Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in National City, CA

  • Published 2023/02/01

There’s no need to break the bank to have a good time in National City, California.

This vibrant city in the South Bay region of the San Diego metropolitan area has plenty of free activities that will keep you entertained.

From exploring beautiful parks to visiting historical landmarks, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in National City, San Diego County.

While nearby San Diego is the more popular option for vacation-goers, there are plenty of reasons to consider this charming California city.

Here’s a list of free things to do in National City, California, to help you make the most out of your stay:

Step Back in Time at the Kimball Brick Row Homes

Daytime view of Kimball Brick Row Homes

Wmoraga, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kimball Brick Row Homes, located in the National City Heritage Square, is a historical landmark worth visiting.

Located at A Avenue in downtown National City, the Kimball Brick Row Homes offers a glimpse into the city’s rich past.

Frank Kimball built this historical landmark in 1887, the only structure in National City to remain from this period.

National City has a fascinating history filled with Mexican and Spanish influences, which are evident in this piece of local pride.

The Kimball Brick Row Homes feature 10 units that are now individually owned.

However, the architecture of the building remains intact, and it’s a great way to step back in time and get a glimpse of what homes within National City used to look like.

Passing by and taking a picture of the Kimball Brick Row Homes is free and worth the few minutes of your time.

Make sure to check out this unique attraction next time you visit National City!

Learn about the City at the National City Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center

The National City Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center is a great site for learning about the city and its offerings.

The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, offering a wide array of information about local businesses and attractions.

The visitor’s center aims to educate tourists about the city’s history and culture and what to expect when visiting.

They also promote National City by showcasing its unique attractions.

The staff will be able to provide you with a personalized itinerary with all the fantastic things to do in National City.

You can also ask for information on each location and discover events happening during your stay.

To make the most of your trip to National City, a visit to the National City Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center is a must.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Pepper Park

Pepper Park is a beautiful and tranquil urban park located in the heart of National City.

Named after civic leader and local businessman Leonard Pepper, this expansive five-acre park offers a full view of the Sweetwater Channel.

It also has colorful play equipment, plenty of green spaces, picnic tables, and play areas for children.

Pepper Park also features a boat launching ramp and fishing pier for local and visiting anglers to enjoy.

It even has a lighting system that illuminates the vibrant San Diego Bay—a perfect feature for people who want to go night fishing.

You can also stroll through the park’s trails or picnic under the shade of trees.

Pepper Park provides the ultimate outdoor experience while in National Park.

Make sure to check out this gorgeous green space during your stay.

Visit the Stein Family Farm

Located in the heart of National City, the Stein Family Farm is a volunteer-run history farm preserve that dates back to the late 1800s.

The farm’s mission is to preserve and protect National City’s agricultural history, which it achieves through its weekly events, workshops, and guided tours.

You can participate in family-friendly activities such as seasonal harvesting, planting, canning, weaving, and quilting.

The Stein Family Farm also offers various educational programs and activities to promote environmental stewardship among its youth.

You can have your kids participate in some of the free events and activities, including an interactive tour of the farm and its historic structures.

The farm is open all year long and is completely free to visit.

Check out this interesting attraction and discover a piece of National City’s history.

Play Baseball at Kimball Park

Kimball Park is a local public baseball park located at 12th Street, just a few blocks from the Kimball Brick Row Homes.

It is an active park with lots of opportunities to stay active and have fun.

The park is a hub for baseball fanatics, featuring three full-sized baseball diamonds.

Kimball Park is also bustling with locals and visitors playing a game of baseball or softball.

You can also sign up and join one of the various recreational baseball leagues or even participate in a tournament.

If you prefer watching the games instead, you can also do that.

Besides its baseball fields, Kimball Park also recently added a skatepark to its complex, offering skateboarders and BMX riders a place to practice their skills.

Check Out the San Diego Electric Railway and National City Depot Museum

The San Diego Electric Railway is a rail museum dedicated to preserving the history of the National City and San Diego’s first streetcar system.

Located at 23rd Street in downtown National City, the San Diego Electric Railway operated from the late 1800s to 1949.

It also operated the National City Depot, a historic Santa Fe railroad station.

Today, the National City Depot is now a museum that provides a look back into the streetcar and railroad history of the city.

You can explore the various exhibits inside the museum.

Train enthusiasts and historians can learn about the operation of electric railways in San Diego and its development through the years.

On the other hand, the San Diego Electric Railway has plenty of modern-day streetcars and trolleys located outside the museum.

These streetcars are ideal for exploring National City and its nearby areas.

The San Diego Electric Railway and National City Depot Museum is free to visit and open to the public.

Make sure to check it out while you’re in National City!

Go on a Picnic at Las Palmas Park

Las Palmas Park is a large park with plenty of opportunities to picnic with friends and family.

Located in the middle of National City, this park offers many open spaces to spread a blanket and enjoy the outdoors.

There are also plenty of picnic tables that you can use, with designated trash cans nearby to help keep the park in excellent condition.

There are also plenty of trees to provide shade, making it a perfect spot to relax and hang out during a hot day.

There’s also a baseball field where locals and tourists can play a game.

For the younger crowd, Las Palmas Park also has a playground and plenty of swings to keep them entertained.

A well-rounded park, Las Palmas Park is a great spot to enjoy the outdoors in National City.

Witness Local Art at ARTS CENTER

National City doesn’t have many places to appreciate the arts.

That makes ARTS CENTER even more unique because it is a local venue dedicated to showcasing and highlighting artists’ works in the area.

Located at 12th Street in the heart of downtown National City, ARTS CENTER aims to empower young people throughout the South Bay region via the impactful influence of art and creativity.

