From its Native American roots and Spanish Missionary heritage, to cultural milestones and military influence, San Diego’s role and contribution in shaping the region, the country and the world can be found when exploring its complex and fascinating history.
For an overview of San Diego’s beginning, start at Old Town State Park. Known as the birthplace of California, Old Town features 17 museums and historical site where visitors can learn about the first settlements in California and explore original structures built in the 1800s.
For a comprehensive look at San Diego’s history, head over to Balboa Park and the San Diego History Center located along the Prado. And history buffs will not want to miss a trip to the Cabrillo National Monument, where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped into history as the first European to set foot in California in 1542. From this vantage point you’ll also enjoy sweeping views of Pacific Ocean and San Diego’s dramatic skyline.
And no trip to San Diego would be complete without a walk through the historic Gaslamp Quarter, where San Diego’s colorful past mixes with the hustle and bustle of the modern city and walking tours are designed for both adults and children.
If you like your history with a dose of celebrity, a day trip to Coronado and the Hotel del Coronado is certainly worth your while. Built in 1888, and boasting signature red turret roofs, this San Diego landmark has a colorful history complete with celebrities, royalty, a resident ghost and oodles of intrigue.
To kick off a tour of San Diego’s missions, head a few miles inland to the Presidio Park to visit the Junipero Serra Museum, which showcases California’s first mission, the Presidio (fort), and the story of the Kumeyaay Indians, the area’s original inhabitants. Further North is the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, considered the mother of the 21 missions that line the California coast. At the tip of San Diego’s North County, in the community of Oceanside, you’ll find the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia established in 1798.
For an exhilarating lesson in San Diego’s military history, head over the U.S.S. Midway Museum, aboard one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers. Roam through the ship and 25 restored aircraft. Feel the surge of patriotism and pride for America’s military service members as you experience what 225,000 Midway sailors felt aboard this “city on the sea.”
A great day trip for families is San Diego’s East County community of Julian. Founded as a gold town and stage coach stop, several real mines are available for touring and panning for gold. The town is also well known for its sweet apples and home-made apple pie.
If you want to experience the golden age of California’s surf and car culture, take a nostalgic car ride with the top down along the coast on Historic Highway 101, otherwise known as Coast Highway. The landscape around the roads may have changed, but the Pacific blue surf still remains, with surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders and boaters enjoying the cool Southern California waves every day of the year. Be sure to stop by the California Surf Museum in Oceanside to learn about how the special interest sport transformed the Southern California lifestyle, and continues to shape and influence the region’s culture today.