also has coffee)

I didn’t go into it, but the general store apparently sells coffee in addition to rust. (You have to look at the picture to get that. Then again, it was an exceptionally lame joke, so you might not want to bother.)

There are a couple of small museums (each consisting of a couple of small rooms), including the Wells Fargo Museum and the First San Diego Courthouse Museum. I can’t make any promises about the future, but, when I visited, admission to both museums was free.

Wells Fargo and Courthouse museums
Wells Fargo and Courthouse museums

The Wells Fargo Museum is in a reconstruction of a nineteenth century building that is furnished as a Wells Fargo Agent’s office of the period. It has a 1800s stagecoach and other historic artefacts. I suspect that the stagecoach did not reside inside during the olden days, but that’s where it is now. Go figure. When I was in the museum, there was a Wells Fargo history video playing on a continuous loop in the back room.

The First San Diego Courthouse Museum is right next door to the Wells Fargo Museum. This is a reconstruction of the first courthouse, not the original building. The museum houses photographs, paintings and artefacts.

Cosmopolitan Hotel
Cosmopolitan Hotel

Outside, in back of the Courthouse Museum, is the old jail cell, but to call it a jail cell would leave the wrong impression if you haven’t seen it. “Small metal box” does it more justice, no pun intended.

Sorry. I didn’t snap a picture of the cell, but to give you a sense of what it was like, if the jail cell were used today the jailers would run afoul of modern laws and treaties against the use of cruel and inhuman punishment—afoul by a factor of at least ten.

The cell is so small that I don’t think any but the shortest of adults could lie down in it without curling up in the foetal position. Foetuses could lie flat, but that’s probably irrelevant because I doubt any foetuses were housed there outside of their mothers’ wombs.

There be margaritas back there
There be margaritas back there

The door of the cell is constructed of bars, rather than solid metal, but that’s the only way light gets into the cell. There are no windows. And I have no idea what the prisoners did when nature called, so to speak.

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is not big and, apart from strolling around the square aimlessly a few times, I didn’t do much there other than what I described above.

Oh, wait. Did I mention the margarita I drank? Margaritas are what bring me back to Old Town on the few trips I’ve made to San Diego. It’s a good thing the State Historical Park provides somewhere interesting for me to walk it off.

Cosmopolitan Hotel
Cosmopolitan Hotel

4 comments

  1. I thought I would find original buildings and reconstructed buildings a bit like a Hollywood set. But it was actually well done and rather fun for the whole family. My children were young back then and were prepared to visit places Joe and I suggested. So we concentrated on the shops, schools, homes and museums, and avoided the more violent aspects of life back then eg the prison?

  2. I’ve been to San Diego twice, once to take my oral exam for board certification in anesthesiology, and the next time, for a young relative’s funeral. Two somewhat somber events, both in San Diego (although I did pass my exam with flying colors). I’d like to go back and explore the city sometime soon…it’s really a gorgeous place with perfect weather. I like margaritas, so Old Town sounds right up my alley.

    1. San Diego is beautiful and the climate is about as close to perfect as I can imagine. However, I don’t like yo praise it too highly because the U.S. Immigration people might think I’m planning to retire there and spend all of my life’s savings in the States rather than just visiting and spending some of my life’s savings there. For some reason, they hate the former but, based on their usual tone when I cross the border, grudgingly accept the latter.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.