It’s hard to imagine a city more picturesque than San Diego. Its near-perfect weather and vast beaches emanate a languorous beach town vibe that only cities in Southern California can pull off. However, behind all that sunshine lies a complex and fascinating history—one that is certainly worth exploring! From European settlement in the 16th century to 20th century World’s Fairs and everything in between, San Diego’s history is diverse and full of culture. Many San Diego attractions reflect the Spanish and Mexican heritage that are the roots of present-day San Diego. Additionally, San Diego has an interesting natural history, and is home to many endangered species of both the plant and animal kingdom. Find out more about San Diego’s history as you discover the landmarks and attractions that represent the city’s legacy.

The Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of San Diego's past and present! The Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of San Diego's past and present!
Start your journey in the “birthplace of California,” Old Town San Diego. It’s the site of the first Spanish settlement on the West Coast, where the very first Spanish mission was established and ignited the colonization of California. The state has done its best to preserve this area and its history with Old Town San Diego Historic Park, located at the base of Old Town’s bluff. Often referred to as the historic heart of San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter is a small neighborhood in Downtown San Diego, which used to be called “New Town” (the early Americans had more important things to think about than originality). After it was realized that Old Town’s location was poor for commerce, people began moving to New Town and in 1860 massive development in the area began. You can explore the 16 ½ blocks of a Victorian-style neighborhood, which is now the center of many San Diego attractions, with a Gaslamp Quarter Walking Tour. Your entertaining and informative guide will lead you through the streets while unveiling the secrets of this quaint but bustling neighborhood.
Hote del Coronado is breathtaking even today. Hote del Coronado is breathtaking even today.
If this Victorian-era charm is your cup of tea, hop on board the Coronado Ferry to continue your adventure. The short but scenic ferry ride to Coronado is a treat in itself, but the real destination is Ferry Landing Marketplace, a collection of shops, art galleries, and eateries that are architecturally reminiscent of the Victorian gingerbread style. Just a mile southeast you’ll find the iconic Hotel del Coronado, one of the few wooden Victorian beach resorts that have survived into the present day. On your Hotel del Coronado Tour, discover what made this resort such a popular destination for presidents, royalty, and celebrities; learn about the hotel’s alleged hauntings; and identify the spots where famous movies like Some Like It Hot were filmed. Next up: the most haunted house in America. The world-famous Whaley House, a two-story Greek Revival-style mansion, was designed by Thomas Whaley in 1857, and his family members lived in the house for nearly a century. In its day, it housed a granary, the County Court house, San Diego’s first commercial theater, a general store, a ballroom, a billiard hall, a school, and a polling place. These days, it’s more famous for the supposed paranormal activity that occurs here—it was even named Travel Chanel’s number one most haunted house in the United States. The stories of haunted activity arise both from the suicide of Violet Whale in 1885 and the hangings that occurred on the property before the house was built. Don’t believe in ghosts? Check it out for yourself!
Meet San Francisco's oldest residents at the Natural History Museum. Meet San Francisco's oldest residents at the Natural History Museum.
Finally, no tour of historic San Diego attractions is complete without a visit to the Natural History Museum. Step back in time another million years or so to when mammoths, mastodons, and dinosaurs roamed the earth and discover the creatures that once called San Diego home. Combining ancient history with modern-day innovation, the Natural History Museum is a delight for all ages. Believe it or not, these attractions only scratch the surface of San Diego’s rich history and only represent a few of the important cultural sights. Discover all that San Diego has to offer with the Go San Diego Card or a Go Select San Diego pass!