Ocean Beach: the Edge of the World

Ocean Beach from Sutro Heights

Ocean Beach, as seen from Sutro Heights

It’s exactly two miles from my house to Ocean Beach (my Strava app tells me so). Every weekend I make the short run, ending up at the north end of the Great Highway near the Cliff House (today I beat my record: 9-minute miles – hurray! A special thank-you to my running partners, stress and angst).

Grafitti wall

The wall, looking northeast.

Ocean Beach wall

The wall, looking northwest to the Cliff House.

Ocean Beach is not initially beautiful. At least it wasn’t to me, the girl who grew up in Hawaii. There’s a huge, graffiti-covered (only on one side, thankfully) concrete wall that spans the entire length of the beach. It’s supposed to keep sand dunes from piling up on the Great Highway. Still, every summer the highway shuts down for the annual sand removal, a project that moves approximately 7,000 to 10,000 cubic yards of sand (source: SFGate).

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Another view of the Cliff House.

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Even without the eyesore, there’s the weather. The beach is cloudy or foggy or cold or windy or all of the above 360 days of the year. But… like everything else in this town, it’s grown on me. I love how vast it feels, how uncrowded (when it’s a nice day, you know it. Everyone flocks to the beach), how rugged, even how grey (I mean, crashing waves at the edge of the world are pretty amazing, whether the sun is shining on them or not).

oceanbeach.beerbottlesI’m beginning to think San Francisco can make anything beautiful. The old homeless man sitting on a park bench I passed this morning. The abandoned beer bottles I found last week. Maybe my stress level is so high that I’m not thinking clearly (I think I AM a tad delusional right now, let’s be honest). But I think more than that, I just want to love my town as much as I can in these last couple of weeks.

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One of the lessons that San Francisco has taught me (and it’s taught me many) is to look beyond. To look beyond myself, to look beyond first impressions, beyond stereotypes, beyond the hype…to look beyond the concrete wall and the fog, to find the beautiful crashing waves of Ocean Beach.

Batteries to Bluffs: My Favorite Presidio Trail

Presidio: Batteries to Bluffs Trail

South end of the trail.

When we started considering leaving San Francisco (around late summer, I think) I began appreciating my surroundings a lot more. I wanted to burn the beauty of this place into my memory and also not take it for granted. Plus, I needed space away from the kids, away from everything, to think clearly and get into focus. So I started going for small walks (which eventually turned into runs) in the Presidio. My goal was to take every trail on the map (and I think I’ve pretty much done that, except for maybe a small stretch of the Bay Trail.

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First set of stairs.

All the trails have something special to offer, but the Batteries to Bluffs Trail is hands down my favorite. The trail itself is a short .7 miles,  which can be easily extended via a number of other trails, if you want a longer trek. I usually start at Baker Beach and take the Coastal or de Anza Trail back.

Presidio: Battieries to Bluffs Stairs2

Another set of trail steps on a foggy day.

According to the Golden Gate National Parks site, the trail has over 500 steps, but other trail sites puts the number closer to 470. Regardless of the exact step count, it’s a decent workout and takes about 45 minutes both ways if you’re walking at a decent clip.

Marshall's Beach

Marshall’s Beach

About halfway up the trail, you can take a very short detour (100 feet-ish) to Marshall’s Beach. I’m always amazed at how few people are on this beach. Its views of the Golden Gate are spectacular, and to the South you can watch the waves make their way towards Baker and China Beaches.

Note: If you’re contemplating a tough decision or need to solve a mind-boggling problem, come here. If you don’t find answers, at the very least you’ll leave believing they’re out there.

Marshall's Beach and the Golden Gate

Marshall’s Beach looking North.

When you are almost to the North end of the trail, there is a small lookout with a stone bench, where you can look down on Marshall’s Beach. Even though it’s a beautiful view, I normally don’t stop here because A) there are usually one or two nude sunbathers at any give time, which is fine but ruins my zen and B) I’m too busy trying to finish the trail at this point, that I don’t have time to rest.

Yesterday, however, I noticed a bunch of people looking out towards the water so I stopped to see what the fuss was all about. Dolphins! There were at least two, maybe more, frolicking very close to shore.  Given my fragile emotional state (we’re moving – did you hear?), it was enough to send me over the edge. I had to choose between weeping and dry heaving in front of strangers or pulling myself away from the dolphins. Had to go with door number two.

Question: Was it really a dolphin or was it a porpoise (both of which have been spotted in the Bay)?
My short answer: Who cares?

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The North end of the trail.  Continue North along the Coastal Trail to reach the old Batteries and eventually the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza.

The most people I’ve passed on the trail is about 30 (and 15 or so of those were in a tour of some kind), but usually the number is more like to four to seven. If you go early enough, especially on foggy days, you may likely be the only one on the trail the entire time, which is both invigorating and frightening (for paranoid me, anyway).

Presidio: Web

Spider web on the trail.

In late summer on hot days (if you’re lucky enough to experience a hot summer day in San Francisco), lizards will scurry along the trail, scaring the bejeezus out of you in the process. You’ve been warned. There are also tiny little birds that dart across the path, inches away from your feet. It took me several shrieking incidents to discover that these are indeed birds and not rats. Still. I don’t need that. My heart is beating fast enough already with the steps and the stalkers hiding in the bushes. In the fall, there are hundreds of spider webs and cocoons that look like something out of a sci-fi novel. Creepy in a beautiful kind of way.

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Looking down on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail (standing on the Coastal Trail).

Why so many tourists flock to Fisherman’s Wharf instead of the Presidio is ludicrous to me. Well, fine. Let them eat their overpriced crab while bumping elbows with a million other people wearing “I heart SF” sweatshirts. I’ll be here, on the Batteries to Bluffs trail, taking my deep breaths and searching for dolphins.