Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Great, The Good, The Ugly of Old Town San Diego

by Marie Aquino

I grew up in San Diego and can easily say, "Been there, done that." I'm talking about SeaWorld, the numerous beaches, Bel Mont, Del Mar Races, all the best clubs, hole in the wall eateries, etc, a million times over, right? And now as a new mom, I have to take a closer look at San Diego with a new set of parenting eyes. I mean, one time I was craving the Pala Casino all you can eat buffet for lunch slash dinner, right? And I didn't even hesitate to bring my family with me. As I'm standing in line next to the blarring slot machines and chain smokers, with my brand new pink bugaboo and fresh out of the womb baby, it hit me, "Dude, I can't be bringing my baby into this smoke infested place and stand in line for an hour just to get into the buffet! The slot machines are going to wake her up for one thing and two, her lungs are all pure right now and I just jacked that up! Bad decision MOM. Bad." And that's when I became more critical of my decisions on where to eat, how to spend my time and who to spend it with.

Old Town San Diego would be one of the last places on Earth you'd find ME. Of all the places in San Diego to do with kids, Old Town was defnitely NOT on the list. That is, until my good friend and Super Mom Extraordinare, Lindsay, suggested it. Being that Old Town was truly never on the To-Do-List, I said, "Hey, I've never been there! Let's go!"
So, here are the highlights; The Great, The Good and The Ugly of Old Town San Diego:

The Great:

  • Cousin's Candy Shop on San Diego Ave cross of Wallace. Candy's always a #1 with me.
  • Weather/ambiance and shaded areas throughout-because I'd be irate if I was in the blarring sun in Old Town with no shaded areas, it would be like "Rango" the movie with Johnny Depp.
  • Fiesta feel in the "Fiesta De Reyes" courtyard. It's a happy place, what's not to like??
  • Historic relevance of good ol' San Diego.
  • Short walking distances-because I got a bum knee and I'm pushing a stroller which means I'm carrying a lot of baby/kid stuff.
Here's some pictures of what I'm talking about:

They're known for their salt water taffy. Not my kinda thing. I'm all about the chocolate!

So, here's a photo of the back side of the main island located in the center of the store. The front side is a bunch of different fudge bricks, and this backside has all the truffles!

I thought this was neat....curious if anyone's ever bought it. And what would starfish poop taste like really?? :)

Ask Lindsay and her son how these tasted-it's the salt water taffy. I think she said she spent 4 bucks on it. But she might've gotten a chunk of fudge too.

Okay, in this picture, see the stairs? Look on the left gate. It's got the wheelchair sign and underneath is a hand pointing to the left, meaning if you need a ramp, head left, to the back alley. (More about that later.) Notice on the brick wall on the right, there's a sign for Restrooms. They're restrooms everywhere in Old Town-that's a good thing! Here's some more good things about Old Town San Diego:

The Good:

  • Mexican food choices---it’s basically all Mexican food over there-to be expected I guess.
  • 1st Schoolhouse Museum---totally cool because it just is, makes you think back.
  • Cosmopolitan Hotel---the inside was cool with the adobe walls, the portraits, etc. The workers do have to wear the period clothing and I actually liked that. Better them than me AND it made me feel futuristic. Seriously though, it fit with the feel of the place. Kinda like when you go to the Reneiassance Faire and they’re all talking funny---it works, I like it.
  • Free parking---some would say the parking is GREAT ;p
  • Trolley---If you can spot him, look for Captain Bob-he’s an excellent tour dude and suggested you go to http://hometownpass.com/ for a free trolley ticket and other discounts-Sweet!! If you wanted a personal tour guide, he's up for hire. Starcptn@aol.com
  • Other museums throughout Old Town, ie. stagecoach, gems. It’s nice to get into museums for free anytime. I like looking at stuff. It’s like shopping but you don’t feel like you have to buy anything.

