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Pacific Beach Then & Now: Revisiting 1980s series on San Diego neighborhoods

News 8 looks into the history of Pacific Beach, and what it's like today. We revisit Crystal Pier, life along the boardwalk and more featured in 1987.

SAN DIEGO — From Mission Bay to the Pacific Ocean, PB is an eclectic, fun-loving beach town with plenty of outdoor activities to choose from. Whether you’re at Crown Point Park or sitting atop the rolling green hills of Kate Sessions, there is no shortage of great places to take the family.

“The view is just awesome from here,” said Surya Soundararajan while picnicking with his wife and daughter at Kate Sessions Park. “You can see the entire Mission Bay Park. It’s a great place to hang out.”

And whether you’re biking, skating, or just walking, there is never a dull moment at the PB boardwalk.

Back in 1987, when reporter Connie Healy profiled Pacific Beach on News 8, people who lived here described it as “paradise” and “a great place to live.”

Nearly 35 years later, you’ll still find people feeling the same way about PB.

“You know the saying, ‘Living the dream?’  Well, we’re literally doing that here,” said surfer Brent Hillier with a smile.

“We really love PB,” said resident Julie Kohl. “We feel like it’s got a lot of character.”

“It’s a great place to live. I love the beach. I love the healthy atmosphere, and the people,” said long-time resident Brian Curry. “I love the variety that we have in Pacific Beach.”

“The weather is pretty constant, the climate,” said Nate Gilles. “And I just like to see the flux of people that come through.”

Hands down, the most popular person at the beach in 2021 is everyone’s favorite joyriding rollerblader, and retired neurologist, SLOMO.

“He is a minor celebrity,” said Julie. “He is an icon of Pacific Beach. I think maybe I have a little crush on him.”

“SLOMO’s traditional,” said Nate. “He’s still up and going. I think he’s got it right. The key to longevity is to stay active, be out there on the boardwalk, whether it be rollerblading or walking.”

Over the years and decades, one landmark in PB remains iconic. The Crystal Pier Hotel & Cottages continues to be a worldwide destination for vacationing families.

“It is Pacific Beach. Everything about it,” said co-owner Bill Allen. “It’s the focal point of Pacific Beach. It really is a nice gathering place. So many families have come here for so long.”

And across the boardwalk, you’ll find one of the most popular breakfast spots in town. KONO’S by the pier has been around since 1991.

“I love Konos,” said Greek tourist Diamantis Orfanos. “I enjoy the breakfast here. Everything is amazing.”

“My favorite thing about the food is the whole entire meal, bro,” said Ben Murphy. “For sure, I love it. This is a staple of San Diego.”

Today, one of the big success stories in Pacific Beach is just how far the schools have come since the '80s. The Mission Bay Cluster of Schools is unique in the way that the elementary, middle, and high school levels are all connected with continuous curriculums and the I.B., or International Baccalaureate programs, which provide advanced level, wholistic learning for students. 

“I think the community realized that at the heart of any great community is great schools,” said former Chair of the Mission Bay Cluster Lily Higman.

After several years of construction, Pacific Beach Middle School opened new classroom facilities this school year.

“We have a brand new, state-of-the-art classroom building that is designed for today’s learning,” said PBMS Principal Kimberly Meng. “And with that, our kids are more focused, more engaged.”

During construction of the new building, crews found something that had been buried in the '80s. 

“The construction company unearthed a time capsule that was buried in ’86,” said Principal Meng. “And it said ‘Open in 2021.’

Encased it concrete, the time capsule hasn’t been opened just yet, but they plan to do so in December.

“We’re really excited to find out what’s inside,” said Principal Meng.

In 1987, our News 8 report mentioned that a single-family, three-bedroom house in PB would sell for $225,000 according to real estate agent Leonard Drake, at the time. Today, in 92109, which also includes Mission Beach, the median sale price for a single-family home is about $1.7 million dollars according to the San Diego Association of Realtors.

“I bought my first condo on the corner of Chalcedony and Haines in 1986 for $145,000,” said resident Brian Curry. “Three-bedroom, three-bath townhome, 1,550 sq ft. That same condo is probably approaching a million dollars today. Here at the beach, it’s just always going to be expensive.”

Looking ahead, as construction for the Balboa Avenue Trolley Station nears completion, eastern Pacific Beach near Interstate-5 will be seeing new development in the decades to come with the higher density allowed in areas near public transit. When the new trolley station opens to the public on Nov. 21, Pacific Beach will be more connected than ever to the rest of the San Diego region.


Celebrate San Diego was a 1986/1987 series about neighborhoods of San Diego County. CBS 8 anchor-reporter Connie Healy and a team of photographers roamed the county and delivered in-depth profiles of several towns and communities in the area. They were history lessons focusing on changes and progress.

Many long-term residents she spoke with reflected on what it was like to grow up in their town and what they thought of all the changes they had seen. One really gets a sense of what the character and personality of the community were like in each profile - and how diverse the county really is. 

Thirty-five years later, we're sending out a team of reporters to see how things have changed or stayed the same in each of the nearly 20 neighborhoods we covered in the mid-1980s.

Connie shares her memories below of working on this fantastic series:  

"I love talking to people. People make the news, not newscasters. They simply report how we live our lives. But sometimes it enriches that picture to add a little perspective by not just looking at where we are today, but how far we've come. In the 1980s, Celebrate San Diego did just that. It painted a picture of daily life that was much different from the one we live today, and a city that many of us wouldn't even recognize.

Talking to people, listening to their stories is what reporters do every day. But these stories of life in San Diego 50 to 100 years ago were amazing. This city has come a long way in the last 30 years but some of the people in these stories saw change at the speed of light. I would encourage you to take some time to take a look into our past, revel in the present and celebrate the wonderful city that we all call home."


RELATED: News 8 Throwback: San Diego’s Belmont Park, Bazaar del Mundo, Crystal Pier and Seaport Village over the years



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