Located just 40 minutes north of San Diego, Oceanside makes a great day trip or weekend getaway, offering 3 miles of white sand beaches for relaxation or adventure. With year-round good weather and a laid-back vibe, this coastal town is perfect for unwinding after a stressful week.
Work on your tan, enjoy a meal with a view, or get out on the water for some exercise. If you’re in the mood to learn something new, there are several museums ready to be explored. There’s something for everyone.
Hit The Beach
You really can’t visit Oceanside without spending some time at the beach. Start at Harbor Beach -- the largest beach in town -- and choose from volleyball, swimming, sailing, or fishing. Or just do nothing but relax on the sand! With restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and barbecue grills, this is a great place to hang out for the entire day with friends and family.
If you’re looking for a combination beach and park, then Tyson Street Beach is ideal. In addition to a sandy beach, there’s also a large grassy area and a playground, great for those visiting with the grandkids. Restrooms, showers, and picnic tables are also available.
Stroll The Pier
Originally constructed in 1888, the historic Oceanside Pier is a must-visit. Spend some time strolling the pier, watch the surfers in the water, and see what the fishermen have caught. It’s one of the longest piers in California, so don’t be surprised if your stroll takes a while.
If you get hungry, head to Ruby’s at the end of the pier for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This popular Southern California diner is known for its burgers and milkshakes. It’s a really affordable way to enjoy a meal with a view.
Dive Into Surfing History
Oceanside has long been among the most popular surfing spots on the West Coast, so it’s no surprise that the California Surf Museum has made its home here for more than 30 years. Here you’ll find unique items like the surfboard Kelly Slater used during the World Surf League Pro Tour. Current exhibits chronicle the Coastal Data Information Program, used to track waves and water temperature, and the rise of bodysurfing.
Even if you’ve never been surfing and think you have no interest in the sport, do make time for this museum. The sport has been an important part of California history and culture, and everyone will walk away appreciating it more.
Appreciate Contemporary Art
Each year, the Oceanside Museum of Art offers more than a dozen contemporary and modern art exhibitions. It’s located in the former city hall, a building designed by renowned San Diego architect Irving Gill.
Recent exhibits have included Southern California contemporary quilts, a Sidewalk Activism display, and sculptures by Pamela Earnshaw Kelly. Much of the artwork at the museum was produced by local artists. In 2019, it was announced that the museum will curate the artwork for two new hotels being built in the city, an effort to challenge the traditional paradigm of an art museum.
Seek Out The Murals
Due to its commitment to art, Oceanside is one of California’s designated cultural districts. After spending time at the art museum, head out to see the murals throughout the city using this map. Currently there are 35 murals, but the list keeps growing. This is an effort by the city to beautify the streets and encourage local artists. You’ll find depictions of classic California scenes like convertibles driving Route 66 alongside large abstract pieces.
Learn About Coastal Wetlands
To learn more about the flora and fauna of the nearby Buena Vista Lagoon Ecological Reserve, head to the Buena Vista Audubon Society Nature Center. The center is a 3,500-square-foot facility with exhibits about local wildlife, a second-story viewing deck, and a 0.25-mile nature trail. The lagoon is an excellent example of the coastal wetlands found in North San Diego County.
Throughout the year, the Audubon Society hosts events in the area highlighting local birds, butterflies, and native plants.
Travel Back In Time
Founded in 1798, the Old Mission San Luis Rey was named for King Louis IX of France. In its prime, this compound covered 950,000 square acres, making it the largest of the 21 mission systems in California. The missions of California were a critical part of the state’s history, and learning about them is an important experience for locals and visitors alike.
Today, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the historic mission church built in 1815, the Madonna Chapel, the cemetery, the barracks, the lavanderia (laundry), and the museum. Or schedule a 75-minute docent-led behind-the-scenes tour to learn even more.
If you have the time and want to explore more history, head to Heritage Park Village and Museum, within walking distance of the Old Mission San Luis Rey.
Roll Along The Strand
Since 2008, Oceanside has been recognized as a bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. So rent a bike, head out for a ride along the Strand, and enjoy the views of the ocean. Wheel Fun Rentals, located on the pier, rents several styles of bikes, including tandems and the family-friendly double surrey. Take the self-guided tour, which winds past Guajome Park and the mission.
If you’re looking for a longer ride, try the 7.2-mile San Luis Rey River Trail. This flat trail is great for cyclists of all abilities. If you’d prefer to ride through nature, then the 6.4-mile Lake Calvera Trail is perfect and rolls through an open preserve.
If you’re feeling lazy or just want to have fun, try renting a fat-tire electric scooter from Ride Oside. These low-riding scooters allow you to explore the cities of Oceanside and neighboring Carlsbad. A valid driver’s license is required for rentals.
Go Whale Watching
Almost any time of the year in Oceanside, you can go whale watching. January through April is a good time to view humpback and gray whales. From May through September, blue and finback whales are common. Minke whales are likely to be spotted from October through December. It’s estimated that 20,000 whales swim past Oceanside each year. And no matter when you visit, there’s a good chance of seeing a pod of dolphins swimming.
Consider booking your 2-hour whale-watching excursion through Oceanside Adventures or Helgren’s Sportfishing. Both companies offer additional activities, including sportfishing charters and sunset cruises.
Take A Break
After a great day of sightseeing, it’s time to grab a beer, and fortunately, Oceanside has several breweries to choose from. Over the past few years, San Diego has become the epicenter of craft beer, and that has spread to many of its neighboring cities.
Breakwater Brewing got its start by using salvaged equipment found in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. There are 12 to 18 beers on tap at any given time, so there’s always something for everyone. Food is available and includes popular bar items like pizza, wings, and sandwiches.
Tomas Bryant expanded his homebrewing hobby into a full-scale operation called Oceanside Brewing, located in a former auto shop. There are typically 22 beers on tap.
Mark Mericle opened Legacy Brewing in 2013 and tries to balance both new and old-style beers. Here you’ll find six beers always available in addition to rotating seasonal options. Locals highly recommend the Scottish ale.
If beer isn’t your thing, wine tasting is also available at the Orfila Vineyards Tasting Room, located just one block from the beach and pier. The standard tasting includes six wines, while the Ambassador option includes eight. There’s a large patio space on which to relax with your wine. Small plates are also available.
There’s no bad time to visit Oceanside -- this coastal town is ready and waiting whenever you are ready. If you’re coming during the summer, be sure to make your hotel and tour reservations in advance so you won’t be disappointed. And as with many beach towns, there is no free parking. If you find a metered space, be sure to keep track of the time so that you don’t get a ticket.
Over the past decade, the city of Oceanside has been revitalized, and it’s growing in popularity with visitors near and far. So don’t wait too long to plan a day trip or weekend getaway!