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How to Experience Mexican Culture in San Diego

Mexican culture has left an indelible mark on San Diego, the cradle of the Golden State. The influence continues because of the city’s large Hispanic population and proximity to the Mexican border. San Diego’s Mexican culture is evident in the city’s cuisine, historic architecture and celebrations as well as its thriving art, music and theater scene. The spirit of the city’s Hispanic heritage is also on display in its ethnic neighborhoods. There are many ways to experience Mexican culture during a stay in San Diego.

Enjoy Authentic Mexican Cuisine

The city is renowned for its wide selection of excellent Mexican restaurants, which are major players on the San Diego food scene. There are conveniently located family-run taco shops, fast casual eateries specializing in Mexican street food and popular historic restaurants where women make tortillas by hand. You can enjoy tamales, burritos and enchiladas made from fresh, local ingredients all over town. Whether you dine at a casual taco stand or a trendy haute-cuisine restaurant serving a new twist on an old favorite, Mexican food offers something guaranteed to please everyone.

Visit Historic Locations

In addition to the many museums in Balboa Park that are constructed in the Spanish Revival style, the city is home to numerous historic sites that played a role in the settlement of Alta California.

Situated atop a hill overlooking Old Town San Diego, Presidio Park is the location where the city was founded in 1769. It is the setting for the original fort and mission built by Gaspar de Portola and Junipero Serra. The park is home to the Junipero Serra Museum, which chronicles the city’s history, including its time as a pueblo, or chartered town, under Mexican rule.

The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first Catholic mission in California. Established by Junipero Serra in 1769, the mission is the Mother Church of Catholicism in the western United States. The current church is the fourth edifice to stand at this location. Built in 1931, it was designed to mirror the church that was constructed in 1813. The house of worship is open to the public for those who want to experience the grandeur and excitement of the mission’s role in California’s history and traditions.

Near the turn of the 20th century, the composition of Barrio Logan changed as it became home to an influx of refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution. The ethnic neighborhood, one of San Diego’s oldest communities, is the setting for Mexican shops, restaurants and galleries. Barrio Logan is also the location for Chicano Park. A National Historic Landmark, the recreation area is situated under the Coronado Bridge. The bridge pillars are adorned with a variety of Chicano murals that depict the customs of the city’s Mexican-American community. The nationally recognized murals include works by Salvador Torres, Victor Ochoa, Yolanda Lopez and Celia Herrera Rodriguez. The Mercado del Barrio hosts live musical performances during the summer. The park is the backdrop for many cultural celebrations throughout the year featuring music, dancing, food and low-rider cars.

A living history museum, Old Town San Diego occupies the site where the city was founded. The state historic park includes several historic homes and other buildings dating from the 1820s. Visitors can step back in time to the early 19th-century culture of Mexican California while touring historic adobe structures. Constructed as a wedding gift, the home of the Machado and Silvas families once hosted a boarding house, a restaurant and a chapel. Another historic adobe home is the Casa de Machado y Stewart, the former residence of a soldier stationed at the Presidio. You can also experience the days of the dons when visiting Casa de Estudillo. Built in 1825, it is considered one of the finest adobe haciendas of its day still present in the state. The Bazaar del Mundo features a variety of shops selling authentic Mexican handcrafted products like folk art, home décor and clothing. Old Town State Historic Park is also the backdrop of several popular authentic Mexican restaurants like the Coyote Café that channel the cantina atmosphere prevalent during the Old West era. The stage at the Fiesta de Reyes provides free daily musical entertainment. On weekends, it is the setting for mariachi bands and folklorico dancers.

Participate in Cultural Events

Paintings and murals inspired by David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco decorate public spaces, buildings and art galleries. The city hosts a variety of cultural festivals that reflect and celebrate the city’s Mexican heritage. Centro Cultural de la Raza is a multidisciplinary cultural arts center that is dedicated to promoting, preserving and displaying Chicano, Mexican and Indigenous art. It hosts rotating exhibits and a variety of theatrical, dance and musical performances.

San Diego’s annual cultural festivals include the Latino Film Festival, The National City Mariachi Festival and Competition and the Latin Food Fest. California’s second-largest city also hosts popular Mexican celebrations like Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos.