In early 2010, my wife and I packed up our Brighton Street apartment — all 450 square feet — and moved from Ocean Beach to North Park. We were drawn by the lures of a bigger place and a new neighborhood experience, and after about a year on the other side (of Interstate 5), North Park has won us over. It’s central, it’s happening, and it’s got personality — so landlord willing, we’ll be renewing our lease for another 12 months.
Still, it’s hard to be away from “The OB” and to avoid comparing certain elements of life there with life in “The NP.” Here’s an incomplete and unscientific review of some differences that have jumped out since we moved from Ocean Beach to North Park:
Noise pollution: In OB, the number one source of nasty noise has gotta be the airplanes, especially the bastard cargo plane that flies out daily in the late afternoon or early evening. I once heard that students who attend an elementary school in the flight path and go on to Correia Jr High and then Point Loma High lose what adds up to a full year of instruction because classes often pause to wait for planes to pass overhead.
North Park is plane-free but has its share of ear-shredding Harley-Davidsons and cars that rattle from cheaply amplified bass. The top noise controversy in the neighborhood right now seems to involve the potential extension of the operating hours of the Bluefoot Bar, which currently stays open until 2 a.m. only on the weekends. Ownership would like to add the weeknights, but some neighbors have protested actively.
EDGE: NP because OB has those damn planes
Parking: One complaint from those North Park bar neighbors mentioned above is that late-night bar patrons tend to emit sounds similar to hyenas when they return to their cars, which — due to limited parking on streets that serve businesses — are often parked on residential blocks. At the same time, said patrons complain about having to do laps around several residential blocks to find their parking spots. One solution developed in recent years is the parking garage at 30th Street and North Park Way, which is an efficient parking solution as far as towering cement eyesores go.
In OB, parking is a bitch on Newport and at the beach lots on weekends and during other peak times, like the hour before sunset. On big holidays like the 4th of July, it might take you 20 minutes to walk from your car to the beach. Still, even on most crowded days, it rarely takes more than a few minutes to find a spot in OB — and the stroll to wherever you’re going is likely to be pleasant, so it’s usually no big deal to park a few blocks away.
EDGE: OB for less hassle and for freedom from ugly, hulking parking garage
The people-watching: 30th and University is an intersection of not just streets but cultures. At a given time, a Hispanic woman and an African-American high school student might share a crosswalk with a Korean senior citizen and a tattooed young white guy wearing a wife-beater and a pompadour. The most prevalent theme is hipster, with the look on the street often including rockabilly tats on the forearms and tight pants on the lower bodies, for ladies and gents alike.
Over in OB — well, from May through October, the beach yields a steady stream of eye candy nearly every day. Like many beach towns, a year-round constant is people of all ages wearing wetsuits and carrying surfboards, many of which spend significantly more time under arms then under feet. Whereas in North Park, you’ll probably see someone cruise by on a motorized scooter, in OB the trendy transportation is more likely to be a raised pickup truck.
EDGE: Shout to NP for the diversity, but OB wins with the beach
Cocktails with attitude: PacShores on Newport Avenue is legendary for its wonderfully low-priced mixed drinks and its consistently unfriendly nighttime barkeeps, who could effortlessly ignore a firefighter if the bar was ablaze.
Meanwhile, on a recent Sunday afternoon at Mosaic on 30th Street, more than one member of the staff voiced displeasure with a group of patrons who had the nerve to cheer occasionally at the Chargers game, which was playing on multiple large-screen TVs. Not sure if the hostility was a one-off, but it definitely was a turn-off.
EDGE: OB because PacShores is so old, it has a right to be rude
Police helicopter intensity: When the 5-0 circle in helicopters over OB’s skies, they don’t tend to get on the microphone too often. But they do frequently pull that strange late-night maneuver where they hover in a given spot with their lights off, having fun with the night vision or something. That was always a wee bit creepy, to say the least.
Over here in North Park, I’ve heard at least two instances where the police were not just circling in a helicopter but were urgently using its loudspeaker. On one afternoon manhunt, the cops used the mic to repeatedly describe a person they were looking for. Another time, at about 2 a.m., the message was “come out with your hands up!”
EDGE: NP for the added audio excitement
Area bike rides: The bike ride from OB to La Jolla offers one of the world’s most glorious stretches of scenery, both natural and human. The bayside cruise is mellow and dotted with the smaller-scale vacation rentals, while the beach-side boardwalk offers not just ocean views and Brazil-cut bikinis but also a good chance of seeing that slow-motion RollerBlade guy.
Still, the beach life just hasn’t been the same since the party-pooper set banned drinking. At festivals in and around North Park, however, drinking still reigns supreme — and festivals with drinking seem to go on almost every other weekend. When it comes to exercise and nature and visuals and all that, North Park’s biking options include Balboa Park, which is loaded with bike trails and touristy fun, just like the beach.
EDGE: NP because of all the festivals you can ride home drunk from
Jack in the Box vibe: North Park’s got a J-Box at the intersection of 30th and Upas, with a nighttime crew headed by a typically jovial Hispanic woman with cool tattoos who happily asks if you want whipped cream and a cherry on your chocolate shake. Customers are more unpredictable. Recently, when a woman waiting in the drive-thru lane two cars behind me thought I left too much space between my car and the one ahead of me, she rolled down her window and yelled, “You are inconsiderate!”
Over in OB — at least up until about a year ago — a visit to the late-night drive-thru at Voltaire and Sunset Cliffs was all about the lady manager with an unusual haircut whose enthusiasm was palpable over the menu speaker and unforgettable in person. If you ever ordered from this woman, you know who she is, and you know you were smiling as you drove away with your two tacos for 99 cents.
EDGE: OB for the customer service that’s so good it feels awkward
Ding! Ding! That’s the end of Round 1, with the score OB 4, NP 3. We’ll be back after these messages…