The pier at Ocean Beach, San Diego
Stuart Bak

Things to do in Ocean Beach San Diego

Antique shops rub shoulders with surf boutiques, organic grocery stores and tempting taquerias in bohemian Ocean Beach, a buzzing neighborhood at the estuary of the San Diego River, around 10 kilometers from downtown. The broad sun-kissed strip of golden SoCal sand draws surfers and sunbathers from near and far while the neighborhood’s historic streets play host to markets and festivals throughout the year. Read on for our pick of the best things to do in Ocean Beach San Diego.

Paint the Town

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Laidback Ocean Beach revels in its reputation as San Diego’s hippy chic hangout. There’s a real community feel to this welcoming neighborhood: stroll palm-lined Newport Avenue and you’ll soon see what we mean. This is also the place to find unusual souvenirs of your trip. Head to French-themed antique store Vignettes for vintage Chanel and Tiffany jewelry, beautiful art prints from Paris and unique Victorian and Edwardian engagement rings. Track down that elusive Pearl Jam LP in hip Cow Records and pick up preloved vintage fashions and other collectible knick-knacks in the boho Humble Heart thrift stores. There are also several tattoo parlors, should you be in the market for a truly indelible souvenir of your trip.

Newport Avenue bursts into life every Wednesday when the popular Ocean Beach Farmers Market rolls into town. Wander among more than 100 stalls soaking up the community vibe and live music, and breathing in the heady aromas of sizzling burgers, fresh flowers, handmade soaps and more from local producers. Pick up a canvas tote bag adorned with the market’s colorful logo and stuff it full of goodies to take home: the freshly baked breads and homemade desserts here are to die for.

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Afterwards, sample San Diego’s legendary craft beers in one of the avenue’s sociable taprooms. Close to the seafront, Ocean Beach Brewery serves up house ales, lagers and porters alongside tacos, burgers, salads and bar games, with a side order of sensational sea views from its third-story rooftop terrace. Further back along the drag, Kilowatt Brewing offers an eclectic selection of small batch beers amid several works of black light art and – in a nod to the brewery’s name – cool, color-changing LED lighting. If wine is more your bag, the nearby Gianni Buomo Vintners has you covered – take a tour of the winery and sample a flight of six great wines, some from California.

You can also, should the mood take you, grab a coffee to go and take a gentle stroll around the neighborhood, noting the colorful painted murals and historic buildings including the old Strand Theater and the Bank of Italy – both around 100 years old – along the way.

Life’s a Beach

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Ocean Beach’s tempting stretch of blonde sand and rolling waves make it a firm favorite with surfers. Pros and novices flock here and to other nearby surf spots every summer. Watch them turn 360s and wipe out from the comfort of your lounger or get involved with popular beach sports including volleyball and over-the-line.

Wander the 600-meter length of Ocean Beach Pier, the longest concrete pier on the West Coast. On any given day you’ll be sure to see young couples taking selfies against the famous California sunset and dozens of anglers fishing for herring, no doubt with a couple of hopeful-looking pelicans hanging out nearby. Look out for sleek native harbor seals ducking and diving in the fish-rich waters below.

When the tide goes out, vast beds of rock and kelp emerge beneath the pier. Kids can take a well-earned break from sandcastle-building duties to forage in the exposed tidepools, discovering hermit crabs, anemones, prickly sea urchins and maybe even an occasional sea star.

At the top of the beach by the mouth of the San Diego River, Dog Beach provides amazing off-the-leash fun for your four-legged friend. Here, dogs of all shapes and sizes frolic freely in the sand and surf and mingle with like-minded canines. Note that owning a dog is not a prerequisite to visit this pretty stretch of beach; you’re equally welcome if you simply wish to fill your heart with joy at the sight of all those doggos living their best lives.

Attractions Near Ocean Beach

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Ocean Beach’s location just north of Point Loma means easy access to attractions along the peninsula. Hire a bike and take a ride down Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park where – as the name suggests – you can expect stunning sunsets from atop rugged cliffs. Adventurers will relish the chance to scramble down to the Sunset Cliffs Cave at low tide, but be prepared to get wet! To reach this geological marvel – a huge open-ceiling sea cave – head to Luscomb Point and take the steps down to the bottom. You’ll have to cross rocks and wade through some shallow water to reach the cave from here but, boy, is it worth it.

Towards the tip of the peninsula, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a historic landmark that lies a mere 20-minute drive south from Ocean Beach. Erected in 1855, the lighthouse marks the highest point within the Cabrillo National Monument park. Visitors can take a look around inside and may occasionally be startled by volunteers in period costume, there to reenact key moments from the lighthouse’s storied history. The lighthouse tower is open only twice a year: on August 25 and November 15.

Like Sunset Cliffs, the lighthouse is a great place for filling your Instagram feed with humblebrag snaps of the sun setting over the ocean. It’s also pretty good for spotting whales between December and April, when gray whales migrate en masse from Alaska to the warm calving grounds of Baja’s lagoons. Dedicated whale-spotters may even be lucky enough to see mothers swimming with their calves in late April and early May, as they set out on their long journey back to the Arctic.

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