15 Best Things to Do in National City (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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National City is a city of about 61,000 people situated in the South Bay area of San Diego County.

It’s mostly known for being one of the oldest cities in the county and for its central location, which is only five miles away from San Diego and ten miles away from the Mexico border. It was also voted as the most walkable city in the county.

The weather in National City is pleasant throughout the year, with warm summers and mild winters, so many outdoor activities are enjoyed in every season.

A favourite activity among residents and visitors alike is walking around the city and admiring the large number of historic homes situated along the tree-lined streets.

In National City, there are many restaurants, cultural attractions, green spaces, and shopping areas, including National City Plaza, Euclid Plaza, and Grove Plaza.

Many festivals and events take place in National City throughout the year, including Automobile Heritage Day and the Mariachi Festival.

Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around National City, California.

1. Pay a Visit to the Stein Family Farm

Fluffy SheepSource: Aaron Lim / shutterstock
Fluffy Sheep

The Stein Family Farm is a working farm and museum all in one, so a visit to this National City attraction means you’ll get to experience farm life and get a history lesson at the same time.

This living history museum is a great place to visit for all ages. Children, in particular, love hanging out with the friendly animals that roam the grounds. Pigs, ducks, sheep, and other animals make their home here and love to interact with visitors.

On-site are a beautiful Victorian farmhouse and a barn that is more than 100 years old. Inside this barn, you’ll see antique farm equipment and a 1932 Dodge car once used by the Stein family. The house features old-fashioned decor that was the style in those times. There are also lovely gardens around the property.

The best way to learn about the farm, the Stein family, and the local history is to take a guided tour of the property.

2. Hang out at Pier 32 Marina

Pier 32 MarinaSource: Visit National City / Facebook
Pier 32 Marina

Whether you want to relax by the water, enjoy a delicious meal, go boating, or participate in a wide range of leisure activities, the Pier 32 Marina is a popular spot in National City to spend a day.

Besides premium boating facilities, the pier features a wide range of amenities including a pool, Jacuzzi, BBQ areas, basketball hoops, a horseshoe pit, and a gym. A waterfront eatery is also on-site, and a bike trail runs along the marina.

3. Tee Off at National City Golf Course

GolfSource: Mikael Damkier / shutterstock

If you want to play a quick but challenging round of golf, the National City Golf Course is excellent for beginners and seasoned golfers.

This 9-hole course has enough challenges to keep your game exciting. If you just want to practice your skills, a driving range and putting green are on-site; both have lights so you can play into the evening. Lessons are also available.

4. Learn All about Pretzels at the San Diego Pretzel Company

PretzelSource: Stockagogo Photos / shutterstock

Whether you’re a fan of pretzels or not, the San Diego Pretzel Company is a fun place to spend an afternoon in National City.

This company has been creating soft pretzels since the mid-90s, and there are many types available, including Bavarian, German, and pretzel dogs.

While you’re there, you can take a tour of the facility and learn more about pretzels and how they’re made. You can even take a class and make your own to take on the road with you. Pretzels are also available for purchase, so you can take a break and have a snack before continuing with your day.

5. Get Outdoors in Pepper Park

Pepper ParkSource: Aldwin Francis Castro / shutterstock
Pepper Park

Pepper Park, situated along the waterfront in National City, is the perfect place to spend a sunny day. The five-acre park features a wide range of facilities, including a boat launch, play area, and picnic tables; you can enjoy lovely views of the bay as you fish from the pier.

6. Have Breakfast Any Time of Day at Family House of Pancakes

PancakesSource: Daxiao Productions / shutterstock

Are you a breakfast for breakfast or a breakfast for dinner kind of person? At Family House of Pancakes, it doesn’t matter: breakfast is served all day, so you can have it whenever you want.

This family eatery has been serving delicious breakfast options and other items in a cosy and friendly atmosphere since 1964.

On the menu, you’ll find every flavour of pancakes, waffles, and crepes you can think of, including banana pecan, chocolate and multi-grain. You’ll also find many other items, such as burgers, French toast, and omelettes.

7. Learn About Local Land and Sea Life at the Living Coast Discovery Center

Living Coast Discovery CenterSource: Roaming Panda Photos / shutterstock
Living Coast Discovery Center

At the Living Coast Discovery Center in nearby Chula Vista, you’ll get to meet local wildlife in settings that mimic their true habitats.

For more than two decades, the centre has been offering tours and interactive experiences to visitors who want to get up close and personal with various animals from the sea and land.

As you explore the centre, you’ll see an owl sanctuary, a turtle lagoon, stingrays, eagles, parrots, reptiles, and opossums. Private feeding experiences can be booked with various animals.

8. Take a Ride along the Bayshore Bikeway

Bayshore BikewaySource: 4kclips / shutterstock
Bayshore Bikeway

Cycling is very popular around National City and the Greater San Diego area, so there’s plenty of bike trails around.

One of the popular bikeways that you can access from National City is the Bayshore Bikeway. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t bring your own bike with you because there are rentals available.

