“Tourists as well as natives want to see cultural achievements…”
– F. Sionil Jose
Sometimes we just mistake beating the French for Mexico winning independance.
Cultural celebrations make great date nights. Whether you are experiencing something new or something you’ve always loved, these celebrations can be a good way to do something different on date night. The Cinco de Mayo Fiesta in Old Town San Diego was a three day street fair with a Mexican flair.
We are no strangers to Mexican food or fun, so the Cinco de Mayo festival wasn’t a new experience like [[trying Lebanese food]] for the first time, but we don’t get to go to fairs every weekend, and it was a lot of fun.
Old Town is a little corner of San Diego that is rich in history and full of Mexican restaurants (albeit pretty touristy). We like to come here occasionally for Taco Tuesday, and to visit the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. Some of our best dates have been in Old Town and I’m sure we will be back soon.
El Presidio Real de San Diego, a Spanish military outpost built on the hill now known as Presidio Park, eventually grew into a little town at the foot of the hill which became commercial and governmental hub for further exploration of California. Old Town San Diego remained the heart of the city until the 1860’s, about ten years after California became the 31st United State, and a man named Alonzo Horton began promoting the development of what is now downtown San Diego.
Here’s a map of Old Town!
There are many good restaurants in Old Town (just remember they’re a little touristy lol), and we have done Taco Tuesday at several of them.
At the Cinco de Mayo Festival, there are a lot of food tents serving all kinds of food not limited to: Mexican corn, pupusas, coconut water, and of course tacos. Some of the usual fair food suspects were there as well like kettle corn and fresh squeezed lemonade.
Flavored tortillas and churros are regularly found in Old Town, but are great options for the low-budget snacker who still wants to experience the food at the fair despite plans to eat elsewhere.
As you can imagine, there were food tents everywhere, selling all sorts of Mexican street food, and the restaurants were packed. As you can also imagine, most of the stuff was a little pricey. I had planned on packing a picnic to eat on the large grassy area of the historic park so we didn’t have to buy any meals, but we ended up inviting some friends and decided to eat somewhere afterwards instead.
We parked in the Old Town Trolley transit center parking lot and made our way up San Diego Avenue through the historic park and on to where a majority of the restaurants are. They had shut down the road and set up a few stages for live music and lots of booths. When we reached Café Coyote, we got a few flavored tortillas from their street side counter right along the sidewalk.
They make their tortillas fresh when you order them (which is cool to watch) and have regular flour and corn tortillas as well as flavored ones which include chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon.
After getting my tortillas, we headed back through Old Town Historic park towards Fiesta de Reyes Plaza, which is a little corner of Old Town comprised of many shops and several restaurants, a boutique hotel, and a stage that offers live entertainment daily featuring traditional music and dance. For the Cinco de Mayo weekend they, were hosting a Ballet Foklorico competition; however, by the time we got there, the competition had ended and a band was playing. I did get a churro though, so everything worked out 🙂
We sat down to enjoy some music at the main stage just outside of the plaza to relax a little and eat our churros, before heading off to dinner…which ended up being sushi lol.
Try to get familiar with the parking situation. Even if you know the area, lots of fairs and festivals tend to quickly overwhelm any regular parking. Some events arrange for shuttles or additional parking. We found the Old Town Transit Center parking to be very packed, and we were lucky to get a spot. A great option for many places in San Diego is the trolley, which actually has a station right at the edge of Old Town.
There are many ways to enjoy the festival if your budget won’t bend for food. There is a large grassy area in the main area of the Historic Park that is perfect for packing a picnic (and it remains very open despite the crowds). You could also chose to eat elsewhere before or after attending the festival like we chose to do.
Even if you don’t want to purchase a meal at fairs like this, it’s a good idea to bring a little cash to get a snack or something. Food can be half the experience, and I can never pass up the opportunity for a churro!
While cultural celebrations can make great dates, don’t forget to learn a little something so you don’t end up perpetuating ideas like Cinco de Mayo is the day of Mexican independence 🙂
The Old Town San Diego Cinco de Mayo Fiesta was a fun experience. Next time I think we’ll bring a little more cash for some tacos or Mexican corn and maybe get there a little earlier to see some of the Ballet Folklorico competition.