Discover local history at Heritage Park in Old Town

The 7.8-acre space in Old Town is home to seven historical buildings built during San Diego’s earliest years as a city.

The Sherman-Gilbert House in Heritage Park San Diego.

The Sherman-Gilbert House.

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If you’re looking to take a walk in the park — and through local history — Heritage County Park near Old Town is the place to go.

This 7.8-acre space was purchased by San Diego County in 1970 to help preserve local history, especially its Victorian-style architecture. This was during a time when downtown San Diego’s population was rising and locals feared this could result in the destruction of historic properties.

The Christian House in heritage Park, San Diego

The Christian House.

Photo via @galina_visuals

What’s the history?

The seven buildings in Heritage County Park moved there from other parts of the city in the 1970s and 1980s, but they were all built in the late 1800s. Each one merges its Victorian style with other architectural elements and tells a story of early life in San Diego:

  • Senlis Cottage (1896) | This Nineteenth Century Vernacular style cottage is named for Eugene Senlis, a pioneer and employee of Kate Sessions.
  • Sherman-Gilbert House (1887) | Built with a Stick Eastlake style, this home is named for 19th century architect John Sherman and Auguste E. Gilbert, who originally purchased the home and lived there with her musician and pianist daughters.
  • Bushyhead House (1887) | This Italianate style house is named for Edward “Ned” Wilkerson Bushyhead, San Diego County Sheriff, Chief of Police, and owner of the “San Diego Union” newspaper.
  • Christian House (1889) | This home incorporates a Queen Anne style and is named for Harfield Timberlake Christian, owner of San Diego Title Insurance Guarantee and Trust Company.
  • McConaughy House (1887) | You’ll find Stick Eastlake styling on this home named for John McConaughy that was once used as a hospital. Some say ghosts may still be in the home.
  • Burton House (1893) | This Classic Revival style house is named for retired US Army physician Dr. Henry Guild Burton.
  • Temple Beth Israel (1889) | Noted as San Diego’s first synagogue, it displays Classic Revival style architecture and is still used for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and receptions.
The McConaughy House in Heritage Park San Diego

Find history and tea at the McConaughy House.

Visit the park

Heritage County Park is open daily, sunrise to sunset. Visitors may take self-guided tours of the buildings’ exteriors, but many of them will be closed to guests unless they’re hosting public visiting hours. If you want to go inside, one way is to book a reservation for tea time at Coral Tree Tea House inside the McConaughy House.

Visitors will also be able to check out the lawn behind Temple Beth Israel with its gazebo, park views, and landscaping to compliment the buildings’ designs — unless it’s closed for a wedding or event. They will also find Lloyd T. Lowrey Plaza in front of the synagogue that honors the man who helped design and develop Heritage Park, who also served as director of San Diego County Parks from 1972-1982.

View overlooking old town and a metal bench at the end of the trail from Heritage Park.

The view at the end of the trail.

Photo via @roamingromi

Pro tip: There’s a short trail at the end of the park. If you walk it, you’ll be rewarded with a bench and a view overlooking Old Town.

In 2022, San Diego County’s Department of Parks and Recreation received approval to renovate the interiors of the Victorian homes to once again include overnight accommodations. This project will also improve other features of the park like its landscaping, pathways, back lawn, and gazebo. It’s expected to be completed in spring 2024.

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