Wandering Through South Bay: Chargers’ Stadium Search Leads to Fun Driving Day

Note: At the time this story was written, late 2006, the Quixotic search for a new stadium site had focused on the South Bay. The sites were all abandoned, but the historical context is worth keeping in mind.

The late ’60s and early ’70s were a great time to be a kid in San Diego if you — and your parents — liked taking Sunday drives to see all the new stuff being built.

Whether it was a new freeway, home development or stadium, we’d pile into the Pontiac to go take a look.

Well, the county still seems to be growing fast, with big, new projects going up all the time. And with news about a new stadium for the Chargers getting all the buzz, scouting out a couple of the proposed locations seemed to be a good excuse for taking a drive.

Two of the most talked-about locations are in the great South Bay burbs of National City and Chula Vista, with one on the bay and one at the base of the rugged hills bordering Jamul. With a few other twists and turns, it ended up being an interesting morning.

Just a note on today’s drive. In addition to beautiful bay and mountain vistas, a country road with horses and a couple of twisting sections, there are also a few spots that are less than picturesque. We go through a couple of industrial areas and San Diego’s junkyard district. But, sometimes a day of driving exploration includes spots like this.

To reach the first proposed stadium site, start out on Interstate 5, exiting at Civic Center Drive. Follow the sign to Civic Center Drive, then go west, toward San Diego Bay. This is roughly the south end of the 32nd Street Naval Station and the beginning of the busy 24th Street port terminal, known officially as the National City Marine Terminal.

And what do you see at the terminal? Cars. Lots of cars. It’s the home of Pasha Services, imports more than 300,000 cars and trucks every year by ship to National City. I saw lots of Audis and Volkswagens, along with Isuzu and Hino trucks. I’ve also seen Hondas at this location. They’re unloaded here, checked and stored, before being put on trucks and trains for delivery to dealers all over the country.

It’s interesting the care these vehicles get on their trip. Most of the cars have plastic covering parts of their fresh exteriors; Audis came nearly completely wrapped in what looked like an Audi-logoed bag. The car-parking area has expanded since I last visited in 2002.
Lumber also arrives in this area and during the week it seemed very busy.

At the end of Tidelands Drive is Pepper Park, which has a small picnic area, boat launching facilities and a fishing pier overlooking Dixieline Lumber’s dock where, during my visit, a ship was being unloaded. Looking south across the mouth of the Sweetwater River is another view, the Gunpowder Point nature preserve and visitor center.

Somewhere around here is where National City wants the Chargers to play. The port has a committee looking at whether the cars and lumber can be relocated. In the meantime, the place is still abuzz.

Leave the park on the east side, driving toward the freeway ramps where Interstate 5 meets state Route 54. Then, curve around to the National City Historic Railcar Plaza, where the restored National City and Otay Railroad passenger coach No. 1 sits enclosed in a cute building. Across the street is the San Diego Electric Railway Museum, which is in the old National City railroad depot.

We’ve got miles to drive, so don’t linger long. Jump back on I-5 south, going two exits down to E Street, and pick up the frontage road, here called Bay Boulevard. You’ll pass the entry to the Chula Vista Nature Center, Anthony’s and El Torito restaurants, before turning back toward the water.

Wind around the Goodrich plant (onetime Rohr Industries) and you’ll be at Chula Vista’s wonderful marina and waterfront parks. If you’ve got time, take a picnic lunch out to the Bayside Park, Marina View Park or J Street Park. Even on weekdays, the place is busy with joggers, dog-walkers and Goodrich employees getting some sunshine at lunch.

From here, I wound back along the freeway, passing the South Bay Salt Works. That’s not snow, it’s salt, dried in San Diego Bay. There’s been a salt operation here for more than a century.

This area is mostly industrial and not the most picturesque. But in urban San Diego, you have to take the beautiful with the spots we need to make a living, and many do along Frontage Road.

After a loop over the freeway, turn onto Hollister Street, which is a throwback to the old South Bay. A small rural enclave near the mouth of the Otay River, there are nurseries, a golf driving range and even a go-cart track. I’ll have to go back to check out the go-carts. Shops near the Palm Avenue trolley station look like they’re right out a small town in Baja.

After a bit more looping to cross the freeway, pick up Hollister Street again to a real rural area, the various parks and agricultural properties that make up the Tijuana River estuary. Watch for horses along here… they have the right-of-way.

This is the best open driving on today’s route. Follow Hollister to Monument Road, then reenter the urban South Bay at Camino de la Plaza. Avoid the urge to wear out the charge card at the Shops at Las Americas outlet mall.

