Ocean Beach, San Diego, California
Ocean Beach is located in¬†San Diego¬†on the¬†Southern California¬†coast. It lies on the¬†Pacific Ocean¬†at the estuary of the¬†San Diego River, at the western terminus of¬†Interstate 8. It is approximately 7¬†miles (11¬†km) from¬†Downtown San Diego. O.B. is south of¬†Mission Bay¬†andMission Beach, directly north of¬†Point Loma, and northwest of downtown. The O.B. community planning area is bounded on the north by the San Diego River, on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by Froude St, Seaside St and West Point Loma Boulevard, and on the south by Adair Street.¬†However, interpretations of neighborhood lines vary from OBcean to OBcean. (Residents of Ocean Beach often refer to themselves as¬†OBceans, pronounced “oh-BEE-shun”.)
Earlier names for O.B. include Mussel Beach, Mussel Beds, Medanos (Spanish for ‘dunes’), Palmer’s Place/Ranch, and Palmiro’s.
The main street of business is Newport Avenue which has¬†antique stores, restaurants,¬†head shops, tattoo and piercing shops, coffee houses, bars, bike and surf shops, and an international youth hostel.¬†Ocean Beach has three schools – Ocean Beach Elementary (a K-4¬†public school), Sacred Heart Academy (a K-8 Catholic school), and Warren-Walker (a K-8 private school). The community also features multiple churches, a public library, a U.S. Post Office, an independent supermarket, a vegetarian food co-op, and other amenities. Recreational facilities include the Ocean Beach Recreation Center, Dusty Rhodes Park, and the Robb Field athletic fields¬†and skate park.
Local organizations include the Ocean Beach Town Council,¬†the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association,¬†the Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation,¬†the Kiwanis Club of Ocean Beach,¬†the¬†Ocean Beach Antique District,¬†and the Ocean Beach Historical Society.
Local events include the Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cookoff in late June, a jazz festival at the foot of Newport in late September, the Ocean Beach Christmas Parade in early December, and the Ocean Beach Kite Festival on the first Saturday of March. Also, each Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m, two blocks of Newport Avenue are open to only foot traffic and bicycles for a farmers market.
The Ocean Beach Municipal Pier, built in 1966, is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast, measuring 1,971¬†feet (601¬†m).¬†The pier, which includes a restaurant and bait shop, is located at the south end of the beach and is available to the public for walking and fishing 24 hours a day. A concrete walkway spans most of the length of the one-mile (1.6¬†km) beach.
The northern end of O.B.’s waterfront is known as Dog Beach, alongside the channel that empties the San Diego River. It has been set aside specifically for leash-free pets and their owners 24 hours a day.¬†A commemorative plaque at the entrance lays claim to it being the first leash-free dog beach in the United States.
Ocean Beach and adjacent Point Loma are home to a sizable population of¬†feral¬†parrots¬†and their offspring, known locally as the “O.B. air force.” The sub-tropical climate is nearly ideal for parrots. There are numerous trees for roosting, and plenty for the intelligent, omnivorous birds to eat. The parrots, mostly Amazons, are especially active and vocal at sunrise and sunset.
Ocean Beach was given its name by developers¬†Billy Carlson¬†and Frank Higgins in 1887. They opened the real estate firm of Carlson & Higgins and proceeded to develop Ocean Beach.
The pair developed the Cliff House, a resort hotel, and subdivided the area into lots. To drum up business for their subdivision, Carlson and Higgins organized a variety of promotional activities, including mussel roasts (thus the early name of “Mussel Beach”) and band concerts. Despite their efforts, the development did not do well, because it was 2-1/2 hours by carriage from downtown San Diego. They rented a locomotive, but by that time, the boom ended and the development was put on hold. The Ocean Beach Railroad, launched in April 1888, was a casualty of the economic decline. Passengers could take a ferry from San Diego to Roseville in Point Loma to ride the train to the Cliff House. Later, Higgins’ partner committed suicide and the Cliff House burned down from a fallen chandelier in 1898. Carlson sold the Ocean Beach development to an Eastern financier, and its development would wait another 20 years for permanent rail service ‚Äď trolley cars ‚Äď to arrive, carrying riders from Ocean Beach to Old Town. A wooden bridge, built in 1914 across the¬†San Diego River¬†flood-control channel between Mission Beach and Ocean Beach, was demolished in January 1951, thereby cutting off through traffic to Ocean Beach from the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach communities.
But Carlson and Higgins were not the first to file a subdivision map in Ocean Beach. Theirs was filed with the city on May 28, 1887, according to research done by librarian Rhoda E. Kruse.¬†Earlier, on April 22 of the same year, J.M. DePuy filed “DePuy’s Subdivision” on 15 blocks in the northern portion of O.B.
The northern end of Ocean Beach was dominated in the early 20th century by the Wonderland Amusement Park, which opened on July 4, 1913 and was constructed on the sand at Voltaire and Abbott streets. It boasted a large roller coaster, dance pavilion, large menagerie, roller skating rink, merry-go-round, children’s playground and 22,000 lights outlining the buildings. Wonderland was a popular attraction until 1916, when most of it was washed away by high tides. Some of the bungalows built as tourist accommodations atop the cliffs on either side of Niagara Avenue are still in use as businesses and homes.
