Have you been to Old Town San Diego? If you are looking for a slice of San Diego history (with a side of tasty Mexican food), then this neighborhood is for you!

According to the Old Town website, “Old Town San Diego is considered to be the “birthplace” of California. San Diego is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement in California, and the location of the first of 21 Spanish missions. (To learn more about the missions, click here.) The founder of the missions, Father Junipero Serra, arrived in what is now San Diego in 1769 and–along with San Diego’s Mission de Alcala–built the Presidio on a hill. By 1835, a small village, called El Pueblo de San Diego, had grown near the hill. Today, this village is called Old Town, which since 1968 has officially been recognized by California as Old Town State Historic Park: an area designed to “preserve the rich heritage that characterized San Diego during the 1821 to 1872 period.”

A painting of Old Town in the 1870s. Photo from Old Town.

What is there to see and do in Old Town? Here are just a few of the park’s attractions, according to its official website:

The park includes a main plaza, exhibits, museums and living history demonstrations. Historic buildings include La Casa de Estudillo, La Casa de Bandini, La Casa de Altamirno Pedrorena and the Mason Street School, San Diego’s first one room schoolhouse. Just up the hill from Old Town San Diego Historic State Park, you’ll find Heritage Park where several of San Diego’s most notable Victorian homes have been relocated and authentically restored to their original splendor. Just a short walk down San Diego Avenue is the Whaley House, an officially designated haunted house, the Little Adobe Chapel on Conde Street, the first Church in Old Town San Diego and El Campo Santo on San Diego Avenue, a 1850 Catholic Cemetery.

Haunted Whaley House! Do you dare enter???

Just like Old Town, which has Spanish roots, the English language also shares some Spanish origins. In fact, there are many Spanish words that are the same in English, or are a derivative of a Spanish word! To celebrate the rich Spanish history in this part of the United States, we are taking a look at some common English words that actually have Spanish origins. How many of these do you know?

English words with Spanish origins

Alligator and armadillo

These strange animals both have names derived from their Spanish names: alligator is from el lagarto in Spanish, which means “the lizard,” while armadillo get its name from the Spanish word, which means “little armored one.”


This fruit was actually brought to California from Mexico, and the original Spanish word, and the name is based on the Spanish word, aguacate. Today it is a staple of California cuisine: we even put it in sushi!


The name of the great state itself has Spanish origins! The word “California” was first seen in print in a 1510 novel by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, who wrote “Las Sergas de Esplandian.”



An anglicized version of the Spanish word cafetería (coffee store).


California has plenty of canyons, and kept the Spanish name for them even after California became part of the United States. The word is from cañón meaning “a pipe, tube, gorge.”


Ask a British or Australian person what the name of this herb is and they will say “coriander.” Not in the United States! American adopted the Spanish word, and it remains to this day.


A mosquito is annoying in any language!


The word “ranch” comes from rancho, which means a very small rural community (smaller than a town) or, in South America, a small home in the country. In American English, it is similar to a large farm, usually with cattle.


Although pronounced differently, a rodeo in English is the same as in Spanish: a fun festival where cowboys and girls demonstrate their skills! It comes from the Spanish verb rodear (to go around).


Suave, meaning charming, confident, and elegant, is the same in both languages.


The English word is a variation of the Spanish tomate, which is actually from the Nahuatl language’s xitomatl.


A sombrero is a hat in Spanish; in English, it is a specific hat: the one most commonly seen on tourists in Mexico!


Cover photo by Cindy Devin.