Walking Into The Fog- A Trip To Ocean Beach

The ambling has been continuing lately, its just the writing about it that has been absent. A busy and immensely distracted summer. But ‘Ambles carries on, with an eye towards a book deal. “Stairway Walks Of San Francisco- 6th edition”…..give me a break.

We live on the west-facing side of Nob Hill. And as this is home and office, I am here most days. And from my perch, I live with the fog. At times it envelops, at other times, it is…..out there, to the west. I find it alluring in a way, a bit of a tease, the way it advances, then retreats, and repeat. I like the fog, just not a week of it without sun. Like the predictable cycle of the fog, us San Francisco dwellers repeat each summer our complaints of its arrival, as though it is a new and unheard of phenomenon. But I must say, this summer, the complaints were louder, and I would agree- it seems to have been, until a few weeks back, a particularly cold and foggy summer.

In the heat of it one day(?), we,  instead of following the natural inclination to flee this cirrus invasion, dove into it,  heading west for a journey along Ocean beach and its surroundings. Here’s the route:

We journeyed out on the 1-California. The sun was out on Nob Hill, but very quickly, the battle between sun and fog was on, and by the heart of the Richmond, the sun wasn’t even trying. As we lumbered up from 32nd Ave to the Legion of Honor, (my favorite Bay Area museum), it occurred that this grim day might be better spent inside, soothed by the likes of Ingres and Manet. The Museum would have to wait.


Rolling around the back of the museum, one can explore the urban wilds of Land’s End, a truly remarkable place in its own right. Eventually, all paths  spit you out at the old Sutro Baths site. There, windswept tourists, baffled as to what happened to the sun that regaled them in Union Square moments ago,  braced themselves against the wind for the requisite Seal Rocks snapshot. The Cliff House is worth a stop, if only to sip a delicious Ramos Fizz at the bar on a windswept day. But instead ,we ambled up above the Cliff House, to Sutro Heights Park. Once the site of the oceanside home of Adolph Sutro, it is the ruins of his lavish Italian styled gardens. It was turned over to the City, and today it is a relatively little know park. On this day , it oozed melancholia, overgrown vegetation trying to reclaim slightly ruined walls and some faded statuary. This was a Wednesday morning, and the only others there were a couple of old Russian women. (It was rather Siberia-ish this day). From this promontory, one gains a commanding view of Ocean Beach, and on this morning, it was deserted.

From this vantage point, one can venture to imagine what it must’ve looked 75 years ago. It was a different place, home to not only the baths, but to an amusement park;  Playland At The Beach, and Fleishacker Pool, the largest pool in the country. This an era of taking the train to the Beach for urban adventures ( was is less foggy then?). At any rate, the Baths burned down in 1966, and 5 years later both Playland and the Pool closed. The vestiges of these are: the bath ruins, the Camera Obscura from Playland next to the Cliff House, and the deserted pool house, now part of the zoo, and occupied by homeless.

Playland At The Beach,……….yup- fog- note the windmills!
Fleishhacker Pool- sun added with photoshop I imagine


Descending from the Sutro Heights, we ambled out to the beach. Visiting Ocean Beach can elicit a provocative range of experiences. On a blessedly sunny weekend day, it may look like any beach- packed. But more often, it is this- overcast and quiet. Which brings us back to the fog. The drama and excitement associated with the fog is at its leading edge, when it is barreling down on you, ready to sweep you up, all gusty wind and cold. But once it wins, and it always does, it goes quiet- the wind ceases, and noises are muffled, yes as though under a thick white blanket. And on this day, sound was muffled, the streets quiet, the beach deserted. There was a few dog walkers, but there was a graffitti artist- “I wounder, if you wounder”.

Surf City

At Noriega, we headed inland. There is, not surprisingly, a sub-culture that lives in the Outer Sunset. Like much out here, it seems about as far away as one could get from Mission Hipsters, Food Carts, Nob Hill dowagers, Fi-Di stockbrokers, and so on. Just on this little walk,  ran into a number of surfers, commuting to, or from, the beach. This neighborhood bears little resemblance to anything else in San Francisco, it has more affinity to Santa Cruz, and some of the scruffier Southern California beach towns (save the sun), places where the elements batter the buildings to a withered and weathered state of just enough to keep dry, but its ok, because, after all, we’re here for the surf. In fact, even the new Tsunami Evacuation signs have been doctored up, suggesting that perhaps a Tsunami  could represent a once-in-a-lifetime recreation opportunity for the local populace.

The local “community center”-surf board signage

Blinded By The Light

As we ambled along the “outer Forties”, 45, 46, 47th Aves, just shy of the beach, I was struck again, by the quiet. Parallel to the ocean, and thus away from those heading to the beach, there were few signs of life. Did pass one home with half open garage door,  saw feet, heard music, smelled pot…………skipping school I thought…..what an awesome place this must be to do that, this warm fog blanket a perfect elixir for  your teen angst. Much of this part of the City was developed in the first half of the 20th century, and there is much repetition to the homes. The basic model a garage with adjacent stair up to the living floors, and a little patch of lawn out front. The corners depart from this model, and they provide slightly more interest to the streetscape. It was eerily beautiful walking through these avenues on a Wednesday morning. The solitude, the hushed tones, the repetitive beige buildings, and then….COLOR!!! Explosions of color in fact. And not just color, blinding combinations, defying the fog, generating their own heat…blinding.

The pink trim really ties it all together.
“We ran out of red.”
“We live in the green house with the red lawn”

My Dogs Are Tired

One last stop before home, a visit at the foot the dog mascot from the Doggie Diner. A one-time Bay Area chain, this is the lone survivor in San Francisco. He was moved out here, and after the chain closed, found a new home in front of a beach side diner. And now , that diner has closed, and he has been moved again………….to the median on Sloat Ave?? Standing sentinel to the fog, perhaps awaiting his next gig?  This was sad , not the least of which because the plan was to finish this jaunt with burger and fries. Now what?

Always found this dog a little disturbing.. is it the eyes, the bowtie, the knowing grin….(.its the eyes). At any rate he is  a vestige of a buy-gone era , the roadside attraction that beckons the visitor in- , an over the top piece of advertising sculpture, perfect for this setting in a certain time, an odd end of the road  urban setting, that was a destination for pleasure seekers for years, and still is I suppose. This was about a 6 mile walk, and the dogs were tired. And speaking of pleasure seeking, we bemoaned the fact that we should’ve done the walk in the other direction, except I am sure we wouldn’t have made it past the Ciff House and their Ramos Fizz. More to come.