Locals often overlook Old Town as a place to kick it, unless visiting relatives are strong-arming the situation. Surely you’ve watched in amazement as a sea of first-time margarita drinkers, school children and old folks overwhelm its kitschy streets as you’re driving through the short cut from Middle Town to Mission Valley.
But the reality is, our history is preserved here, so it’s time to stop taking San Diego’s (and California’s) birthplace for granted. For anyone who truly loves this city, there’s no place more appropriate, or beautiful, to get in touch with its roots than the hilltop Presidio Park. To give you an idea of its significance, in 1769, the presidio was established as the first European settlement on the entire West Coast. Now, its canyons - where you can see artifacts from early California - are popular among hikers, with weddings and picnics commonly taking place on its shaded slopes. It’s also a rumored epic spot for “ice blocking,” a So-Cal twist on the luge that we at DiscoverSD do not condone.
If the last time you visited Old Town was during a grade school fieldtrip, or when Aunt Martha was visiting, then it’s time to make your way back to this early California microcosm.
Here are a few reasons to visit that don’t include tacos, or the supernatural.
Forget tacos, it’s time for sushi
Even locals may not know of Old Town’s significance in San Diego’s sushi scene. It’s home to Harney Sushi (3964 Harney St., 619-295-3272)-the first restaurant of its kind in town to serve a menu of all-sustainable seafood. Then there’s the popular new kid on the block, Sushi Tadokoro (2244 San Diego Ave., 619-297-0298) where traditional, simple Edomae preparations are served. Both Old Town sushi spots made DiscoverSD’s list for the best in the city.
Comfort food, San Diego-style
The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant dates back to 1869 when it was a popular hang out among the horse and buggy crowd. Now, odd as it may seem, it’s the only place in San Diego where you can order a plate of fried chicken and churros. With the help of jalapeno-infused maple syrup, this riff on chicken and waffles is pure San Diego genius. What better place to enjoy it than where San Diego began. Eat and moan in the lovely gazebo, which has fire pits, overhead heating and equally warm service. 2660 Calhoun St., (619) 297-1874
More neighborhoods to explore
Anza Borrego, Balboa Park, Coronado, Del Mar, East Village, Encinitas, Fiesta Island, Golden Hill, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, North Park: Part 1, North Park: Part 2, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, San Carlos, South Park, University Heights
For something a little more traditional, blend right in with all the tourists at Fiesta de Reyes, where you can sit among tall cacti and palm trees during a folklorico or mariachi performance. There are food vendors and fire pits, making for a cozy evening under the stars; we recommend grabbing some $2 chips and salsa, listening to live music and then shopping at Fiesta de Reyes’ 19 retail shops, including these two gems:
Rust General Store: A deli by day, this shop is packed with old-timey goods used by residents in the 1860s. From locally made soaps to pickled goods and chocolates, this relative newcomer, which opened in 2011, goes to show that San Diegans have a longstanding history with good taste. 2720 Calhoun St. (619) 295-7878
The Urban Seed Home & Garden: An enchanted indoor-outdoor retail space overflowing with flower displays and earthy home decorations. The shop carries everything from wildflower seeds to Mexican furniture and pottery, plus works from local artists, all in a garden setting. 2754 Calhoun St. (619) 584-7768
Put this in your pipe and...
Non-smoking areas are a thing of the future at Racine & Laramie Tobacconist, which was San Diego’s first cigar shop in 1868. Today, you can still puff away while shopping for antique pipes, hand blended tobacco, cigars and more. This shop feels like a museum with all of its artifacts, and the staff members are true aficionados. Find a huge inventory of smoking products, including house blend tobacco. 2737 San Diego Ave., (619) 291-7833
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at email@example.com.