San Diego – Old Town, CA (OLT)
The station is within walking distance of Old Town San Diego, a state historic park that explores the city's early development; Presidio Park, site of an early Spanish fort, is also nearby.
4005 Taylor Street
San Diego, CA 92110
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 267,481
- Facility Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
- Parking Lot Ownership: N/A
- Platform Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
- Track Ownership: North County Transit District (NCTD)
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The San Diego-Old Town Amtrak station, which consists of a platform, is one of three Pacific Surfliner stops located in the city of San Diego. San Diego-Old Town is within walking distance of Old Town San Diego, a state historic park that explores the development of the early city from 1821-1872. The stop also allows easy access to Presidio Park, site of an early Spanish fort.
San Diego-Old Town is also a stopping point for the San Diego Trolley, local buses, and the Coaster commuter rail that links the ocean side communities of northern San Diego County. The Old Town Transit Center, constructed in the 1990s, sports a traditionally-styled station that references the designs of the past century. The single story building features a hip-gambrel roof and a cross gable, and one end of the depot has a covered open-air waiting area, an element that was common in many of the small stations erected in California and the Southwest.
San Diego was the earliest Spanish settlement in what is now the state of California. The coast was first explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who worked for the Kingdom of Castile. In 1542 he claimed the bay for Spain, but no settlement was planned. Sixty years later the coast was mapped by Sebastián Vizcaíno, who named the natural harbor after St. Didacus, which in his native tongue was “San Diego.” Although known and claimed by the Spaniards for more than two hundred years, they did not establish settlements in California until the late 18th century when the Russian Empire began to take interest in the area.
To secure the coast, King Carlos III authorized the creation of a chain of forts and missions to protect strategic sites that could be of future use to the Spanish Empire in North America. In 1769, the fort or “presidio” at San Diego was founded on the hills to the northeast of the harbor mouth; soon thereafter the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá was established by Franciscan friars to work toward the conversion of the American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization.
The Kumeyaay people had long inhabited the coastal border region between Mexico and California, and many of the tribes migrated between summer and winter villages. Early Spanish accounts recall that the Kumeyaay survived by harvesting local plants such as a type of grain and acorns which were ground into a meal. Returning to the coast, the tribes took advantage of the sea life; beautiful shells were used to barter with inland desert peoples. The goal of the missionaries at San Diego was to gather the Kumeyaay around the mission complex and its agricultural lands where they would work at trades and farm under the guidance of the priests while also receiving religious instruction. The Spanish referred to those who did settle at the mission as “Diegueño” (“of San Diego”).
Within the first five years, the Franciscans moved the mission six miles to the east to quell Kumeyaay who were wary of the military presence at the nearby presidio; the new site also provided better water resources along the San Diego River and was closer to Kumeyaay villages. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the missions were secularized and many fell into private hands and subsequently into disrepair. It was not until the United States gained control over California that many of the mission buildings were eventually returned to the Catholic Church. Restoration at San Diego de Alcalá began in the 1880s and in 1931 it was reconstructed to resemble the early nineteenth century building that stood on the site. Today it is an active parish church and is an important stop for local elementary school children who visit the site as part of their year-long study of state history.
With independence from Spain, California fell under the Mexican flag. Spanish troops pulled out of the presidio the next year, and from 1825 to 1829 it served as the home of the Mexican governor. By 1835, the fortifications were abandoned and quickly fell into ruin, never to be rebuilt. The town grew around the presidio to the west and to the south, and became a center for the coastal-based hide and tallow trade. Many of the houses built in this period were made of adobe. One of the best known was constructed by the Estudillo family in 1827 and facing the plaza. It followed a typical u-shape layout where the space between the three sides created a private courtyard on the interior of the home. Passage between the rooms was not through the house, but by a walkway that ran along the patio.
During the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Army occupied the town until it became part of the United States with the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which also resulted in the transfer of a large portion of Mexican lands to the victor. One of the most prominent buildings constructed in the early American period was the Thomas Whaley House. Whaley started the first brickyard in the area and his 1859 home is the oldest brick structure in San Diego.
The town grew modestly through most of the 19th century. Once Gold Rush fever subsided, many ‘49ers decided to settle permanently in California; some headed south to San Diego where their schemes often focused on improvements for San Diego Bay. As interest shifted to the waterfront area with the building of wharves and businesses, Old Town began to lose population and a major fire in 1872 convinced many residents to move closer to the bay. This shift was facilitated by the efforts of businessman Alonzo Horton who had purchased and quickly platted much of the land that now comprises downtown San Diego.
