San Diego, known as the birth place of California, has been a historical treasure trove since explorers first stepped foot on the sandy shore close to 500 years ago. From booming bells that celebrate the fair city’s progression after World War II to towns from the 1800s, there’s a range of activities to teach the kiddos about their historical city. Click through the slideshow for a San Diego history lesson worth learning.

Old Town San Diego

Think you know Old Town State Park? Think again! This San Diego treasure isn't just a mecca for Mexican restaurants, it's a historical enclave full of museums and learning centers that that will keep your family busy for hours. With more than 17 institutions to visit, this area recreates Old Town as it existed during the 1800s before downtown took over as San Diego's main hub. There are five original adobes plus a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, San Diego's first newspaper, and a stable and carriage collection.

School the Kids:

  • The plaza with its large green fig tree was the center of Old Town and still stands in it's original spot since 1820. Meetings, parades, even rodeos and fiestas were held here. If you had a home close to the plaza, you were held in high status in the community.
  • The Cosmopolitan Hotel had a colorful history. It was originally called Bandini House after it's owner, Juan Bandini.This building was the social center of town, the first waltz ever danced in California was danced here and rumor has it, there was a party here that lasted seven days! Since then it has been a hotel, store, boarding house and even a pickle factory before being restored back to its previous life as the Cosmopolitan Hotel as part of the Old Town State Park.
  • Just outside Old Town is Heritage Park Victorian Village, a collection of restored Victorian homes that were moved from various locations around San Diego to this central hub. Check out McConaughy House - originally built in 1887 for the family of John McConaughy - who ran the first horse and carriage transport between San Diego and Julian, now a tea house. It's said to still be haunted by the family who love to move things around in the gift shop and play with the electricity.

Old Town State Park is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Entry is free although some of the museums do charge a small nominal fee. Parking can be tricky during busy periods, so allow a little bit of time to check out one of the free (but small) parking lots. Or grab a spot in a paid parking lot for a $5 fee. There are plenty of meal options for a ice cream snack through to a sit down Mexican fiesta.

4002 Wallace St.
San Diego, Ca

Do you have a favorite San Diego historical spot? Let us know in the comments below!

— Lenya McGrath (photos too, unless otherwise noted)