La Playa Trail

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United States Boundary Survey of the San Diego, California area, 1850, showing the La Playa Trail from La Playa to Old San Diego and the Mission

The La Playa Trail was a historic bayside trail in San Diego, connecting the settled inland areas to the commercial anchorage at Old La Playa on San Diego Bay. (La Playa means "the beach" in Spanish.) The La Playa Trail has been recognized as the oldest commercial trail in the Western United States.[1][2] The trail was used during the Pre-Hispanic (Native American), Spanish, Mexican and American periods of San Diego history. Much of the length of the original trail corresponds to the current Rosecrans Street in the San Diego neighborhood of Point Loma (originally called La Punta de la Loma de San Diego meaning Hill Point of San Diego, later partially anglicized to Point Loma).[3] There are eight registered National Historic Districts and 70 identified historic sites along the trail,[4] according to the La Playa Trail Association, which was formed in 2005 to recognize the historic nature of the trail and to honor the many different peoples who traveled along it.[5]

The trail was already established by the time the Spanish settlers arrived in 1769; the first inhabitants of the area, including the Kumeyaay tribe, used it to access the beaches of San Diego Bay.[6] It was improved and extended during the Spanish colonization of the region, reaching Old Town San Diego and Mission San Diego de Alcalá in Mission Valley by the 1770s.[7] Cargo which had been unloaded by ship at Ballast Point in Old La Playa was transported along the trail several miles inland to Old Town. The La Playa Trail remained the primary transportation route for imports and exports from the time of San Diego's establishment in 1769 until the development of a better port in the 1860s at what is now Downtown San Diego.[8][9] After most port activities moved to the downtown location, the southern portion of the trail retained its commercial character and became known as Rosecrans Boulevard (now Rosecrans Street).[3]

In 1934, six commemorative terra cotta plaques were placed along the length of the trail by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution[10] and other groups,[11] based on a relief designed by sculptor Rose M. Hanks.[12] The original six were located at Mission San Diego de Alcala; at the foot of Presidio Hill in Old Town; near the intersection of Rosecrans St. and Midway Blvd. in the Midway area; at the corner of Rosecrans and Lytton streets in Loma Portal, across from the Naval Training Center San Diego golf course; at the corner of Rosecrans and Byron streets in Roseville; and at the site of the fuel depot at Naval Base Point Loma.[13] By the early 2000s, only four plaques survived.[7] The marker in the Roseville area, which was dedicated in 1934 but then lost when the street was widened, was recreated and rededicated in 2010.[2] The marker in the Midway area, formerly on the center median of Rosecrans Street near Midway Drive, was refurbished in 2005[14] and relocated to a more accessible sidewalk location in 2010.[1]

A portion of the trail (as Rosecrans Boulevard) was expanded into a four-lane divided highway in 1940.[15] Rosecrans was identified as part of California State Route 209 from 1964 to 2003. The southern terminus of the trail is now located within Naval Base Point Loma.[3]


  1. ^ a b Hall, Matthew T. (November 24, 2010). "Marking time on the La Playa Trail; Monument to days gone by has moved". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b Harrison, Donald H. (April 29, 2010). "Roseville has its La Playa Trail marker again". San Diego Jewish World. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Kyle, Douglas (2002). Historic Spots in California (5th ed.). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 339.
  4. ^ "La Playa Trail - The Oldest European Trail Along the Pacific Coast". La Playa Trail Association. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  5. ^ "La Playa Trail - About the La Playa Trail Association". La Playa Trail Association. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  6. ^ "Newest La Playa Trail marker to be unveiled". San Diego Community Newspaper Group. June 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  7. ^ a b Hoover, Mildred Brooke. Douglas Kyle, rev. Historic Spots in California, 5th ed. 2002. p. 339.
  8. ^ Swanson, Clifford L. The Sixth United States Infantry Regiment, 1855 to Reconstruction. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 26. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  9. ^ "Trail history". La Playa Trail Association. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  10. ^ Morley, Mrs. Walter S., comp. History of California state society, Daughters of the American revolution, 1891-1938
  11. ^ "San Diego 'Trail Blazers' Memorialized by Marker". Christian Science Monitor. January 23, 1934. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  12. ^ Kamerling, Bruce. "Early Sculpture and Sculptors in San Diego". The Journal of San Diego History. Volume 35, Number 3. Summer 1989.
  13. ^ "La Playa Trail Markers". La Playa Trail Association. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  14. ^ Scanlon, Karen; Best, Charles (April 2010). "Group to dedicate, restore monument to mark vivid history of La Playa Trail". Peninsula Beacon. San Diego Community Newspaper Group. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
  15. ^ Scott, Byron N. "Old La Playa Trail Becomes Modern 4-Lane Divided Highway". California Highways and Public Works. Vol. 18, no.7. July 1940. p. 10.

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