20 for 2020: Number 20—Ocean Beach/The Great Highway

Time and again, San Francisco does nearly everything in its power to end our relationship. The nutty politics, the secularism that rules the roost and the perennial challenges of city life wear me down. It's a grind plus. And yet, this City by the Bay is a place I remain committed to—not because I have to, but because I want to. This city/county where my mom grew up and my grandparents settled after immigration is my home. And, one of its greatest attributes has risen out of this pandemic. It is 20 on my 20 for 2020: the closure of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach.

As written on Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy's website

Picture a 3.5-mile stretch of white beach with few tourists and no high rises. It's just you and the waves and the seabirds at Ocean Beach, on the westernmost border of San Francisco, adjacent to Golden Gate Park. Great for strolling and flying kites, but the water is frigid and the currents hazardous for all but the most experienced surfers.

What this description of Ocean Beach is NOT telling you is the reason there are so few tourists. It only alludes to why it might be you and the waves, interacting with the wildlife and the water. The last line of the descriptor is a give away, but so is the famous quote by Mark Twain. You might not know exactly where he wrote: the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, but I do. With pen in hand and paper drenched by the fog, Samuel Clemens was inspired by Ocean Beach in the Outer Sunset of San Francisco in July, 1880.

To me, Ocean Beach answers the question why those without expectations are happiest. Arrive in the summer for a day at the beach and you'll be disappointed (unless you're down with gray, fog and a good fleece). Arrive in November, December and January and what you find is however…..magnificence.

In How the Great Highway became San Francisco's most unexpected promenade, Fiona Lee writes

When the pandemic shut down most of the city, much of the 3.5-mile road closed to car traffic and transformed into San Francisco’s newest promenade, one that hugs the edge of the continent and overlooks the sea — the Westside’s version of the Embarcadero.

This long, smooth stretch of concrete has been given a new life. Every weeknight or weekend we aren’t shrouded in wildfire smoke, people flock here to enjoy this urban parkway between Lincoln Way and Sloat Boulevard, to bike and walk, to breathe in a little ocean air without a mask, and to simply enjoy life where we can enjoy crowds while staying socially distanced.

It’s become one of our few “third places,” neither work nor home, left to us now as nearly everything else — restaurants, malls, churches, movie theatres, retail shops, coffee shops and much, much more — closed in the wake of COVID-19. (Yes, some of these places are reopening, but they don't feel safe like the outdoors do.)

I believe that the closing of the Great Highway has done more for the mental and physical health of San Franciscans that any other public health program.

In December and in January, I came to the Great Highway to find weather and waves that rival any beach in Southern California. I have walked the shore solo and with friends (thank you Haley!!). I have witnessed some of the most remarkable breakers and prolific sunsets that left me utterly convinced Abba Father is the Potter, the Creator and THAT is the work of His hands. I have arrived to this space totally spent, down and in low spirits and every time, I leave feeling a little lighter. I urged my students—many who live as many as 30-40 miles away—to make the trek to the Outer Sunset for this place. Sacred Space, indeed.

The Roman god Janus is depicted with two heads—one looks back and the other ahead. Writing the remaining 10 of my 20 for 2020 in January allowed me to realize how grateful I am fo so many meaningful memories, life giving relationships and experiences as this list suggest. My gaze is focused on all that is to come. Here's to 21 in 2021.

Photo Credits
Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach Sunset
Top photo is one I took for the purpose of this blog… In doing so I ran into a former coworker and had the good fortune to catch up and walk together!

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