This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
The Stein Family Farm is a hidden gem in National City, CA — just eight miles south of downtown San Diego. Why is it a gem? It’s authentic, it’s free, and it’s a wonderful learning experience for all who visit.
There is nothing touristy at all about the Stein Family Farm. In fact, you might not even notice it, except for the small sign you can barely see from the road. The only thing that makes it stand out at all is the fact that it is nearly an island in an industrial district. At one point, the property was sold to a developer who planned to raze it and put in an apartment building. After a public outcry, the purchaser generously sold it to National City, and it has been lovingly preserved since, as a living history museum. There are no glossy brochures…no ticket booth…no paid staff. It survives on donations and volunteers.
The Stein Family Farm is real history in your back yard. In the early 1900’s, Charles and Bertha Stein, both from Germany, bought this plot of land and lived in the Victorian farmhouse that is still standing on the property. They farmed and did some ranching and provided for their five children. Charles Stein also worked for a brewery, the water department, and an ice rink. Other occupations included working as a teamster and a builder. The farm remained in the family until the 1960’s.
Learning is easy here. You can try out the water pump (have you ever done that before?), or wash socks with a washboard and hang them on the line to dry. You can weed the garden, feed the animals, and chat with the caretaker. At the Stein Family Farm, you are welcome to walk around the grounds and explore the barn, animal pens, gardens, and even tour the home (led by volunteer docents on Saturdays from 10 to 2).
Inside the home, you can see many actual belongings of the Stein family and everything is set up the way it would have been during the 1920’s and earlier. The docent who led my tour shared invaluable information about the everyday lives of the Steins, and I felt like I practically knew them by the time I left. Even my three-year old granddaughter was interested in the tour of the house. She wasn’t willing to leave until she had listened to the entire presentation!
Be sure to shut the gate behind you as you enter…many of the animals are allowed to roam freely. And don’t get too close to the donkey, or you might get a kick! Petunia the pig and her cohorts scrounge through the orchard looking for fallen fruit to devour. I enjoyed a gobbling chat with the resident turkey, who was all too eager to speak his mind. One ostrich in particular was very curious, and I was amused by his head-bobbing antics as he tried to get a better look at us. We were invited to pet the rabbits and feed the goats, too.
Bring a bag with you, and you can take home an apple, a pomegranate, or oranges that you pick from the orchard. Feel free to pull some weeds, or offer a hand with farm chores. The caretaker will be happy to let you know what needs to be done.
A peak into the old barn revealed mechanical wonders — old trucks and a carriage that looked like they’d just been parked there by Mr. Stein — 80 years ago! I couldn’t help noticing the old washing machine beside the shed. I truly loved the rustic and organic feel of the Stein Family Farm.
What else about the Stein Family Farm?
- Remember that someone does live here as the caretaker, so be respectful of the property. It is open to the public on Saturdays, from 10 am to 2 pm.
- The Stein Family Farm is located at 1808 F. Avenue, National City, CA 91950
- There is no fee, but you can make a donation. Not just cash but also antiques from 1880-1940, paper goods (paper towels/toilet paper), and garden tools.
- You can read more about the Stein Family history and farm at this website.
- The Stein Family Farm is always in need of volunteers. If you are interested in greeting visitors, leading tours, or doing some light housework, you can learn more at this link.
- I noticed that at least one of the animal enclosures was built and donated by an Eagle Scout, so if you’re looking for Eagle Scout projects, this might be a great option for you!
Have you been? Do you love historic sites? Be sure to tell me what you think about the Stein Family Farm!
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How cool! I’ve never heard of this place before today. What a fun and FREE place to explore. That’s awesome that they don’t charge, although I’m sure if it’s as cool as it looks I’d leave a donation.
It doesn’t happen very often that a developer will give up on a piece of land in favor of preserving a landmark. It must have been quite an outcry if he agreed to sell it to the city. Especially since he most likely didn’t make any profit on it. I love places like this, where you can still see the simple way of life on a farm. I grew up in Romania and I remember spending my summers at my grandparents’ farm. I still have some beautiful memories about those times, but our children who grew up in big cities missed out on these simple pleasures. Well, it’s good to see there are still some authentic farms around that can be experienced by the future generations.
Thanks, Anda, for taking the time to stop and share your own farm experiences. I was quite pleased to discover this mostly unknown treasure.
These are the type of unique places that I love to visit especially because you know you dont have to beat the crowds as they are not touristy. This is a huge bonus because you can actually enjoy the place! Love all the character that this place has
Well this really is a hidden gem. I love the old look and feel of the place. Never seen anything like it apart from in movies but I would love to check this place out. Looks like a wonderful family day out
I’ve been to San Diego soo many times. And I have tons of friends who live there. and no one has ever in my entire life mentioned this farm! Will have to make a trip out to it if I’m in SD again
This museum looks really interesting and wouldn’t mind checking this out. Looks very unique and not too busy. Loving the rustic feel to the place.
It’s wonderful how they have preserved the history of the Stein family. This is such a great find and local experience. Happy to hear that volunteers are running the place, though it would be great if it could be marked as a national treasure. Thanks for sharing about it. Will have to check it out the next time I’m in CA.
This is such an interesting place to visit. It is remarkable that the Stein’s family’s house and belongings were preserved so well…I will surely visit this place next year when I am back in Cali.
I love visiting open-air museums like this farm. Kudos to the donor(s) of the place for looking out for public interest. Definitely something to support.
This sounds like such a fun and interactive experience. San Diego is one of my favorite places to visit, so I will definitely put this on my must-see list. I think it’s cool that you can help out with the chores, use the water pump or a washboard, and more. Great idea!
The farm is truly a gem. It is commendable that the authorities have preserved it and retain the old world charm. Reading about it I can almost hear the footsteps of the Steins as they go through their daily lives in during those faraway years. What a refreshing change from other touristy places. Really worth a visit.
This is in California?! How cool! I just love discovering hidden gems which is just one of the reasons why I love reading your blog! I’ll definitely put Stein Family Farm on my list, thanks for sharing. I think my kids would love it too.
Thank you so much, Carmen! I’m so glad that sharing the places I discover is helping others enjoy them too.
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