Be sure to mind the directional signs in this area or you’ll end up in Tijuana; that’s the busy area on the other side of those big fences. San Ysidro traffic can also be a bit crazy.
After joining the very busy state Route 905, go few traffic lights east to Heritage Road. If you’re an old car nut and new to San Diego, you might wonder where all the junkyards are located. Well, here they are. Real car nuts love poking through junkyards and there are a bunch of them at this location.

Pick your part or keep driving to another leftover rural twist, where Heritage snakes down the other side of the mesa to Otay Valley Road. Homes are all around, as are the Coors Amphitheatre and Knott’s Soak City water park. A bit up the road is the Chula Vista Auto Park, so if you’re tired of your ride, stop by and trade it in.

Head north over Brandywine Avenue to Olympic Parkway and our next Chargers site. Olympic Parkway is only a couple of years old, running east from I-805 and extending Chula Vista’s Orange Avenue all the way to the Lower Otay Reservoir.

This the Otay Ranch development; if my dad was taking this trip, we’d stop in to a few model homes after driving very slowly through a couple of neighborhoods.

Along the way was another sports facility I was curious about. Bleachers for the Otay Ranch Off-Road Raceway can be seen from Olympic Parkway just before Otay Ranch High School. The track was only supposed to last a year, but has survived for two.

Olympic Parkway also passes under the south end of SR-125, the toll road being built privately as the South Bay Expressway. It’s due to open next year and, if you’re so inclined, can buy a commemorative t-shirt on the company’s web site.

Finally, I reached the Arco Olympic Training Center. Only a few years back, reaching the center “way out there” required driving on a couple of twisting roads once you left Eastlake. Now, it’s almost like going into a shopping mall — just watch for the sign. The view is still spectacular and to the southwest is some open land that might be the future home of the Bolts. If not, it will be rooftops, like the other two sides of the training center. To the east is the Lower Otay Reservoir.

In case you haven’t visited, the center is the first U.S. Olympic training facility that was planned from the ground-up for American Olympic athletes. Nine Olympic sports train on the 150 acres: archery, canoe/kayak, cycling, field hockey, rowing, soccer, softball, tennis, and track and field. There’s a visitor center, gift shop and self-guided tour.

From the Olympic Training Center, I headed back west on Otay Lakes Road, picking up Telegraph Canyon Road to reach I-805.

This has been a drive full of contrasts… beautiful bay views and hilltop vistas. We’ve had twisting rural roads and horses. There’s also been more traffic than is pleasant on a weekend drive and junkyards. But that’s the South Bay and the locals love it. ⚙

Chula Vista Marina
Chula Vista Marina.

Route and Info

  • From September 2006

Distance

  • About 40 miles

Difficulty

  • Easy.

Directions

  • Interstate 5 to Civic Center Drive in National City. Go west (toward bay).
  • Left at Tidelands Avenue. Continue into Pepper Park.
  • Exit Pepper Park on east side, to Marina Way. Right on Marina Way.
  • Right at Bay Marina Drive
  • Right onton I-5 south.
  • Exit I-5 at E Street, Chula Vista. Continue onto Bay Boulevard.
  • Right at F Street/Lagoon Drive. Continue onto Marina Parkway.
  • Right at G Street.
  • Left at Sandpiper.
  • Right at Marina Parkway.
  • Right at Bay Boulevard. Continue onto Anita Street.
  • Right at Frontage Road. Continue onto Main Street.
  • Right at Hollister Street. Continue onto Outer Road.
  • Right at Coronado Avenue.
  • Left at Hollister Street.
  • Left at Monument Road. Continue onto Dairy Mart Road.
  • Right at Camino de la Plaza. Continue onto East Beyer Boulevard. Continue onto Otay Mesa Road.
  • Right at state Route 905 to continue on Otay Mesa Road.
  • Left at Heritage Road.
  • Right at Otay Valley Road. Continue onto Main Street.
  • Right at Brandywine Avenue.
  • Right at Olympic Parkway.
  • Right at second Wueste Road (first right turn to Wueste Road goes to the Lower Otay Reservoir dam).
  • Left at Otay Lakes Road. Continue onto Telegraph Canyon Road and I-805.

Web sites

  • San Diego Unified Port District: http://www.portofsandiego.org/sandiego_maritime/ms_factsheetinfo.asp
  • The Shops at Las Americas: http://www.lasamericas.com/
  • Pasha Group, car importers: http://www.pashagroup.com/
  • ARCO Olympic Training Center: http://www.usoc.org/12181_19097.htm
  • South Bay Expressway: www.southbayexpressway.com
Salt plant
It’s a salt plant, not a snow pile.
Olympic Training Center
Olympic Training Center is worth a visit.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply