San Diego Guide for History Buffs

San Diego Guide for History Buffs #sandiego #sandiegohistory #travelideas

San Diego is a wonderful place to experience and learn about the history of the West, the Missions and more. We complied a list of the awesome places to go to learn more about San Diego’s great past. Follow us to get the latest on activities at these cool places and get profiles on famous people throughout history, interesting San Diego facts and current exhibits.

Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum

Ever feel stuffy in a museum full of static pieces?  The exact opposite is true about the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum.  The Museum, located on a 55-acre plot in Vista, focuses on 1849 through early 1960s exhibits demonstrating farm equipment and tools.  And usually these exhibits involve working equipment and demonstrations.

The Museum’s collections contain over 20,000 items, including old steam engines, rare manuals and photos.  Their exhibits include a blacksmith shop, farmhouse and parlor, gas engine row, short track railroad, steam engine row, steam traction engines, gas and diesel tractors and museum weavers.

Address: 2040 North Santa Fe Ave, Vista CA 92083
Learn more here.

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is one of the best places in San Diego. It’s land was first set aside as City Park in 1868 but it wasn’t until Kate Sessions turned her green thumb to it in the late 1800s and early 1900s that it got some development and momentum to becoming Balboa Park of today. Kate Sessions wanted a nursery and in exchange for land, planted 100 trees a year within the Park.

The 1915-16 Panama California Exposition celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and San Diego (and Balboa Park) was the host to this grand event. Many of Balboa Park’s buildings were built as temporary homes to the exhibits of this Exposition, such as the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Botanical Building and California Tower. Obviously these buildings were so well liked, they are still with us today!

The second grand event held in Balboa Park was the California Pacific International Exposition which was held in 1935-36. This world’s fair brought on huge crowds and more building to the already cool area. The San Diego Air and Space Museum’s building (then the Ford Building), Spanish Village Art Center and some of the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages are great examples of the many new add-ons to the Park.

Today it has 14 different museums, numerous gardens, theaters, shows and more so visitors (and history buffs!) can’t go wrong.

Learn more here.

Cabrillo National Monument

The Cabrillo National Monument sits on the tip of Point Loma and includes the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, along with hiking trails, tide pool areas, and gorgeous views of Downtown San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. President Woodrow Wilson created the Park in 1913. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is one of the original West Coast lighthouses (there were only 8!) and is restored to look like it did when it was first built.

The hiking in the area provides gorgeous views of the City and gives visitors a chance to enjoy the fresh ocean breeze. Plant and animal life thrives in the area. Coastal sage scrub is a great plant to see and enjoy while you are here—this is the last area the coastal sage scrub grows. Birds rule at Cabrillo National Monument—there have been over 200 species of birds recorded in the area! The Park’s tide pools are one of the best-preserved rocky intertidal areas open to the public in Southern California.

While you’re here, learn the history of the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who discovered San Diego, the history of the lighthouse and the history of Fort Rosecrans and its military ties. Cabrillo National Monument gives visitors fresh air, great photos and a chance to learn more about San Diego.

Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego CA 92106
Learn more here.

Campo Stone Store

The Campo Stone Store is a California State Historic Landmark. The Gaskill brothers owned this store in the late 1800s. This Stone Store was built to help protect the area from border bandits (they raided the original store in 1875 and the brothers decided they, and East County, needed more protection!). The Store acted as a bank, post office and social center for the community and those north and south of the border during its heyday. It’s been a military outpost and housed horse cavalry as well.

Address: 31130 State Highway 94, Camp CA 92006
Learn more here.

Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

If you like planes, you’ll love this outdoor Museum. Funded by the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar is the only museum purposed to preserve Marine Corp aviation and the people who support it. There are over 30 aircrafts within their collection. The outdoor Museum is free to the public and holds open cockpit days every other weekend from May thru September.

Address: MCAS Miramar, San Diego CA 92145 (across from 8604 Miramar Road)
Learn more here.

Gaslamp Museum at the William Heath Davis House

Run by the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, the Gaslamp Museum at the William Heath Davis House is the oldest standing residence of the 16.5 block area known as the Gaslamp. William Heath Davis was a very prominent early San Diegan. He was the first person to come up with the idea of living in “New Town” San Diego near the San Diego Bay (away from Old Town where early San Diegans lived) and even purchased many prefabricated houses and had them shipped from Maine to San Diego. He gave up on the plan after the fire of San Francisco destroyed most of his fortune so Mr. Horton became the Father of San Diego and started the “New Town” by the Bay in 1867.

The Museum is a great place to learn about Davis, early San Diego and the Gaslamp Quarter. It showcases historical photos, pieces and other artifacts to help educate visitors on the Gaslamp and San Diego’s history.  It holds exhibits, tours, festivals, and programs for kids and adults.

Address: 410 Island Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Heritage of the Americas Museum

The Museum was started by an amazing collector, Bud Lueck, and his wife, Bernadette. Lueck started collecting artifacts when he was a young boy and never lost interest. He helped on many archaeological digs throughout his youth and beyond. He always had a dream: to create a museum to hold his collection and help educate the public through it, especially youth. After moving to East County (San Diego) and retiring from his business in the sheet metal industry, he made his dream come true. The Museum opened January 1983.

The Heritage of the Americas Museum is located in the East County of San Diego at Cuyamaca College and takes visitors on a journey through time. The Museum has A LOT of artifacts of all different sorts, with a special focus on the Americas—North, Central and South America. The Museum is segmented into five wings with five distinct topics of focus: Natural History, Anthropology, Archeology, Art and Education. In this Museum, visitors will see such things as dinosaur eggs, American Indian moccasins, jade sculptures and some of the over 500 necklaces in their collection.

Address: 12110 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon CA 92019
Learn more here.

J.A. Cooley Automotive Museum

The J.A. Cooley Automotive Museum is a great stop if you like gadgets, cars or historical pieces. The two founders, Jim and Carmen Cooley, stock the Museum with finds from their travels. Some artifacts show the history of technology from the late 1800s to early 1900s. They have over 20 categories of antiques ranging from model trains to clocks to pianos. Their car collection is San Diego’s best collection of 100-year-old vehicles—they have over 20 cars such as the very first Mercedes Benz car and the Buick XP 2000!

Address: 4233 Park Blvd, San Diego CA 92103
Learn more here.

Julian Pioneer Museum

The Julian Pioneer Museum, located in Julian, is the place to go for the history of the city of Julian. This town is a gold mine of information about the gold rush. The Museum and its artifacts provide a narrative history from 1869 to the early 1900s, including topics on Native Americans in Julian, traveling to and from Julian and the different species of animals found in Julian (shown with their mounted animals). The building itself is full of history—the Museum is located in the Treshil blacksmith shop which was started in 1888 by Joseph Treshil.

Address: 2811 Washington Street, Julian CA 92036
Learn more here.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Want to step aboard ships from the 1800s? You can at the Maritime Museum of San Diego! The Museum has a great collection of ships, photos, art, books, and other historical material to preserve and educate visitors on the amazingness that is San Diego’s maritime history. It has 9 ships of all different types, including submarines, sailing ships, steam-powered boats and vessels. Two of the ships are National Historic Landmarks (Star of India and Berkeley), and the Star of India is the oldest active vessel in the world.

It has 5 permanent collections: Age of Sail shows the history of sailing the seas; Charting The Sea shows technology and the history of navigation in the seas; San Diego’s Navy highlights the history of the Navy in San Diego; Age of Steam, features the steam-powered ferry boat, Berkeley and the history of the steam-powered boat; and Harvesting The Ocean showcases the history of San Diego commercial fishing.

