Postcards & Passports

Reliving History in San Diego

This post was most recently updated on February 2nd, 2024

San Diego has an annual commemoration of The Mormon Battalion (1846-47), which was the only religiously based military unit in United States history. Reliving history is a great way to learn more about it. The Battalion consisted of volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who enlisted in the Mexican-American War. They made a grueling march from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego—a march of nearly 2000 miles, setting a record for the longest infantry march. They remained in San Diego for about a year and made important contributions to the area now known as Old Town.

Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been opportunities to participate in local traditions (a birthday party in Athens, Greece), cultural events (a Sicilian festival in Como, Italy), or religious celebrations (a liturgical celebration in the Notre Dame cathedral, Paris, France).
Reliving History in San Diego

This annual commemoration in San Diego’s Old Town is an event you won’t want to miss, with something for everyone from history buffs to families to tourists.  If you’d like more details about the history-making march, you can find more information here.The Mormon Battalion Commemoration is held annually on the last Saturday of January, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. It begins with a re-enactment of the Battalion marching into the Old Town square.  Many of these men and women are descendants of original Battalion members. But for much of the audience, it is meaningful as a reminder of the sacrifices early church pioneers made as they traveled west to find a place where the Church could flourish without persecution.

What to expect while reliving history in San Diego

Throughout the day, there are plenty of performances (Mexican dance, choirs, and story-tellers). You can also see booths displaying various pioneer crafts/antiques and hands-on activities for children. You can also participate in cow-milking stations, quilting activities, cooking biscuits over a fire, or join a sing-along with musicians playing period music. Dutch-oven cooking, horse-pulled wagon rides, firearm demonstrations, blacksmithing, and costumed photography complete the experience!  Many participants wear pioneer costumes, and although it is optional, it really adds to the festivities. San Diego City dignitaries often participate with judging of the Dutch Oven cooking or present acknowledgments and awards. In 2015, LDS apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland visited the Mormon Battalion Commemoration and spoke to all the attendees.

Plenty of history and culture

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am fascinated with Church history. The stories of faith and devotion of the early pioneers are inspiring. The Mormon Battalion Commemoration reminds me of many of the attributes I would like to develop — making sacrifices, working hard, being productive, sharing talents, and serving others.  Anything that helps me better understand the culture, history, and customs where I live or travel makes my life more meaningful. If you are visiting San Diego in January (or if you live here), be sure to put the Mormon Battalion Commemoration on your bucket list!

Update for 2025: The Mormon Battalion Commemoration will be held Saturday, January 25, 2025 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. in San Diego’s Old Town, with a parade and lots of free family crafts and activities.

Reliving history any time of the year for free

Any other time of the year, the public is welcome free of charge at the San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site in Old Town. It’s an interactive opportunity to experience for yourselves what the Battalion march would have been like. And you’ll learn why 500 men and women were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to enlist in the Mormon Battalion.

You’ll tour themed rooms, learn from “talking” portraits, and visit a general store where children are “outfitted” for the march. There’s even a place to pan for gold or make adobe bricks! Costumed volunteers will take your photo and email it to you.

Sit on the porch in a rocking chair and people-watch, or take your photo sitting in a covered wagon. Enjoy the views of Old Town from the Mormon Battalion Historic Site Observatory Tower. There’s even a replica of the first San Diego courthouse. Reliving history in San Diego can be great fun for the family!

Tips for visiting the Mormon Battalion Historic Site
  • Address is 2510 Juan St., San Diego, California 92110
  • Free parking is available at a small lot behind the Mormon Battalion Historic Site.
  • Hours: Monday, Wednesday–Saturday: 10:00AM–5:00PM
    Tuesday: 1:00PM–5:00 PM
    Sunday: 1:00 PM–5:00 PM
    Easter Sunday: 3:00 PM–7:00 PM
    Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • The last full tour begins 45 minutes before closing each day.

What cultural or historic events have you participated in while traveling?

 

Looking for more things to do in San Diego? You may enjoy reading “Best Free Things to Do in San Diego.”

Or if you like learning about history, read “The Oldest Buildings in America.”

reliving history

 

 

17 thoughts on “Reliving History in San Diego

  1. Heather

    I love old town! Not only is it a great place to be during the annual commemoration, but I love visiting there to enjoy all the fun it has to offer: the Salt Water Taffy shop, visiting the LDS Mormon Battalion Center (panning for “gold”, taking an interactive tour, and getting a souvenir photo), eating authentic Mexican food, and just browsing the little shops on Main Street. What a great place it is to visit!

    1. Tami Post author

      You just gave a great intro to my next “Best Things to Do in San Diego” which will have more information about Old Town and the Mormon Battalion Visitors Center!

  2. noel

    I love re-enactments, parades and other events that celebrate a destination’s history and origin. This looks wonderful and I would love to witness it some day.

  3. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    We live in San Diego and visit Old Town regularly. My LDS co-workers highly recommended this exhibit so we may swing by the exhibit often. We are not church members but have visited the Gilbert Temple before opening and also Gila Valley Pioneer Days in Safford Arizona. There is a lot of history associated with the church.

    1. Tami Post author

      Yes, the Mormon pioneers were instrumental in helping to settle much of the United States, including Las Vegas, St. George, Salt Lake City, and San Diego! (and much of Arizona, too)

  4. Kallsy

    This reminds me of Living History Farms in Des Moines, IA. I really enjoy events such as this one because it reminds us what it was like in earlier times. It’s truly fascinating, especially with California’s rich history in the Gold Rush times. I think it’s fun that they dress up in old timey clothes too!

  5. Rosemary

    Participating in local historic and cultural events is a great way to understand the local culture. In Peru last year, I spent Christmas with a local family and participated in their traditional Christmas celebrations. So interesting to observe the difference and similarities of this shared holiday. The Mormon battalion commemoration sounds like a great event and one that is worth attending!!

    1. Tami Post author

      I think that would be a wonderful way to expand one’s understanding of a holiday like Christmas–to celebrate it with a different culture. I am always looking for experiences like this when we travel!

  6. Laura Lynch

    This does sound like a fun and unique way to relive the past and learn about the history of the battalion and their march. I’m sure it’s a great event for the community.

  7. Vicky and Buddy

    I love visiting reenactments like these! It’s a much better way to learn about an event or culture than just reading about it on a wall or in a book. There are a few places in Northern Florida that do similar events or have “living history museums” so that visitors can learn about the Spaniards and Native Americans. The Mormon Battalion Commemoration looks like something I’d really enjoy as well.

  8. Mags

    This looks like such a fun event. I must admit, I don’t know much about the Mexican-American War so this would be especially interesting to witness.

  9. Indrani

    Yes one of the best ways to learn is recreate history. Though I have seen several historical characters especially in Rome near Forum I have never participated in any. Hopefully I too will get a chance.

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