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I’m feeling pretty San Francisco right now;
With the Giants pulling out an amazing win over the Nationals, and the 49ers looking to turn themselves back into the power-house they have been, I figure I would redirect my Traveler’s Series to THE City.
San Francisco, you are truly one of a kind.
With the fall season approaching (NW Swells!!!), San Francisco is a magnet of PERFECT surf in October, November, and December. No Seriously. Some of the best waves I’ve ever had in my life were in San Francisco.
I was pretty tight lipped about surf breaks in one of my earlier posts about Marin County – partly because the secret spots stay so good because no one really knows about them, so I’ll open up a little bit more about surfing in SF. Some of the clearest days in San Francisco are actually this time of year and not during summer. It’s a weird dynamic.
Ocean Beach is pretty much one stretch of beach and sand, and spans all the way to the south part of San Francisco. It’s 3 ½ miles of no high rises, few crowds, and some of the best surf I’ve ever laid eyes on (I took the above photo last December).
Approaching SF from the north, you’ll drive through the Presidio (on Hwy 1) and take Geary, west all the way to the beach. You’ll approach a bend in the road which turns into the Great Highway running north and south, with the famous Cliffhouse restaurant on the point (See photos Above). The Ocean will open up before your eyes. This is your first indication of how your session will be. I’ve had some days anxiously anticipating driving around that corner, because you’re never really quite sure if you’ll see off-shore barrels for miles, or really blown out peaks. The most perfect wave, as well as the worst wave I’ve ever seen have both been at Ocean Beach.
Since Ocean Beach faces directly west, offshore winds are the name of the game in the fall and winter time. Spring and Summer have a lot more north and westerly winds, which can damper a gigantic beach break facing straight west. The straight east winds begin around September/October. (A Family friend once taught me a trick to tell how the wind is going to be at Ocean Beach purely based on a certain flag that sits above the toll booth of the Golden Gate Bridge. Pretty cool trick if you don’t have access to Surfline.)
Approaching the first parking lot from the Cliffhouse, will have half a dozen peaks to choose from. Chances are you and a buddy are going to have a left or a right to yourselves. If it’s firing, the crowd situation is dictated on time of year and time of day (unless it’s the swell of the year, then everyone skips work). Take your pick because on the right day, every peak is going off.
The next most notorious sandbar is Noriega Street. You have to park on one of the side streets to get to this one, and walk across the great highway beyond the dunes. The other efficient way to get there is to take the current from whatever peak you started from, and trust me, the current sometimes is the real deal. I’ve started from North OB and have taken waves almost all the way to the San Francisco Zoo, which is next to the most southern part of Ocean Beach. And then had to walk all the way back. Not so fun.
Last but not least is the South Ocean Beach zone which lies right next to Sloat Street. There is a medium sized parking lot there where there is another decent 4-5 peaks. Typically its bigger and better a little north of the parking lot, but I have also seen great waves about 200 yards south of the lot. It really just depends on a lot of variables, So we usually do a gigantic lap from North to South if the North parking lot doesn’t convince us to go right away. By the time we check South OB we have a good idea of where we want to paddle out.
No matter where at OB we surfed, we always had to make our way north again to go over the Golden Gate Bridge to get back home. And after a cold surf session, nothing gets me more stoked than a warm deli sandwich from Freddy’s Deli. I don’t think we eat anywhere else when we surf in San Francisco. Since I don’t visit home as often, Freddy’s is one of those must-eat places on my list. Turkey, Bacon, Avocado on Dutch Crunch bread. Add a cold one and I’m ready for a nap. I usually recommend 3 or so places to eat whenever I’m writing a blog post, but this time I’m sticking with one. Freddy’s is that good.
San Francisco is a small and manageable city for sure, but packs so many different “worlds” within. The surf culture is very much alive within the Bay Area, you just have to know where to find the surfing community.
Start at Ocean Beach, it’s such a different part of San Francisco that will transform how you look at the city. There aren’t large corporate buildings, tech startups, or houses built right onto the sand. It almost makes Ocean Beach seem misplaced; but trust me, it’s perfect the way it is.