“Where do you want to go?” I ask, “We don’t have the cash to really go anywhere fun right now… Balboa Park? Downtown? Coronado?”
“No, we always go there, and all we do is walk around – not buying anything!” he replies, “… Old Town?”
To be honest, I didn’t want to go to Old Town. It’s very much of what my brother was complaining of: walking around buying nothing. I usually make my Old Town rounds during Taco Tuesdays and Halloween. I haven’t actually explored Old Town outside of the annual 4th grade field trip, which was beyond moons ago! To my surprise, every museum (except the Whaley House) in Old Town was free.
As my brother and I explored every possible and walkable historic site in Old Town, we came across a building I thought might be a restaurant, near the Victorian Village. A large sign out front read “Everyone welcome!” I heard children laughing and playing inside the side courtyard, and peeked in. The children, as well as adults, were swirling pans and awing over their finds – they were mining for gold! OK, not real gold, but it looked like fun!
A woman approached us and asked if we had been on the tour, and if not, would we like to go on one? “It’s free!” she said. SOLD!
As it turns out, my brother and I had stepped into the Mormon Battalion Historic Site (or Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor’s Center). The Mormon Battalion was the only religious based unit in military history. They had also made the longest march in military history from Council Bluffs, Iowa – supporting the US during the Mexican War – and arriving in San Diego in January 1847. The historic site is dedicated to the men and women who traveled the long arduous journey.
Unlike all of the other historic museums within Old Town, this tour was entirely interactive. My brother and I were put into a small group led by one of the Sisters. The best way to describe this tour is that it felt like we were in a part of Disneyland. The picture frames talked, themed rooms w/logs and rocks to sit on held screens that told stories, and there was even a portion where a member of the group dressed up as one of the many travelers. They only had a men’s uniform and there was only one male in our group. Can you guess who got to dress up? My younger brother was more than happy to try out the old school gear!
At the end of the tour, they do their little plug and ask if you are interested in learning more about the Book of Mormon – but no pressure if you are not. They take you to a brightly lit room where you can look at actual artifacts from their journey, and touch-screen computers that hold the names of all the members of the Mormon Battalion (in the event you knew someone). The best part though? The free old-time photo!
You know how in old photos no one is smiling because it took FOREVER to take the darn thing? I decided to recreate the feel (while my brother smiled widely in contrast) even though it took literally a minute to take and process. I was actually very impressed – they were faster than the instant photographers at Comic Con! They even allow you to send the photo to yourself.
After all of that, visitors exit the building towards the courtyard where you can mine for gold (note: I did some research and there are more fun things you can do like make bricks!). There are techniques to finding the gold, and your Sister is more than willing to show you how. As an extra bonus, you’re allowed to take 2 pieces of gold home! Check mine out!
The Mormon Battalion Historic Site was actually a great surprise and gem, and I am glad that my brother and I peeked in when we had. How often do you find a fully interactive and FREE tour in your own hometown? That’s actually entertaining? And educational? That’s what I thought – very rare indeed.
The San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site is open daily from 9am-9pm.
Guest post by Eileen Blancas- Local journalist/blogger, social media enthusiast, explorer and fellow wanderer. Oh and she knows her fashion -JB