Why: Because California was selling fantasies long before Hollywood got started
What: Old Town San Diego, one of the busiest state parks in California, was the heart of the city when Mexico ruled California from the 1820s through the 1840s. Now the park and neighboring streets are home to folkloric dancers, costumed docents, rebuilt landmarks, stylish shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, a boutique hotel -- far more commercial vitality than is found in your typical state historic park. Drink it all in (including one of those enormous margaritas at the courtyard restaurant Casa de Reyes, if you dare).
And don't miss the Casa de Estudillo. This adobe built in 1827 has been restored as a landmark. But it' has a second story, too: For decades, beginning in the 1880s, local promoters billed the house as "Ramona's Marriage Place," capitalizing on the title character's epic wedding in Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel "Ramona."