Cruising returns to National City after 30-year ban is temporarily lifted

National City’s cruising culture lay dormant for decades.

On Friday, scores of lowrider vehicles and trucks made their way down a 1.5-mile stretch of Highland Avenue, marking a triumphant return for the first time since the city enacted its 1992 anti-cruising ban.

“I’ve done car shows before, but this is different,” said Luis Sanchez, who stood by his 1971 Chevy Nova. “I’m back on Highland and it feels so good because this time the whole community is here.”

Highland Avenue was a popular site for cruising before the tradition was outlawed 30 years ago. Back then, the events often attracted crowds who weren’t part of the lowriding scene, causing fights and creating traffic jams. The city responded with the ban.

Customized lowriders cruise down Highland Avenue on Friday.

Customized lowriders cruise down Highland Avenue on Friday.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Friday’s cruise was much different. A caravan formed at Sweetwater High School, where students held mariachi performances and held a bake sale. Neighbors joined in to watch from their front lawns and balconies as an estimated 175 vehicles displayed their intricate, colorful paint jobs and wire-spoked wheels, and businesses on Highland Avenue welcomed pedestrians in with food sales.

There was even a group, known as Ground Floor Murals, who were finishing a mural of a cherry red 1963 Impala in honor of the cruise, they said. Among the spectators was Martha Hensely, who said she used to cruise in the 1980s along Highland Avenue.

“I came from Arizona,” she said. “I don’t cruise anymore but I heard the cruise was happening on the news. I had to come and relive the good memories.”

Getting cars on the road was no easy feat. A local lowrider group, the United Lowrider Coalition, which organized Friday’s cruise, has been trying to show that partnerships with law enforcement, the city and the community can result in safe and family-friendly cruises. They’re specifically looking to repeal the no-cruising ordinance, especially as police have not enforced it for years.

National City, CA - May 06: Customized lowriders cruise down Highland Avenue on Friday, May 6, 2022 in National City, CA.

Customized lowriders cruise down Highland Avenue on Friday.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The City Council agreed in December to give them a chance when they suspended the law for six months to allow cruising on Highland Avenue, from Sixth to 28th streets, on the first Friday of every month from 6-9 p.m. The deal was for the Coalition to police themselves and obey traffic laws, as no special traffic measures or police officers were designated for the event. After the trial period, the city will assess how the events went and whether to rescind the law.

Within the first hour of the cruise, traffic along Highland Avenue increased but the environment remained calm, with vehicles abiding by traffic laws. Police, who said they would be in the area should they be needed, did not appear to be actively patrolling or enforcing in the immediate area.

Coalition members were joined by members of the City Council, who joined in on the cruise.

“Driving around twice in the same distance within a four-hour period, that’s not a crime. We’re looking to change that,” Vice Mayor Marcus Bush said of the ordinance.