A seaside oasis of outdoor recreation and beautiful sandy beaches. This is Oceanside, San Diego County’s northern-most Pacific Ocean coastal town. So much positive change has come to this beachy paradise in the last few years, that it truly puts the “oh….” in Oceanside! And it’s considered San Diego’s hottest beach town yet very family-friendly to boot.
With an average year-round temperature of 72 degrees, three-and-a-half miles of sandy beaches, world-class surf conditions, a historic wooden pier, and a Cape Cod-style harbor village, what’s not to love about this quintessential Southern California coastal community? So many things to do in Oceanside will keep you busy for a day trip, or better yet, a weekend getaway (check out these fantastic Oceanside vacation rentals or recommended Oceanside Hotels here>>)
The town’s laid-back, “live and let live” attitude sets the stage for a relaxing, historic, cultural, fun-filled coastal escape. And believe me, the food and brew scene alone is well worth the visit. What is there to do here? The better question is, how will you fit it all in? No worries, however, as this local San Diego writer who happens to love this town is here to suggest the not-to-be-missed jewels of Oceanside.
Amazing Things to Do in Oceanside
There’s no better place to watch surfers and local fishermen than the bustling Oceanside Pier, the longest over-water wooden pier on the West Coast. 1,942 feet long, this easily walkable promenade is ideal for catching the sun disappearing over the horizon and lighting up the evening sky with a myriad of colors.
Plan to spend some time exploring the oceanfront strand, as Wheel Fun Rentals located just below the pier has a great selection of traditional, tandem, and surrey bikes. You can choose to ride along the promenade or pedal all the way to Oceanside Harbor. But guaranteed, you’ll be stopping for spectacular photo moments, and you’ll love the pier views from multiple vantage points.
Head to an Oceanside Beach
Oceanside’s beaches are some of the widest in San Diego County. With lots of shorelines, there are plenty of places to find your ideal spot. Beach days on Harbor Beach and Oceanside Beach include more than just swimming, playing in the ocean, and building sandcastles. Activities like Frisbee, volleyball, and kite flying are immensely popular.
If you’re into bringing your own food, Harbor Beach has picnic tables and barbeque grills. And of course, there’s nothing like the warmth and distinctive scent of a beach bonfire. Just add the S’mores and you’ve got a real-deal SoCal beach experience.
Oceanside is home to countless professional and leisure surfers for whom surfing is more than a passion; it’s a way of life. Known as one of Southern California’s most consistent surf spots, the city has hosted numerous surfing competitions. Its southwest-facing coastline and perfect ocean swells create world-class surf conditions with strong appeal to wave riders of all ages.
Oceanside Harbor and Village
One of the most photographed spots in this coastal town, the Oceanside Harbor and Village is located just a few miles north of the pier. The picturesque New England-inspired harbor village is absolutely charming.
You’ll find local seafood restaurants serving as no surprise, the freshest of fish and seafood. One eatery even sports its own lighthouse. And the village’s boutique shops offer goods from surfing gear and swimwear to an array of beach and nautical items.
If you’ve never been out to the open Pacific seas in search of dolphins and whales in Southern California, you have to do it. Oceanside Adventures, located in the harbor offers guided private and small group catamaran tours. These sailings cover the history of Oceanside and its fascinating marine life while heading to areas where the dolphins and whales are most prominent.
All throughout the year, different types of whales can be spotted along with turtles, sharks, sea lions, and sea birds. And the best part of taking these trips is that if no whales are spotted on your outing, Oceanside Adventures will take you out again at a future date at no cost. We were fortunate to see many whales on our last year’s trip. Get your tickets here>>
Other Recreational Water Fun
Deep-sea sport fishing trips also depart from the Oceanside Marina Harbor. Oceanside Boat Rentals here offer a myriad of water activities to choose from. Kayaks, jet skis, and stand-up paddleboards are available as well as sailboats, electric boats, and powerboats. Our first time renting an 18-foot Duffy-boat electric yacht was a great experience. The boats are in top-notch condition and we couldn’t have picked a more picture-perfect day to relax and explore the bay and waterfront.
