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Inside the Icon: Ocean Beach Pier

The waterfront landmark, originally called the “San Diego Fishing Pier,” opened fifty years ago last month and boasts a history as fascinating and offbeat as OB itself.
Early morning low tide at the OB pier. | Photo: Joe Ewing

By Dan Letchworth

“The Ocean Beach Song”

by Lee McCumber

“The wide world’s finest fishing pier
Lures a host of anglers here
Sportsmen if you want some fun
Here’s the best beneath the sun
Happiness within your reach
When you live in Ocean Beach”

Written for the pier’s opening day celebration

By the Numbers

At 1,971 feet, it’s the second longest pier on the West Coast and the longest concrete pier in the world. Seven thousand people attended the opening day festivities; today 500,000 people visit every year.

A Bridge over Troubled Waters

The city’s first attempt to address demands for a proper fishing spot in 1915 was a 1,500-foot bridge with roadways and a streetcar line connecting Bacon Street to Mission Bay. A pier at the end of Del Monte Avenue also began construction in 1941, but halted that same year thanks to the war effort’s demand for steel. The bridge to Mission Bay slowly deteriorated and was demolished in 1951.

Catching Waves

Piers are traditionally built from the ocean inward. But due to Ocean Beach’s rough surf, its pier was built from the shore out. During construction, tsunami waves originating from an earthquake near Japan wiped out three concrete piles and nearly toppled a crane. To accomodate future large waves, a slight vertical incline was added to the pier’s original profile.

Community Spirit

The pier owes its asymmetrical design to the people of Ocean Beach, who liked the project so much that they raised an additional $100,000 while it was still under construction, extending the south bank by 167 feet.

Like a Fish out of Water

California Governor Pat Brown cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony and made the first cast off the pier. He fished for five minutes and didn’t catch anything.

Keep OB Weird

The highlight of the pier’s opening day was a parade down Voltaire Street, featuring Marine and Navy marching bands, the House of Scotland Junior Pipe Band, over a dozen beauty queens—as well as the San Diego Unicycle Clowns, the Junior Daughters of the Sphinx, and an “Anti-Litter Animated Pelican.”

Thinking outside the Tackle Box

The pier café’s utilities hadn’t been turned on by opening day, so Tom Ham (of Tom Ham’s Lighthouse fame) turned some leftover construction wheelbarrows into makeshift barbecues and made burgers for the hungry crowd. Later, the pier’s first anglers complained that they weren’t getting bites, so Peninsula Chamber of Commerce president Chuck Bahde arranged for junkyard cars to be dumped into the water beneath it. The flattened cars made for perfect habitats, and the fish population exploded soon after.

Reel ’em In

The first three catches made from the pier were an 8-inch perch, a gray shark, and a crab. The most plentiful is herring, but patient anglers can nab jacksmelt, mackerel, bass, and halibut from the middle portion, and the deeper water at the far end is good for barracuda, white seabass, and yellowtail. Want to give it a try? No license is required to fish there, and you can rent poles from the bait and tackle shop right on the pier.

Good Tidings

If you’d rather observe a miniature ecosytem than remove individuals from it, the sandstone tide pools at the foot of Newport Avenue are a nice place to spot shore crabs, hermit crabs, and sea anemones. Check for low tide alerts.

Visit the Icon: 5078 Niagara Avenue, Ocean Beach

Inside the Icon: Ocean Beach Pier

Early morning low tide at the OB pier. | Photo: Joe Ewing

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