"This place is a secret really," James says while sipping a Bud Light. It's Sunday night, and I planned on being at home catching up on Mad Men. Instead, I'm shooting the shit, drinking beers, and was just served dinner by his wife Janie all after simply walking past on my way home, and saying hey.
This is Ocean Beach, a definitive beach town. Yes, many homeless flock here, violence happens, and it's gritty in some areas. But like an oyster, there's a pearl once you crack open the shell.
When I first visited San Diego, I never expected to move here. It had been years since I went on a legitimate vacation, and figured what the hell. I'd heard good things, and the weather was fantastic.
My flight landed late, so I wouldn't get to my Airbnb in OB until after 11. Keys were left, so no worries. Before dozing off, I open the bedroom window to get that nice ocean breeze. It had just rained, and being from the Midwest, the humid air was all too familiar.
Just before 6AM, I'm awoken by two chatty Kathys jogging past. People love their exercise here. Did I mention the airplanes flying directly overhead? Yeah, it takes some getting used to, as do the parrots once Spring rolls around. If it's your first time hearing them squawk, don't worry; no one is dying.
With excitement brewing wanting to explore the city, I drag myself out of bed, and into the living room where I'm greeted by my host, Rebecca.
Rebecca embodies the essence of San Diego, and the soul of Ocean Beach.
Friendly, open minded, fun, and in the moment. They talk about Southern hospitality, but you might also squeeze "California" into the middle. Every town has its main street, and in OB, that's none other than Newport Avenue.
Beginning on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. heading towards the beach, you've got several blocks of shopping, eating, and drinking. Strolling down either side, you're reminded of just how important Mexican food is in San Diego.
However, you needn't feel trapped by the taco.
OB Warehouse, The Joint, Old Townhouse Restaurant, Hodad's, BBQ House, OB Kabob, Sapporo, Lighthouse Ice Cream, and Newport Pizza all come highly rated. And if you venture just a street over to Niagara, which connects to the longest concrete pier on the West Coast, there's OB Donuts, Bar 1502 (another location of OB Noodle House), and Raglan Public House.
As a red-blooded American, I feel it's my duty to keep burger lovers informed. OBecians have a special place in their heart for Hodad's, and there's a damn good reason you'll normally see a line outside the door. Depending on the time of day though, you probably want to head over to Raglan instead, which in my opinion has the superior burger.
Dear neighbors: Please don't hate me.
For that jolt of caffeine, skip the Starbucks, and walk around the corner to Lazy Hummingbird on Santa Monica. Eccentric in the best way possible, they have supremo black gold, as well as some kick ass natural smoothies.
For that jolt of geekiness, there's Galactic Comics and then Luna Video Games with all your classic console favorites.
If you're a dog, none of this matters, and all you want is to see your fellow canine companions over at the dog beach at the furthest point of town off West Point Loma Blvd.
Like us, dogs are heavily influenced by their environment, and the people they spend the most time around. In OB, that's chill and laid back. Leashes are often optional, and it's rare you see a legitimate scuffle. They say all dogs go to heaven, and I'd argue the ones around town are already there.
As for heaven for the rest of us, Sunset Cliffs is tough to beat. Just outside of town along the Western edge of Point Loma, it's easily the best spot to get your sweat on or just sit back, and chill.
You might even find some entertainment...
Posted by Mike Stenger on Thursday, April 16, 2015
When James said OB was a secret, I didn't quite understand. People from all over come here to enjoy the beach, the pier, the booze, the grub, the cliffs. But then I remembered back to one of my first experiences at the farmers market that takes place every Wednesday on Newport from 4-8.
Posted by Mike Stenger on Wednesday, February 4, 2015
The secret is in the people who are spread out well beyond main street, not always at the beach soaking up the sun. The people who help clean up the beach every Sunday. The people, like James and Janie, who are good hardworking folks.
The secret is in the South Beach Bar & Grille, the Lucy's Tavern on Voltaire. The secret is in the vibe this town emanates, one of peace the ocean helps spread beyond the shoreline.
If you're looking for or expecting trouble, no matter where you are in the world, you'll find it. If you're looking to make cool friends and share good times in this crazy thing we call life, you'll find that too. At least that's what I've found in OB.
Photo credit: Nathan Rupert