Neighborhoods of San Diego: Ocean Beach

By: Andrew Lockard – Motions Senior Executive Editor

Students of USD Law are possessed of an odd trait: they reside in Mission Valley (an area once deemed “blighted” by the Chargers organization – an assessment I don’t entirely disagree with) and commute to Pacific Beach or Downtown for their revelries.  If you count yourself amongst that group, you’re missing the point.  What makes San Diego San Diego can’t be found in Pacific Beach or Downtown.  And it certainly can’t be found in Mission Valley.  Although, you could make the argument that the mission in Mission Valley is, ya know, the birthplace of San Diego.  But hey – the San Diego Mission de Alcala hasn’t really been the center of San Diego culture for hundreds of years, and Amerindians haven’t been enslaved there since the early 20th century (no, that is not a typo – a California law allowing Native American children to be kidnapped from their families and kept by Anglo families as domestics lasted well after the passage of the 13th amendment).  Anyway, San Diego is an eclectic place, composed of the weird, whacky, and wonderful (and alliterative).  So without further ado, Motions bring you a travelling gonzo roadshow of history, exaggeration, and sterling platitudes of some of the Finest City’s finest barrios in a regular feature to be henceforth known as America’s Finest’s Finest Places.


Pt. 1: The People’s Republic of Ocean Beach


Ocean Beach is a hard place to describe – not for lack of substance, but for overabundance.  It’s a culturally confusing place that doesn’t fit the succinct vision of America’s Finest Resort.  Tourists tend not to visit, unless they’re looking for gas on their way to Sea World.  OB is home to Hell’s Angels, Haight-Ashbury, anti-development, and a flock of squawking wild parrots, set (ironically) against the background of a dilapidated amusement park.



Settlement of OB began in the late 19th/early 20th century by a land-swindling booster named “Smiling” Billy Carlson, and the layout of the area has remained mostly unchanged.  Development boomed in the early 20th century when Wonderland – a pre-WWI amusement park that lined the beach area – was built.  Apparently the West-Coast Jersey Shore model didn’t stick, and was later abandoned.  So it goes.  Local’s Note: I’ve heard that the animals kept at Wonderland were shipped to Balboa Park after the closure of the amusement park – these animals became the original captives of the zoo.  The physical remnants of Wonderland can still be seen in many places throughout OB – “where the sea meets the debris.”  Because of the area’s geographic isolation prior to the construction of the 8 freeway in 1967, the remoteness of the area has served as San Diego’s home to motorcycle gangs, 60’s and 70’s counter-culture, community activism/grassroots movements, environmentalism, and surf culture (surfing in the area might go back as far as 1907).  The burned-out vestiges of these various movements still find refuge in OB today.  A big, mega-development of the beachfront into hotels and resorts (think Miami beach) was thwarted by local planning boards in the 1970’s, preserving many of the bungalow and cottage style single-family residences that give the area part of its many charms.  Local’s Note: I’m told that The Black, OB’s notorious purveyor of smoking and smoking accessories, is the oldest continuously operated head shop in California.


Local Curios


The Dog Beach

If you’re concerned about your dog’s social development, which should be the foremost concern of any student of the law, stop by the dog beach to have your sled-pulling, beast-of-burden mingle with its own ilk.  Dog Beach is a section of the beach segregated for canine companions to partake in all the splendors of the beach.  Even if you want your gang-bred pit to get some salton-air and exercise, don’t sweat it – no leash requirements ensure that, in the great democratic tradition, all dogs may enjoy dog beach, regardless of size and disposition.  Local’s note: Dog Beach is adjacent to Cat Island, a semi-peninsulaic (tide depending) island located at the mouth of the San Diego River occupied by domestically-forsaken felines and various sea birds.  I have yet to hear of a dog traversing the river between the beach to ingurgitate the residents of Cat Island.



Newport Avenue is the commercial heart of OB.  You will find here your dram shops, head shops, food shops, and potion shops (no joke – this one store sells these non-FDA approved “herbal treatments” – or what might be called potions in a more fantastical vernacular).  You won’t find many commercial chains here.  The locals resist, and the biggest intrusion yet, the Starbucks on Newport and Bacon, was opened after much chagrin on September 11, 2001.  This irony of this date was not lost on the locals.  Newport is also home to a youth hostel, if you like people from other countries.  Local’s note: If you’re looking for libations, Michelle in Cheswick’s has the strongest pour; don’t mind the bikers and the committed drinkers.  If you’re looking for vittles, South Beach has tacos for cheap after 10ish every night, the best pizza is at Newport Pizza.


The Pier

California law allows for fishing off of any pier without a permit.  Take advantage, pescanarians.


Sunset Cliffs

Sunset Cliffs contain a great deal of debris that has fall seaward, which makes for an interesting aesthetic of manmade clashing with nature.  It’s a pretty place though – there’s trails and dunes and plants and whatnot.  There’s some surf spots that are rope-spelunking accessible only, as well as cliff diving spots.  It’s a fun drive, too, if you drive down Sunset Cliffs Blvd., that will take you in to the Point Loma area.  The cliffs themselves sorta wrap all the way around the peninsula on-and-off, going over towards Cabrillo National Monument, which you should also see at some juncture.  Local’s Note: don’t cliff dive unless you know what you’re doing – people get real hurt that way.  Only certain spots are dive-able, others are just hemorrhage-able.

People’s Market

The OB People’s Market is a fascinating study in the application of Marxist doctrine.  Originally started as a worker’s organic yada yada food collective in the late 1960’s, it eventually opened up to the community, and has been functioning as a food co-op for 40 some odd years.  Strong appeal for vegans, their dairy consuming brethren, or people who like cruelty-free tomatoes.  Local’s note: I’m pretty sure you can buy stuff there the for free the first time, but if they remember you and get suspicious, they’ll try to charge you a $15 annual co-operative fee, comrade.


Home of some of San Diego’s finest burgers and longest lines.  Local’s note: part of the whole Hodad’s-thing is the ambiance, once you get over that, order your food to go – you can surpass the line and get your food in about 15 minutes.  They get ornery though if you try to dine-in with your to-go food.


There’s a lot more to be said about OB, but this is best kept brief.  Explore for yourselves.

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Neighborhoods of San Diego: Ocean Beach, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating