Recently Jason and I set aside a day to visit one of our new favorite places in San Diego, Liberty Station. We know this city well, and have many favorite places here, but we've quickly come to appreciate how this historic site has been redesigned as a gathering space for locals and visitors alike.
Let me start with some history of Liberty Station. When I graduated from the University of San Diego in 1990, Liberty Station did not exist. Instead it was the well known home of the Naval Training Station, a large military base in operation since 1923. During my college years there were hundreds of businesses surrounding the base dedicated to serving the thousands of Navy enlisted and officers working here. Anyone driving through the area was clear that this was a military town. But in 1997 the Navy closed the base and three years later the city acquired it.
The city of San Diego was determined to repurpose this base for shops, restaurants, recreation, and the promotion of arts. This wasn’t an easy or quick endeavor, and in fact, it’s still a work in progress. Buildings designed for housing thousands of men and women in the early 1900's don’t lend themselves well to a shopping mall. So it has taken a while for Liberty Station to catch-on with locals and visitors alike. But the opening of Stone Brewing World in 2013 and then Liberty Public Market in 2016 have gone a long ways towards drawing people in and making them fans.
Getting Around Liberty Station
Much of what I’ll recommend is in the section of Liberty Station referred to as the Arts District. As a former Naval base, the total property size is really big, so it helps to understand the layout a bit before arriving. You may even want to take a quick peek at the map of Liberty Station. The Arts District is comprised of the former barracks and other buildings specifically designed for new recruits. For first time visitors I recommend parking near Liberty Public Market--just follow the signage from wherever you enter. Then be sure to remember in which lot you parked, because there are plenty of them.
Where To Eat
There are so many restaurants at Liberty Station! I’ve now visited four times and only made a small dent in the number of great places to eat. My favorite place to start is Liberty Public Market, a food hall containing dozens of small shops and eateries. If I had to recommend just one place to eat in the Market, it would be Parana Empanadas Argentinas. These freshly made empanadas are excellent, as is evidenced by the number of people in line. But we have also enjoyed in the past Cecilia’s Taqueria, Roast Meat & Shop, and Fishbone Kitchen. Finally, if you’re in the mood for a beer, head to the Mess Hall where Bottlecraft is located. You’ll have your choice of 24 draft beers or 500 types of bottled beer.
For a sit down meal I’d recommend Buona Forchetta Liberty Station, specializing in Neapolitan pizzas. We ordered a pizza topped with mozzarella, sausage, prosciutto, and porcini mushrooms and it was delicious.
Whether you are looking for food or beer or both, Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, is an ideal spot. We’ve now enjoyed both the indoor and outdoor seating. If the weather permits, I definitely recommend sitting outside in the lovely garden complete with a koi pond. Both Jason and I enjoy their beer, and while we have never tried the food, the menu is impressive.
Finally, if you want something sweet to eat, visit Chi Chocolat & Banyan Kitchen. We sampled a few of their house made chocolates accompanied by a cold brewed coffee.
What To Do at Liberty Station
In between eating we had to take breaks, so we strolled through the shops, galleries, and artists studios of the Arts District. This is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. There are currently three museums in the area and we opted to visit the New Americans Museum which explores immigrant experiences in the U.S.
In the large open space between the barracks buildings you’ll find large lawns, dozens of trees providing shade, and plenty of seating. We chose the adirondack chairs and spent 30 minutes relaxing in the shade watching the planes from San Diego Airport fly overhead. Despite the Market being packed with hungry visitors, this open area was almost empty.
Liberty Station is a very family friendly area, so don't hesitate to bring kids or grandkids. In addition to the open spaces, there are several shops specializing in kids activities as well as family friendly events offered throughout the year. (And if you are visiting the San Diego area with kids, be sure to check out this great travel guide.)
Want to see more of San Diego, consider visiting Balboa Park's Gardens and Museums.
Just outside the Arts District is a restaurant and movie theater called The Lot Liberty Station. While I’ve not been to this location, I have attended a movie at their Newport Beach location. This very upscale theater offers reclining seats as well as gourmet food and beverages delivered during the movie.
Throughout the year there are many Liberty Station events to choose from including outdoor concerts and movies. Be sure to check their website for the schedule.
Add Liberty Station to your to do list
If you live in or around the San Diego area, I encourage you to set aside an afternoon for a visit to Liberty Station. If visiting from out of town, then definitely add this historic place to your itinerary. The Navy has long been an important of this city, so a visit to this historic site gives you a glimpse of Navy life in the 20th century. While it’s clear that the city is still trying to develop Liberty Station, in its current form, there is plenty to do here, and certainly a myriad of great places to eat.