Historical sites to visit in San Diego

Tourists often think to surf at the beaches, enjoy the Gaslamp nightlife scene, check out Comic-Con, and learn about wildlife at the zoo during a vacation in San Diego. Something that is often overlooked, however, is the city’s rich cultural and historical landmarks.

The Whaley House Museum

At the Whaley House Museum in Old Town, guests can explore the home of Thomas Whaley and his family, who came to California during the Gold Rush in 1849, according to the Whaley House Museum website.The home was once the location of the court house, a general store, a billiard hall and a ballroom.

Today, it is a museum and allegedly one of the most haunted places in the country, as seen on the Travel Channel show “America’s Most Haunted.” Visitors can buy admission tickets at the museum shop, take self-guided tours and learn more about the history of the home from docents throughout the museum.

Mission Trails

Outdoor enthusiasts have plenty of hiking trails to choose from throughout San Diego County, but historical landmarks can be seen throughout the Mission Trails Regional Park. There are five peaks to climb, and once hikers complete each, they can email in their photos next to the signs to receive a Five-Peak Challenge certificate and pin.

While in the park, be sure to walk through the Visitors Center Loop to see the Kumeyaay grinding stones, according to the Viejas Band website. The Kumeyaay, an indigenous population in the region, once used boulders as a mortar to grind acorn seeds to prepare them to eat. To this day, boulders in the park retain indentations where groups of women would process the acorns.

Another significant site in the park is the Old Mission Dam, built across the San Diego River in the early 1800s.

As with many structures built within the Spanish Mission system, indigenous people built the stone and concrete dam as missionary slaves, according to journalist Elias Castillo in his book “A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions.” The remains of dam can be viewed and walked across during a hike through one of the parks many trails.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park, which was built for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, is home to the California Tower at the Museum of Man. Towering 198 feet over the sidewalk, visitors can buy tickets in the museum to climb up the steps and check out the view.

After climbing the tower’s seven stories, there are many museums to visit within Balboa Park, such as the Museum of Photographic Art and the San Diego Natural History Museum. While strolling between museums, look up to see the ornate carvings on many of the buildings, which were featured in the classic film “Citizen Kane” in close-up shots of the fictional Xanadu estate. 

Chicano Park

One of the newer historical sites in San Diego is Barrio Logan’s Chicano Park, located under the Coronado Bay Bridge. The park was established after a takeover of the space in the 1970s when the area — once promised to become a community park — was instead slated to become a California Highway Patrol Station.

Artists adorned the pylons of the bridge with 72 murals during the demonstrations, and according to the San Diego Reader, this makes the park home to the largest collection of outdoor murals.

Hotel del Coronado

With the iconic red roof juxtaposed with its stark white walls, the Hotel del Coronado is one of the most recognizable buildings in California. Known as the second largest wooden structure in the United States, it is also designated as a National Historical Landmark.

Of the last 22 U.S. presidents, 16 have stayed at the Hotel del, and it was the filming location of the 1959 Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like it Hot.” It is also another one of San Diego’s purportedly “haunted” sites, according to the book “Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado.”

While spending the night there might be out of the price range of most, there is plenty to see and do during a day trip to Coronado Island. Walk through the lobby to see the vintage structure, shop in the shops downstairs and lay out on the shore in front of the hotel for a great view of Point Loma.

This story also appeared in The Daily Aztec.


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