California Surf Museum
Oceanside’s surf culture is joyfully celebrated at the California Surf Museum, which chronicles the surfing lifestyle from its origins to modern times with an impressive collection of rotating exhibits and surf memorabilia. Though the museum isn’t large, it’s certainly big on surfing history, past and present sports culture, and impressive displays. And if this museum inspired you to try surfing yourself, you can book surf lessons at one of the best surf spots in the world.
The museum’s most popular exhibit, Courageous Inspiration, relates the heroic story of professional surfer, Bethany Hamilton. On display are her shark-bitten surfboard and the bathing suit she wore that fateful day when at the age of thirteen, she lost her left arm to a 14-foot tiger shark on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The injury threatened to end her career as a rising surf star, but, just three weeks after the attack, she bravely returned to the water and within two years won her first national title.
Oceanside Museum of Art
The Oceanside Museum of Art located in the heart of downtown offers contemporary exhibits showcasing the finest Southern California art. Paintings, sculptures, architectural glass, and diverse thought-provoking themed creations are just some of the fascinating pieces found within the walls of this modernist building.
This cultural three-leveled jewel located in downtown Oceanside also sports a view of the Pacific Ocean and historic Oceanside Pier. If you come, plan to spend some time exploring as the artwork here is so impressive.
Hit the Breweries
Oceanside has breweries. Lots of breweries. A visit to Oceanside isn’t complete without sampling the award-winning craft beers coming from its local entrepreneurial brewmasters. We’re glad the craft beer craze cruised north up the coast from San Diego as we’ve relished our beer tasting experiences here in Oceanside, affectionately known as Hops Highway.
This is a town where beer aficionados gather, and each time we visit, we make it our plan to hit another one or two to try out either a newbie on the scene or some new craft offerings. We love their creative brews but also their really cool names like Black Plague Brewing, Belching Beaver Brewery, Kilowatt Brewing, or Pure Project, and more.
Take in a Farmers Market
The Oceanside Morning Farmers Market is held year-round every Thursday morning from 9 am to 1 pm. Located on the corner of North Coast Highway, this outdoor marketplace features local produce, fresh flowers, nursery items, artisan bread, and baked goods, organic honey, homemade dips and sauces, and olive oils. It’s absolutely amazing but go early, as the locals take their “farm fresh to you” market very seriously, and come with their shopping bags ready to fill.
If you are more of a night market lover, then stay a little longer and go to the night market, which focuses on food and craft vendors.
Buena Vista Audubon Society
As a chapter of the National Audubon Society, Oceanside’s Buena Vista helps foster knowledge of the local plants and wildlife making up the natural ecosystem of the community and its environs. A primary focus of the group is providing nature education for children, offering numerous class outings to their Nature Center throughout the year.
The chapter also offers birding opportunities as well as a dedication to the preservation, restoration, and enhancement of the fragile habitats within the county. Visitors to the center can explore interpretive wildlife displays, walk the ¼ mile nature trail, and spend time in the native plant garden. We love heading to the viewing deck on the second story offering incredible panoramas of the picturesque Buena Vista Lagoon.
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
The largest of the California missions, San Luis Rey is known as the “King of the Missions” due to its expansiveness and stunning architectural beauty.
With its hand-carved doors, bright colorfully-painted wall murals, and an original hand-hammered copper baptismal font made by Native Americans, the mission oozes history and culture. You can almost feel the presence of the Franciscan friars and Native Americans who once inhabited the mission more than two hundred years ago.
Mission San Luis Rey provides both guided and self-guided tours, and a special behind-the-scenes tour. The sanctuary of the church is simply splendid, and the mixture of Classical and Baroque architecture is extraordinary. Get your tickets here>>
If you haven’t been to Oceanside recently, we highly recommend a visit. Whether you’re here for the day or for a local getaway, we promise that you’ll be so impressed with this splendid SoCal beach town with its motto “O’Side Beats Inside” – any time!
Last Updated on July 5, 2023 by Maria Haase