This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
What is Liberty Station, exactly? Well, it used to be San Diego’s Naval Training Center, and it was built to provide primary, advanced, and specialized training to members of the the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve. After it closed in 1997, San Diego entered into a lease agreement with the Navy and has worked with a development firm to create a new “San Diego Town Square”. In 2012, Liberty Station officially opened to the public.
Liberty Station is relatively new in San Diego, and many do not yet know what a gem it truly is. I have just loved discovering all that Liberty Station has to offer. I think you’ll also enjoy learning (at least) 10 reasons why you should visit Liberty Station!
1. Liberty Station is in a prime location in San Diego
Liberty Station is close to Old Town San Diego and just minutes from the airport, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Cabrillo National Monument, and many other tourist attractions. It’s also near the harbor and nestled at the foot of Pt. Loma, a well-established neighborhood. Because of the size of Liberty Station, there’s plenty of parking and it’s free. Where else can you find that in San Diego?
2. It’s a model for re-purposing former military bases
Throughout the nation, when military bases close, they look to Liberty Station as a successful model of converting from military to civic use. Somehow they figured out how to balance commercial enterprise with preservation of history, modern amenities, and aesthetics. There are non-profit organizations, museums, and charities, too. They’ve been able to use existing buildings and preserve the history and beautiful architectural features.
3. It has a rich history
Liberty Station was originally built in 1923 and served as the Naval Training Center (NTC) for 74 years. During the height of World War II, there were as many as 25,000 recruits at the NTC.
Now you can take a self-guided online walking tour that introduces you to places of historic interest. You can easily walk the tour in about two hours, and you’ll have a much greater appreciation of the contributions of the former Naval Training Center.
It is also noteworthy that all the streets in Liberty Station are named after military heroes. And you might recognize the NTC as the setting in movies such as “Top Gun” and “Tars and Stripes.”
4. Liberty Station is family-friendly
I’ll admit I’m usually alone or out with my husband, since all my children are grown. But on my most recent visit to Liberty Station, I specifically looked for family-friendly things to do because I thought others might want to know. The open grassy courtyard between buildings is a great place to let children run and play. There’s also a huge field with guns the kids would enjoy seeing.
Near the Farmer’s Market, I spotted a sandy play area with a boat that would fuel imaginative play-acting! You can rent bicycles at Moment Bicycles. Or pick out an ice cream taco or cupcake at Scooped or Crafted Baked Goods in Liberty Public Market.
What child would not want to see the USS Recruit where young recruits went through training exercises? You can even fish from the shore of the boat channel.
The Comickaze store would be a fun stopping place if your kids enjoy looking at or collecting comic books. They might also enjoy one of the art museums or studios. Family-friendly restaurants include the Corvette Diner, Panera Bread, and Smashburger.
One of the most popular sites for children might be the Liberty Station NTC Park because it has large grassy fields on which to run and play, as well as a large and fanciful playground.
5. It’s also a perfect date activity
Many of the family activities would also be enjoyable for couples on a date, but I found some more date ideas. On one date night, my husband and I ate a healthy and delicious dinner at Tender Greens, watched the sunset, and strolled along the inlet snapping photos.
On our most recent visit, we enjoyed lunch at Banyan’s Kitchen and Cafe. I savored my cheese plate (especially the blue cheese and the chocolate disks) while my husband ordered a delicious quiche and spring salad. Seriously good food, beautiful decor and relaxed atmosphere add up to a perfect lunch date. As a bonus, the Chi’s Chocolate right next door has a great selection of gourmet chocolates should you want a little aphrodisiac.
We also took a painting class at Pinot’s Palette. This was a first for us and we loved it. As it turns out, listening to good music and sipping on your favorite drink (loved those blood orange sodas!) can really bring out your creative side! An instructor demonstrated every step and clearly explained how to paint each portion of the finished scene. I was proud to take my painting home and hang it in my office.
On the first Friday of each month, you can enjoy Liberty Station’s Friday Night Liberty from 5 to 9 pm. It’s San Diego’s biggest art walk! You can meet working artists, and enjoy dance, theatre, and music performances. You can also visit the museums and art galleries.
There are also 2nd Saturday Cinema nights, summer concerts, the Taste of Liberty Station in April, and an Art Walk in August. See here for more calendar information.
6. There are so many things to do
I’ve touched on so many already, but there’s more. Liberty Station includes the Sail Ho golf course, the LOT luxury theaters, galleries, studio classes, the Liberty Public Market (in the former Mess Hall), shops, boutiques, museums, bicycle rentals, lots of restaurants, and scheduled events.
A couple years ago, my daughter was in town visiting and we attended a dance rehearsal at Liberty Station at the Dorothy Laub Dance Place. It was an inexpensive way to watch professional dancing and support their dance company, and I felt uplifted by their performance.
7. It’s a foodie’s paradise
I promise there’s something at Liberty Station for everyone. Perhaps you like Salvadoran empanadas or Indian curry, French macarons or sushi. You’ll find them all in the Liberty Public Market. You’ll also find jewelry, candles, flowers, candy and other delectables, imported cheeses, and beautiful murals.
Once you step away from the Liberty Public Market, there’s even more! How about a Nekter Juice Bar? Or Oggi’s Pizza? There’s Italian, American, Japanese, Greek, Mexican, Thai, and a rustic Bakery. There’s even a Von’s grocery store if you want to purchase your own ingredients for a home-cooked meal. Just come to Liberty Station to eat. It’s a good enough reason to visit all by itself!
8. It’s a perfect backdrop for photos
Are you a photographer? I think you’ll enjoy taking photos of the colorful benches, sculptures, architectural details, the inlet, modern textures, or beautiful landscaping. Set yourself up at one end of a row of arches for a beautiful backdrop for bridals. Or take a selfie at the ‘you should be here’ sign. There’s also the Naval Training Center postcard. If you like taking photos, you’ll have a great time exploring Liberty Station!
9. There’s a lot of support for the arts
In fact, part of Liberty Station is actually designated as the Arts District. With an elegant water fountain in the middle, art installations, galleries, museums, art studios and art classes, there’s plenty to see and do in the Arts District.
The Dorothy Laub Dance Place is home to many prestigious dance companies as well as dance studios available for rental. There is also a recreational music center.
10. It’s a peaceful easy-going kind of place
Just like “San Diego’s Town Square” should be, Liberty Station is not in a congested part of town, and you won’t hear the sounds of traffic or construction. There’s a portion of Liberty Station that borders on a boat channel, so you can stroll along the water or just sit on a bench and enjoy the view.
Large plazas and expanses of green grass keep it from feeling crowded or busy, even though it is very popular on weekend nights. If you walk up to the golf course, you’ll have gorgeous views of the San Diego skyline. You will also see water fountains, lighted walkways, arches, and beautiful architectural details at Liberty Station. It is easy to feel like time slows down here and there’s no reason to hurry away.
I realize you may not have heard of Liberty Station before. It is a relatively new development in San Diego. All the more reason to go visit Liberty Station soon. It’ll grow on you. It may even become one of your favorite places to hang out with your family, enjoy a date, or take your friends. Whether you live in San Diego or are just visiting, Liberty Station should be on your list of things to do!
I’d like to thank Liberty Station for inviting me to experience it more fully, for hosting me at Pinot’s Palette and Banyan’s Kitchen, and for letting me choose some incredible desserts at Scooped and Crafted!