The team behind this art center is devoted to helping community members become better individuals through the introduction and appreciation of arts.

Visitors can expect to see many works from local and emerging artists—from paintings and sketches to sculptures and installations.

They also provide art programs and education focused on various topics such as design thinking, cultural equity, and local art history.

If you’re looking for a place to appreciate the local arts scene, ARTS CENTER is worth the visit.

Learn about the City’s Past at La Vista Memorial Park

Visiting a cemetery while on vacation may sound weird and creepy, but La Vista Memorial Park is quite the exception.

It’s a popular destination among tourists who want to learn more about National City and its past.

Located at Orange Street, La Vista Memorial Park is a great place to check out the historical archives and learn about the prominent residents that once lived in National City.

Some of the graves even date back as far as 1868; historical tours are also available for those looking to enhance their experiences.

Despite its historical accounts, La Vista Memorial Park is a modern-day cemetery with vibrant greens and plenty of benches to relax and appreciate the beauty of nature.

The park also serves as an excellent bird-watching spot, with plenty of birds flocking around year-round.

Go Biking at Bayshore Bikeway

Bayshore Bikeway will satisfy bikers’ need for speed.

This 24-mile bike path starts at the Coronado Ferry Landing and runs along San Diego Bay, offering stunning coastline views and an opportunity to explore the city’s many attractions.

The trail starts downtown and passes by many historical sites, including the famous Hotel Del Coronado.

Built in 1888, this historic structure has hosted presidents, celebrities, and royalty over its 120-year history.

The paved bike path is wide and well-maintained, making it an excellent spot for experienced cyclists and beginners.

The route is also well-lit, making it easy to ride even during the night.

Along the way, cyclists can visit many unique attractions and have a great time exploring National City and San Diego.

Take a Leisure Walk at El Toyon Park

El Toyon Park is a beautiful city park that offers many opportunities to spend a leisurely afternoon under the sun.

Like most parks in National City, El Toyon Park features many trees that offer shade and a cool atmosphere.

The park also offers a playground for kids and plenty of open space to run around.

There are also some recreational areas for adults, like tennis and basketball courts, baseball and football fields, and more.

El Toyon Park also has a picnic area with designated barbecue grills, perfect for family get-togethers.

Besides these amenities, the park is most known as a great spot to go on a walk or jog.

It has plenty of walking trails lined with trees and benches, making it the perfect spot for a brisk afternoon stroll.

If you’re looking for an ideal relaxing place, El Toyon Park is worth checking out.

Explore Mundo Gardens Community Garden

Mundo Gardens Community Garden is the perfect place to spend a sunny day outdoors.

Located at N Q Avenue, this community garden in National City allows locals and visitors to explore an array of plants and vegetables.

The garden has a variety of fruit trees, vegetable beds, and flower plots that are all maintained by local volunteers.

This park is even more remarkable because it allows visitors to interact with the plants and learn about gardening techniques.

Mundo Gardens Community Garden is open to the public, so you can take a stroll through and admire the beauty of nature.

Take a Stroll at Pier 32 Marina

Pier 32 Marina is San Diego’s finest and largest marina in National City.

The pier offers stunning views of San Diego Bay and the surrounding areas and plenty of recreational activities for visitors.

This private marina offers tenants a first-class boating experience and state-of-the-art amenities.

It’s also an excellent spot for tourists seeking a free area to explore the beautiful San Diego Bay.

The marina is lined with boardwalks, pathways, and docks, perfect for strolling or enjoying the scenery.

You can take pictures and take advantage of the picturesque views of the bay while admiring the many boats anchored in the marina.

At Pier 32 Marina, you can take some time to relax and enjoy the beautiful landscape of San Diego Bay.

Enjoy the Peace and Quiet at National City Public Library

If you prefer spending some of your time in a peaceful and quiet environment, then the National City Public Library is the perfect place.

Located on National City Boulevard, the National City Public Library offers visitors plenty of chances to explore its collections and enjoy its services.

The library features various sections dedicated to different genres, such as literature, history, science and technology, children’s books, and more.

The library is also extensive, with high ceilings that create a calm and inviting atmosphere.

The National City Public Library offers visitors plenty of places to relax while they read books or browse through the collections.

You can also take advantage of free WiFi and the computers available to access the Internet.

The library also offers various programs, events, and activities that promote reading, learning, and community engagement.

Whether you’re looking to relax with a good book or enjoy the peaceful environment, the National City Public Library is a great spot to visit.

Relax at Sweetwater Heights Park

Sweetwater Heights Park is another excellent spot to visit if you want to enjoy tranquility during your trip.

It’s located in a peaceful neighborhood, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This hidden park features ample open space with plenty of grassy areas where you can lay down a blanket and read a book or enjoy nature’s tranquility.

The park also has several walking paths, playgrounds for kids, and picnic areas, making it the perfect spot to take a stroll or have a family outing.

You can even take advantage of the many shaded areas—you can either enjoy the scenery or take a nap.

Whatever you’re looking for, Sweetwater Heights Park is the perfect location to spend some time away from busy city life.

Final Thoughts

National City is a great place to visit if you’re looking for opportunities to save your hard-earned money while on holiday.

It offers plenty of attractions and activities that won’t break the bank, from the beautiful San Diego Bay at Pier 32 Marina to the many recreational activities at Pepper Park.

Of course, the city has more in store for you to discover and explore, from the National City Public Library and Sweetwater Heights Park to its many museums and galleries.

Include these free things to do in National City, California, and make your trip extra special without spending much.

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