Places to Shoot

San Diego Old Town

Visit the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and surrounding streets in the Old Town neighborhood where you can see restored Victorian homes and some of California's oldest buildings.

Location Summary

The place where San Diego started, Old Town contains many historic buildings including a blacksmith shop, stables, one-room schoolhouse, newspaper office, and hacienda. Types of subject include adobe structures, Mexican arts and crafts, flowers, plants, street scenes, historic costumes, Mexican dancers, musicians, Victorian homes.

Advantages: Very colorful and vibrant area with many photo opportunities.

Disadvantages: Somewhat Disneyfied and commercial.


Mexican dancers in Old Town San DiegoOld Town Historic Park

Old Town Historic Park is a state park with free entry and free parking. In summer months and at weekends the parking fills up quickly, but there is excellent access by trolley and a large parking lot at the transit center with entrance on Pacific Highway. The park consists of many historic buildings formed around the town square, at the center of which is a large flagpole that as far as I can tell from old photographs is pretty much original. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt and now house specialty stores or displays. You'll also find interesting places to photograph off the main square that many people miss. The lush hillside behind Old Town is a relatively modern landscape, because in the days when the town was founded there were no trees.

La Casa de Estudillo

La Casa de Estudillo, at the southeast side of the square, is built around a garden courtyard and has a bell tower over the entrance. In the spring and summer the garden is simply gorgeous with abundant color. You can look into many of the rooms that are set up with period furnishings and some make for interesting pictures, but the rooms are dark so you'll need a steady hand or a flash on your camera.

casa de reyes flowers in san diegoCasa de Reyes

Situated in the center of the park, Casa de Reyes is ground zero of San Diego tourism. It has undergone several changes of management and decoration in recent years, none of which seem an improvement on the original. Although it is very commercial, you'll find a lot of color here. There are stores selling arts and crafts from all over the world. The plant border is very well-maintained with a variety of vividly-colored flowers and shrubs. The mariachi stage often has muscicians and Mexican dance troops performing at weekends. Please be aware that this is a private area, much like a shopping mall, so if you show up looking like a pro photographer you may be told to move on. Don't forget to ask permission of store owners if you are taking pictures in stores.

Mexican Dancers on San Diego AvenueSan Diego Avenue

Take a walk along San Diego Avenue outside the southeast entrance to Old Town Historic Park to see more shops and older buildings, such as the Whaley House museum. There is an interesting little graveyard situated on the east side of the street. There is a grave marker actually embedded into the street here, where the boundary of the graveyard must have extended on to what is now San Diego Avenue. You can see tortillas being made at the Old Town Mexican Cafe. Cinco de Mayo is a good time to visit the street when it is filled with Mexican dancers and mariachi bands.

Immaculate Conception Church

This beautiful old Roman Catholic church opened for worship in 1917. I was welcomed inside to take photographs here, so cameras don't seem to be a problem outside the times when a mass or wedding is scheduled. The best view is probably from across the street on San Diego Avenue, but it requires some planning to find a time when cars aren't lining the street.

Heritage Park San DiegoHeritage Park

If you follow Hamey Street north for a couple of blocks off San Diego Avenue, you'll come to Heritage Park. The city moved seven examples of our finest Victorian architecture here over a period of 25 years, basically to clear their original plots for redevelopment. All the buildings have been finely renovated. There is a synagogue and six houses that are all different in style and make a very nice setting for portraits. Access inside the buildings can be limited. One is a tea room in the English style, though it is more like an Alice-in-Wonderland version of an English tea room than any I have supped a cuppa in!