Ocean Beach resembles Pacific Beach in that both seaside towns are defined by sandy feet and enforced acronyms, in this case: OB. But, that's about it. Interchange the stereotype of PB bros with OB bohemians, and switch the soundtrack from "Party Rock" to "Jam Rock." In achieving small town warmth, OBceans have the I-5 contractors from the '50s to thank. By circumventing this patch of shoreline, mainstream tourism was funneled into the laps of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and La Jolla. Sunset Cliffs Boulevard was the road less traveled, turning OB into the Haight-Ashbury of San Diego. Then the hippies of the '60s became the entrepreneurs of the '70s. Now it's somewhat subdued, but an anti-establishment energy still exists to drown out efforts by mega-corporations trying to set up camp. Starbucks snaked its way on to the main boulevard amid an onslaught of protests in 2001. Otherwise, the shops are independent, and the bars are dingy. They're all parts shuffleboard and jukebox, pool table and cash-only. OB boasts the longest concrete pier this side of the Rockies (1,971 feet), one of the nation's first dog beaches and the reggae rock band Slightly Stoopid. On any given day, wild parrots (don't shoot!) flit between telephone wires in strokes of green, squawking obnoxiously above rows of bead stores, head shops and surf stands, with all signs pointing toward the shores.
Newport Avenue and Bacon Street
How could a town with such a stoney reputation pick a place other than Bacon Street to be its central station? The road collides with Newport Avenue just a couple blocks before the surf, lending its pavement to passing vagabonds, Wednesday's farmers market and the original Hodad's (5010 Newport Ave.).
Sunset Cliffs is one of the most beautiful places in San Diego, but it's also hella dangerous. According to OB Rag, an average of three people have died here per year since 2005.
So, while cliff-related deaths are no laughing matter, they're also really, really avoidable.
Don't be drunk: We all know how much more fun everything is when when we're drunk—especially scaling around on unstable, eroded cliffs—but mayyyybe use a little more judgment in this case.
Heed the signs: The cliffs inspire a sense of outdoorsy intrepidness in us, but as Southern Californians, we're really only capable of maintaining balance on sand, pavement and retail flooring. Signs are posted, like, everywhere telling you to stay back from the edge. These aren't suggestions.
Don't do it on purpose: Cliff-jumping is illegal and carries a $470 fine if you're caught. Even though it's a surefire way to impress friends and feel more alive than you've ever felt before, wouldn't you rather live out your mundane life?
TWO BIRDS, ONE STONE
"When I was 7 years old I saw a great blue heron, which was like two times the size of me," says Al Howard as he walks along the San Diego River on his day off from Cow Records (5040 Newport Ave.), holding a pair of binoculars given to him by an ex-girlfriend's mom. "That was it. I was just like 'what the fuck is this?'" Howard—songwriter and musician in bands such as The Midnight Pine, Dani Bell and the Tarantist and Birdy Bardot—is known more for his musical output than his penchant for spotting bird species in the wild, but if you're going to birdwatch in OB, he's an impressive resource. At 13 years old, he placed sixth in a Bird-a-thon in New Jersey, and during our excursion he sights a long-billed curlew, an eared grebe, a loon, a willet and various terns, though the great blue heron proved elusive. Still, this vast knowledge seeps its way into Howard's other passion: "A lot of the little esoteric things will creep into the songs. Like if a bird has a cool sounding name. I can tell Dylan is a watcher. There's a lot of bird names in his lyrics. You're like 'ha! Motherfucker's watching birds!'" Not 30 minutes later, the conversation comes full circle, and there before us is a great blue heron. Almost like it was summoned.
Executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association
The open-air bars around OB are strategically set up for people watching, and the windows at the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association are no exception. Denny Knox observes the personalities passing by, helping her keep a pulse on everything OB. She's been enhancing the town's charm since 1978, starting with basics such as sweeping the sidewalks, decorating the palm trees in tinsel at the holidays and pacifying the streets. As a former art store owner, she's familiar with the clash between activists and merchants. "A lot of people thought of the '70s as a wonderful time, but for those of us running businesses, it was difficult because of the radical element out there," she says. "It was scaring our customers." The activists of OB now repel monopolies, and although she's a supporter of local businesses, she says, "Starbucks has sort of become part of the fabric." She tips her hat to them for hiring a local muralist to paint the inside and keeping an agreement about a less obtrusive sign.
