Please join me as I walk from San Diego’s Old Town up a short but very steep trail to Presidio Park. We’ll see all sorts of interesting monuments, views, and of course, the location of the old Spanish presidio, whose ruins are no longer visible. The top of Presidio Hill is now home to the Junipero Serra Museum. Follow me!
We begin near the trailhead, beside the small Presidio Hills Golf Course, on the east edge of historic Old Town.
The first interesting thing we see is this sculpture, titled The Indian. It was created by famous American artist Arthur Putnam in 1905 and placed at the site of an ancient Indian village. The small village was discovered and named San Miguel by the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.
Up the hill from The Indian stands the Padre Cross. It was raised in 1913 by the Order of Panama and is made up of tiles from the Presidio ruins. The cross marks the strategic location overlooking San Diego Bay where Franciscan friar Junipero Serra chose to establish a Spanish Catholic mission in 1769. (The mission was moved several miles up the San Diego River 5 years later.)
Nearby among some trees we find a memorial to the mission’s friars. It’s a bronze statue titled The Padre, completed in 1908 by renowned sculptor Arthur Putnam.
Our legs are starting to feel the climb as we reach three flagpoles overlooking Mission Valley.
Turning north for a moment, we see the trolley!
Now we’re getting close to the Serra Museum, which was built in 1928 on this historically very important hill. The museum was built, and the land containing Presidio Park was purchased and preserved for posterity, by philanthropist George Marston.
San Diego was born in 1769 at the old Presidio, a Spanish fort in a desert-like wilderness very far from European civilization. It was located just below the Serra Museum.
Not many people are about at the moment. Most tourists never venture up this way.
The Serra Museum is packed with numerous historical exhibits. You can climb the tower for views of San Diego Bay, the San Diego River and Mission Valley.
Now we’ll wander along the hilltop to nearby Fort Stockton, the short-lived camp of the famous Mormon Battalion.
Decades ago, when I was a young man, I remember seeing a cannon set in this concrete overlooking Old Town. I believe that same cannon is now on display in the nearby Serra Museum. Given the name El Jupiter, it was one of ten cannons that originally protected the old Spanish Fort Guijarros on San Diego Bay at Ballast Point.
(A second surviving cannon from the fort is named El Capitan. Today it can be found near the center of Old Town San Diego’s Plaza de las Armas.)
In 1846, President James K. Polk asked Brigham Young of the Mormons to send a few hundred men to San Diego to help in the Mexican-American war effort. On January 29, 1847 five hundred men and about eighty women and children arrived at Fort Stockton after a very difficult 2,000-mile march from Council Bluffs, Iowa.
I hope you enjoyed our walk!
In 2021 the two sculptures The Indian and The Padre were moved from Presidio Hill to the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park. To see my blog post concerning this, click here.
8 thoughts on “Walk from Old Town to the San Diego Presidio.”
What a great article and it still holds up even though I am reading it two and a half years later. The directions are so clear and the walk is well worth attempting. I enjoyed all of the information and also the photos plus it’s so nice not only to have the directions but also to recognize the photos and what they are along the way.
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Thanks! I didn’t really go all out on this post, and the photos aren’t the best, but I’m glad you enjoyed it! I have a blog post concerning the Serra Museum at the top of Presidio Hill which has many more good photos and much more historical background! Thanks for all your great SDMA tours! Your pal, Richard!