Historical Landmarks of San Diego

Established by Europeans in 1798, San Diego is a city of rich culture. From its Native American roots and Spanish Missionary heritage, to cultural milestones and military influence, San Diego’s role and contribution in shaping the region, the country and the world can be found when exploring its complex and fascinating history. Here are the top ten historical landmarks of San Diego.

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San Diego skyline at night


1. Mission San Diego de Alcala:

Mission San Diego de Alcala is the oldest of the California missions. It was founded July 16, 1769 and blessed by Junipero Serra. The mission was moved to the present site in 1774 and was destroyed both in 1803 and 1812 by earthquakes and subsequently rebuilt. 


San Diego


2. USS Midway:  

Held in the bay of Downtown San Diego, the USS Midway is one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers.  USS Midway was an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, the lead ship of its class. Commissioned a week after the end of World War II, Midway was the largest ship in the world until 1955. Visitors to the USS Midway enter a floating city at sea and walk in the footsteps of 225,000 Midway sailors who served our country and upheld the American ideals of strength, freedom and peace.

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3. Cabrillo National Monument:

Cabrillo National Monument is located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego. It commemorates the landing of Jaun Rodriquez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. This event marked the first time that a European expedition had set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States. The site was designated as California National Landmark #56 in 1932.

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4. Chicano Park:  

Chicano Park is a 7.9 acre park located beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in San Diego, California. The park is home to the country’s largest collection of 72 outdoor murals, as well as various sculptures, earthworks, and an architectural piece dedicated to the cultural heritage of the community. For the magnitude and historical significance of the murals, the park was designated an official historic site by the San Diego Historical Site Board in 1980.

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5. Point Loma Lighthouse:  

The original Point Loma Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located on the Point Loma peninsula at the mouth of San Diego Bay. It was built in 1855 by the United States government after California’s admission as a state. While in operation the lighthouse had the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the United States. On March 23, 1891, the flame was permanently extinguished and the light was replaced by a new lighthouse at a lower elevation.

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6. Star of India:

Star of India was built in 1863 at as a full-rigged iron windjammer ship. After a full career sailing from Great Britain to India and New Zealand, she became a salmon hauler on the Alaska to California route. Retired in 1926, she was not restored until 1962–63 and is now a seaworthy museum ship home-ported at the San Diego Bay. She is the oldest ship still sailing regularly and also the oldest iron-hulled merchant ship still floating.

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 7. Balboa Theatre:

Built in 1924, the Balboa Theatre was a grand 1920s movie palace with a seating capacity of 1,600. The theater was converted to housing for the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, it resumed operation as a movie theater but struggled and was slated for demolition in 1959 before being bought and converted into an action movie house. The theater was designated as a local historic site in 1972, but closed its doors in the 1970s and remained vacant for many years. In 1985, the City of San Diego bought the theater with plans to restore it. Restoration work finally began in 2005, and the theater re-opened in 2008 as a venue for live theater and concerts.

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8. Berkeley FerryBoat:

Berkeley was one of several ferryboats of the Southern Pacific Railroad that for sixty years operated on San Francisco Bay. Built in 1898 by the Union Iron Works of San Francisco, she served after the 1906 earthquake, ferrying refugees across the bay to Oakland. In 1973, she was sold to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Berkeley was notable for having been the first propeller-driven ferry on the west coast. At the time of her launching, she became the largest commuter ferryboat in the United States with a 1700 passenger capacity.



9. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery:

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is a federal military cemetery established in 1882. It is located on the grounds of the former Army coastal artillery station Fort Rosecrans and is administered by the United States Deparment of Veterans Affairs. Fort Rosecrans is named after William Starke Rosecrans, a Union general in the American Civil War. There are about 101,079 graves at the site.

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10. El Prado Complex:

The El Prado Complex is a historic district in Balboa Park in San Diego. The 13-acre complex includes 13 contributing buildings and one contributing structure. Most of the structures were built for San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition of 1915–16 and were refurbished and re-used for the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935–36. The original architects were Bertram Goodhue and Carleton Winslow. The area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.



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