The beach’s initial name was Mussel Beach, for the mussels available there. Its current name, Ocean Beach, was given in 1887 by developers Billy Carlson and Albert E. Higgins.
One of the most impactful residents and a major player in Ocean Beach history was David Collier. He bought oceanfront property in 1887 when he was just 16. He later became one of the “fathers” of Ocean Beach, laying out streets, promoting sales, and building the Point Loma Railroad in 1909 to connect Ocean Beach with the rest of San Diego.
By 1910 there were 100 houses in Ocean Beach, compared to just 18 two years earlier. According to historian Ruth Held, Collier’s rail line “made OB possible.” He also built Ocean Beach Elementary School (a two-room school) and donated the park land to the city. Most of that land became Cleator Community Park (a ballfield), Correia Middle School (originally named Collier Junior High School), a YMCA and a church; a small remnant at Greene and Soto streets is still called Collier Park.
The northern end of Ocean Beach was dominated in the early 20th century by the Wonderland Amusement Park, which opened on July 4, 1913, and was constructed on eight oceanfront acres at Voltaire and Abbott streets. It boasted a large roller coaster, dance pavilion, menagerie, roller skating rink, merry-go-round, children’s playground, a petting zoo with a variety of animals including 500 monkeys, and 22,000 lights outlining the buildings. However, Wonderland went bankrupt in 1915 due to competition from the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park and was sold at auction. It closed in 1916 after winter storms damaged the roller coaster.
In the 1940s, Ocean Beach was caught up in the efforts to end World War II. Street lights were painted black on the side facing the sea, and soldiers in bunkers were positioned at strategic points. Kids collected scrap metal, and the OB Women’s Club provided snacks and entertainment to visiting servicemen, many of whom decided to make Ocean Beach their home after the war.
Population exploded in the 1950s as the brush-covered hills gave way to new housing. Mission Bay was dredged and developed by the city, and the ensuing re-routing of streets along with the construction of I-5 cut Ocean Beach off from much of the tourist trade that the beach towns to the north enjoyed. This was just fine with OB residents who liked their hometown atmosphere.
Civic organizations such as the Town Council, the Merchants’ Association, and the Planning Board nurtured the friendly, casual ambiance of Ocean Beach in the 1980s. Old traditions were revived and new ones began: the Street Parade, Fourth of July Fireworks, and the Christmas Tree Parade, to name only a few. OBceans carved their feelings about their town via the Newport Avenue tile project. At the same time, local merchants found it increasingly difficult to compete with nearby chain stores. Antique stores began popping up in storefronts formerly occupied by variety, clothing, and department stores.
Today, OB is home Local events including the Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cookoff in late June, a jazz festival at the foot of Newport in late September, the Ocean Beach Christmas Parade in early December, the Ocean Beach Kite Festival on the second Saturday of May, and the Ocean Beach Canine Carnival on the Sunday before Halloween. On Wednesday afternoons two blocks of Newport Avenue are closed for a farmers’ market
The Ocean Beach Municipal Pier, built in 1966, is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast at 1,971 feet (601 m). The pier supports a restaurant and bait shop (Ocean Beach Pier Cafe), which is open 24 hours a day. The northern end of O.B.’s waterfront is known as Dog Beach. It’s also open 24 hours a day for leash-free dogs and was one of the first such beaches in the United States, founded back in 1972!
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