The benefits of heritage tourism

Posted: July 1st, 2016 | Columnists, Featured, Preservation Matters | No Comments

By Ann Jarmusch and Sarai Johnson | Preservation Matters

Quick, what are your top three go-to places when out-of-town family or guests arrive and you want to give them an authentic San Diego experience? Chances are you’re going to head for a trendy dinner in the Victorian-era Gaslamp Quarter; a ballgame at Petco Park that lets you monitor left field’s foul line, using the saved and preserved brick Western Metal Supply building; or The Headquarters, the transformed WPA-era Police Headquarters that now holds shops and restaurants in a handsomely restored compound, instead of cops and robbers.

Or maybe your trifecta includes Old Town State Historic Park, for a stroll back in time; a seafood market for a fresh-caught meal on the dock; or a guided tour of the Marston House Historic Museum & Gardens, a National Historic Landmark built by George Marston in Balboa Park and San Diego’s finest remaining example of an arts and crafts mansion.

Historical architecture in the Gaslamp Quarter abounds. (Courtesy SOHO)

Historical architecture in the Gaslamp Quarter abounds. (Courtesy SOHO)

Cultural heritage tourism, simply put, embraces cultural, historic and natural resources and landscapes.

In San Diego County, one of our many assets is a tourist’s ability to spend one single, splendid day tasting historic and cultural sites, from the mountains to the sea, from Downtown to the backcountry. Another is to stay more days and still be left salivating.

Well-educated and relatively well-off, heritage tourists are the most coveted among tourism agencies in the know, as they support what makes a place special and downright unique: historic house and living cultures museums, local music and theater productions, natural recreational areas. They purchase indigenous or regionally made, handmade arts and crafts, and consume wine, beer and cuisine in non-chain restaurants they cannot find, let alone visit, anywhere else.

The fact that heritage tourism is a driving force in the San Diego economy dates back a century or more, making preservation and conservation important components to sustain our city and county.

The historic places mentioned here and others that display San Diego’s unique identity have been more often than not the subject of preservation advocacy. These landmark attractions exist due to major campaigns to save, preserve, restore and put them into active use, so they become the cultural heritage jewels that locals and tourists want to visit, and that residents want to live among.

The Western Metal Building was retained when Petco Park was built and became part of its structure. (Courtesy SOHO)

The Western Metal Building was retained when Petco Park was built and became part of its structure. (Courtesy SOHO)

SOHO’s work to protect and promote the city’s architectural legacy allows for a thriving cultural heritage environment that is a boon for the economy as well as quality of life.

Today, tourism is San Diego County’s third largest industry, and cultural heritage tourism is one of it’s largest segments. By the numbers, its impact is staggering: Tourism employs about 181,000 workers countywide, delivers $9.9 billion annually and brings us 34 million guests, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority’s 2015 statistics.

Then there’s cultural heritage tourism’s platinum lining. Managed imaginatively, practically and well, it delivers an added bonus we bet you’ve noticed that cultural heritage tourism improves the quality of life for residents as well.

Enjoy your staycation.

—Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) operates the historic Marston House Museum & Gardens in Balboa Park. Ann Jarmusch is the chief writer of Preservation Matters. She can be reached at 619-200-3340 or

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