A few years ago I walked from Old Town San Diego up to the top of Presidio Hill and wrote a simple blog about what I saw. You can revisit that post here.
What I failed to do at the time was photograph many of the historically important plaques that can be found around various sites and monuments, so I thought it would be proper to finally correct that omission.
I’ve included one informative sign which stands near the ruins of the old Spanish presidio’s chapel, and a variety of plaques. One of the plaques is at the base of the Padre Cross; two are near The Padre sculpture; one is on an observation structure near the Junipero Serra Museum parking lot; and several others are found at Fort Stockton, where the Mormon Battalion camped after their 2000-mile march from Iowa to San Diego.
Click the photos and they will enlarge for easier reading.
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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.
One of my favorite areas in San Diego is Old Town. There’s so much to see and enjoy wherever you turn. For lovers of history, it’s a treasure trove of discoveries.
Here’s a photo taken inside the central Plaza de las Armas, the heart of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This old Spanish cannon is called El Capitan. It was one of ten cannons that long ago protected Fort Guijarros near the entrance to San Diego Bay. The Spanish fort was built in 1797 on Ballast Point out of adobe.
El Capitan was likely fired during the Battle of San Diego in 1803, when the Spanish attacked the American brig Lelia Byrd which was smuggling otter skins. This cannon was likely fired again at the American smuggler ship Franklin in 1828, when the fort was under Mexican control. The only other surviving cannon from Fort Guijarros is called El Jupiter, and can be seen in the Serra Museum atop nearby Presidio Hill.
Old Town is all about history. The grassy plaza, containing the cannon, historical plaques, a high flagpole and picnic benches, is surrounded by old adobe buildings preserved and recreated from the early 1800’s. San Diego originated right here, at the base of a bluff where a Spanish military outpost stood. The outpost, called the Presidio, was built by Gaspar de Portola in 1769. That same year, Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded on Presidio Hill by the ambitious Spanish Franciscan friar, Father Junipero Serra. This made Old Town the site of the very first European settlement in California.
Around the Plaza de las Armas visitors can check out numerous interesting small museums, including the original one-room schoolhouse, an old blacksmith shop, San Diego’s very first newspaper office, an early courthouse, and a stable with a large collection of antique wagons and stagecoaches. Tourists can find gifts and souvenirs in a smattering of craft-filled shops. Families can dine at several colorful restaurants. Plus, there are many additional historical and commercial attractions along San Diego Avenue to the south of the plaza.
Can you guess another thing I like? Admission to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and all of its museums is free!