Beaches: Popular Ones

Beachgoers make a sand sculpture of former president Richard Nixon as a lizard
  • Beachgoers make a sand sculpture of former president Richard Nixon as a lizard
  • Image by Bob Eckert

San Diego's middle beaches Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach are undoubtedly San Diego's most popular. They're the most visited by tourists in the summer, they're the most densely inhabited year 'round, and they have developed more than other local beaches beach cultures that tie unmistakable.

It's not really accurate to call the area of Point Loma near Cabrillo National Monument and the area along Sunset Cliffs beaches, since they're really not. But about a half mile of rocky cliffs can be reached by turning right off Catalina Boulevard about 20 yards before the Monument, and fishing and surfing are allowed off the rocks there the entire year. And Sunset Cliffs, even on a cloudy day, is besieged by surfers at an area just north of Point Loma College (the old Cal Western campus). This area used to be one of San Diego's two “no clothes" beaches.

“Yeah, this place used to be really good before all the queers came. Before they built this stairway." Holding his board with one arm, a "local" sits on the hood of his car before descending the concrete stairway himself. "Yeah, the waves are really bitchen here ‘cause of the reef. Sometimes if it catches just right, they'll be ten or twelve feet. It's dangerous, too. There's a cave underneath the water that causes the waves to top over... But now, geez, with the nude beach. There’s all these queers and there's all these swabs. The swabs get loaded, come down here and try to rape the girls."

The patch of sand 20 yards south of the stairway's bottom is wet, rocky, and very, very small. There aren't many people at all, perhaps because it no longer really is a “no clothes" beach. Unbeknownst at least to the local on his car hood, the City Council's ordinance which was passed last year limits beach nudism to Black's Beach in La Jolla.

"Course the dudes who come out here from National City and El Cajon they usually stay at the area around the stairs. We usually paddle further south, so they don't bother us."

All along Sunset Cliffs, from Ladera Street (where the stairway is) to Ocean Beach, there are little ledges where people perch to take in the ocean view. All along are signs warning of cave-ins. The four sailors they found killed by a cave- in last year give these signs even more meaning.

There's hardly a doubt in anyone's mind where he is when he enters Ocean Beach. All around him are signs, “O.B. Is All Right," '“Developers Out of O.B.,'' “Revolt!" Perhaps one reason for the heavy class antagonism in this beach community is the fact that virtually one half of the town's beachfront has no open access. From Point Loma Boulevard almost all the way up to the Ocean Beach Pier, ocean-front houses, apartments, and condominium complexes monopolize the small slivers of sandy areas. There are a few points of access a stairway here, an easily traversable fence there. But for any resident, he must hie himself up to the area north of the pier if he wants to walk along the ocean.

The community flavor of Ocean Beach comes out in the most unexpected ways. One night when Billy Jack was playing at the Strand on Newport Avenue, there was the scene where Billy asks the idealistic school teacher, “If we can't be safe and have peace here, where can we have it?" Before she had a chance to reply, someone in the audience yelled out, “O.B.!" and the rest of the audience cheered for at least a full minute.

During the summer this spirit of O.B. is somewhat diluted by all the heavy crowds at the beach. Probably because there is so much parking available (there are four parking lots right next to the sand) and the beach does have the conveniences of nearby eateries, rest rooms, and changing areas, this is the most visited of all local beaches. And the summer crowd is fairly diverse lots of young people, lots of poor people, lots of sailors in “hippie" attire, some bikers, lots of people with long hair, some families with lots of children.

The O.B. lifeguards think their job is the hardest among San Diego lifeguards because “there is a lot of resistance to authority here." So they see themselves as human relations counselors, explaining to their crowds why they're being asked to do a certain thing.

“Also the rip currents make this the most dangerous San Diego city beach. We make a lot of rescues. And it's a real job keeping the masses of people — the surfers and swimmers — apart.”

Just across the Flood Control Channel and Mission Bay Channel begins a beach of a different flavor altogether. Mission Beach. And. as the patriots who live south of Belmont Park will constantly remind you, should you be new to the area, it's South Mission Beach. The South Mission crowd is essentially the young singles or barely married young professionals who don't wince at paying $250 for a one bedroom apartment year 'round. With few exceptions, the svelte, tan bodies you see draped around South Mission's courts and alleys and sidewalks are those of PSA stewardesses, young attorneys, teachers, successful salesmen, and minor bureaucrats. These people would not — save some grievous economic misfortune — be caught dead in O.B. or North Mission (north of Belmont Park). Though there doesn't seem to be the exact equivalent of an “O.B. Is All Right” windshield sticker here, there are the O.M.B.A.C. (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club), Beachcomber and Pennant t-shirts. And there is the infamous Over- the-line tournament.

South Mission's ocean beach is clean and it is expansive, and with the beautifying now being done on the bay-side of this finger of land, lots of bicycle enthusiasts will be riding both sides of South Mission, liven on a summer week-end, though the parking might be difficult, there is plenty of room in the sand to spread out. The sidewalks, however, are full of bicycle and pedestrian traffic and one has to watch his step.

The Belmont Park area is consistently the most crowded why more people don't walk south for a few minutes to enjoy the relative calm of South Mission's ocean front has always baffled me. North of Belmont Park, the beach narrows down, and because high tide keeps the sand moist and strewn with kelp, it's hard to lie down without the sandflies joining you.

One thing you notice about bicycling along the ocean sidewalk in North Mission is the predictable smell of dope smoke. It's almost as constant as the guy standing at the foot of Newport in O.B. who's always trying to sell you a lid. A lady realtor recently told me that “all the hippies" were leaving North Mission. Maybe that does mean the South Mission-ites who are displaced will move north and replace the conspicuous dope with even more conspicuous Heinekkens.

There’s not much to distinguish Pacific Beach from Mission Beach except for the increase in beachfront hotels and motels, the larger beach area, and the gradual altitudinal difference between the beach and the ocean-front walk. By the time one reaches the Crystal Pier at the foot of Garnet, there’s a good 20 feet between the sidewalk and the sand.

The beach culture here seems to be a mix of North and South Mission the affluent swinger types and the Arizona tourists inhabit the ocean front hotels and condominiums, the longer-haired students and blue-collar residents swarm in from their cheaper houses and apartments inland. Enough of a swarm that this year the San Diego Police wouldn't issue a liquor license to Jonathan's, the nightclub-to-be that took over the old Rozan's at the fool of Grand Avenue. The police called it a “problem area".

The author's evaluation of the mentioned beaches

The author's evaluation of the mentioned beaches

Read part one | part three

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