Ocean Beach vs North Park: A migrant’s observations

by on December 15, 2010 · 21 comments

in Are You Kidding?, Culture, Ocean Beach, San Diego, Satire

Ocean Beach (all photos by Shane Finneran)

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 sign

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.

A sidewalk in Ocean Beach

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

North Park homes

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

Daytime moon over Brighton Street in OB

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

Utah St. meets University Ave. in North Park

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…

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie December 15, 2010 at 9:32 am

Shane – got a bunch of belly-laughs from this.

Several things: great photos – but what did you do to the pic of the OB street and trees? Also, since when has North Park been called “NP”?

Plus, I heard over the years many audio “announcements” from the police helo in OB – the ones I loved to hate were like this: “Black male suspect, white shirt, dark pants!”

And finally, what the f*ck are you doing still going to Barf in a box???


dave rice December 15, 2010 at 10:06 am

Love it! And love both neighborhoods too, I’ve got a few friends in North Park (never heard of “NP” myself), and would have no problem living there myself…sometimes the allure of a cheaper apartment calls out to me, but then I remember my tolerance quotient for hipsters and my general failure to see irony in observations like “But it’s PBR! Tall boy! Don’t you get it?” No. And I don’t want to yank my daughter out of school and move her across town – she’s settled in good after 3 years in class here…well, 2.75 by your math given the airplane noise I suppose.

Anyway, glad you’re enjoying the rest of what San Diego has to offer and sharing it with us…can I assume there’s a Round 2 coming?


Jon December 15, 2010 at 10:43 am

Great fun Shane! I’ve always felt a certain kinship between NP and OB. They’ve got the neo-hipsters, we’ve got the neo-hippies, we both have great bars and nightlife, and everyone that lives in the surrounding suburban wastelands think that we are somehow dirty ghettos (because we enjoy diversity?). One edge that I think NP currently has on us though is food. The restaurants that have popped up around there in the past few years are amazing! The Linkery, Urban Solace, El Take it Easy, etc… While we have some fun options here, I just don’t think we are quite up to par with NP’s eateries yet. Or perhaps I’m just burnt out on our local fare? Anyone is free to disagree with me.


Marilyn Steber December 15, 2010 at 11:29 am

Wonderful article, Shane. I’ve sent it to a friend in Clairemont who has lived in both places and, incidently, works for JIB at corporate headquarters. I can’t wait until she reads your comparisons.


Seth December 15, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Always a good read, Shane. I like North Park well enough, but as a fellow transplant, I just can’t get past the idea of living away from the beach in Socal.


Dixon Guizot December 15, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Thanks for comments, y’all!

Frank, regarding the initials, “The OC” begat “The OB” which happens to rhyme with “The NP” so there you have it. On that one OB photo, it looks weird because I added a Photoshop filter called “Cut-out.” As far as Jack In The Box, I don’t do much fast food but I will always reserve a special place in my stomach for delicious sandwiches like the Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich (which interestingly is neither spicy nor crispy).

Dave, I hope there’ll be a round two, whether from me or anyone else.

Jon, there certainly are an array of amazing restaurants in North Park, at least that’s what everyone tells me, as I lost my senses of taste and smell in a childhood bottle-rocket accident.

Marilyn, you have a friend inside JIB corporate? That Jack seems like such a ham around the office…

Seth, I hear you on the beach proximity. I wasn’t sure if I’d survive this past summer (my first away from OB in 10 yrs) but the effects of withdrawal were muted (or perhaps just postponed) by the unusual and relentless cold weather and water we had this year.


Frank Gormlie December 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Okay, so does the “cut-out” filter make the image appear to be drawn/ painted?

In general, your photos are awesome. Especially the one near the beach looking south.

Oh, one other thing: OB was called “OB” waaaaaay before “The OC” or “OC”.


Dixon Guizot December 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Thank you, Frank! Yes, the cut-out filter does just that. It has a few settings you can adjust to tinker with photos and is a lot of fun. (The computer program I use is actually Photoshop Elements, which is the consumer version of Photoshop and offers lots of useful features. It’s sold with the also-awesome video-editing software Premiere Elements for less than $100.)


Dixon Guizot December 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm

btw my taste and smell are intact — that was a second-rate Simpsons reference that was funny when I typed it, I swear! ;)


dave rice December 15, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I’m now feeling inspired to try one on the backwater suburb where I grew up…


Patty Jones December 15, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I hear ya Dave. I toyed with the idea,

for a few minutes.


dave rice December 17, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Eh, what fun is it when there’s no real contest? I had a pool and a big yard at my old place and…that about concludes the good things I’ve got to say.


