San Diego is a large and diverse city. From the glittering nightlife of the Gaslamp District and the rustic ambiance of Little Italy, to the hip, San Francisco feel of Hillcrest and the college beach party atmosphere of Pacific Beach, San Diego has dozens of unique sectors that make it an extraordinary melting-pot metropolis. However, one district in particular best embodies the archetypal, carefree West Coast vibe that has drawn visitors to Southern California for decades: the cozy coastal neighborhood called Ocean Beach, known to locals as OB. This beach community has a close-knit, village feel with a one-of-a-kind culture reminiscent of the Southern California of the Beach Boys, which will make you forget you’re on the edge of a sprawling, lively, modern city. In fact, OB may be the last authentic outpost of the classic California culture that became world-famous in the 1960s. Home to eccentric, loyal locals, beautiful scenery, and a unique culture that is all its own, Ocean Beach is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the classic, unadulterated California vibe that is hard to come by anywhere else in this day and age.
Newport Avenue: The Champs-Elysees of Ocean Beach
Though relatively compact, OB is an indisputably beautiful area. Book-ended by the majestic, jagged Sunset Cliffs on either side, it is home to a beautiful sand beach with excellent surfing, stunningly gorgeous sunsets, perfectly uniform palm trees and a picturesque wooden pier. The main artery of OB on the land is Newport Avenue. The must-see shops and restaurants are located on Newport, and it’s also a prime spot for people-watching and soaking up the ‘OBecian’ way of life. First, you’ll notice the iconic, perfectly-spaced palm trees that line either side of the avenue. From the far end of Newport, these trees will appear to be narrowing, pointing you to where the street ends: at the beach. But don’t get too caught up in the scenery, or you’ll miss the faces along Newport that best showcase the culture of OB.
A stroll down Newport will provide a perfect glimpse of OB culture
A visitor wandering along Newport on any given afternoon will easily get a feel for the type of people that can be classified as ‘OBecians.’ Barefoot surfers with sandy wet hair carry their boards back from the beach. Groups of free-spirits with dogs and dreadlocks sit on the sidewalks and play Bob Marley tributes. Silver-haired, retired surfers sip cold beer at their favorite dive bars, where they’ve been regulars for decades. Locals young and old sail by on skateboards. Creative street art graces nearly every surface, and every shop and corner smells faintly of incense. Whether you’re meandering down the main street or exploring the hidden gems in the surrounding streets, one fact will become obvious: OB is the epitome of the laid-back beach vibe.
Sample the local culture by sampling the food
OB is a place that is seemingly impervious to time, and impervious even to dilution by tourists or commercialism. Many OB residents have lived there for decades, and are deeply loyal to their community and its small-town, easygoing vibe. On any given day you might even see peaceful protestors in front of the Newport Avenue Starbucks: the only chain franchise on the entire main street, and one of the few in the whole area. Visitors who spend time in Ocean Beach are encouraged to support and help preserve its culture and identity, by avoiding the chains and choosing one of the multitude of local, ‘mom and pop’ stores and restaurants to reward with their business.
Luckily, there is a host of local options to choose from. For food, undoubtedly the most famous spot in OB is Hoedad’s. Named after the slang term for wannabe-surfers, Hoedad’s is a hole-in-the-wall with a simple, satisfying menu. Serving little else besides burgers, fries, milkshakes and beer, this small restaurant has become renowned for its food all over San Diego, and there is almost always a line out the door. A bacon cheeseburger, a basket of frings (French fries and onion rings) and a chocolate shake eaten from wooden benches inside a place whose walls are lined with colorful license plates and bumper stickers will take you right back to the worry-free beach life of a Beach Boys album cover.
Aside from this famous spot, there’s also a variety of bars and restaurants that serve everything from pizza and seafood to Mexican and sushi. Restaurants like South Beach, Shades and Wonderland also boast ocean-front locations perfect for a sunset meal or drink in addition to delicious food. Bars and breweries also line Newport Avenue and surrounding streets, where locals can be found hanging out at any time of day or night.
Surfers, beachgoers, boutique shoppers, tourists and antique lovers will all find something of interest in the Newport Avenue shops
Unique specialty stores that will appeal to a wide variety of shoppers line Newport Avenue. A handful of tourist souvenir shops selling OB magnets, stickers, seashells, and postcards are good places to find San Diego themed gifts for friends and family at home. Many are also stocked with everything you could possibly need to enjoy a beach day on the nearby sandy shores, such as sunscreen, towels, boogie boards, sand toys, hats, swimsuits, clothing and umbrellas.
Newport Avenue is also known for its small collection of eccentric antique stores, where an unhurried browse will often treat shoppers to surprising treasures. A few Southern California style clothing boutiques sell mainly women’s attire, and surf and skate shops that sell boards and all the required accessories also dot this main street. Finally, stores like The Black showcase items that are bit more unique to the OB feel, such as incense, black light posters, hookah sets and unconventional jewelry.
Aside from these brick-and-mortar shops, there’s also a pop-up farmer’s market for which the main section of Newport is blocked off, which happens every Wednesday from 4 to 8 pm. Offerings include handmade clothing, art and jewelry, fresh produce, desserts, food and live entertainment. The market is another great chance to soak up the OB culture, even if just by people-watching.
The accommodation options in OB are as colorful as the culture
There are several options for lodging in the Ocean Beach, and the style of the accommodations you will find in the area reflect the OB culture perfectly. There are no chain or high-rise hotels; each accommodation option is unique. There are various beach rental companies that offer lodging in many different sizes, styles and price ranges. Some are literally beachfront, while others are a few blocks’ walk from the water. Some OB homeowners have begun to open their homes to visitors through Airbnb as well.
There are also a few small hotels in Ocean Beach proper, although the adjacent neighborhood of Point Loma, which is just a few minutes’ drive away, has a larger selection of hotels and motels, especially for travelers on a budget. The other recommended option for budget travelers is the highly-rated San Diego Ocean Beach International Hostel on Newport, just steps from the beach, whose tie-dye exterior cannot be missed (pictured above).
Respect the last neighborhood in San Diego with authentic, classic Southern California culture: good vibes only
Non-locals who visit OB should treat it with respect, just as one does when visiting any other locale. As long as the culture is respected, and visitors do their part to support and preserve the OB way of life, they will be welcomed with smiles by OBecians young and old. This zany, original seaside district has much to offer; the only thing OBecians ask of visitors is to put out good vibes, and they’ll get good vibes in return!
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