Another one of my favorite places in San Diego is our historic Old Town, which is known to be not only the city's most popular tourist destination, but also, the most visited tourist attraction in the state. I always find that hard to believe. I mean, we do have Disneyland too. But, the research has proven so time and time again. A visit to Old Town will leave you in a truly Mexican state of mind as you walk through California's first inhabited city which has maintained its Spanish roots since its creation in the 1800s.
There is definitely not a loss of things to do in Old Town. With rich history, plentiful museums, cultural events, shopping and food galore, you will have to be selective with your visit because you will not be able to see everything in just one day. Of course, one of the biggest draws is the Mexican food. Coming into Old Town, this main street is lined with cantinas, Mexican cafes and happening bars.
The Old Town Mexican Cafe is one of the favorites in this part of town. Several celebrity visitors have made stops here, including former President Bill Clinton. You can stop and watch in the window as the costumed women make fresh tortillas daily.
Walk a little bit further and you are getting into the real heart of Old Town. You will begin to see carts selling Mexican themed items as well as touristy shops. Once you've made it to the Old Town Market, you'll know you are in the right place.
Just a five minute stroll from the Old Town Market intersection (where you will have walked by the Whaley House, one of Old Town's most famous landmarks and a haunted one, at that) you will begin to see old buildings which have been preserved over time. Historic buildings include La Casa de Estudillo, La Casa de Bandini, La Casa de Altamirno Pedrorena and the Mason Street School, San Diego's first one-room schoolhouse. The desks and chalkboard are still intact. Every elementary student growing up in San Diego probably made a field trip here at some point in time.
And here we are in the heart of Old Town in its main grassy knoll. Bordering this grassy area are a number of restaurants, museums, shops and even a hotel or two. The famous one-room schoolhouse is just around the corner. Farmer's markets and special events including concerts and festivals often take place on this lawn.
Here on the corner of the lawn is one of Old Town's best restaurants, Barra Barra, where my husband and I actually had our rehearsal dinner the night prior to our wedding. Here, they have the best margaritas in town, some killer fajitas and delicious homemade guacamole and tortilla chips. Mmmm, I'm craving some Mexican just writing this now. Inside, you will hear festive Mexican music and be greeted by guys and girls decked out in Mexican gear, as will be the case in the remainder of the restaurants, shops and hotels in town. It's like stepping back in time.
We were there on a weekday but Old Town really gets going at Happy Hour and is definitely the place to be on any weekend day. As you can see below, there is no shortage of activities in town, including even ghost tours which explores the area's more clandestine history. There's Rafi on the right, posing for a picture in one of the many caricatures in town.
And at last we've arrived at Fiesta de Reyes, which is perhaps the most exciting part of all of Old Town. Once you walk through this gate, you are welcomed into a bustling, musical, colorful plaza lined with festive decorations and restaurants and culture. Fittingly named Fiesta de Reyes, a fiesta type of energy is exactly what you feel inside this quintessential plaza.
Above you see the famous restaurant Casa de Reyes, my family's personal favorite restaurant in Old Town. There are dozens more to choose from which I can't possibly name here. You will have to walk around and explore the area for yourself. On a typical evening, you will have a concert going in the center of the courtyard and then inside the restaurant you will even have Mariachi band members migrating from table to table to serenade you and enthuse the guests. Costumed Mexican men and women walk around selling long-stemmed roses for the ladies. It's impossible to not be transported into a good mood inside this colorful, exciting plaza where delicious eats abound.
On the corner of Casa de Reyes is a booth were a Mariachi lady cooks fresh tortilla all day long. And get this, they are free! Tips recommended of course. It would be rude not to pay anything. These doughy tortillas come piping hot with either butter or salsa. We usually tip $1 or $2 depending on how many we order. They are delicious and you must have one.
Here's the stage above where concerts happen frequently on weeknights as well as during weekend days and nights. Of course, on holidays too. This plaza and stage are always busy. Except, clearly, for when I was there. Still, the place was packed with tourists and visitors.
Now on our way out of Fiesta de Reyes, it's always nice to stop for a visit here. One of my favorite San Diego activities and places to visit. Of course we had to stop for an authentic Root Beer Float. How could you not? You better come to Old Town with an empty stomach.
A really popular spot in Old Town is the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which has been remodeled and reopened in just the last year or two. The inside is spectacular and very fancy. They have a very nice restaurant just inside the entrance. As is typical in this style, inside you will find a central courtyard open to the sky. So, even though it looks to be enclosed, the interior is completely different once you walk inside. Head inside for a drink if you have the time, the ambiance will be worth it.
My pictures of Old Town have come to an end, but I assure you that there is far more to see. Come visit this special part of San Diego and choose from haunted houses, churches, colorful plazas, Victorian homes and endless museums. Trying the Mexican food is an obvious must. And if you time, ride the Old Town trolley. Oh, and you can't miss out on the Bazaar del Mundo just across the street from Fiesta de Reyes.
A special tip. There is a well-known food and drink tour that runs through Old Town which would be an amazing way to celebrate a birthday or special event with a group of friends. Check out the Old Town Food & Drink Tour on the website of the food tour group Bite San Diego. If you choose this option, get ready for some great Mexican food, margaritas and some tequila shots.
Enjoy Old Town! Mexican food is one thing that is severely lacking in Israel and I definitely had my fill while home in San Diego. Here in Israel, it's onto burekas, falafels, shakshouka, schnitzel and hummus. Not exactly the same, but still delicious in its own right. For more information on Old Town, see the area's website here.