Monday, November 06, 2023

Old Town San Diego (Presidio Park, Heritage Park and Mormon Battalion Historic Site)

On Saturday, Tori and I went to Presidio Park in San Diego for the first time. The park sits on the hill above Old Town and was the site of the first permanent European settlement in California. A low yellow wall outlines what used to be the Royal Presidio de San Diego during the Spanish settlement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Catholic mission founded by Junipero Serra at the presidio later moved to its present location in Mission Valley to be closer to the San Diego River. During the Mexican-American War, the hilltop was taken over by American troops and renamed Fort Stockton. The fort was abandoned when California was ceded to the United States by Mexico after the war. We had a good view of Mission Bay and Mission Valley as we circled the hill and followed the trail around the Junipero Serra Museum. The museum was closed due to a wedding on the grounds but we visited the brick Junipero Serra Cross.

Driving down the hill into Old Town, we visited Heritage Park which was created in 1971 to save the city’s Victorian houses from demolition. These distinctive houses were first constructed during the population boom after the 1885 arrival of the transcontinental railroad in San Diego. The first house to be relocated to the park in the 1970s was the Sherman-Gilbert House that was originally built downtown in 1887. Six houses and the Temple Beth Israel synagogue were relocated in total. At the back of the park we hiked the short trail that climbs to a nice bench overlooking the Victorian Village.

Our next stop was the Mormon Battalion Historic Site right next door to Heritage Park. I had never heard of it even though I had been to Old Town many times. It reminded me of a Disneyland exhibit as our two guides led us though five period-decorated rooms along the trail of a voluntary Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War. Under the command of U.S. Army officers, over 500 Mormon soldiers set off in July 1846 and marched over 2,000 miles from Iowa to San Diego. The battle for California was over by the time they arrived, so they set up camp at Fort Stockton on the presidio hill and helped build the brick courthouse in Old Town before heading home after their enlistment was up.

After our first three new experiences, Tori and I walked around the Old Town State Historic Park, something we have both done many times in the past. It is the most visited state park in California and it preserves the history and culture of the town from 1820 until 1870 as it transitioned from Mexican to American rule. This is the first time I have visited Old Town since reading about it in the fascinating memoir, "Two Years Before the Mast" when the American sailor visited the Mexican town in the 1830s. Walking through Old Town, we spotted the First Brick Courthouse that was helped built by the Mormon Battalion. It was cool to see all the decorations for Día de Los Muertos up in the Fiesta de Reyes and Old Town Market.

For dinner, we went to Cafe Coyote, voted the "Best Mexican in Old Town" for 20 years in a row. We enjoyed the margaritas and both ordered seafood for a change. Tori had the Baja Style Fish Tacos and I tried the Tequila Lime Shrimp. The black beans served with my plate were very tasty. 

After our meal we went back up the hill to Presidio Park to see the city lights at night before driving home to Encinitas. Even though we were only down south for about 4 hours, it felt like we were on a mini-vacation in our own city, especially since people kept asking us where we were from.  :)

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