An Insider's Travel and Visitor Guide to San Diego's Pacific Beach Neighborhood
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- Original stories about the life, people and neighborhood of San Diego's Pacific Beach
P.B. – where not everyone is sober; where two Vons supermarkets once stood a block apart (as do two CVS stores today); and where the most burning question remains: how do you pronounce that street with the goofy name? Is it “Chalsee-doany”? “Chal-sidney?” Or “Kal-sed-enon,” after the ancient Greek city in Asia Minor? The chosen pronunciation reveals one’s degree of P.B. snobbery. But even the higher falutin’ residents can’t decide between “Chal-“ or “Kal-sidney.”
Pacific Beach has always been contrasted to La Jolla the way San Diego has to Los Angeles: the runt of a two-pup litter. But P.B. has far better weather – maybe some of the best in the world east of Ingram Street – and much more.
Most streets received their official names around 1900. Those running north/south, in alphabetical order, were federal officials: Bayard, Cass, Dawes, etc. (Allison Street became Mission Boulevard). Most east-west streets are precious stones: Tourmaline, Sapphire, Chalcedony (a smoky blue-gray gem).
Names of the surfing spots are more obscure: Tourmaline (Tourmo) and P.B. Point make sense. But after them come Hairmo, and Hanimins. Hairmo could be “hairy”; before surfers used leashes, their boards could bust up on the rocks. Hamimins, who knows? Or even the correct spelling.
Long before roads gridded the seaside lowlands, Cumeyaay natives hunted, gathered, and fished in this area. Though nomadic, they had a semi-permanent village at the southeastern foot of Mount Soledad, next to Rose Canyon Creek, out of the wind and away from the fog.
Nor far from that site, across from today’s In-N-Out Burger, the Pacific Drive-In drew San Diegans from far and wide — and generated many a bygone memory of heart-pounding teens attempting to make, as Bob Seeger sang, “front page drive-in news.”
Also nearby, the late and still lamented Shelden’s Café was a magnet for one of the best breakfasts and best service in San Diego. It was also the last known place where Elizabeth Short was seen in San Diego. From there she hitched a ride to Los Angeles, was brutally murdered, and became the Black Dahlia.
Along with boasting the “finest beach in the world,” as real estate ads claimed, one of P.B.’s earliest lures was the American Driving Park. Built in 1888 at the head of False Bay, the racetrack was where Wyatt Earp, among others, ran his thoroughbreds (and may have rigged a Maiden Claimer, or twain).
That same year, the poet Rose Hardwick Thorpe wrote a paean to Mission Bay – not False Bay – and the name stuck.
Thorpe came to Pacific Beach to teach at the “undenominational, but thoroughly Christian” San Diego College of Letters (near today’s Pacific Plaza). The faculty boasted the likes of Harry “Harr” Wagner, editor of the Golden Era, and world famous astronomer Richard Anthony Proctor. Along with an all-star cast of scholars, original promotions touted the site as a kind of treeless Sherwood Forest. The school would be “near San Diego, the future metropolis of Southern California, and yet not in the city where the students would be exposed to many temptations.”
(One shudders to imagine what the writer would think of today’s kill zone around Mission Boulevard at last call).
Neither the racetrack nor the school saw the 20th Century. A railroad, and later the automobile, turned P.B. from rows of orange and lemon orchards into a more accessible destination.
The iconic Crystal Pier, which opened in 1927, made P.B. a popular place to visit; and World War II, which quadrupled the population, made P.B. a place to call home.
No matter who seeks the honor, The Number One Citizen of Pacific Beach will always be Kate Olivia Sessions (the title bestowed by the Brown Military Academy in 1937). From 1914 to the day she died in 1940, the renowned horticulturalist had a home and nursery on Los Altos Road. She also became The Mother of Balboa Park, which she cultivated into an oasis before the site was developed.
A bronze statue commemorates her work at Balboa Park. As does a plaque, at where her nursery stood at Garnet and Pico, under the expansive, dark green Tipuana tipu tree she planted.
A third commemoration, seen from our era of rampant development, boggles the mind. About halfway up Mount Soledad, commanding an extraordinary view of San Diego, Kate O. Sessions Park stands as an inspiration: someone had the foresight to save 139 acres of the most prime property in the county, in her name, for posterity.
Read about the most important annual events, landmarks, and institutions that make Pacific Beach what it is. Plus over 20 original nonfiction stories about Pacific Beach from the last 40 years.
Ideal for visitors and locals alike!
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