Most visitors to San Diego are drawn by its famous reputation as a destination with an enviable climate, superior beach scene, and famous family-friendly activities. But it’s also a fantastic place to experience Hispanic culture and history. Known as the “Birthplace of California,” the city’s origins are tied to Spanish explorers, who were the first Europeans to visit the west coast and make their first landfall in the area.

San Diego would eventually become the site for the first European settlement in what is now California. San Diego also has historical ties to Mexico. It was once part of the Mexican Empire and Republic and today is positioned close to the Mexican border. Those factors, plus substantial South and Central America ancestry, create a vibrant sense of Hispanic influence throughout the city — from food and festivities to architecture and art.

Here’s an essential guide of the sights and things to do for anyone interested in exploring and discovering San Diego’s Hispanic Heritage.

Visit Barrio Logan and Chicano Park

[Above image “barrio-logan-1” by Lukas Volk is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

As the oldest Mexican-American neighborhood in San Diego, Barrio Logan deserves a spot on any Hispanic heritage itinerary of San Diego. This neighborhood dates back to the early 20th century when it became the home to countless refugees during the Mexican Revolution. Within Barrio Logan, you’ll find Chicano Park. As the heart and soul of the neighborhood, this park boasts the biggest collection of Chicano murals in the nation. In addition to visiting Chicano Park, be sure to check out the many coffee shops, cafes, art galleries, and more that dot the landscape of this vibrant neighborhood. A meal at the legendary Las Cuatro Milpas with its fresh tortillas and authentic Mexican food is a great way to break up your time exploring Hispanic heritage.

Go to Old Town San Diego

Distinguished as San Diego’s original downtown, Old Town is the perfect representation of the rich heritage and culture of this city. The district encompasses six blocks and 12 acres of history. In addition to the numerous authentic Mexican restaurants, the area also boasts a theater, museums, and a number of historic buildings that have been restored to their original grandeur. It’s a good idea to plan your time around watching one of the live mariachi performances that take place each day in Old Town. The area is also the site of many celebrations of Hispanic heritage throughout the year, including the Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo and Old Town Los Pasados.

Check Out Centro Cultural de la Raza


A hub of Chicano, Mexican, Latino, and Indigenous art and culture, the Centro Cultural de la Raza is a non-profit organization that provides a number of educational opportunities. The center is located in a water tower that was once a part of the popular Balboa Park. Colorful murals adorn the tower, giving visitors a hint about what they’ll find inside. The Centro Cultural de la Raza offers a myriad of educational classes, arts and crafts for browsing or purchase, and a number of artistic presentations. On select weekends, you’ll also enjoy outdoor vendor exhibits that bring out the beauty of Hispanic heritage.

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY: Your Ultimate Guide to Exploring the Hispanic Culture of Los Angeles.

See the History of Presidio Park

San Diego Presidio Park marks the very spot of what was once the first European settlement on the coast of California. First established in 1769 by Spain, the site is now a National Historic Landmark. During a visit to the Presidio, you can explore the two miles of nature trails, beginning with the Old Presidio Historic Trail. Because of its location adjacent to Old Town San Diego, it’s easy to see both in one day. You should also allow plenty of time to check out the Junipero Serra Museum in the park, which provides an excellent overview of the history of San Diego.

Celebrate Día de Muerto in San Diego

 

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It should be no surprise to learn that there’s a bevy of special events and celebrations of San Diego’s Hispanic heritage. One of the best times of year to book any flight deals to get there is surrounding the Día de Muertos. This traditional Mexican holiday honors the dead with a variety of special events and commemorations. While the official holiday runs October 31 through November 2, the festivities begin in the middle of October in San Diego. Old Town is the center of all of the fun, featuring a number of chances to immerse yourself in Hispanic culture.

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About The Author

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.