The small cottages, bungalows, single-family homes and two-storied apartments in the residential areas, were filled with college students from several local colleges, joined by a good number of sailors, retirees and middle-class families. With the dredging and development of Mission Bay and the dismantling of the Ocean Beach-Mission Beach bridge, O.B. became geographically isolated from the rest of San Diego and the other beach communities, until the construction of Interstate 8 in 1967. The westernmost segment of I-8 from¬†Interstate 5¬†to the terminus in Ocean Beach is officially labeled the “Ocean Beach Freeway”.¬†The Ocean Beach Pier, which opened in 1966, added to the attraction of the community’s waterfront.
Surfing¬†as a sport and recreation began to take hold in O.B., and became a prominent feature of the community by the early and mid-1960s. Major surfing contests were held at the end of Newport Avenue, a number of local surfers made it to the big-time and several well-known surf shops prospered (Duke Dana for one).
Each spring, Ocean Beach would become a favorite local beach hang-out for many of the area’s youth. As in many youth beach towns, friction arose between the youth and local police. 1968 was a particularly explosive year, as there were well-known police-youth skirmishes at the beach during Easter weekend and Memorial Day weekends that year.
Ocean Beach was once known as the Haight-Ashbury of San Diego.¬†The community became an attraction for hippies, who eventually became accepted by many local business establishments. The Black headshop opened on Newport Avenue. Soon to follow was an organic food store ‚Äď the Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market ‚Äď on Voltaire Street.
Beginning in the early ’70s, local development and land interests pressed for the development of Ocean Beach’s oceanfront, with plans for tourist-oriented resorts, hotels and a marina outlined in the Ocean Beach Precise Plan. With the passage of a 30-foot (9.1¬†m) height limit in 1972¬†and the re-writing of the Precise Plan, the development plans for the waterfront were abandoned.
In 1978 the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association (OBMA) was formed with 25 paid members. The OBMA organized Ocean Beach’s first Street Fair in 1981, an event that continues today. During the 90s the OBMA co-ordinated improvement projects for Newport Avenue including a tile project, store front improvements, and a Veteran’s Plaza at the foot of Newport Avenue. During the 1990s the OBMA trademarked the names “Ocean Beach Street Fair, Chili Cook-off and Fireworks Festival” as well as the name “Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market”, two regular community events. Every Wednesday Newport Avenue between Bacon St and Cable St is closed to vehicle traffic while The Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market is held.
While a few chain businesses moved into Ocean Beach in the 1990s and early 2000s, the economy of Ocean Beach is still dominated by small, independent businesses. Yet financial stresses played havoc on O.B.’s main street, as on many main streets across the country. Over time, economic pressures convinced several of the Newport Avenue landowners to raise rents, forcing out a number of the small, family owned businesses, commonly called “mom and pop shops.” O.B.’s main business street lost a bakery, two drug stores, a book and novelty shop, a shoe store, several mainstream men’s and women’s apparel shops, and a 30-year family owned pet store. O.B. went from having one antique store in the mid-1970s into becoming a mecca for the genre by the late 1980s. Nowadays many of Newport Avenue’s small businesses are either antique malls, where interior space is leased to small vendors, or restaurants, bars and surf shops.
There are a number of smaller hotels in the greater O.B. area; however, there are no nationally franchised hotels in the beach community. Located 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean, the Ocean Villa Inn is the largest hotel in O.B. with more than 50 rooms.¬†Since 1964, the Ocean Beach Hotel¬†located at the foot of Newport and the Pacific Ocean, has been family owned and operated. The current owners purchased the hotel in 2002 and have completed a remodel.
Very few chain businesses exist in Ocean Beach, and many residents oppose their introduction. In 2001,¬†Starbucks¬†rented property within the community. A grassroots effort attempted to block Starbucks from opening in Ocean Beach.¬†However, the Starbucks did open and remains to this day.
Shortly after that, the historic, single-screen movie house The Strand Theatre ‚Äď which opened to screen talkies in 1924 in the middle of town ‚Äď was converted into a Wings, an East Coast chain selling beach apparel, after several failed attempts to preserve it as a theater.¬†Beginning in 1977, The Strand was the only venue in San Diego showing¬†The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a ‚Äúmidnight movie‚ÄĚ where the admission was just $1.25.¬†The theater was designated a historic building by the San Diego Historical Resources Board in December 2003.
Voltaire Street, one of three business avenues in the community, has also seen development since the late 1990s. The Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Co-op demolished a building to make way for a new 30-foot (9.1¬†m) highly sustainable “green” store with solar panels atop the roof.
Notable Ocean Beach people
Ocean Beach’s current and former notable residents, politicians and merchants include:
- William H. Carlson¬†(1864-1937),¬†American politician¬†who gave Ocean Beach its name.
- Michael Dormer¬†(1935-),¬†artist¬†and¬†cartoonist.
- Christine Kehoe, California¬†state senator
- Norbert Basil MacLean III¬†(1971-),¬†American-Australian¬†and¬†U.S. Navy¬†veteran who championed equal access to the¬†Supreme Court¬†for members of the¬†U.S. Armed Forces.
- Cordelia Mendoza, Ocean Beach merchant,¬†antiques¬†expert
- Andy Rathbone,¬†author¬†of¬†…for Dummies¬†books.
- John Reis¬†(1969-),¬†musician¬†and disc jockey.
- David Wells¬†(1963-),¬†Major League Baseball¬†pitcher.
- Michael Zucchet¬†(1969-), politician, former San Diego City Councilman.
- Richard Aguirre, politician, ran for Governor in 2010.