By the 1870s Los Angeles and San Francisco dominated Californian shipping and railroading. The foremost railroad in the state was the Southern Pacific (SP), which ignored San Diego’s request for a rail line. Therefore, civic boosters lead by landowner and businessman Frank Kimball reached out to other railroads, eventually making a deal with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF) which was then laying track west through New Mexico and Arizona. After much debate, the ATSF decided to enter California through the Mojave Desert and the Cajon Pass east of San Bernardino. To reach San Diego, the railroad started building a line under the subsidiary California Southern Railroad (CS) that was intended to reach Barstow, CA to link with the SP line to the border with Arizona.
From 1880-1882, the CS line drove northward through coastal swamps and bogs and inland gullies and canyons, requiring numerous trestles and other infrastructure built by Chinese laborers. It finally reached Colton (near San Bernardino) in March 1882 where it met the SP tracks. After a few more years of building and lawsuits against the SP, the line reached Barstow in 1885. That same year, the first transcontinental train reached San Diego. In an ominous sign, in 1886 the ATSF built a line from San Bernardino to Los Angeles. Months later the railroad moved its facilities from the San Diego area to San Bernardino, ending the city’s hopes for becoming a bustling railroad terminal and port. The railroad did lead to growth: between 1880 and 1890, the population increased six-fold. A rate war between the SP and the ATSF in the last half of the 1880s dropped fares from the Mississippi River to the Pacific from $125 to $25 or less, encouraging settlers to head west.
The original route of the CS proved treacherous, as the inland portion through Temecula Canyon washed out in 1882 within a year of its opening. Although rebuilt, the line was soon replaced by the ATSF’s “Surf Line” which was laid through Orange County to meet the CS at Oceanside in 1888; it allowed a safer coastal link between San Diego and Los Angeles that avoided Temecula Canyon which washed out again in 1891 and was abandoned.
As the 20th century dawned, groups within southern California began to look back on the Mission building period with great nostalgia. The simple churches rekindled an interest in Spanish architecture and design that manifested itself in new public buildings and private homes built to resemble haciendas and missions. The ATSF and other railroads often used these romantic images of the Spanish past to promote the area and draw tourists.
Townspeople began to think about how to save vestiges of San Diego’s past, and the city’s elite took on Old Town as a large-scale preservation project. One of the more prominent efforts was led by John D. Spreckels, a shipping and sugar magnate who had also built the San Diego and Arizona Railway that connected the city to points east. He owned the Hotel del Coronado on North Island, a prime southern California tourist destination. In 1906, Spreckels purchased the Estudillo House and purposely renovated it to resemble a dwelling mentioned in Ramona, a popular period novel that told the dramatic story of a part-American Indian woman in early California. Visitors flocked to see the house where “Ramona” was married, and in time other structures in Old Town were renovated to conform to romantic imaginings of San Diego’s past.
While Spreckels was reshaping Old Town, another San Diegan was working to preserve the remains of the presidio. George Marston owned a fashionable department store and became interested in the City Beautiful Movement that promoted clean, efficient, healthy cities. Marston bought Presidio Hill in 1907, and over the next two decades he worked with famed city planner John Nolen to create a private park that preserved the remaining ruins and framed the beautiful vistas to the bay, downtown, and ocean.
Active in the San Diego Historical Society, Marston gave the organization a headquarters building in the park in 1928. Designed to resemble a mission, the Serra Museum still displays some of the Society’s collections and is visited by school groups learning about early state history. In 1929, the 50 acre park was deeded to the city. With two miles of trails, it remains a popular place to walk and explore as well as to take wedding pictures against the backdrop of the city and ocean.
After years of private initiative, Old Town became a state historic park in 1968 and today the district contains preserved, restored, and reconstructed buildings, as well as others moved from sites across the city. Park staff recently reevaluated the park’s mission statement which has led to a recommitment to interpret the Mexican and American periods from 1821-1872. The park is the most visited in the state system and visitors come to see the large collection of house museums, the city’s first public school, and a collection of wagons. A new project at the northwest entrance created a garden with native plants used by the Kumeyaay. The chosen species demonstrate how the area’s American Indians used plants for food, tools, medicine, and even shelter. Costumed interpreters bring history alive and the park also hosts musical and theatrical performances, crafts markets, and art festivals throughout the year.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station. ThePacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Parking Attendant
- Quik Trak Kiosk
- Wheelchair Lift