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!
I took this photo while strolling down El Prado, Balboa Park’s breathtakingly beautiful central promenade. Lined with fountains, fine museums and Spanish Colonial Revival buildings designed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, it is one of the most scenic walks in San Diego.
I caught this man taking a stroll with his dog in front of Casa del Prado, one of the spectacular buildings along El Prado.
Here’s one iconic sight in Balboa Park I always lift my eyes to enjoy. The elaborate facade of the California Building, home of the San Diego Museum of Man, contains sculpted historical figures molded from clay and plaster. These figures include Junipero Serra, father of California’s Spanish missions, and Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who discovered San Diego Bay nearly five centuries ago in 1542.
This fantastic building, inspired by the church of San Diego in Guanajuato, Mexico, was erected for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, an event that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and promoted San Diego as a destination. Like other similar buildings to the east along El Prado, it is in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style, which was largely developed by Bertram Goodhue.
The California Building and adjacent California Tower, and the more simple structure to the south across El Prado–housing Evernham Hall and the St. Francis Chapel–form the California Quadrangle. The courtyard-like area at the quadrangle’s center, where visitors can sit at tables and through which cars today travel, is called the Plaza de California.
Every few years I venture into The Museum of Man just to refresh my memory. There are a number of interesting anthropological exhibits, including a whole room full of spooky Egyptian mummies!
Here are some more pics…
Here are even more photos from a later date…
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I love this small bronze sculpture just in front of the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Because it stands inconspicuously in the seldom-visited northwest corner of the Plaza de Panama, few people ever wander over to look at it. Which is a shame.
This piece of art is titled Youth Taming the Wild (Horse Trainer) and was created by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1927. She is also responsible for the huge, iconic El Cid statue near the center of the plaza, between the fountain and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
I love the expressed energy in this work of art and the careful natural detail. One can see why this fine artist is considered one of the top equestrian sculptors.
Here’s the oft-photographed figurehead of San Diego’s famous tall ship Star of India. I learned from a Maritime Museum of San Diego docent that the figurehead represents Euterpe, one of the Muses from Greek mythology. Euterpe was the muse of music. Euterpe was also the original name of the Star of India, when it was built at Ramsey in the Isle of Man in 1863. Her name was changed from Euterpe to Star of India in 1906 by the Alaska Packers’ Association, which had purchased the ship in 1901.
During today’s morning walk I took a couple other photographs which I will share. Here’s a pic of San Diego’s beloved tall ship Star of India! Many visitors don’t realize that this iron-hulled three-masted bark is the oldest active sailing ship in the entire world! If you ever swing by America’s Finest City, you can go onboard and enjoy a memorable glimpse of maritime history.
With clouds of white sails fluttering in the breeze, she remains the queen of The Big Bay! She’s 150 years old and still appears to be in great condition!