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Beaches, Part One: the South Bay

A fisherman displaying a flatfish he caught - Image by Bob Eckert
A fisherman displaying a flatfish he caught

To someone used to other beaches in San Diego, the South Bay beaches Coronado, the Strand, and imperial Beach are completely foreign. The unpretentiousness and wholesomeness of the family crowds and the lack of any real beach culture are real differences.

Officers Beach at the Naval Air Station North Island is not really an officers' beach. It is now open to both officers and enlisted men, and, if one can judge by the tattoos, it looks as though the officers have abandoned the area to their subordinates. The beach is bordered on the north by a small arms weapons range, so the warning signs there do serve a purpose. Just north of the weapons range is a skeel shoot, and further up the beach one can fish off the rocks of Zuniga Point.

Separating Officers Beach and the main Coronado beach is a partly iron rod. partly chain link fence lopped with barbed wire and crowned with a “Government Property No Trespassing" sign. The ubiquitous graffiti “Unlocals Go Home" is spray painted on top of the Government sign. It seems that locals (meaning surfers) have won their war of attrition against the Marine guards. Dozens of surfers wander freely on both sides of the fence. According to one guy holding a board and leaning against the fence, the summer surf is good in Coronado because it faces south and catches the south swell. But the beach at Officers' Beach faces south even more.

A sunbather relaxing

What can it be that keeps Coronado beach so depopulated? The crowds are sparse. For at least a mile the beach enjoys a good 300 yards from the boulders on Ocean Boulevard to the water. Just in front of the boulders roll rows of ice plant-covered sand dunes, and then yards and yards of white sand. Families sit ten or twenty yards apart. At the northern end. near the barbed wire fence, is a sign that carefully explains the use and dimensions of the Dog Run, a limited area near the fence. Nowhere else on the beach is there a scent of an animal, not to mention the lack of beer cans or Jack in the Box wrappers (I don't think they'd even allow a Jack in the Box in Coronado proper: even the Orange Julius has closed down). Further down on the beach, the crowds get thicker near the lifeguard tower.

There's a local high school hangout area, kind of like the Windansea parking spot, near the Ocean Boulevard steps leading to the tower. That's where the bicycle parking area is. But unless my research is too spotty, open dope smoking there is far less common than at Ocean Beach or Mission Beach.

A beachgoer enjoying the view of the Hotel Del Coronado

Anyone who paid $100,000 for a Coronado Shores condominium and was promised a beach should sue for fraud. Only at low tide is there any sand at all in front of the Shores' five high rises. One can't help but feel sorry for the brave bodies niched between the rocks and the seaweed, brushing the wet sand off one arm, swatting flies with the other, and studying the approaching tide.

Gator Beach is just a short stretch of sand between the Coronado Shores area and the Amphibious Base gas station. Again, another Navy beach with snack bar, bathrooms, etc., serving primarily Navy enlisted men and their families. The scenery is fine here if you enjoy taking in the Navy amphibious landing craft scattered on the beach.

For several miles south of the gas station runs deserted beach. Navy property: an obstacle course, the remnants of a mock-up of a Vietnamese village, beach markers for staged amphibious assaults.

Halfway between Gator Beach and Imperial Beach is the turn-off for both the Coronado Cays and the Silver Strand State Park. The Silver Strand Beach, though not especially famous for its beauty or its width, does bring in streams of people at $1 per car. They come because of the convenience: showers, running water, parking right next to the sand, plenty of fire-rings. The surf is not so great because of the flatness of the sand, but there are designated surfing areas.

Imperial Beach is one of California's worst swimming beaches, according to its own lifeguards. They make an average of eight rescues a day. When South Mission gets too rough, the city closes it down. Not good ole I.B. It's open every day of the year. “There were 10,000 people here last weekend," claims one of the guards.

Since the beach faces the ocean straight on, it's open to any swell. The drag just a few feet out is ferocious. Lots of people will get out a little far on an inflatable surf raft and fall off, and they can't manage. That's why one of the lifeguards is stationed halfway out on the I.B. pier — to watch the folks on rafts.

The Imperial Beach Pier is full of fishermen, no matter what the day of the year. You can rent a rod and reel for $2 a day at the end of the pier, and mussels cost 40 cents a pound. There's also a fishing boat which is dropped from the end of the pier. It takes only 55 minutes to gel to Mexico's Coronado Islands and costs $10 a halfday and $15 for a 3/4 day.

Imperial Beach's steeply sloping beach is pretty unattractive. Its limited width (about 30 yards at low tide) means it's almost always covered at high tide every day. and thus it never has a chance to dry out. There is a strong smell of decaying seaweed and lots of sand Hies. A lifeguard told me that it's the winter's north current that eats the beach away and only* in the summer, with the south current, does it get built up again. Just recently was there enough sand to put up the telephone poles which serve as volleyball net supports.

Still, the undeveloped character of I.B. one-story shacks along the ocean front, the dirt roads, the musty pier gives the place flavor that's rare in San Diego.

Place

Border Field State Park

1500 Monument Road, Imperial Beach

Speaking of undeveloped. Border Field State Park will really make you feel you're away from an urban area. Set up mainly as a bird and animal sanctuary, there are no telephones, running water, or flush toilets. There are a few fire pits and there are some chemical toilets. The beach is wide and affords a close-un view of Tijuana's Bullring- by-the-sea. You can get there from the American side of the border by going south on Imperial Beach's 19th Street until you come to Monument Road. Turn right and go until you reach the Park's entrance. Entry fee is $1 per vehicle.

