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10 fascinating facts you didn't know about Ocean Beach

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The birthplace of the It’s-It and the wetsuit

A long stretch of sandy beach with residential units on the left, the ocean on the right. Fog and clouds can also be seen in the distance.
Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Photo by Shuterstock

Ocean Beach, the westernmost border of San Francisco, stretches 3.5 miles across the Richmond, the entire Sunset District, and down to Sloat Boulevard. While often blanketed in fog, the massive stretch of beach can be one of SF’s best outdoor spaces.

As Thanksgiving approaches—and the thought of taking your post-feast walk along the crowded Embarcadero sends chills up your spine—we recommend heading west for a nice change of pace without having to leave the city.

To get you started, here are 10 tidbits about Ocean Beach:

  1. In the 1850s and 1860s, transit companies used horses to pull railcars on San Francisco streets. When they transitioned to motorized versions, the companies sought to dump the old cars out at the beach. Savvy citizens turned the abandoned cars into homes and businesses, creating their own little community called Carville-by-the-Sea.
  2. During very low tides near Ortega Street, you can see the hull of the King Philip, a 19th-century clipper ship launched in 1856, sticking out of the sand. It wrecked in 1858. Related: Between 1850 and 1926, 20 ships sank on Ocean Beach.
  3. The existing Cliff House is actually the fourth version of this stately seaside structure. The first two burned down and the third was remodeled in 2016 to look as it currently does.
  4. From 1894 to 1967, a long iron pier jutted out into the water from Ocean Beach between Balboa and Anza streets. The Lurline Pier, also known as the Olympic Pier, held an intake pipe for pumping saltwater to the old Lurline Baths and Olympic Club pools downtown.
  5. When the Sutro Baths, a privately-owned public saltwater swimming pool complex in Land’s End, began to wane in popularity, the owners converted the baths into an ice-skating rink. In 1964, developers with plans to replace the baths with high-rise apartments bought the site and began demolition, but the project was (obviously) never built.
  6. Discarded gravestones and broken tomb markers from the 1800s were used shore up the Ocean Beach seawall. When the city's cemeteries were moved out in the 1920s and 30s, the unclaimed tombstones were recycled and used in various city projects. Tombstones show up on Ocean Beach during big winds.
  7. The 10-acre amusement park known as Playland at the Beach, which featured a wooden rollercoaster, ferris wheel, and carousel, was located along Great Highway near Cabrillo and Balboa streets. Rides opened as early as 1913, but it closed down in 1972. Today many of the amusement park’s concessions, like Walking Charley and Laughing Sal, can be found at Musée Mécanique.
  8. Speaking of Playland, it also happens to be the place the It's-It was invented. In 1928, Playland owner George Whitney placed a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two large old-fashioned oatmeal cookies and then dipped the sandwich into dark chocolate, selling the It's-It exclusively at Playland for more than four decades. After the amusement park shut down, the company was resurrected in 1974.
  9. Today Ocean Beach is one of the most popular—and difficult—surf spots in Northern California. It's become so good that Rip Curl held their Pro Search event there in 2011, bring the sport's top competitors to SF. It’s also a notorious spot due to its many riptides. “Even if the weather seems calm and consistent, factors including wave size, tide levels and the flow of huge volumes of water from San Francisco Bay all cause constant change,” notes SFGate.
  10. No surprise, though, seeing as how Jack O'Neill invented wet suits here. Even though Jack O’Neill and the O’Neill brand are synonymous with Santa Cruz, the first O’Neill Surf Shop opened in San Francisco in 1952. It was here that the surf innovator first created his prototype for the wetsuit, which changed the surfing world forever.

Ocean Beach

1000 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94121