Comedian, manager at Winstons Beach Club
Passersby holler hellos at Jesse Egan through the windows of Winstons Beach Club (1921 Bacon St.), where he is now the general manager but started off as a dishwasher. He also worked his way up the ladder on the local talk show Tonight in San Diego, starting as a guest comedian, becoming a writer and graduating to host. Although Virginia-born, he has adopted the OB lifestyle, reveling in its small town glory. He sometimes guiltily perpetuates the neighborhood's stereotype in his stand ups, particularly in a sketch called Hippie Drive-By. "I thought I'd be safe moving here from the East Coast, but a guy rolls up in his VW bus, cranks down the window and blows bubbles at me! I had to block it with a dream catcher," he says, reenacting the sketch with defensive maneuvers. If you're catching comedy around town, you'll know he's there by an inappropriately timed "Yey yayee" Ice Cube impersonation shouted from the crowd.
Owner of The Black Bead
"I don't think I could have a bead store anywhere else. Everybody is accepted in Ocean Beach. I wouldn't make it in La Jolla," says Lynn Mohlenkord, laughing. The Black Bead (5003 Newport Ave.) grew out of the legendary neighboring head shop, The Black (5017 Newport Ave.), which had a small corner of beads during the '60s, but expanded next door in the '90s. Mohlenkord was once married to the owner of The Black, Kurt Dornbusch, who she met a couple months after she moved to San Diego in August 1987. The Black Bead has developed into a mecca of creativity for locals and visitors. "Whether they're beaders or not, they'll find a pendant or also just come in to see all the colors," she says. "I try to keep a great energy in the store." Part of that energy is her little Chihuahua, Gracie, who runs around in frilly outfits as colorful as the items in the shop. "From stone to wood to shells, the beads are all mother nature at her finest."
Ocean Beach is a hotspot for alternative healing. And, no, that doesn't mean weed, but, rather, every other type of herb out there.
In Harmony Herbs and Spices
1862 Bacon St.
Rooted in OB for more than 30 years, this store was dubbed one of the top 10 herb shops in the country by Self. With more than 400 types of medicinal herbs, owner Jodi Shagg consults customers with health-oriented feedback regarding their nervous system, digestive system and more. "I suggest that people use safe, nutritive, tonic herbs," Shagg says. But, she's expanded into other feel-good areas too, such as crystals, jewelry, aromatherapy and cosmetic-making ingredients.
4958 Newport Ave.
Previously called Happy Healthy High Horny Herbs but tired of parental complaints, the store underwent a name change. But it still advertises its services liberally and all the aphrodisiac powders and teas remain, "attracting young couples who come in and want to experiment and some old people who want the Horny Goat Weed," says employee Adrian Adams. The "Magical" section is another selling point with products like Salvia Leaf and Mugwort.
The Nest at Teeter
5032 Niagara Ave.
This is the newest project of community coffee shop Lazy Hummingbird (4876 Santa Monica Blvd.). Located within the trendy home-goods store Teeter, The Nest takes medicinal herbs and turns them into wellness drinks. Choose from elixirs charged with cacao powder or the highly-popular Maca, a plant grown in the high Andes that increases energy, stamina and libido.
NEWPORT AVENUE NATIVES
LOCAL MYSTERY: WHO IS THE SPACEMAN?
Run into a local of a certain age and chances are they have a story about the Spaceman of Ocean Beach. Some may remember him as a blind, homeless and often inebriated local kook who would regale residents of tales of his alien abduction, but for folks like Rick Bollinger, the legend and legacy of the Spaceman (real name: Clint Cary) is one of art and community. "I meet people all the time who say they still have their space number from the '60s or '70s," says Bollinger, referring to the pieces of paper that Cary would hand out promising the recipient a ride on a spacecraft. Already a successful portrait painter, Cary moved to OB in the early '60s and, inspired by his alien encounter, began painting what Bollinger describes as space-inspired "abstract cosmic art," some of which was decidedly ahead of its time. The Spaceman died in 1993, but Bollinger has kept his legacy alive. He staged a successful Spaceman play in 2013 and now wants to make a movie. "I want Woody Harrelson to play the Spaceman." Natch.