Address: 1492 North Harbor Drive, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

The Mission San Diego was the very first mission of the twenty-one missions in California. Also known as the Mother of the Missions, it was founded on July 16, 1769 by Junipero Serra. It was California’s first church and is considered the birthplace of Christianity in the far West. It even serves as an active Cathloic Parish today so it’s not uncommon to see weddings or other festivities of the church taking place.

Address: 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego CA 92108
Learn more here.

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

Founded in 1798, the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the largest of the 21 California Missions and is thus termed, the King of the Missions. It’s a National Historic Landmark and is home to a community of Franciscan Friars. The complex holds a museum, historic church, cemetery and even a retreat center. The museum always has exhibits on early California during the time of the missions.

Address: 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside CA 92057
Learn more here.

Old Town State Historic Park

If you want to know the history of early San Diego, Old Town is THE place to go. The Park consists of houses, chapels, courthouses and mansions belonging to the early residents of San Diego, from 1821 to 1872 in particular. There are early American settlement elements in the culture around Old Town and Mexican flavor from the occupants before them. The Whaley House is a big draw within the area but there’s lots more to see and do!

Address: 4002 Wallace Street, San Diego CA 92110
Learn more here.

San Diego Archaeological Center

The San Diego Archaeological Center has a passion for telling the history of San Diego County, going back some 10,000 years ago. Through artifact viewing, games, graphic displays and a research station, the Center gives visitors access and understanding of San Diego’s past. The Center, located in Escondido, hosts permanent exhibitions on all subjects archaeology: An Introduction to Archaeology and the Archaeology of San Diego gives viewers more understanding of archaeology and archaeology in San Diego; Pottery- Earth, Water, Fire and Air shows amazing Kumeyaay pottery; Shells Tell a Story shows visitors different shells found from different time periods in San Diego and how scientists can learn about the history of the environment from them; and Children at Play showing artifacts belonging to children over different time periods, like toys and games.

Address: 16666 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido CA 92027
Learn more here.

San Diego Chinese Historical Museum

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum specializes in Chinese and Chinese-American history.  Located in the Gaslamp of San Diego, this Museum is housed in the old Chinese Mission building and has been for more than 15 years. Its roots began in 1986 when the San Diego Chinese Historical Society was formed in order to rescue the Chinese Mission building in San Diego. It achieved its goal and the building eventually became a home for the Museum in 1996 (this was the year the Museum first opened).

The Museum holds great exhibitions featuring Chinese-American history and everything related. It also has a wonderful garden to relax–it holds a small waterfall, stream, fishpond and a bronze statue of Confucius.

Address: 404 Third Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego History Center

Do you know San Diego history? The San Diego History Center aims to make you an expert! Started in 1928 by George W. Marston (famous civil leader in San Diego…also built the Marston House), the Center hosts exhibitions that explore contemporary San Diego, historic San Diego and the future of San Diego. Place of Promise is one of its permanent collections. It tells about San Diego history and includes Walk on San Diego, a 30 feet by 30 feet interactive map of San Diego with murals by Charles Reiffel of San Diego County and Building an Early Identity that focuses on the first inhabitants of San Diego. Life on Presidio Hill is another permanent exhibit that shows the history of the hill above Old Town.

Address: 1649 El Prado Suite 3, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Museum of Man

The San Diego Museum of Man is a great museum and a favorite among locals and visitors alike. It’s housed in one of the original 1915 Panama-California Exposition buildings, the California Building, and its collections include over 400,000 artifacts. The Museum focuses on archaeology, anthropology and history.

The Museum has many different permanent exhibits, including Ancient Egypt (with mummies and other cool artifacts), Children’s Discovery Center (interactive exhibit allowing kids to learn anthologist roles in discovering ancient civilizations), Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years in Human Evolution (5 galleries of the history of humans along with interactive replicas of early humans), Kumeyaay: Native Californians (history in Southern California of old), and Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth (history in Central America with many artifacts).

