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An Insider's Travel and Visitor Guide to Ocean Beach, San Diego

  • Things to do
  • Places to go
  • Outragrous real estate
  • Over 40 original stories about the life, people, and history of Ocean Beach

Start at the Atlantic Ocean. Drive the southern interstate west to California. For a while you’ll ride on old Route 66, through the cities and towns sung in the famous song – “Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona.” But forget “Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.” Instead take Interstate 8 all the way to the Pacific shore. The end of the line: Ocean Beach. If you’re new to California, OB might not fit what you expected: high-rise condos and corporate chain-stores. In fact, the defiant beachfront community has fought to keep things the way they were when the Stones sang “Route 66.”

Signs of OB defiance:
1.) Surfers shoot the pier, boards slaloming past the concrete pylons, even though it’s illegal.
2.) A hatred of things corporate. Mention Starbucks or McDonalds to a local, if you dare. Or how peachy-keen it’d be to have a Walmart on Newport Avenue. Go ahead, ruin your day.
3.) In 1972, the Ocean Beach Town Council allocated a gorgeous expanse of flat, sandy beach, adjacent to the deep blue Mission Bay Channel, just for dogs. To run free. No leashes. And few rules: no aggressive dogs; no dogs in heat.

Ocean Beach wasn’t always an ongoing experiment in social anarchy. Before there were OBceans – pronounced oh-BEE-shuns – and rowdy bars, and the blare of motorcycles competing with jumbo jets overhead, Ocean Beach was so isolated the early developers had to hype enticements.

So they shot for the skies. Rumor had it that the Fountain of Youth gurgled a life-extending elixir somewhere on the north facing slope of Point Loma (making OB one of four claimants to the Waters of Life in San Diego, along with Encinitas, just east of Fallbrook, and across from Sweetwater Dam). For decades after stores and restaurants used the name.

Sip from OB’s Fountain, the legend promised, and stay 30 forever – much like the aura of youth that pervades the streets out to the longest pier on the West Coast. And the absence of pretension. OB has many differences. Residents range from the military to college students to a notorious street gang that terrorizes the homeless to, as one store is named, “humble hippies.” But all seem to share a common age: an ongoing 30.

Newport Avenue has a rare, even defiant distinction. A large majority of the shops, bars, restaurants, and tattoo parlors on the palm tree-lined main street are small businesses. As if to accentuate this rugged independence, parking is diagonal and free.

Time caught up with at least one institution, in some ways the signature of OB writ large. On Saturdays at midnight, the Strand Theatre screened The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Up to an hour before, people dressed as Frank N. Furter, Riff Raff, Brad Majors, Janet Weiss formed a line down the street, many rehearsing the roles they would play with the show. More than one local professor made a field trip to the Strand a requirement for the class.

A stroll down Newport’s a circus of smells. Along with fogs of cigarette smoke, the open-air bistros exude sizzling burgers, carne asada, and thick pizzas. Pyramid Patchouli may waft from a dress shop – like Wings, formerly the Strand Theatre — and you half expect Janis Joplin to emerge in blue-tinted granny glasses, a tie-dyed shift, and clutching a half-empty pint of Jack Daniels in a paper bag.

No. OBceans would see the bottle as half-full.


Read about the most important annual events, landmarks, and institutions that make Ocean Beach what it is. Plus nearly 40 original nonfiction stories from the San Diego Reader archives.

Ideal for visitors and locals alike!


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