Old Town State Historic Park

Old Town State Historic Park is where the city of San Diego began. The original mission and presidio were nearby; the town developed below as retired soldiers and settlers built homes here. In the mid-1830s, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. described Old Town as "about forty dark brown looking huts.. and three or four larger ones, white-washed...". Today's Old Town recreates the setting of California life during the Mexican and early American periods, 1821-1872. It became an historic park in 1968. Three original adobes have been restored, the Casa de Estudillo, Machado y Stewart and Machado y Silvas. Buildings now house museums, shops and restaurants.
Early photograph of Old Town, c 1867, from Presidio Hill. [SDHS photo 3865]

Old Town is near the intersection of I-8 and I-5, north of downtown San Diego.

Old Town State Historic Park. Information line: (619) 220-5422

Altamirano-Pedrorena House
Black Hawk Smithy & Stable
Casa de Bandini
Casa de Estudillo
Casa de Machado y Silva
Casa de Machado y Stewart
Derby-Pendleton House
First San Diego Courthouse
Light-Freeman House
Heritage Park Victorian Village
Johnson House
Mason Street Schoolhouse
Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor's Center
Old Adobe Chapel
Racine and Laramie store
Robinson-Rose House
San Diego Union Museum
Seeley Stables
Serra Museum
Sheriff's Museum
Silvas-McCoy House
United States House
Wells Fargo History Museum
Whaley House Museum
Wrightington House

Altamirano-Pedrorena House
Miguel de Pedrorena, a native of Madrid, came to San Diego as a ship's agent and in 1842 married one of the Estudillo daughters. He claimed the lot adjacent to the Casa de Estudillo, but died in 1850 before he could build a home, which was later built on the site in 1869 by his son, Miguel Jr. In 1871, ownership transferred to Isabel Pedrorena de Altamirano and remained as a family residence until 1907. The building currently houses a gem, jewelry and rock shop.
Hours: Daily 10-4
Black Hawk Smithy & Stable
J.B. Hinton launched this business in the 1860s, providing blacksmith services, coach repairs, feed and accommodations for horses and teamsters. Blacksmithing and other demonstrations.
Hours: Wednesday and Saturday 10-2
Casa de Bandini
Born in Peru, Juan Bandini came to California with his father, master of a trading vessel, in 1819. He became a Mexican citizen and son-in-law to Jose Maria Estudillo in 1822. La Casa de Bandini was completed in 1829 and soon became the social center of Old Town. Juan Bandini held various offices during the Mexican regime. When Americans took over, he supplied them with horses and supplies from his rancho. In the early 1850s, Bandini was forced to sell his home because of financial losses. Alfred Seeley purchased the crumbling home in 1869, added a second story and opened the building as the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Later the building was used as a store, pickle factory and motel annex, and now hosts a Mexican restaurant.
(619) 297-8211
Hours: restaurant opens at 11 daily, 10 on Sunday
Casa de Estudillo
Construction of the most famous Old Town adobe began in 1827 and was completed in 1829 by Captain Jose Maria de Estudillo, commander of the San Diego presidio. When he died in 1830, the house passed to his son, Jose Antonio Estudillo, who served as revenue collector, treasurer, alcalde, and judge of San Diego under Mexican rule and later treasurer and assessor of San Diego County under American rule. He married Maria Victoria Dominguez and their family lived there until 1887. The original adobe home was restored in 1910 with funds provided by the Spreckels family, under the direction of Architect Hazel Waterman; it was donated to the State by Mr. Legler Benbough; furnishings were provided with the assistance of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America. For many years, the building was mistakenly known as "Ramona's Marriage Place" from Helen Hunt Jackson's novel. The museum now features furnished rooms and a working kitchen and large courtyard.
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free
Casa de Machado y Silva
Jose Nicasio Silvas, who built this house between 1830 and 1843, lived here for many years with his wife, Maria Antonia Machado, and children. Their home stayed in the family for over 100 years, and subsequently became a boarding house, saloon, restaurant, art studio, souvenir shop, museum and church.
Casa de Machado y Stewart
A restored adobe (mud-brick) home from the 1830s, built by Jose Manuel Machado. Jack Stewart, a native of Maine, married Machado's youngest daughter, Rosa, in 1845 and the couple moved in with the Machados. The house was occupied by descendants of the Stewarts until 1966. Wander behind the house to discover one of the loveliest garden spots in Old Town.
Derby-Pendleton House
Liuetenant George Horatio Derby (1823-1861) arrived here in 1853 to divert the San Diego River back into False Bay. Derby is remembered best as Squibob or John Phoenix, for his humorous pieces published in the San Diego Herald, and Phoenixiana, first printed in 1855. Not currently open to the public.
Mailing address:
Save Our Heritage Organisation
2482 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA
(619) 297-9327
First San Diego Courthouse
The Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego in January of 1847 to support the American military garrison in the pueblo during the Mexican War. When not engaged in military duties, they assisted the community by building the first fired-brick structure in Old Town. Originally designated as a townhall and schoolrooom, once the state legislature incorporated San Diego as the first city in California, it became the office for Mayor, City Clerk, Board of Supervisors. Reconstructed in 1992, the First San Diego Courthouse Association is planning reconstruction of the original jail cell behind the building.
Mailing address:
4346 Witherby Street
San Diego, CA 92l03-l0l7
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free
Heritage Park Victorian Village
County park adjacent to Old Town with several restored Victorian homes and San Diego's first synagogue, which now hosts weddings, receptions, bar mitzvahs. All were moved here from their original locations. Two of the houses currently serve as bed and breakfast inns.
  • Senlis Cottage ~ 1896 ~ 19th century vernacular ~ This modest cottage was built for Eugene Senlis, an employee of San Diego pioneer horticulturist Kate Sessions.
  • Sherman-Gilbert House ~ 1887 ~ Stick Eastlake ~ John Sherman, cousin of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, hired architects Nelson Comstock and Carl Trotsche to build this house. From 1892, sisters Bess and Gertrude Gilbert, patrons of art and music, brought internationally famous entertainers to receptions in their home. Anna Pavlova danced in the music room and Artur Rubinstein played piano here.
  • Bushyhead House ~ 1887 ~ Italianate ~ Edward Wilkerson Bushyhead, early San Diego sheriff, chief of police and San Diego Union newspaper owner, built this house as a rental. Rooms for rent by Heritage Park Inn (619) 299-6832.
  • Christian House ~ 1889 ~ Queen Anne ~ This graceful residence was constructed by Harfield Timberlake Christian, founder of an early San Diego abstract company. Rooms for rent by Heritage Park Inn (619) 299-6832.
  • McConaughy House ~ 1887 ~ Stick Eastlake ~ Original owner John McConaughy founded the first scheduled passenger and freight service in San Diego County.
  • Burton House ~ 1893 ~ Classic revival ~ Henry Guild Burton, retired Army physician, built this home during a trend that, by the turn of the century, began to eliminate decration.
  • Temple Beth Israel ~ Classic revival ~ Built by the Congregation Beth Israel, this building served as temporary quarters for many religious sects before they established churches of their own. First services were held here in 1889.

Mailing address:
San Diego County Dept of Parks and Recreation
5201 Ruffin Rd., Suite P
San Diego, CA 92123-1699
(858) 565-3600 for reservations
(858) 694-3049 for information

Johnson House
George Alonzo Johnson, a steamboat operator on the Colorado River and later a California State Assemblyman from San Diego, built this small frame home for his family in 1869. His home was at the Penasquitos Rancho about twenty miles from Old Town. He lost the Rancho in 1880 and moved into the Old Town House, where he lived until his death in 1903. Today the house is a Haberdashery/ Millinery store with custom and vintage hats,walking canes and various fine goods.
Light-Freeman House
Built in 1830, this was originally a small adobe saloon and provision store, owned by two black men, Richard Freeman and Allen Light. In 1856 it was known as the American Hotel.
Mason Street School
San Diego County Historical Days Association
Mailing address:
3966 Mason Street
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 297-1183
Built in 1865, this was the first public school house in San Diego. Mary Chase Walker was its first teacher. She received a salary of $65/month. After eleven months she quit teaching and married Ephraim Morse, who was president of the school board at the time. Sit at the desks. Books and California on display; adult education classes in California history; fourth grade tours.
Hours: 10-4 Daily; Admission: free
Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor's Center
The Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego in January of 1847 to support the American military garrison in the pueblo during the Mexican War. Five companies totaling over 500 men had been mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa on July 16, 1846. Along with 32 women, they made the longest march in military history consisting of 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego.
Mailing address:
2510 Juan Street
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 298-3317
Hours: 9am - 9pm every day of the year
Old Adobe Chapel
Don Jose Aguirre purchased the home of John Brown on Conde Street in Old Town in 1858. The home was made into a chapel. The Adobe Chapel was the first parochial church in the first parish of California after the secularization of the missions in 1832. Father Juan Molliner served as the resident priest for San Diego from 1857 until 1863. In the 1889s the church was covered with wood siding and a shingle roof replaced the tile one. The chapel continued in use until 1917 and was used for a kindergarten until 1922, when it was boarded up until being restored in 1937.
Mailing address:
Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO)
2476 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 297-9327
Hours: Daily 10-4
Racine and Laramie Store
Juan Rodriguez, a Mexican soldier who had received the land as compensation for his service, probably built his home here in the 1830s. It burned in the Old Town fire of 1872 and has been reconstructed and furnished with period pieces to recreate the Racine and Laramie store, which sold cigars, tobacco and stationery, as it was in 1869.
Hours: Daily 10-5
Robinson-Rose House
James Robinson came to San Diego from Texas in the Spring of 1850 and developed a successful law practice. He built this two-story structure in 1853 to serve not only as his family residence but also as the home of the San Diego Herald, the San Diego and Gila Railroad office, as well as other private offices. Robinson died in 1857 and his widow Sarah Robinson sold the building to Louis Rose, who probably purchased it as a family residence. Fire destroyed the roof in 1874 and the building fell into ruins by the turn of the century. The reconstructed building now serves as Old Town State Historic Park's visitor center and has on display a wonderful model of Old Town as it looked in 1872, created by Joseph Toigo.
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free
San Diego Union Museum
This wood-frame structure was prefabricated in Maine and shipped around the Horn in 1851. It became the first office of the San Diego Union newspaper. The building is restored as it was when the Union printed its first edition on October 10, 1868 and was published as a weekly. It contained four pages and, as was common in those days, the first and last pages were mostly literary efforts -- a short story, some dreary humor and a few ads. Gatewood, an attorney, advertised his services in an ad, but the biggest ad on the page was from George Irvine, a meat packer in San Francisco. Visitors can view the original printroom with a Washington press and the editor's office.
Hours: Daily 10-5; Admission: free
Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO)
Mailing address:
Save Our Heritage Organisation
2476 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 297-9327
Non-profit preservation advocate group. Quarterly newsletter.
Seeley Stables
Albert Seeley ran the San Diego-Los Angeles Stage Line, which was put out of business in 1887 after the coming of the railroad. Reconstructed stable and barns house a fine collection of horse-drawn buggies, wagons, carriages and other western memorabilia.
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free
Serra Museum
Just up the hill from Old Town, at the site of the original San Diego presidio, this museum holds artifacts from the presidio excavation, temporary and permanent exhibits, l6th-18th century Spanish furniture. Museum is available for private events and special bookings. Operated by the San Diego Historical Society.
2727 Presidio Drive
Mailing Address:
PO Box 81825
San Diego, CA 92138
(619) 297-3258
Hours: Friday-Sunday 10-4:30; Admission $5, children under 13 free
Sheriff's Museum
Interactive exhibits from the 150-year history of the Sheriff's Department; displays include guns, badges, handcuffs, uniforms, patrol car, helicopter, motorcycle, jail cell and courtroom.
2384 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 260-1850
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10-4; Admission: free
Silvas-McCoy House
State Park archaeologists excavated in Old Town San Diego in 1995 to recover information needed to reconstruct a large residence built in 1869 by James McCoy, a well-to-do Irish immigrant who served as San Diego’s sheriff and state senator. Prior to 1851 the property belonged to Maria Eugenia Silvas, descendant of a Spanish Colonial soldier who came to Alta California in the 1770s.
United States House
Charles Noell and John Hayes operated a general store out of this two-story pre-fabricated building as early as 1850. In 1854, Hayes leased the structure to Robert Lloyd and Edward Kerr, who named it the U.S. House. Other business ventures at this location included an auction house, butcher shop and a match factory. This structure, like many in Old Town, burned in the fire of 1872.
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free
Wells Fargo History Museum
Mailing address:
2733 San Diego Ave
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 238-3929
The Colorado House was built in 1851 by Cave Couts, who married Ysidora Bandini. This building was a successful hotel, saloon and gaming parlor. Museum covers the topics of banking, mining and overland travel in the early American West. Exhibit features an authentic 1867 Abbot-Downing Concord stagecoach, an audio-visual theater, plus documents, maps, photos, early coins and balance scales.
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free
Whaley House Museum
The oldest brick structure in San Diego, with authentic period furnishings, was built in 1856 by Thomas Whaley, who established the first brickyard in San Diego for its construction. The North room, originally a granary, was remodeled and became the County Courthouse in 1869. County court records were surreptitiously transfered to "New Town" in 1871.
Mailing address:
Save Our Heritage Organisation (619) 297-9327
2482 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA
Whaley House Museum (619) 297-7511
Hours: 10-4:30 daily; closed Tuesday; 10 to 7 pm Friday and Saturday during Summer. Admission charge. Group tours available.
Wrightington House
The Wrightington adobe was built in the late Mexican period with a wing constructed in 1852. It served as the personal residence of Thomas Wrightington and his family. After his death in 1853, his widow Juana Machado Alipaz de Wrightington remained in the house until the late 1890s. Dr. George McKinstry, Jr. used a room in her house for his personal residence and office for almost thirty years. He and Juana Wrightington provided medical care for Native Americans in San Diego County.
Hours: 10-5 daily; Admission: free