Known for its laid-back hippie beach vibe, Ocean Beach, San Diego—also referred to as “OB”—is a favorite of locals and visitors looking for a chill, off-the-beaten-path experience in Southern California.
Located just north of Point Loma, the small coastal neighborhood sits at the very end of Highway 8. The popular Ocean Beach dog park is directly across the San Diego River from Mission Bay. The free-spirited neighborhood is somewhat secluded and hidden from regular tourist destinations, yet it’s still just a 15-minute drive from the San Diego airport and downtown.
While OB might not be the flashiest spot in San Diego County, locals love the Ocean Beach pier, dog park, farmers’ market, and the unique independent shops that make up the main street. There are almost no chain stores in Ocean Beach—and that’s part of its appeal.
The History of Ocean Beach
In 1887, streets were laid out and lots were divided up for a new San Diego town, originally called Mussel Beach (as in the mussel beds along the shoreline), but it wasn’t until development in the 1900s that Ocean Beach was promoted as a resort destination. That included an amusement park, called Wonderland Park, which opened in 1913 with the largest roller coaster on the West Coast (it closed a few years later).
As Ocean Beach developed into a small beach town, shops and dance halls popped up along Newport Avenue, the main thoroughfare. When the dredging and development of Mission Bay cut off Ocean Beach from most of the other nearby beach towns, a protest counterculture surfaced during the 1960s and ‘70s.
Today, the town retains that hippie feel and has maintained the small-town appeal of its main shopping district, with a push to keep chain stores out and build up local businesses. The old Ocean Beach hotel has been turned into a well-run San Diego hostel. The Strand Theater, which for years did midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is now a knickknack store called Wings.
Ocean Beach is a little bit different than most San Diego beach destinations, and locals like it that way.
Ocean Beach Hotels
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, be sure to note: There are no chain hotels in Ocean Beach. Because of a push by locals to keep the neighborhood full of independent stores and homegrown businesses, you won’t find many national brands here—but there are still lots of options.
On the west side, the Inn at Sunset Cliffs sits directly above the water, with a massive and luxurious deck. Ocean Beach Hotel is a slightly more affordable option that fronts the main beach next to the Ocean Beach pier. There’s also a hostel for the full surfer experience, and a dog-friendly inn near the Ocean Beach dog park.
Ocean Beach Restaurants
When it comes to Ocean Beach restaurants, it’s all about the independent, family-owned spots.
The most well-known of those is probably Hodad’s on Newport Avenue. Hodad’s isn’t just one of Ocean Beach’s most popular restaurants; it also boasts one of San Diego’s best hamburgers, with four local locations (though it started in Ocean Beach) and an appearance on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
You’ll also want to check out the Ocean Beach institution that is OB Noodle House & Sake Bar, best known for its Asian fusion noodles, South Beach Bar and Grille for its popular Mahi fish tacos, and Poma’s Italian Deli, which has been serving up homemade subs for over 50 years. And if neither of those hit the spot, there are a number of restaurants on Newport Avenue and on Voltaire Street serving coffee, breakfast, BBQ, tacos, pizza, and vegan and Hawaiian food. Or take your meal to go and enjoy a picnic on the beach.
5 Fun Things to Do in Ocean Beach
Visit the Ocean Beach Pier
The Ocean Beach Municipal Pier, or the OB Pier, was officially christened in 1966 and has attracted over 500,000 visitors annually since then. At 1,971 feet, it’s the longest concrete pier on the West Coast. Created primarily as a public fishing pier, the Ocean Beach pier is still one of the few places in California where you can cast a line without a license. Park in the public lot at the base of the pier, then take a walk out over the water—a popular spot to watch the sunset, too—or visit the tide pools at the foot of Newport Avenue underneath. (Check the Ocean Beach tide tables first.)
Take Your Pup to Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach
At the north end of Ocean Beach, in between the San Diego River and the entrance to Mission Bay, sits Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach, famous for being one of the first official leash-free beaches in the U.S. Dogs and people run and play together in the surf (and surfers ride the break off the beach). Make sure your dog is up-to-date on its vaccinations and is wearing a current license on its collar, and obey signs marking the edge of the beach near the lagoon. There’s a large public parking lot at the end of Voltaire Street, next to Dog Beach and the start of the San Diego river bike path, open 24 hours a day. Note: Be careful about letting your dog off-leash until after you’ve crossed the busy path.
Surf and Swim at Ocean Beach
You can’t visit an old-school SoCal surfing town without experiencing the beach, and Ocean Beach delivers on the surf-and-sand front. There’s a designated surfer-only beach at the end of Newport Avenue—a popular spot for hanging out and, of course, riding waves.
More experienced surfers also enjoy what’s known as Avalanche Jetty in front of lifeguard tower 5, and the bigger break in front of Dog Beach. Don’t know how to surf? Take a lesson. If you’re just looking for a low-key water experience, there’s a swimming-only area at the end of Santa Monica Avenue—which also has bathrooms, showers, a lifeguard station, and a small picnic area.
Whatever kind of beach experience you’re looking for, Ocean Beach has it. Among the numerous waterfront spots, the main city beach at the end of Voltaire Street (just south of Dog Beach and past the parking lot) is the most popular, and the beach at Cape May Avenue is probably the quietest. Or just take a classic sunset walk along the Sunset Cliffs coastal path south of the Ocean Beach pier.
Visit the Ocean Beach Farmers’ Market
Every Wednesday, year-round from 4 to 8 p.m., the Ocean Beach Farmers’ Market attracts visitors from around San Diego County to the 4900 block of Newport Avenue. For three decades, the market has been an Ocean Beach staple, thanks to its local produce, hot prepared foods, fresh bread, desserts, juices and kombucha, and fresh flowers. The Ocean Beach market features more than 100 vendors, including artisans and craftspeople hawking their wares. Parking is available in the neighboring residential streets, outside the market on Newport Avenue, or at the parking lot at the foot of the Ocean Beach pier. Dogs are not recommended at the market because of the crowds.
Shopping in Ocean Beach
If browsing boutiques is more your thing, you’ll find a vintage feel combined with unique new shops and restaurants along Newport Avenue and around Voltaire Street on the north end of the neighborhood. You’ll find quirky, independent stores alongside wineries and microbreweries, including Culture Brewing Company, which features local artists’ works on the walls. In the 1980s and ‘90s, when small Ocean Beach shops were struggling to compete with nearby San Diego chain stores, a number of them converted to antique stores. Today, the Ocean Beach antique district on Newport is considered one of the best in San Diego. Check out the Ocean Beach Antique Mall, which has been delivering vintage San Diego oddities for 40 years.
With a distinctly relaxed feel, Ocean Beach in San Diego celebrates its anti-establishment spirit and feels like a time warp to an earlier era. If you’re planning a trip to OB or looking to add a visit to the Ocean Beach pier, plan your visit to coincide with the OB Street Fair & Chili Cook-off in June or the OB Kite Festival at Robb Field. And then meander over to Mission Bay and check out some other great San Diego beaches for kids. Or better yet—don’t plan at all, and just go with the flow and experience the laid-back Ocean Beach lifestyle.