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Pier 32 Marina: The Undiscovered Waterfront of SD

Pier 32 Marina is an undiscovered gem that currently leases slips to boaters and, in the spirit of Frank Kimball, has large tankers unloading cargo most days. Remember that guy, Frank Kimball? He and his brothers created National City (the oldest city in San Diego County), which was a  Beverly Hills for wealthy citrus farmers and visiting U.S. Presidents.

In a terrible twist, Kimball loaned all his money out and when nobody paid him back, he went bankrupt. His vision of a thriving upscale city vanished, but he still left many historic places behind, including a Wharf.

History buff, Irene Phillips describes the wharf this way:

In 1871 the Kimball brothers built a sturdy wharf reaching out to the deep channel. Said The San Diego Union, “Finished to the last bolt! It is wonderfully well constructed and is a substantial credit to the contractor, Fred Copeland.” He was the husband of Mary Kimball, Frank’s sister, and he served both the town and the county in various offices.

This wharf became very important when another railroad, the Texas & Pacific, received government aid to build through Texas to Ship’s Channel, in San Diego Bay. On September 2, 1872, the representative of the railroad signed a contract with Kimball brothers to buy the wharf and received 11,000 acres of land which included one half of National City. Frank Kimball contracted to place piles and culverts for the first ten miles along the waterfront. He had just begun the work when the country was rocked by the financial crash on Black Friday, September 19, 1873, and the railroad boom ended abruptly.

Sure, it didn’t work out so well back in the 1800’s, but today National City is again up-and-coming. The best part of Pier 32 Marina with its fishermen, boaters, kayakers and picnickers is that nobody has quite discovered it yet. That means, for those who love Southern California, but would prefer to escape the crowds, welcome to his wharf. It’s just for you.

Pepper Park

Pepper Park is adjacent to the Pier 32 Marina and here you’ll find the wharf. Previously known as Maritime Park, the name was later changed to honor National City businessman and civic leader, Leonard Pepper. It was expanded to its present size and refurbished by the Port of San Diego in 1988. The Sweetwater Channel on the left side of the park functions as a flood control channel and a navigational channel for recreational and cargo vessels.

The wharf is part of the thirty-four waterfront miles of the San Diego Bay and today this wharf, specifically, maintains Kimball’s vision: mammoth vessels come here to offload cargo, mainly brand new automobiles from Japan and lumber from the Pacific Northwest.

School Of Blue Bottle Noses

David Boyer created this sculpture in 2008 for the Port of San Diego Tidelands Collection.

Pier 32 Marina Bottle Noses


Pier 32 Marina SculptureThe other sculptures at the Pier and at Pepper Park are equally charming:

Pier 32 Marina Pepper Park Sculpture Pier 32 Marina Pepper Park Sculpture

Boater’s Paradise

Pier 32 Marina rents slips to overnighters, monthly renters and live aboards. Yes, a handful of people live here on their boats. There are about 256 slips in the marina and another 57 side-ties, so Pier 32 can take boats 22-feet and under. The marina, owned by parent company GD Holdings, is considered one of the least expensive areas to rent slips on the Bay because there is no immediate ocean access.

The Pier itself looks upscale and part of the reason may be its newness. The SD Port Authority dug the hole and then Mar Vista Construction came in to build this Pier, which opened only 7 years ago, in June 2008. Although they don’t rent out boats for day or overnight use, if you already have a boat and choose to rent a slip, you’ll enjoy all sorts of amenities, including the boater’s lounge, a Bayside room and a deck overlooking the water. You’ll have access to an exercise room, deluxe showers, a swimming pool and a jacuzzi.

Captain’s Quarters

Here’s the best tip of all for those who want a staycation or those coming from afar. A one bedroom guest room is available for rent daily or weekly. Fully furnished, it includes a kitchen and lounge area as well as a bedroom. Within the next two years, there might be six more available. Although meant for when family and friends come to visit people who live on their boats, Pier 32 Marina welcomes the general public for a nightly or, better, weekly rental. The general public can rent the one-bedroom apartment for $179.60 per night and $239 on the weekends. If you’re lucky enough to get a room here, you’ll be able to hang out with the local boaters. Now how cool is that?

If you feel that you’re at a loss of things to do in quieter National City, I’d check out my list.

Address: 3201 Marina Way, National City, CA 91950


One Response to Pier 32 Marina: The Undiscovered Waterfront of SD

  1. Gil July 23, 2015 at 2:40 AM #

    Thanks for yet another interesting & educational post!

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