Dallas December 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Great read, Shane! As an original OBceian in my teens to living in North Park as a young adult to now again living here in OB, I can say that both neighborhoods have a special energy about them. Maybe it’s the laid back history of both areas or maybe it’s that both neighborhoods attract a certain “type” of people. One thing is for certain, that while both areas are unique, they do have many similarities. North Park offers more living space. My apartment on 30th and Redwood cost me nearly half of what I pay for place of about the same size on Voltaire in OB. But with North Park, I didn’t have the beach a block away.

While OB tends to get its share or “trendy” types… Yah, you know the types – in surfing culture they’re called Hodads (and where the restaurant got it’s name). In North Park, these scenester socialites can get away with it a bit easier. This is mainly because North Park is simply one urban area that is connected to other urban areas. One can get away with living in University Heights or Mission Hills (another once trendy neighborhood) but frequent North Park and pull off being a native. I’ve seen people try to pull that off here in OB and they are quickly called out on it. Not that these people are not welcome, in most cases I’ve seen them given an education (getting schooled) and after living a full season or so being fully accepted. But it’s just easier to spot a non-native in OB… Hell, it’s easy to spot a “Pointer” from an OBecian in the element.

But I digress. Both neighborhoods have much to offer. In fact, I have an OBecian friend who recently got married and they’re ready to have kids. Being in a small one-bedroom cottage here in OB is no longer feasible. And after talking to our landlord, the only place locally they can move to would cost them nearly $1000 more a month. I suggested to them that they move to North Park where they can find a nicer two-bedroom house built in the 40s for as much as they pay now here in OB. They don’t want to leave the beach, but unless they decide that they will pay more to stay, it’s likely that they’ll end up North Park.

I love living in OB and while I’ve considered moving back to North Park, every time I can’t seem to leave this wonderful little place by the beach. I guess in the end, it’s like this: North Park has just about everything that OB can offer. Great places to eat, strong sense of community, places to party, and close enough to the every essential item of comfortable living. But OB has the beach and the “small town” attitude still exists here.


OBTinyHouse December 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I know exactly which Jack-in-the-box employee he is talking about! I lived NP adjacent and its nice because its not as effected by the marine layer but nothing beats being able to walk to the beach.


OB Mercy December 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I paid my dues by growing up in the San Fernando Valley. Ugh. I lived in the same house for the last 25 yrs and hardly knew my neighbors. People just did not hang outside their houses and talk to each other. Just not done in LA. And it’s true, nobody walks in LA!

I spent so many visits in OB over the years with the goal always being to move here someday. When I finally moved down here just a year and a half ago, and until I could find work, I lived in La Mesa…ugh again. Felt just like the SFV, heat and all. It also seemed to be a cultural wasteland like the Valley.

Then I moved to North Park. Besides thinking the area was pretty cool, good restaurants, and interesting peeps, I was only 8 miles from OB….I was getting closer!

Then I finally found a good job (in this economy!), and moved to OB. My life feels SOOOO different now. I know most of my neighbors, we stand outside and talk to each other, we go to parties and events together, and each block in OB seems to be it’s own little community. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love it here. Living at the beach was always a life long dream, and it was not going to happen financially in Malibu or Venice. OB is one of the last affordable beach communities in So Cal.

I’m an old hippie, and have always been a bit eccentric, so I fit right in here. Every time I hear someone say they’re moving out of OB, they say they don’t want to, but for some personal reason they must. I always think, how can they? But it’s only because I’ve been trying to get here for 30 yrs!

It’s true, it seems to be very “white” here, and I miss the cultural diversity of LA, and I think generally speaking the restaurants are a bit better there, but things are changing here in SD too. And being an actor is much harder down here….I have an agent, but there is just hardly anything to audition for here.

But I truly feel like I’m living in a different country here…..I know that sounds weird, but that’s how I feel. Hollyweird has it’s charm, but I got over it a long time ago!


Patty Jones December 15, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Mercy! I had great fun watching you learn to wind surf!


OB Mercy December 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Thanks Patty!


Goatskull December 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

NP is cool. I live in Hillcrest these days and hang out a lot in NP. My two favorite bars are Bar Pink (owned by John Reese of Rocket From The Crypt fame) and Toronado, a great hipster beer joint. But the lesser know and in my opinion much cooler hang out is South Park. You’ll find me at the Whistle Stop and/or Hamilton’s. Still love and miss OB but not enough punk rock there.


dave rice December 17, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Hamilton’s is cool, and South Park is nice in that it’s like the North Park of the ’90s that had just started gentrifying but still retained a healthy dose of grit. I’ve got friends in Golden Hill, which is another really cool neighborhood with a cool mix of characters of all sort…


Patty Jones December 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Shane, this was a fun piece! Thanks!


quincy March 4, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Any chance we can get another round of OB vs NP? I think it could use a refresher


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