Southern California is historic for many things — the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the gnarly surf culture, and the iconic Route 66 just to name a few. Tourists may venture here for the wonderful world of Disney or to experience the beauty of a SoCal beach. But older cities with plenty of history are definitely the way to go for a more immersive trip. Rich in history and fun, these old towns of SoCal will give you a glimpse into the past.
For 150 years, Old Pasadena has been through an immense amount of change. It had a revival in the 1990s after experiencing decay in the 1960s and 1970s. One of the most famous of the old towns of SoCal, the district was once Pasadena’s original marketplace and it is the oldest commercial area. Old Pasadena consists of 21 blocks, which were designated a National Register Historic District in 1983.
During the 1920s the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture was iconic for California’s landscapes. The style soon became symbolic of Pasadena’s “Golden Age” of prosperity. The low-rise brick facades, architectural accents and historic alleyways are only a small part of what makes Old Pasadena what it is today.
It may look familiar because the annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade runs through the heart of Old Pasadena. Old meets new here, as rustic scenery is intertwined with bustling commercial businesses. Its open-air eateries, specialty boutiques, galleries, theaters and more give it a modern feel with an old town charm.
Old Town Tustin
California’s heritage is clearly visible on the streets of Tustin. Its old town is centered within a group of buildings between Main Street and El Camino Real — the 600-mile road that connects California’s 21 missions.
Dating back to the 1880s, the old town area once included a blacksmith shop and a combined grocery store/meat market. There was a business and feed store building, churches and school buildings. Over the past 100 years, the architecture has remained the same, but businesses have evolved. Preservationists have restored the aging structures to keep them in perfect condition for years to come.
Currently, the old town is home to an historic museum where visitors can learn about the history of Tustin and see its growth in pictures. Also, there is a two-mile walking tour– perfect for the summer– where visitors can truly see the authenticity of Tustin’s oldest buildings. Located nearby on 6th street, visit the newer “El Camino Plaza” which houses some of Orange County’s prettiest desserts.
Temecula Old Town
Sample craft beer and enjoy antique shops from the 1880s on the same day. Old Town Temecula, offers this opportunity and much more.
Temecula is the only city in California to keep its original Indian name, which translates to “where the sun breaks through the mist.” A source of Temecula’s sunny charm was its first commercial vineyard in 1968. It started the trend that put Temecula on the map for wine connoisseurs.
Intertwined among the older western-era buildings are modern, trendier spots which house farm-to-table dining and music festivals. While the new has been brought into Temecula, the old cannot be forgotten!
Walk past rustic buildings, sidewalks and storefronts remind visitors of the iconic golden west era. Feel like you’re on a western movie set as you stroll along the wooden boardwalks. Admire the storefronts filled with antiques, drive down Front Street to discover a large metal entryway with cowboy scenes. Saddle up, and take an adventure through Old Town Temecula!
Old Town San Diego
Another one of the must-visit old towns of SoCal, San Diego was established in 1769 as California’s first Spanish settlement. With 12 acres of Mexican heritage, there is undoubtedly a cultural experience waiting for you here.
The preservation of historic buildings has allowed visitors to experience San Diego and all of its beauty from the 1820s onward. Visit the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to experience life in the early Mexican-American period of 1821-1872. For a true glimpse at ghosts from the past, the Whaley House Museum, constructed in 1851, is one of two designated haunted houses in California.
Celebrate San Diego’s heritage by walking through beautiful gardens, browsing specialty shops or delicious authentic Mexican food at one of Old Town’s restaurants. San Diego’s largest weekly artisan market takes place every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features handmade works from local artisans. While you browse, listen to the vibrant sounds of live mariachi bands who perform every day.
Old Towne District in Orange
The Old Towne District of Orange is located near Chapman University. Most known for its fountain, established in 1937. Here, you will find 50 different types of architecture from 1888 to 1940. More than 1,300 homes and buildings in Old Towne Orange have been placed on the National Record of Historic Places sine 1997.
The circle has been featured in movies and TV shows such as The Bench Warmers and American Horror Story: Cult. You will know it for its International Street Fair, where the entire community gathers to celebrate its melting pot of cultures.
Known as the “Antique Capital of California,” Old Towne has more than 40 antique shops. Shop for hidden gems and thrifts you can’t get anywhere else. With an abundance of coffee shops and quick-bites nearby, the circle is a great place to grab something on-the-go for a picnic at the fountain. And always bustling with locals, veterans, and historians, you’ll surely run into someone with a great story about Old Towne Orange.
Start an exploration of the vast history of Southern California by taking a visit to these old towns of SoCal. But then, uncover the variety of others!
By Maria Vital
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