The scenic trail is paved and goes around San Diego Bay for 24 miles. Along the way, you’ll pass through Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and Coronado and see stunning coastal scenery. You’ll also discover many attractions and historical sites.

9. Visit the Historic National City Rail Depot

Historic National City Rail DepotSource: San Diego Electric Railway Association / Facebook
Historic National City Rail Depot

The National City Rail is a top-rated stop with railroad fanatics, but it’s also a great place for history buffs of all ages who want to learn more about the history of the railroads in Southern California.

This former Californian Southern Railway building is the oldest railroad structure in the county that is still in its original position.

This historic depot has been expertly-restored. Inside, there’s a museum dedicated to the streetcar and railroad history of the area.

This is where you’ll see an exhibit depicting an O-Scale model railroad and displays featuring railroad memorabilia and other artefacts related to railway and streetcar history.

Also on-site is an extensive collection of vintage trolleys dating from 1890 to 2015. There’s even a gift shop selling railway-related items.

10. Nierderfrank’s Ice Cream

Nierderfrank's Ice CreamSource: Niederfrank's Ice Cream / Facebook
Nierderfrank’s Ice Cream

Niederfrank’s has been creating and serving delicious ice cream treats since 1948. The business is still going strong today, and their claim to fame is they still use the same old-fashioned methods to make this ice cream as they did way back when.

These old-fashioned techniques are time-consuming and costly, but the results are worth the extra work. The other great thing about the ice cream here is it’s made with 100% natural ingredients.

Even if you’re picky about your ice cream flavours, you’ll find something you like on the menu. Apple strudel, blackberry twist avocado, brownies and cream, cheesecake, and cinnamon are just some of the flavours available.

11. Spend a Day in Nature at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego National Wildlife RefugeSource: USFWS Headquarters / Flickr | Public Domain Mark
San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is where you can see and learn about local flora and fauna and the unique ecosystems they thrive in.

A series of walking trails are on-site. As you explore the area, you’ll pass through various habitats, including sage scrub, oak woodland, chaparral, and freshwater marsh. Some of these trails are suitable for biking and horseback riding and are great ways to get a glimpse of the local wildlife.

12. Browse the Coronado Certified Farmers’ Market

Farmers MarketSource: Javani LLC / shutterstock
Farmers Market

Although the Coronado Certified Farmers Market is smaller than some of the markets in the county, it’s one of the longest-running markets in the area. You’ll find many quality, local items as you browse this laid back market.

As you make your way through the vendors, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the San Diego Bay.

Some of the items you’ll find include fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers, cheese, flower arrangements, a selection of hot meals, and many apple products, including apple cider vinegar and apple butter.

13. Explore Sweetwater Summit Regional Park

HikingSource: Blazej Lyjak / shutterstock

A whole day can be spent at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park participating in a wide range of outdoor activities. Actually, you can spend the night there too if you enjoy camping. This 500-acre park in nearby Bonita features more than 100 fully-equipped camping sites.

This park also features a wide range of amenities, including an exercise course, picnic areas, an amphitheatre, and a splash park.

Sweetwater Reservoir is a popular fishing spot, and the 15 miles of trails – including the Sweetwater River Loop Trail – are suitable for hiking and horseback riding. As you explore these trails, you’ll see beautiful views and natural features, including a waterfall.

14. Step Back in Time with a Stroll through Heritage Square

Brick RowSource: Visit National City / Facebook
Brick Row

National City is home to many historic properties, but none are as significant to the city’s history as the ones found in Heritage Square.

This charming block in downtown National City features a number of historic sites, including the Kimball Museum and the Proctor House. Brick Row, a long brick building constructed in 1887, is also found here.

15. Sample Local Craft Brews at Attitude Brewing Company

Attitude Brewing CompanySource: Attitude Brewing Company / Facebook
Attitude Brewing Company

Attitude Brewing Company isn’t just a place where you can enjoy quality craft beer and delicious food; it’s a place where you can be yourself and kick back in a friendly environment.

The on-site tasting room has 22 beers on tap. The beers are made on-site and include options such as Famous, Jubilant, Heroic, Legendary, Hypnotic, and Freestyle.

The restaurant serves a wide variety of tasty dishes to go along with your beer, and many events take place at the brewery throughout the year.


15 Best Things to Do in National City (CA):

  • Pay a Visit to the Stein Family Farm
  • Hang out at Pier 32 Marina
  • Tee Off at National City Golf Course
  • Learn All about Pretzels at the San Diego Pretzel Company
  • Get Outdoors in Pepper Park
  • Have Breakfast Any Time of Day at Family House of Pancakes
  • Learn About Local Land and Sea Life at the Living Coast Discovery Center
  • Take a Ride along the Bayshore Bikeway
  • Visit the Historic National City Rail Depot
  • Nierderfrank's Ice Cream
  • Spend a Day in Nature at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge
  • Browse the Coronado Certified Farmers' Market
  • Explore Sweetwater Summit Regional Park
  • Step Back in Time with a Stroll through Heritage Square
  • Sample Local Craft Brews at Attitude Brewing Company