Old Town San Diego

San Diego has so much going for it, by all rights, the rest of Southern California should be burning with jealousy. But there’s something about this city’s relaxed, unassuming air that makes it beloved…and a natural a choice for traveling families.


Visitors are drawn quickly to San Diego’s main family-friendly attractions, including its pristine beaches and all that entails Balboa Park, such as Sea World San Diego…and for good reason. However, no matter what age your children, you’d be remiss not to spend a day enjoying the many charms, bright colors, and free entertainment of Old Town. Nestled in the heart of the city, Old Town consists of over 150 shops and restaurants and 17 museums and historical houses. Here you’ll find old world marketplaces, street performers, and walking tours, not to mention guided walks through the city’s first structures by state park rangers. There’s no way to see and do everything in one visit, but I’ll try to break it down for you!

What not to miss:

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is located conveniently near bus and trolley stations on San Diego Avenue and Twiggs Street. Here you’ll find historical reinactments, period displays, and knowledgible guides within the La Casa de Estudillo, the Robinson-Rose House, and the McCoy House. (Be sure to check the state park website for closures and daily schedules before arriving.)


The Junipero Serra Museum lies right on Presidio Drive in Presidio Park, marking the exact location where historical scholars say the state of California was born. Entrance is only $6 for adults and $2 for kids, and inside is housed a wonderful collection of early California history. Outside in the Presidio is a wonderful place for an afternoon picnic and restful place to take a breather.

Extra Tip: if you want to learn more about the history of the city, consider a walking tour with a California State park guide. Tours begin at the visitor’s center on the plaza, and no reservations are required. Parents with little ones can detour from the tour whenever tired feet dictate.

After getting a solid historical background, you’ll want to kick back and enjoy some of the color and flavor of the Old Town marketplaces. Take your pick between Fiesta de Reyes, where the streets are always alive with a party, and Bazaar Del Mundo, which features goods from all over the world. Toy stores selling historically-based toys and candy shops with old-fashioned treats can also be found in the state park section of town.


Extra Tip: Don’t want to worry about parking? Take a trolley tour of Old Town! Reservations can be made online at Old Town Trolley Tours. Note: The trolley system has a Kidscore of 86. Learn more about Kidscore.

Where to stay: The Hacienda Hotel Old Town is within walking distance of Old Town, and offers a full free breakfast each morning. Part of the Best Western brand, this hotel does a good job of blending into its historic surroundings, despite being modern.

Extra Tip: We also have birthday ideas San Diego, for those special occasions when you want to gift an experience during your travels!

Where to eat: It’d  be easier to tell you where not to eat in this cuisine-rich section of the city, but wait…I can’t do that either, as I’ve never been displeased with a restaurant in Old Town. If you’re looking for traditional San Diego fare, you can’t go wrong at Cafe Coyote, located on San Diego Avenue and featuring pretty outdoor seating and an fun, lively atmosphere. They take online reservations, and I’d recommend making them in the busy summer months!


About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. Taking a trip to San Diego for our first time. My wife and I have a 5 year old and a 2 year old. I heard old town is more for night life and clubs. Is this true or is it ideal for children also.

  2. We’ve found this is true during the evening, but it’s quite family-friendly (and worth visiting) during the day!

  3. Someone may be confusing Old Town with downtown’s “Gaslamp District.” There really aren’t any “clubs” in Old Town. It’s a very family oriented state park. It has a Mexican/1800’s theme. It’s a historical area; the birthplace of California. There are many restaurants with great Mexican food, delicious margaritas, live entertainment such as Mariachi music and folklorico dancers, lots of shopping areas and much more especially during holidays like Cinco de Mayo, 4th of July, Day of the Dead, and every weekend during the summer and fall holidays. Bring the whole family you won’t be disappointed! I’ve lived there for 7 years and worked there for 4 years, it’s great – hope to see you soon!

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