The National City Depot
The San Diego Electric Railway Association operates the historic National City Depot as a museum that is open Thursday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.
This lovely Santa Fe station (California Southern Railway when it was first constructed) was the first terminus of transcontinental rail travel in the San Diego area. It is the oldest railroad-related structure still standing in San Diego County, and it is in its original location.
The city of National City restored the structure to the way it was when it was built in 1882 - restored in 1998. The woodwork and other details of the interior are especially impressive.
The Depot is located at the corner of Bay Marina Drive and Marina Way in National City. Take Interstate 5 about 10 miles south of downtown San Diego, exit at Bay Marina Drive and go west 1 block and turn right on Cleveland Ave. Turn left one block later onto West 23rd St. The Depot is straight in at the end of the street. Get Directions from Mapquest!
From the San Diego Trolley, take the Blue Line to National City / 24th St Station. The Depot is about 4 blocks west of the station. Call the Depot and we may be able to pick you up (depending on staffing and number of visitors).
The Depot is open Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) 9 am - 5 pm and by appointment.
Some Common Questions about the National City Depot
"I see tracks. Are there trains?"
Yes! BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) does a fair amount of freight operations in this area. The San Diego Port District has a large terminal just down the road on Bay Marina Drive (restricted access) where large container and car carrier ships make deliveries and the cargo is carried by rail to points all over the country - avoiding the busy port of Long Beach. Remote controlled switching engines are frequently seen passing the depot property.
"Was the second story an addition to the Depot?"
No, the depot appears today much as it did back in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Over the years, awnings were used and an elevated freight dock was available trackside. During renovation in 1998, many changes made while the structure was used as a restaurant were removed to restore it to its original configuration.
"Is the second floor accessible to the public?"
Sorry, no. The second story is used as office space and there are no exhibits on that floor. In the early days of the Depot, that floor was used as a general business office for the railroad.
"What is that wooden platform in the Freight Room?"
That is the original scale used to weigh the freight prior to shipment by rail. While it is not functional at this time, there are components on display nearby.
"Who owns the Depot?"
The City of National City owns the property and building while the San Diego Electric Railway Association, Inc. (d.b.a. San Diego Electric Railway) has a Maintenance and Operating Agreement with the City. SDERA is responsible for maintaining the property and building. If you are interested in helping us with keeping this historic depot in great shape, please contact us at the Depot - 619-474-4400. As will all classic structures, we need to actively work to keep the weather and time from doing what it does best.
"Is the building available for events or meetings?"
Yes! Our main freight room can hold up to 60 people (about 30-35 normally). Please contact Dave Slater () or Tom Matson () to make arrangements.
"What does it take to be a docent?"
It is easy to be a docent. If you are interested in history, rail, or any combination of the two, and have a few hours to spare a month, contact Docent Coordinator Tom Matson (). He will be glad to give you a training session.
"The Depot looks unusual. What is the architectural design used for the depot?"
The National City Depot was designed with an Italianate style of architecture - a distinct style in the nineteenth century. For more information on Italianate designs, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italianate_architecture.
"Can we do class or group tours of the Depot?"
Yes - with advance reservations. We do not normally staff the museum Monday through Wednesday but will make arrangements to support class tours. We would also appreciate advance notice if you are bringing large groups so we can have the right number of docents available.
"Is food available at the Depot?"
We have snacks and drinks available for sale in our Bookstore. A picnic table is available outside if you would like to bring a lunch and enjoy the typically nice San Diego-area weather. Fast food is available on the other side of Interstate 5 (In-and-Out Burger is a popular spot with Depot volunteers!). The Waterfront Grille is also a short distance away on Marina Way just south of the Depot.
"The is lots of construction in the area. What is going on?"
National City is working on a redevelopment effort in the areas around the Depot. This "Marina Gateway" redevelopment effort is being led by the new Marina Gateway Best Western hotel across Bay Marina Drive built by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Indians. This will anchor a set of changes that will involve the National City Depot and adjacent properties. The San Diego Electric Railway Association proudly supports this effort and is an active participant in planning for these changes - thanks to our friends in National City Community Development Commission. Watch for some big changes that will be happening in the next few months!
Please note that Harrison Ave in front of the Depot is no longer accessible from Bay Marina Drive. To get to the Depot, use Cleveland Ave to West 23rd St which has been converted to a two-way street.
Recent demolition on the other side of Harrison Ave. clears the way for the next phase of renovation in the area. Last reports from National City say that this area will be one or two "family-style" restaurants to support the new hotel. Our south parking lot has been converted into an area to display our rolling stock.
"Does the Depot have an corporate sponsors?"
The Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation and their Sycuan Casino have been generous to maintaining our historic building. As a stakeholder in the new Marina Gateway Best Western Hotel across the street, Sycuan shares our desire to see the Marina Gateway redevelopment effort succeed.
The National City Host Lions Club recently contributed towards our major re-painting effort.
We continue to look for additional sponsors - especially now that we have completed the south yard and are ready to start planning for our north yard. Our long term goals include building a car barn and we will need more than just Memberships to fund a major undertaing of this size!