The Pacific Beach area went through a couple of transformations since its founding 1887 to the successful ocean-side community it is today. First, the ill-fated San Diego College of Letters opened a year after the community’s founding, was supposed to be the draw the community needed to bring people to buy lots and live in Pacific Beach. The dream came to an end in 1891 and the resulting lots were mostly turned into lemon tree groves as Pacific Beach became known as the Lemon Capital of the World for a few years. Sicily overtook the moniker when its less expensive lemons drove PB’s lemon farmers out of business at the turn of the 20th Century. In time, a pier was built and street cars starting bringing people to Pacific Beach and things began to flourish.
I had a few extra hours one cloudy afternoon and decided to take the train to Old Town Transit Center and hop on the #8 bus to Pacific Beach for a little while. The beach from Crystal Pier to where the cottages start at the edge of Mission Beach is party central for many young people living in or visiting Pacific Beach.
The place has a reputation for partying. There’s an ITH Hostel down the beach from where I was, but I’ve heard it rocks around the clock. Unfortunately, or fortunately sometimes, rockin’ around the clock is something I don’t do anymore. Some nights, I’m lucky to get through happy hour.
This is also where young people took to the water and starting surfing waves like Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth, two men credited with popularizing the sport in mainland America from what was then the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. Although, the sport didn’t really become popular until the teen beach movies of the 1950s and 60s came out. Then, it became the thing to do and still is for people of all ages now.
Crystal Pier replaced Pickering’s Pier, a poorly constructed pier housing an amusement park and ballroom that was ruled unsafe within months after opening. Pickering’s Pier was taken down and the Crystal Pier opened on the Fourth of July, 1927.
The cottages on the pier were added in 1930 and can be rented for 2 – 8 people. Each unit comes with a kitchenette, private balconies, parking, and one or two baths depending on the size being rented.
The boardwalk is the heartbeat of the partying section along Pacific Beach. Here is where people congregate to roller blade, bicycle, jog, or stroll along the nearly three mile trail.
You’ll also find small-business entrepreneurs selling jewelry, trinkets, clothing, and painted skate boards.
Oh, and there’s more than a couple of drinking and eating establishments you can stop in to have a cold one.
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
After walking around a bit, I found a place where Bud’s were going for $3.50 (Bud Light was $5.00, so an adjustment in drinking habits was necessary). The Lahaina Beach House is located on the boardwalk and the place was cranking good music to a great crowd. I got to meet some new people, including a guy from Australia bumming around the ocean who hasn’t owned a pair of shoes for a couple of years or so he says.
After a couple of beers, I headed over to the Baja Beach Cafe and had myself a Puerto Vallarta which is a peach margarita (no Bud Light, another adjustment needed).
There are plenty of other stops along this stretch of beach.
North Beach Area
The area of the beach north of Crystal Pier is where families and people who want to get away from the heavy go to enjoy the sun and water. It’s down below the cliffs rising up along the shoreline and has a pleasant walkway and plenty of sand. Many surfers also come to this area to ride the waves. They paddle around along the side of Crystal Pier looking out to the sea for the right rise of water to tell them a wave worth riding is coming. They shift quickly o their boards and start paddling toward shore until the wave picks them and its energy cascades across the surface of the water. It’s a pretty sight to watch.