Growing up in the Midwest, the closest thing we had to channeling our inner surfer was sporting “OB” t-shirts or swimsuits and throwing around words like “narly” and “rad.” That was the eighties, but this year my family and I are becoming acquainted with the real thing as we meander the coast of Southern California to check out all things beaches. Our first stop was a quick one to Coronado Beach, and our second one was Imperial Beach, where we spent the afternoon and evening hanging out in the sand and eating at the local farm market. Heading up the coast, we hit Ocean Beach on a Wednesday for another day at the beach and yet another farm market. Despite continued overcast days on the coast in San Diego, we managed to do just fine checking out the local scene.
Those in the know accept the fact that “narly” here is spelled without a ‘g’ and that “narly” doesn’t mean “cool” exactly. It means “wicked” in an intense and hardcore way, but just cool enough to attempt something and probably do it again. That is very much Ocean Beach: It’s a little rough around the edges, but, ultimately, it is a super cool, laid back community of hippies, artisan business owners, beach volleyball players, families, stoners, artists, yoginis, healers, musicians, foodies and surfers, who brave the pounding Pacific surf in droves, which is simply enough for us as entertainment.
Surfing is something that I likely will not do in this lifetime, so it is tons of fun to sit on the beach and watch surfers slip on their wet suits, strap their tethers to their ankles, survey the waves, grab their boards and head out into the vast ocean. From our beach blanket, we could count over 60 surfers sitting on their boards off the coast, looking like sea lions bobbing in the water waiting for the the waves. The wind was heavy that day, so surfing was good. We watched surfing novices take their first turns, dudes coming off of work and racing into the water, and surfing friends talk about the break or where they had surfed that morning. Mostly men were surfing, but we saw a few women out there, as well as a girl about Luna’s age out with her surfer-mom learning the ropes. It makes for a fun time at the beach.
Then we headed to the farm market down on Newport Avenue. It is huge, bustling and impossible to miss, especially with the blend of barbecue, weed and incense wafting through the air. There are dreadlocks everywhere, and musicians and performers, and beautiful vegetables and stalls with delicious food, friends arm-in-arm and lovers too, tons of laughter and conversations, and so much to absorb that one could never do and see it all in one visit. Clearly, the people who live in Ocean Beach know where to find their favorite vendors. Flowers are a big deal here, and so is the grilled cheese food stall.
Ocean Beach is a proud community. It has defended its all-things-local and entrepreneurial ways by keeping big box stores at bay; a Starbucks is the lone giant on the street corner that made it through the defense lines. The main drag is sprinkled with sweet little boutiques, a historic single-screen theatre, lots of local food joints and so much more. The neighborhoods are quiet and lined with charming bungalows, and it is a dog-friendly town. Ocean Beach reminds me of a mix between State Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan, full of hippies and good food, and Folly Beach in Charleston, with its super chill beach town vibe.
The day was grey and my non-prettyfied pictures show it, but ’tis the life of a coastal community: You just go with it and enjoy, because, man, you’re by the beach and it is awesome all of the time. Ocean Beach is an easy community to discover, full of folks who seem so alive and vibrant. If you get a chance to roam the beaches of San Diego, don’t miss out on this amazingly rad place. You will eat well and have lots of fun, even when the sun doesn’t shine.