The author's evaluation of the mentioned beaches
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A fisherman displaying a flatfish he caught - Image by Bob Eckert
A fisherman displaying a flatfish he caught

To someone used to other beaches in San Diego, the South Bay beaches Coronado, the Strand, and imperial Beach are completely foreign. The unpretentiousness and wholesomeness of the family crowds and the lack of any real beach culture are real differences.

Officers Beach at the Naval Air Station North Island is not really an officers' beach. It is now open to both officers and enlisted men, and, if one can judge by the tattoos, it looks as though the officers have abandoned the area to their subordinates. The beach is bordered on the north by a small arms weapons range, so the warning signs there do serve a purpose. Just north of the weapons range is a skeel shoot, and further up the beach one can fish off the rocks of Zuniga Point.

Separating Officers Beach and the main Coronado beach is a partly iron rod. partly chain link fence lopped with barbed wire and crowned with a “Government Property No Trespassing" sign. The ubiquitous graffiti “Unlocals Go Home" is spray painted on top of the Government sign. It seems that locals (meaning surfers) have won their war of attrition against the Marine guards. Dozens of surfers wander freely on both sides of the fence. According to one guy holding a board and leaning against the fence, the summer surf is good in Coronado because it faces south and catches the south swell. But the beach at Officers' Beach faces south even more.

A sunbather relaxing

What can it be that keeps Coronado beach so depopulated? The crowds are sparse. For at least a mile the beach enjoys a good 300 yards from the boulders on Ocean Boulevard to the water. Just in front of the boulders roll rows of ice plant-covered sand dunes, and then yards and yards of white sand. Families sit ten or twenty yards apart. At the northern end. near the barbed wire fence, is a sign that carefully explains the use and dimensions of the Dog Run, a limited area near the fence. Nowhere else on the beach is there a scent of an animal, not to mention the lack of beer cans or Jack in the Box wrappers (I don't think they'd even allow a Jack in the Box in Coronado proper: even the Orange Julius has closed down). Further down on the beach, the crowds get thicker near the lifeguard tower.

There's a local high school hangout area, kind of like the Windansea parking spot, near the Ocean Boulevard steps leading to the tower. That's where the bicycle parking area is. But unless my research is too spotty, open dope smoking there is far less common than at Ocean Beach or Mission Beach.

A beachgoer enjoying the view of the Hotel Del Coronado

Anyone who paid $100,000 for a Coronado Shores condominium and was promised a beach should sue for fraud. Only at low tide is there any sand at all in front of the Shores' five high rises. One can't help but feel sorry for the brave bodies niched between the rocks and the seaweed, brushing the wet sand off one arm, swatting flies with the other, and studying the approaching tide.

Gator Beach is just a short stretch of sand between the Coronado Shores area and the Amphibious Base gas station. Again, another Navy beach with snack bar, bathrooms, etc., serving primarily Navy enlisted men and their families. The scenery is fine here if you enjoy taking in the Navy amphibious landing craft scattered on the beach.

For several miles south of the gas station runs deserted beach. Navy property: an obstacle course, the remnants of a mock-up of a Vietnamese village, beach markers for staged amphibious assaults.

Halfway between Gator Beach and Imperial Beach is the turn-off for both the Coronado Cays and the Silver Strand State Park. The Silver Strand Beach, though not especially famous for its beauty or its width, does bring in streams of people at $1 per car. They come because of the convenience: showers, running water, parking right next to the sand, plenty of fire-rings. The surf is not so great because of the flatness of the sand, but there are designated surfing areas.

Imperial Beach is one of California's worst swimming beaches, according to its own lifeguards. They make an average of eight rescues a day. When South Mission gets too rough, the city closes it down. Not good ole I.B. It's open every day of the year. “There were 10,000 people here last weekend," claims one of the guards.

Since the beach faces the ocean straight on, it's open to any swell. The drag just a few feet out is ferocious. Lots of people will get out a little far on an inflatable surf raft and fall off, and they can't manage. That's why one of the lifeguards is stationed halfway out on the I.B. pier — to watch the folks on rafts.

The Imperial Beach Pier is full of fishermen, no matter what the day of the year. You can rent a rod and reel for $2 a day at the end of the pier, and mussels cost 40 cents a pound. There's also a fishing boat which is dropped from the end of the pier. It takes only 55 minutes to gel to Mexico's Coronado Islands and costs $10 a halfday and $15 for a 3/4 day.

Imperial Beach's steeply sloping beach is pretty unattractive. Its limited width (about 30 yards at low tide) means it's almost always covered at high tide every day. and thus it never has a chance to dry out. There is a strong smell of decaying seaweed and lots of sand Hies. A lifeguard told me that it's the winter's north current that eats the beach away and only* in the summer, with the south current, does it get built up again. Just recently was there enough sand to put up the telephone poles which serve as volleyball net supports.

Still, the undeveloped character of I.B. one-story shacks along the ocean front, the dirt roads, the musty pier gives the place flavor that's rare in San Diego.

Place

Border Field State Park

1500 Monument Road, Imperial Beach

Speaking of undeveloped. Border Field State Park will really make you feel you're away from an urban area. Set up mainly as a bird and animal sanctuary, there are no telephones, running water, or flush toilets. There are a few fire pits and there are some chemical toilets. The beach is wide and affords a close-un view of Tijuana's Bullring- by-the-sea. You can get there from the American side of the border by going south on Imperial Beach's 19th Street until you come to Monument Road. Turn right and go until you reach the Park's entrance. Entry fee is $1 per vehicle.

The author's evaluation of the mentioned beaches
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