What’s Behind the Gates at the Port of San Diego?


Think Mega Yachts, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, and Bananas.

Have you ever driven south on Harbor Drive past Petco Park and wondered what was behind the gates? Or, do you remember the hubbub surrounding the proposition on last November’s ballot about building an entertainment deck that could possibly house the San Diego Chargers stadium above ship docks along San Diego Bay and wonder what goes on at the 10th Avenue Terminal?

Well, now’s your chance to find out. Go behind the scenes at one of the most unique ports on the West Coast by taking a free tour with the Port of San Diego.

I took their free bus tour yesterday and will be taking their free harbor cruise next Thursday. I’ll share my experiences here, in case you can’t make one of their tours being offered through June. (A few weekend harbor tours are available. Everything else takes place on weekdays.)

Most of San Diego Bay’s northern shores are used for tourism and personal watercraft while the southern shores are protected as part of a National Wildlife Refuge. A small sliver of the eastern shore, just south of Petco Park, serves as San Diego’s working waterfront.

Before I get to the exciting stuff, take a moment to think of all the materials it takes to build the home you live in or the building where you work.  Then ask yourself, where did it all come from? As you start thinking of just the basics like lumber and cement, do you wonder, ‘gee, how did it get here’?

It could come by train but as you probably realize, there are very few train tracks around San Diego. It could come by tractor trailer, but you don’t see too many of those either unless you are out on the highway during the wee hours of the morning. The only other option for these heavy materials to make their way to San Diego is by ship. So, when the Port of San Diego says, ‘hey, protect our small working waterfront that offers a deep water port from attempts to rezone it for commercial and tourism purposes’, we might want to keep in mind how it serves as a vital link for our major metropolitan city. Even a big tourism proponent like myself who wants everyone in the world to visit our convention center, hotels, and walkways around San Diego Bay can appreciate that.

Now to the cool stuff. Unlike the other major ports along the West Coast that focus on processing standard shipping containers, the operations in the Port of San Diego focus on unique items that usually do not fit neatly inside metal boxes. For example, windmill blades. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed the other day that I retweeted: RT @portofsandiego: Innovative Wind Blade Project Creating Green Jobs in San Diego http://bit.ly/OCfqK. Having a port that with the specialized skills to handle wind turbines, which can range from 100 – 200 feet long is one more element that helps San Diego be a leader in Clean Technology. There were no blades in port during my visit but we did get to see the hubs for the wind turbines.

San Diego does import one major product that come in containers…bananas.  50,000 containers from Ecuador to be more precise. Dole sends their refrigerated containers to San Diego because we are able to give the specialized containers and their precious cargo a little more tender loving care. I’m sure if the bananas came through LA they’d all have bruises. :-)


port-of-san-diego-carsHowever, the most noticeable cargo handled at the Port of San Diego are the cars – lots and lots of cars.  (Pun intended.) I saw Bentleys, Porsches, a number of Lotuses, and lots full of VW and Audi vehicles.  (How would you like to be a longshoreman who gets to drive these exquisite cars off the boats?)

Just about every car imaginable, including Lamborghini, Acura, Honda, and Toyota makes its way through San Diego. One in eight cars headed to the U.S. enters through the port.

Even American cars are processed by Pasha Automotive, which manages the operation. (If you’ve rented a car while vacationing in Hawaii, chances are it was shipped from San Diego. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any convertible Mustangs on my visit yesterday.)

The other thing I found of particular interest is the boat yard where Mega Yachts, the really, really big boats, can be serviced. Billionaires like Larry Ellison and Paul Allen send their yachts here for work and maintenance since its one of very few ports that are capable of handling such large boats. Although there’s not a whole lot to see at this shipyard, having them serviced in San Diego does increase the odds that we’ll get to see them up close at the Mega Yacht mooring area on the tourist part of San Diego Bay.

The port tour by bus was scheduled to take two hours but we completed it in about an hour and a half. I highly recommend this unique opportunity to go behind the gates along the Port of San Diego. Our coach bus took us through the National City Terminal, the BAE Systems Boatyard and the 10th Avenue Terminal. (The 10th Avenue terminal part of the tour will likely not be included the next time tours are offered because of Navy activity so be sure to sign up before this current opportunity passes.)

Jim from the Port of San Diego is a great tour guide. We also heard from representatives at Pasha Automotive and BAE Systems, who boarded the bus to tell us more about their activities.

Stay tuned for my write-up next week when I take a tour of the working waterfront by boat!

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