San Diego, California makes a fantastic family vacation! There are so many things to see and do for both kids and adults, plus there is great weather all year and so much beautiful outdoor space to enjoy. If you are traveling to San Diego, Old Town is a must see. Here are 12 fun things to do in Old Town San Diego that the whole family will love.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase using a link, I may get a commission at no cost to you.
What is Old Town San Diego?
Old Town San Diego is the site of the first European settlement in California. Hence why it is known as the “Birthplace of California.” It was first settled by the Spanish in 1769. Of course, Native Americans were in San Diego long before that, with the Kumeyaay calling the area home originally.
Now you’ll find Old Town filled with historic museums plus modern restaurants and shopping. Old Town is also home to America’s Most Haunted House (The Whaley House) and lots of nice outdoor space for the kiddos to run around in.
If you are visiting Old Town, I think it’s best to think of it as two different parts: the Old Town State Historic Park and the more commercial area of Old Town. These section are directly next to each other, but there is tons to do in each of them! You can easily go back and forth as much as you want to (the State Historic Park is free!) and spend a good half a day (or a whole day if you REALLY want to see everything) wondering though this San Diego neighborhood.
Things To Do in Old Town San Diego
Explore (Free!) Living Museums
The Old Town State Historic Park is FULL of small, free museums that show what life was like in the early days of this San Diego Mission. There is a Schoolhouse, the San Diego Union Newspaper, the San Diego Sheriff’s Museum, and the Seeley Stable Museum, along with so many more.
Sometimes you might even find historical reenactments that give you a sense of what life was like here in the 1800s. When we visited, there was a man in the Schoolhouse who so kindly told us all about how kids learned in the late 1800s and showed our kiddo some of the books children would have used. And so many of the other buildings have guides who love to tell visitors all about Old Town life in the olden days!
See La Casa de Estudillo
The landmark of the Old Town State Historic Park is La Casa de Estudillo. This Spanish house was home to the Estudillo family and was a central part of San Diego society.
Today it is a free museum, where you can tour the rooms which are still set up as they would have been when the Estudillo family was living there. Plus, all of the rooms are connected to a beautiful center courtyard. This was truly one of my favorite things to see in Old Town and you definitely don’t want to miss it!
Learn About the Land of the First People
In 2021, Old Town State Historic Park opened a new area of the park called Iipay ~ Tipai Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok, or the Land of the First People. This gardened area of the park has points of interest that teach visitors about the history of San Diego’s Native People, the Kumeyaay.
When you visit, you can use a digital map to guide you through the different parts of this new area.
Have Fun in Fiesta De Reyes
Fiesta De Reyes is in the north corner of the Old Town State Historic Park, and it is full of shops, restaurants and other fun things to do. You can catch live music, shop in the gift shops, eat at Casa de Reyes, or just relax.
If you are looking for specialty shops, this is the place to be. Aside from general gift shops, there is also an olive oil shop, a chocolate shop, a tile shop, a toy shop, and more.
This is a really beautifully decorated area and you definitely don’t want to miss it while you are in Old Town!
Get a Free Fresh Tortilla
For a quick snack, head to the tortilla stand in Fiesta De Reyes. Next to the restaurant Casa de Reyes, there is a small green hut with a window where they hand out warm, fresh homemade tortillas — one per person. They are absolutely delicious. And they are free! (Although there is a box to place tips in if you would like to pay, which I’m sure they appreciate.)
These are so good, and honestly they are pretty big. When we visited, we each got one and ended up with leftovers wrapped up in my backpack, which I definitely wasn’t complaining about when I needed a little afternoon snack!
Eat a Great Meal
There are SO many great restaurants in Old Town San Diego. Some popular options include Miguel’s Cocina, Casa de Freds Tacos y Tequila, Cafe Cayote, and Old Town Mexican Cafe. Sure, some may strike you as a little touristy, but that’s part of the fun! These are all down San Diego Avenue, the main street that heads out of the Old Town State Historic Park. And if you go a couple streets over, there are even more restaurants on some of the side streets.
In Fiesta Del Reyes there is also Casa de Reyes, which is a fun outdoor place to eat in the midst of this festive area.
Whether you are in the State Historic Park (especially Fiesta De Reyes) or in the more commercial area of Old Town, there are tons of shops to check out.
The shops in the regular part of Old Town tend to be a bit more of your typical tourist shop, with trinkets and sunglasses and souvenirs.
But in the State Historic Park you’ll find some fun specialty shops like the shops in Fiesta de Reyes or the Old Town Market.
Tour the Whaley House Museum — America’s Most Haunted House
One of the most popular things to do in Old Town San Diego is to visit the Whaley House Museum, also known as America’s Most Haunted House. Built in 1856, Thomas Whaley wanted his home to be the “finest home in Southern California.” But after the family moved in, tragedy seemed to follow them.
The Whaley House Museum offers tours both during the day and in the evening. The evening tour is the haunted tour, although they do state that both the daytime and evening tours may not be suitable for children under 13. Buy tickets in advance here.
Take a Trolley Tour
Old Town San Diego is the home base to trolley tours that can take you through Old Town and into other areas of San Diego. These hop-on-hop-off tours start in Old Town and take you to many different landmarks in San Diego including Seaport Village, the Gaslamp Quarter, Coronado Island, Balboa Park, Little Italy, and more.
Take a Ghost Tour
If you want to delve into the spooky side of history, you can also take a Ghost Tour through Old Town and the surrounding area where you’ll hear the ghost stories of San Diego’s history.
Generally these are run from the same place as the Trolley Tours and include a bit of a trolley ride themselves. And as with the Whaley House, the tour likely isn’t suitable for children under 13.
Relax in Presidio Park
Presidio Park is located just north of the Old Town State Historic Park. The main attraction here is the small Junipero Serra Museum, which features items from San Diego’s original mission. The park also has other historical markers, picnic areas, and some nice views of San Diego from atop the hill.
Visit the Mormon Battalion Center
The Mormon Battalion Center is a museum that commemorates Mormon Battalion of the 1840s. Here there is an interactive museum that includes demonstrations on gold panning and brick making. Admission is free. This is definitely something you’ll want to add to your list if you are interested in military history!
If you’re visiting San Diego, Old Town is definitely a must-visit area. And with all these things to do, the whole family will love it. You can immerse yourself in California history, have some great fruit, and enjoy a beautiful outdoor area all at the same time, making this a perfect way to spend some of your time in San Diego!