Address: 1350 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

San Diego Natural History Museum

If you like bones, want to be a paleontologist like Ross from Friends, or loved the movie, Night at the Museum, you’ll LOVE the San Diego Natural History Museum. The NAT always has interesting exhibits dealing with dinosaurs, fossils, San Diego’s natural history past and more. It was founded in 1874 and is the oldest scientific institution in Southern California (third oldest west of the Mississippi!).

The permanent collections include: Camp-O-Saurus, an interactive play area for kids; Skulls, showing almost 200 skulls from different animals around the world; Water: A California Story tells about the water history in California and its future; and Fossil Mysteries, presenting the fossil history in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico.

Address: 1788 El Prado, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Santa Ysabel Asistencia

Connected to the Mission San Diego de Acala, the Santa Ysabel Asistencia was dedicated on September 20, 1818. It was established to help assist people who couldn’t travel to the San Diego Mission. At its high point, the property included a chapel, granary, houses and a cemetery. Today, one building stands–a chapel built in 1924 once the site was given back to the Roman Catholic church. It’s a California Registered Historical Landmark (Number 369).

Address: 23013 California 79, Santa Ysabel CA 92070
Learn more here.

USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum is a museum like no other. The Museum is located on one of the US’s longest-serving aircraft carriers. Over 225,000 sailors served on the Midway when it was active. There’s a lot for you to see and do when aboard the Midway: 60 exhibits, 29 restored aircrafts, a self-guided audio tour, docent tours, 2 flight stimulators, a café, and a gift shop. The many exhibits take you through all part’s of a sailor’s life aboard the ship: the sleeping quarters, the ship’s jail, the pilots’ ready rooms, etc. Go here to learn about sailor’s life at sea and experience the inside of a massive aircraft carrier!

Address: 910 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Veterans Museum and Memorial Center

The Veterans Museum and Memorial Center was started in 1989. It aims to honor and continue on the memory of all the men and women who served in the military and they do so through exhibitions, events and programs. The East Entrance to the Museum holds the Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial, honoring those who served and died or remain missing from the Vietnam War. It’s lit and available to visit 24 hours a day.

The exhibits feature photos, memorabilia and more from World War I, World War II, Pearl Harbor, the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts, Desert Storm, Women in the Military and paintings by local artists of military subjects. They also cover all branches of the service and even have artifacts dating back to the Civil War.

Address: 2115 Park Blvd, San Diego CA 92101
Learn more here.

Villa Montezuma

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Villa Montezuma is such a gorgeous building to check out. It was built in 1887 for Jesse Shepard, a famous European musician. The Villa Montezuma has been closed for years and is one of San Diego’s haunted spots. Why is it haunted you may ask? Many seances have been held on its property by past owners and many ghost sightings have been had on its premise. We consider it one of the most beautiful buildings in San Diego!

Address: 1925 K Street, San Diego, California 92102

Whaley House

The Whaley House is the oldest brick structure in San Diego and is deemed America’s Most Haunted House by the Travel Channel. Restored and maintained by Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), the Whaley House is in historic Old Town. It was built in 1855 and finished in 1857 by Thomas Whaley. The building has been used as the Whaley family residence, the county courthouse, San Diego’s first commercial theater, a general store and a museum (since 1960). The Whaley House complex includes the Whaley House, the Verna House (which is the Museum Shop), two Downtown San Diego false front store buildings (they were moved from Downtown San Diego in 1964 and currently hold the New Orleans Creole Cafe), the Derby-Pendleton House (a 1850 structure moved to Old Town in 1962) and a gazebo area.

The House is said to be haunted because there have been a lot of reported and rumored deaths on the property including people who have been hanged on the property and the Whaley family (Thomas Whaley and his wife along with their daughter who committed suicide here and their great-granddaughter who experienced a tragic death here).

Address: 2476 San Diego Avenue, San Diego CA 92110
Learn more here.

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