This is the Carne Asada Burrito at Old Town Mexican Cafe for $8.95. I'd give it a 8 out of 10. Not greasy, not too salty. Great taste and the green salsa and the beans are the bomb!! The restaurant is known for it's homemade tortillas (voted the best tortillas in San Diego since 1977) but mine was a little chewy. They're also known for the best margaritas, just fyi. www.oldtownmexcafe.com

This is a photo taken from the inside of the Mason Street School. Historical Landmark #538. At the time this school was built, in 1865, San Diego's population was a mere 400 people! It's the first public school in Southern California and all 8 grades were taught in this one room. When you go in, be sure to take a free brochure from the wall, it's got some good stories from the very first teachers on what it was like to teach at that time.

This is the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant. They should call it the Cosmopolitan Bed and Breakfast because that's what it is, not a hotel like we think a hotel is. The rooms are totally cool with wall paper that's authentic to the 1870's and claw bath tubs, and pull string toilets. You get fresh baked scones served to you in the balcony outside your room in the morning. :) They also have the Restaurant on the bottom floor that has a daily happy hour from 3-6PM. I didn't eat there (because a hamburger is $12.95) but I hear the food is consistently good. The Whipper Snapper children's menu has kid's favorites for $5, oh excuse me, it's $4.95. Also on the kid's menu, they offer Roy Rogers or Shirley Temples for $2.50. Hazel Diaz is the innkeeper and she's a great tour guide as well. If I didn't have kids, I'd totally stay here. www.oldtowncosmo.com

So I mentioned, on my Good List, that there's other museums. This photo is from the Gem museum. It had all kinds of things in there, old maps, jewelry, leather goods, and precious stones.

And here's another museum I didn't go into. I thought it was cool just from the outside because it's the original adobe type buildings that they preserved. I figured if I went in, guess what I'd find...walls! So, I skipped it. If you go, and happen to go inside, let me know if you find something other than adobe walls, k?

The Ugly

  • Homeless dudes in the back alleys. Yup. Luckily there was just one. It wasn’t like Skid Row or anything and there was a security guard there harassing him. Dude was just trying to sleep.
  • The wheelchair/stroller access in some areas is in the back alleys. Double whammy there because 1) it’s already a hardship to be in a wheelchair or have to have a stroller anyways and 2) you got to go all the way to the back to get to the front and 3) well, that’s where the homeless dudes are. Also, since I was the only one with a stroller, the rest of the group went up the the direct route via stairs and I headed toward the wheelchair ramp in the back, which splits me up from the group.
  • The map-the map totally sucked. It’s the one that comes with the Old Town Guide. It’s best to just go there and wander around and find things as you need them. There’s restrooms everywhere and of course, Mexican food everywhere.
  • Tourist prices. Yeah, that’s the last thing I wanted to mention because who wants to pay for high priced Mexican food. Mexican food by definition is cheap, so who are they trying to fool? Honestly, if you go to Old Town, just be prepared to eat elsewhere. But if you get so hungry you can’t wait (like I did), then The Old Town Mexican Cafe is decent and it’s located in the front entrance area of Old Town.
(I'd totally share more pictures with you but I didn't take any of the homeless, that would be messed up!) But going back to that map, here's where I got it from, so if you come across it, I would reference it just to get your barrings straight, but I wouldn't rely on it. http://www.oldtownsandiegoguide.com/

To tell you honestly though, now that I've been there once. I'd go again. Why? Because there is so much more to absorb there if you had the time. I had my kids with me and we got hungry so we had to bail. But otherwise, I wasn't done checking it all out. I would guesstimate about 2-4 hours is needed to cover the place real good. There's lots more museums I'd like to see/do, like the panning for gold at the Mormon Battalion and of course, the Whaley House (ghost house). But now that Captain Bob told me about the trolley ticket, that locals ride for free (with one paying adult fare), and it takes you all over San Diego where you can hop on and off anytime throughout the day, dude, I'll be back!

Here's the link to the Home Town Pass Captain Bob was talking about.