China Beach, San Francisco

China Beach is a modest place, a collection of good rocks, a short strip of beach and, apparently, rip currents that kill.  In spite of this saw a man walk down to the sand yesterday,  strip down to his bright red speedo and dive into the vicious (and bracingly cold) water while I meekly (but with great joy) waded in the most shallow two inches of sea and foam.  We hailed each other cheerfully.

I love that this warning sign is in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.

This beach was an important transition point for me at nineteen when I was leaving a life of clubs and parties and fashion trade school to a more quiet life, a healthier one.  Coming to this beach helped me find a new center of gravity.  Plus I just loved climbing the rocks and giving my feet sand and salt spa treatments (description of treatment below).

I dressed up in long skirts and floaty layers and stiff hot pink organza shirts with long cuffs that tied and other things the wind could grab.  I would take my shoes off and wade into the sea every single time.  It’s frigid and the sand scrubs your skin like steel wool until all the edges come off and your feet emerge like new.  I wouldn’t put my shoes back on until I left the Sea Cliff neighborhood – the sidewalks giving my feet a final polish.

The Coast Guard building still seems to be empty.  The bathrooms are open now though and I don’t think they used to be.  If I had all the money in the world and wasn’t tsunami-phobic I would buy this building for my San Francisco pied-a-terre.

The retaining walls are taller than I remembered.  I wrote an important scene in Jane Doe in which she and Isaac are sitting on the wall talking into the dusk but I see now that it has to be re-written.

Which is not a problem since I already realized the entire scene has to be ditched and rewritten from scratch.  Now when I rewrite I’ll have these pictures to help me write it with accurate detail.  It’s still an important place in the book.

Unless I decide that I was completely wrong about that too.  Maybe the reason I can’t dive back into the story is because I have to let go of China Beach in the book?

Look who’s showing off its drag-queen-pink gorgeousness.

These anemones made me think of hippie tye dyes.  The kind I hate on people but enjoy in nature.

I like rocks a lot.  I like to climb them.  I like to put small ones in my pocket.  China Beach has lots of rocks.  It also sometimes collects drinkers at night.  You are warned.

My feet loved the spa treatment.  I could have waded in the waves all day long.  But I had to go meet my friend Emma in the inner Richmond.  It just means I have to come back again soon.

The birds.  (Not seagulls)  What are pigeons doing at the beach?  I took a two minute video of some charming sandpipers wave-chasing but I can’t seem to upload it anywhere – total upload fail and I’m really bummed about that because that little video belongs right here as part of my China Beach image collection.

That’s Marin County across the way.

I’m a fan of graffiti.  (When people make an effort with it.)  This bit is new to me and I don’t mind.

We end this tour of China Beach with an artist’s rendition of a blow job.  I can’t help but think this is a blow job gone wrong – but maybe those pursed lips and sperm spray are all just part of the fun?  Maybe that’s a “fun face”?

Observe the artist’s dedication to detail and anatomical correctness.  This is impressive considering the impermanent nature of the medium.  I feel lucky to have been at the right place at the right time to get to see this.  It’s like if Andy Goldsworthy became a gay sand painter.  By today this treasure will have washed away.

It was a great trip to a favorite spot.


  1. laura says:

    omg. i bet the same time you were moodily hanging about china beach i was moodily hanging out at sutra baths and the rocks north of it. about 1994 and 1995. i was there all the time climbing rocks and smoking. maybe i’ll get to see you next time you are over here!

  2. angelina says:

    Thanks Jess!

    Laura – I was thinking about you and wondering how I might contrive to meet up with you. Do you come into the city much these days? I was definitely still visiting China Beach broodily in ’94 but not as often since by then I was living on Sutter and Van Ness. How come I never explored Sutra Baths? I went once with friends but it seems a worthy place to spend more time. Yeah, I was smoking then too.

  3. angelina says:

    Karmyn – if you visit it I hope you’ll get to see something as memorable as me – well, maybe not if the kids are with you. Normally it’s a g-rated beach until night time when sometimes people come to drink – if they still do that. Do you guys sometimes visit SF?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.