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11 Most Interesting Historical Landmarks to See in San Diego

11 Most Interesting Historical Landmarks to See in San Diego

From amazing beach towns to cultural heritage in every corner, here are the 11 most interesting historical San Diego landmarks to see.

Dikran Seferian


6 min read

April 05, 2022

Stunning beaches? Check. Vibrant towns? Check. Beautiful weather year-round? Check. San Diego ticks all the boxes when it comes to being an ideal coastal city — they don’t call it “America’s Finest City” for no reason. From aquatic sites to lively towns rich with art, culture, and heritage, this charming city has a lot to offer. You are spoilt for choice in terms of what historic California landmarks to explore. As a matter of fact, San Diego is where the Europeans first settled on the West Coast, making it the “birthplace of California”. Should you be heading to this sun-drenched SoCal metropolis for your next vacation, a number of attractions and things to do in San Diego await your visit.

1. Seaport Village

Adorned with an abundance of sunshine, San Diego is a year-round haven for those longing for a salty ocean breeze and sandy feet. The area features a diversity of people who lead active lifestyles, and who simply enjoy the vibes that this city has to offer. Whether it’s taking a dip in the Pacific Ocean or the bayfront, the waters of San Diego are known to attract both visitors and locals alike.

While the coastline enjoys a great deal of attention, downtown San Diego’s Seaport Village is no less of a popular hub. Nestled between the San Diego Convention Center and the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, Seaport Village is a 14-acre wide pedestrian-friendly landmark full of art galleries, retail shops, eateries, and a variety of fun activities for everyone.

Seaport Village is a landmark bursting with life and sunshine.

2. Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade

Paying tribute to the slain leader of civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Promenade consists of sculptures such as the “Breaking of the Chains” by the highly acclaimed Melvin Edwards. Just across from the convention center and adjacent to Harbor Boulevard, this San Diego landmark also features a fountain as well as a hedge maze and serves as the setting for the Martin Luther King Day Celebration which takes place every year. Consider planning your San Diego adventure around that time to enjoy the food, music, and activities — and to pay tribute to the fallen hero.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade is a homage to the fallen civil rights hero.

3. Old Town Market

Offering daily shows, entertainment, and historic storytelling, the Old Town Market is an iconic San Diego landmark you don’t want to miss. You can enjoy shopping in the dozens of gift shops, watching skilled artisans at work, or grabbing a bite to eat. This unique attraction also offers one of the many free things to do in San Diego and features a free museum where you can learn all about Old Town San Diego's history. Known as El Museo Casa De Aguirre, the museum offers a short but insightful trip down memory lane.

A variety of shops and snacks await you at San Diego’s Old Town Market.

4. Embarcadero Marina

If you happen to find yourself in the San Diego Harbor, make sure to head over to Embarcadero Marina Park for a walk. With the bay embracing it on three sides, Embarcadero Marina is one of the most authentic landmarks San Diego has to offer. You’ll have the opportunity to witness the courage and loyalty of the United States Naval Military personnel through various statues and memorials — such as the USS San Diego Memorial, the Aircraft Carrier Memorial, and of course, The Homecoming Statue, depicting a Navy sailor with his beloved.

The Embarcadero Marina is home to a number of statues and memorials.

5. El Campo Santo Cemetery

Situated in Old Town San Diego, El Campo Santo is the second oldest cemetery in the city, having burials that date all the way back to 1849 up until 1880. A horse-drawn streetcar line was formed along a portion of the graveyard — later becoming known as San Diego Avenue. El Campo Santo underwent some restorations in 1933 and a few boundary shifts over the years that followed. In 1942, the cemetery was paved over and nearly 18 graves were left beneath the street and sidewalk.

Your visit to this historic San Diego landmark wouldn’t be complete without the Ghosts and Gravestones Tour. This exciting excursion will take you on a nighttime stroll through the cemetery where you’ll learn all about its creepy history.

Experience the interesting past of the historic El Campo Santo Cemetery (Photo by we6jbo/Wikimedia Commons).

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6. Petco Park

Nowhere else will you see magnificent views of San Diego while watching the San Diego Padres in action other than Petco Park. This architectural marvel is a celebration of the city’s unique spirit as well as its stunning landscape. Innovative elements of design allude to the historic significance of baseball in a cozy atmosphere. Visitors will have access to state-of-the-art facilities that suit a wide range of budgets and preferences.

Witness San Diego’s Petco Park in all its glory.

7. Chinese Historic District

The San Diego Asian Pacific Historic District, also known as the city’s historic Chinatown, is an eight-block neighborhood that overlaps with a part of the Gaslamp Quarter. The district came into existence when fishermen settled there in 1860. At one point, it was a bustling Chinatown and home to many Chinese and Chinese-Americans who were banned from living in other parts of San Diego. After the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, the district’s inhabitants were able to move to other neighborhoods. The district is also home to the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, where you can learn about the heritage of the city’s Chinese community and appreciate its art and culture.

San Diego’s Historic Chinatown is rich with art, culture, and heritage (Allan Ferguson/Wikimedia Commons).


8. William Heath Davis House

Among the most important of San Diego’s historical sites is the William Heath Davis House. Besides being the oldest wooden structure in the city, the house carries fun facts about San Diego and the people who once inhabited it. William Heath Davis, the first resident of the house, was the first who tried his hand at developing the new city. However, San Diego truly flourished at the hand of Alonzo Horton, making him one of the city’s founders. Horton even bought this very house where he lived with his wife for a while.

The William Heath Davis House is a significant part of San Diego’s past (Visitor7/Wikimedia Commons).

9. Presidio Park

Considered the point of entry for European control of the west, the Presidio Park is another one of the most significant historical landmarks in San Diego. This famous site consists of the Junipero Serra Museum, which exhibits a variety of artifacts pertaining to Mexican and Spanish heritage, colonization, as well as early customs and lifestyles in California. While its initial purpose was to protect the colonists, the Presidio eventually served as military headquarters and space for remembering the city’s history.

Presidio Park is home to the Junipero Serra Museum, where a rich selection of Spanish and Mexican artifacts are on display.

10. Gaslamp Quarter

The word ‘colorful’ is an understatement when describing “The Historic Heart of San Diego”, a vibrant district attracting young professionals that features a tapestry of moldings, carvings, railings, columns, and stained glass windows. Buzzing with activity throughout most of the day, the Gaslamp Quarter is home to a plethora of restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and theaters. This popular tourist destination is where the history of San Diego continues to live.

The Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego is a colorful mosaic of architectural elements.

11. Old Town State Historic Park

When it comes to San Diego's heritage, nothing spells history more than the actual birthplace of California: the Old Town State Historic Park. When Mexico got its independence from Spain in 1821, a number of Mexican settlers started to build houses along the base of the Presidio, Since wood wasn’t easy to find, the settlers used adobe bricks instead. This gave the homes a brownish-red color that made them look so unique. The houses nowadays serve as shops, a museum, and restaurants where visitors can get a taste of its history.

When it comes to the history of California, the Old Town State Historic Park is where it all started.

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