“Bleak” Outer Sunset gets heaps of attention following NY Times photo essay

Sunset on Taraval Street in the Outer SunsetSan Francisco’s outer Sunset District and the other neighborhoods near Ocean Beach have been getting more attention than usual of late, with a photo essay in the Sunday New York Times touching the nerves of some locals with its headline calling the area “bleak.”

The Times’ photo essay — also online as a slide show — features some newer businesses in the area, most of them boasting a similar driftwood motif, such as Outerlands and Trouble Coffee. The photos are the work of Outer Sunset resident Lianne Milton, whose Shutter to Think blog provides some additional shots that didn’t make it into the Times. “Unfortunately,” Milton wrote on the Ocean Beach Bulletin’s Facebook page, “it rained the day I shot the assignment. All friggin day.”

Maybe that rain had something to do with the headline the Times wrote — “In San Francisco, a bleak neighborhood is revived” — and writer Rachel Levin’s assessment of the Outer Sunset as “a once bleak neighborhood home to surfers and families looking for affordable housing.”

It’s evident from Milton’s blog, in any case, that she likes living in the area, as she writes that she and her boyfriend consider themselves “so fortunate to finally move back to the area and get to know our neighbors.”

Whatever the reason for the Times’ headline and Levin’s assessment, those five little letters describing the Outer Sunset have prompted a big reaction from people defending the neighborhood from the allegation that it’s “bleak.”

Local Twitter users posted reactions from the profane to the disappointed to the simply happy to see someone notice this part of San Francisco:

  • @mifuller: Outer Sunset #sanfrancisco isn’t bleak!
  • @njudah: “a bleak neighborhood” NY Times? Really? Plenty of NYC is far “bleaker” than the outer sunset.
  • @sfgardengirl: Outer Sunset looks pretty sexy in the NYTimes little bit about the hood, glad it’s no longer bleak [sfgardengirl is one half of the duo behind Far Out Flora, a neighborhood blog and biweekly column in the Bulletin]
  • @zippy_monster: What the [f—] @nytimes? The Outer Sunset is not, and was not bleak. >_<
  • @SFCitizen: Harsh: The New York Times Calls the Outer Sunset “a Bleak Neighborhood” – But Photo Essay Proves the Outset “Revived”
  • @onelouderash: The Times can kiss my [a–]. The Outer Sunset is not “bleak.” #sf #sunsetpride #gohomeyankeescum

In the Curbed SF blog, Outer Sunset resident Eve Batey, who is also the editor and publisher of the SF Appeal, confessed her love for the neighborhood in spite of some shortcomings of living on the city’s edge:

I love it out here, but we’re certainly not trying to recruit you. But if you joined us, the Outer Sunset would welcome you, regardless of who you are, with open arms. You cannot say that about every nabe in SF!

All of this comes just about a week after 7×7 magazine wrote about the Scuttlefish — an ocean-lover’s website helmed by Outer Sunset resident and Gizmodo editorial director Brian Lam, with regular contributions from Ocean Beach Bulletin Associate Editor Mark Lukach — and Scuttlefish’s San Francisco Ocean Guide.

And it was just more than a week ago that a massive influx of jellyfish on Ocean Beach drew worldwide attention to the beach and adjacent neighborhoods.

All of this might be more attention than people are accustomed to in the Ocean Beach area, but perhaps it’s merely a recent recognition by other people of the feeling residents have had all along: That this part of San Francisco is a great place to live.

What do you think? Is the Outer Sunset bleak or boss? Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Photo: Flickr user librarygroover.

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  1. We (my wife, two daughters & I) have lived on Great Highway for several years and absolutely love the neighborhood. We have lived in many other parts of SF (Nob Hill, Lower Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow & Presidio Heights) over the past 15 years and can say without a doubt that this is the first real neighborhood that we have found. It’s an eclectic mix of people from various walks of life who all tend to appreciate the outdoors and share a love of the ocean. The Outer Sunset/Ocean Beach is one of those hidden gems in SF. I feel fortunate to live here and think that it provides for a rich life with access to so many amenities in the area.

  2. oh whoopps my bad…it is written in the copy of a “once bleak neighborhood”….hmmm, what would your preference be to describe the area before the new restaurants and shops moved in? i have lived in sf for many years…i think everyone is stuck in the fog about this one word; dont’ let it dampen the story and pictures. Is there anything you see positive about this piece? let that shine instead.

    • Hi, Lianne. I think the headline and the inclusion of “bleak” in the words accompanying the pics are what have rankled people. The photos — as well as the outtakes on your blog — are beautiful. And to me it’s clear that Levin found the neighborhood interesting, at the very least. This is a textbook example of the fact that a single word can overshadow the remainder of any work of journalism.

      Lianne, if you ever want to showcase some of the more colorful aspects of the neighborhood or some of your own favorite places that didn’t make it into the Times, you know where to find us.

      • I grew up right on the beach at Judah and La Playa…it was definitely bleak in the 80s and 90s. It irks me that people have now idealized a place’s history when most of what I saw out there growing up was some very very seedy hotels and apartments and the folks who lived in them…surprisingly like folks living in long-term hotels in the Tenderloin. We had several families of always dirty-clothed/half-starved kids in that apartment on the corner where the N turns around. In fact, I can’t wait for this gentrification to get rid of those few run-down hotels that are still there. The only thing to do out there when I was a kid was skate at a run-down ice rink, walk to the zoo, or go to Other Avenues for some granola. Oh and the Surf Theater was cool until it became a church. So those of you who have moved there recently, try to let go of your ire about the use of bleak…it was once very bleak and I am so happy to see it changing!

  3. hello!

    Anyone living in the neighborhood knows that the fog is not unusual. Although it can be challenging photographing in the rain, it can also make for more interesting pictures….reflections, soft light, shiny sidewalks, and people huddling together. the light from the fog can be wonderful to photograph in.

    Headlines are not usually written by the writer. Usually the copy desk or editor write headlines, although the most readers do not know this. Thanks for checking out the slideshow….

    Lianne Milton

  4. “Noreiga Street”? Seriously? I thought the NY Times had editors to catch this stuff.

  5. I was born on 11th and Noriega and am third generation Sunset, albeit Golden Gate Heights.

    I love it here and could think of no better place to be. Good working weather, some days out on the outer avenues I have had to roll the window down and stick my head out to see where I was going.

    Been many places and for year round can not beat the Sunset. I do miss the surf Nazis out on Ocean Beach, and remember when it was a white Catholic preserve not so long ago. And it has changed, but it is still the same as the 60s when I grew up. Heck did not even have to go far for SFSU. Those were the days.

  6. Bleak? The Outer Sunset is “bleak” only to those who don’t/won’t/can’t appreciate the magical effect of fog, mist, & salt-soaked air on wind-twisted scenery. The neighborhood is serene, with a peaceful zen-like acceptance of the rust-crusted marks left by the passage of time on wrought iron and faded wood. The denizens are salt-of-the-earth, no pretense as we huddle together for warmth & camaraderie near the fireplace. I will take the hooting howl of the foghorn undercut by the ever-constant rumbling bass of crashing waves, over the screaming sounds of sirens and crackheads in other SF neighborhoods, anyday.

  7. i mean admittedly hey it ain’t the outer richmond as we claim kelly’s cove and louis’ and those horribly ugly apartment buildings that separate the beach from the hood which could also incorporate hockey haven if you go far enough up the hill but the outer sunset is quite the place to be. bleak is the new black, baby.


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