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.

ocean beach bath house
Showers and potties at Ocean Beach.
Rent-a-ride. Ocean Beach, CA.
Rent-a-ride. Ocean Beach, CA.

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.

mom daughter surf
Surfer mom and her little surfer girl. Ocean Beach, CA.

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.

tomatoes ob ca
Amazing heirloom tomatoes at the Ocean Beach Farmers’ Market.
scot luna ob bar
The need to pee forced us to find refuge at Harp, the local Irish pub. Delicious food and beer, a great place for people-watching and a restroom. Ocean Beach, CA.

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.

beach bungalow ob ca
Lots of neighborhood murals. Ocean Beach, CA.
Hippies call this town home.
Hippies call this town home.
beach bungalow 2 ob ca
Neighborhood bungalow. Ocean Beach, CA.

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.

hot coals ob ca
No sun? Who cares? We’re going to the beach. Ocean Beach, CA.


Liza Beth Rumery

Liza likes to do a lot of things. Currently, she like to make food, ride bikes, study languages and hang out with her family.

10 comments on “A Narly Time in Ocean Beach, CA

  1. So, last night Dick and I watched Jaws I and Jaws II. All I can think of when I look at the surfers in the water is a very large shark emerging from behind with it’s mouth wide open!!!! Yikes!!! 🙂

    • My mom and dad took me to California in 5th grade and I remember watching the surfers and just fascinated by them. My dad told me stories of when he used to search. Glad you guys are having a blast taking in our great country. I enjoy reading your news letter every week.

      • Carri,

        I am so happy to read your response again. Thank you for reading. I love to hear about your folks, that they brought you here and that your dad had stories. Of COURSE he did! There is so much to see here in the US. Again, thank your for your support. We love it. xo

    • First of all, let me say that I can’t believe that you watched Jaws I & II. You are brave. LOL Second, I admit to watching for sharks as the surfers waited for a break. I want to investigate sharks in the region. Very curious.

  2. We love travelling with you, albeit vicariously! You write wonderfully, ai can see, taste and smell the sensations!

    Bev and Earl, true campers from Nova Scotia!

    • Hey! Hi! Glad to read you!

      We can’t wait to visit our Canadian friends in the eastern provinces. Seriously. We heard fall is the best! Plan on visitors! xo

  3. The beaches tend to be more civilized as you move north. At least when we lived there, Mission Beach was pretty wild and wooly, Ocean Beach had a vibe, but not as crazy as MB, and Pacific Beach was downright normal! La Jolla and Del Mar were the peak of la-di-da, and life became a bit more “beachy” as you headed on up through Solana Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas, and Leucadia. It sure was fin, though. We lived in LaJolla for a few years, then Cardiff, then Encinitas. We could have told you that unless a Santa Ana rolls in, there’s not a lot of sun there in June. You should have waited til September! (Although it does usually warm up on the beach by mid-July.)

    I’m loving seeing SD County through your eyes! (Take a look at the Encinitas Branch of SD Co Library!)

    • Ann, my dear friend,

      Oh my goodness, this is a gem and I forgot that you lived here!!! So much to say!

      First, what you have laid out here is pretty much our itinerary, and we have heard it from others. Met some folks from PB today, and clearly La Jolla is the place to be. We can’t wait to show Luna the tide pools and sea lions. County Fair in Del Mar just began and we are going. Also, Encinitas has been on the list for years; just trying to find a place where we can camp — at least nearby. It’s seems like our vibe. Cardiff is more expensive, but we are just trying to crawl north in this state. I can’t wait to hear your stories now that we have been here. It must have been an amazing time for you. And I’ll say that our time is amazing here. It’s just that times are different, mostly/probably for others. And it was also confirmed today that there simply aren’t many “camping” experiences here. They exist on the beach, but one must be on her game to snag a spot. Weird.

      And you are the first to validate the crazy cloud coverage. It is almost always cloudy on the coast. We will be in/near Encinitas and LA by/in September. Looking forward to that time. More to come. And, of course, I will keep you posted about my library stops. I visit a library wherever we are and shop at their bookstores, then regift my purchased books to campgrounds we visit. THANK YOU for this. Helpful, informative and fun. xo

  4. Lisa, next time you’re in Coronado, check out 716 F Ave. I lived in this Apt in the early 60″s. Wonder if
    it’s still there. Also lived in the Apt. at 408 Orange Ave. A little mission if you want to undertake it. No big
    deal as they are etched in my mind of another time….Dick

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