The many things to do in Oceanside won’t disappoint, so if you’ve never visited the seaside city during a trip to San Diego, make it a must-see this year. This coastal city, affectionately dubbed O’side by residents, is one of only 14 designated California Cultural Districts in the state. Easy to get to, it’s the last stop on a Coaster ride from downtown San Diego to North County.

Once thought of primarily as a military town with Camp Pendleton on its northern edge, it’s come into its own with a burgeoning culinary and art scene that includes new restaurants, wineries, breweries, and emerging cultural, artistic, and tourist attractions.

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1. Hit the Oceanside Beach

View of the Oceanside, CA beach from the pier at sunset.

It’s SoCal, after all, so the beach usually tops everyone’s must-do list. Oceanside has plenty of choices with eight public beaches and over three miles of stunning coastline.

Perhaps the most popular Oceanside beach is Pier View South on the south side of Oceanside Pier. It’s adjacent to Pier View North. It’s also a short walk down The Strand to Tyson Street Beach and Wisconsin Street Beach.

Harbor Beach, adjacent to Oceanside Harbor, is the largest beach in Oceanside and is equally popular. Both beaches are lifeguard-protected and have numerous amenities.

Paid parking lots fill up fast. The blocks surrounding the pier have paid parking, but street parking is free a couple of short blocks away (if you can find space).

2. Walk, Drive, or Pedal The Strand

View down the Oceanside Strand that runs along the beach

The Strand is a 1.5-mile-long street that runs parallel to the Oceanside shoreline from Breakwater Way on the northern end to Wisconsin Avenue on the southern end.

All summer, you’ll see cars crawling along The Strand as people check out the waves and the crowded beach scene. Cars share the one-way, single-lane street with pedestrians, dog walkers, bicyclists, and surreys.

3. Dine on the Oceanside Pier

Historic Oceanside Pier is the largest wooden pier on the West Coast. It’s a two-minute walk from downtown and a four-minute walk from the Coaster station.

This neighborhood icon provides visitors with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and is a favored spot to watch whale migrations and frolicking dolphins.

Families enjoyed eating at Ruby’s Diner, a branch of the Swing Era-inspired eatery, at the end of the pier for 25 years – until the pandemic hit and the restaurant closed down. The coveted location is currently undergoing renovation but part of the building is reportedly opening soon as a family-friendly seafood eatery. The new owners are a local husband and wife team, who also operate other Oceanside restaurants Wrench & Rodent, Shootz Fish & Beer, and The Plot. The main part of the former Ruby’s building is still vacant.

While we wait for the new restaurant, there are plenty of benches along the pier where visitors can enjoy a picnic and watch the surfers while enjoying gorgeous ocean views.

Fishing is allowed on the pier (you’ll need a fishing license), and there is a bait shop at the pier’s halfway point. You can get great photos of the coastline from the end of the pier.

4. Make It a Family Day at Tyson Street Beach and Park

Tyson Street Park includes Tyson Beach. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see Lifeguard Tower 5 on the beach. You can access the park via The Strand, which runs between the grassy park and the sandy beach. Another access point is at the top of the hill at Pacific Street.

A colorful multi-level stairway leads from the metered parking above to the park. You’ll find picnic tables with benches, a public telephone, restroom and shower facilities, an expansive grassy area for lounging, a children’s playground, and beach access across The Strand. The beach between the flags is marked for swimming only, no surfing.

5. Channel Your Inner Surfer at The California Surf Museum

Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a newbie to the waves, you will enjoy the California Surf Museum, whose mission is to ‘preserve, protect and enhance surfing’.

An international repository for surf history and memorabilia, it showcases all aspects of the surf lifestyle and culture, including legendary surfboards, surfing equipment, bios of surf greats, videos, magazines, and more.

As well as its permanent collection, the museum has many interesting exhibits that rotate throughout the year. These can feature famous local surfers, unique surf-related art and photography, and even one that explores the science of surfing.

6. Experience Regional Art at Oceanside Museum of Art

Oceanside Museum of Art is located blocks from the beach on Pier View Way, with views of the ocean and Oceanside Pier.

The museum focuses on the art and stories of Southern Californian artists and presents regional exhibitions of contemporary art. They offer docent tours, and serious art buffs can sign up for ‘Coffee and Conversation with the Art Alliance’, where you learn about the artwork from the artists themselves. The museum’s eclectic events calendar includes concerts, movie viewings, music and dance shows, and culinary events.

There are also art workshops for all ages and the opportunity to donate your mini art offering to the museum’s Teeny Tiny Art Mart fundraising campaign.

7. Take a Self-Guided Mural Tour

You can learn a lot about a community through their public art, particularly street art. Oceanside, a state-recognized cultural district, has several vibrant murals throughout the city that pop off walls to grab your attention.

See all of them on a self-guided tour by following this map that lists all the locations. Drive or bike the route and soak in the Oceanside vibe.

8. Visit Oceanside Harbor Village

One of Oceanside’s favorite waterfront locations is the quaint and picturesque Oceanside Harbor Village. You’ll find a collection of nautical-inspired souvenir, gift, and apparel boutique shops and casual to upscale waterfront dining.

Water sports are fun things to do in Oceanside. Rent kayaks and more at Oceanside Harbor Village.

Popular things to do here include renting paddleboards, jet skis or kayaks for a cruise around the harbor – or yachts if you want to go further afield – joining a sport fishing excursion, or simply fishing from the harbor pier. You can also board whale and dolphin tours that leave from here.

A wide sidewalk with occasional benches encircles the harbor for seal-watching or a relaxing sunset stroll. Paid parking lots are conveniently located around the harbor, and a free lot is on the east end through a tunnel.

9. Taste the Wines of Orfila Vineyards & Winery

SoCal wineries have established themselves as a competitive California wine force, and Orfila Vineyards & Winery in Escondido is among them. The vineyard has been a San Pasqual Valley wine producer for 25 years, but they’ve operated their popular tasting room in Oceanside since 2019.

Known for using French and Italian varietals, guests can choose from the winery’s standard six tastings or the expanded eight tastings, plus glass. A comprehensive food menu is also available. They also host live music shows and other events, so check their schedule to see what’s on tap during your visit.

If you’re looking to golf in Oceanside, the Oceanside Municipal Golf Course in the San Luis Rey Valley and adjacent to Camp Pendleton is a great option. This 18-hole public course overlooks the valley’s scenic hillsides and native habitat.

The course has a grass practice range, two well-manicured putting greens, a chipping area, a grill for light bites, and a bar for post-round relaxation. The club also offers professional golf lessons, which you need to call to book.

11. Take to the Skies on Waverider Helicopter Tours

What better way is there to see beautiful San Diego County than from the air? Waverider Helicopter Tours are located in Oceanside and offer local flights as well as tours that soar onto locations including Temecula’s wine country, Laguna Beach, and Coronado Island.

For the ultimate Oceanside adventure with Waverider, you can combine an electric bike and helicopter tour. You’ll need to rent the bike separately from Ride O’side, and after cruising the beach at Oceanside, you head to Oceanside Airport along the San Luis Rey River Bike Trail and hop aboard a helicopter for a 30-minute flight. 

Waverider also offers sunset flights, and night flights, and they even fly as far afield as Big Bear Mountain.

12. Learn California Mission History at Mission San Luis Rey

The facade of Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California

Dubbed the King of Missions, Mission San Luis Rey is the largest mission in California and a popular attraction for both locals and tourists. Franciscan friars continue to live, worship, and study at the mission today, and guests are asked to respect this when visiting.

The mission was founded in 1798, and the current church was built in the early 1800s. The extraordinary architecture includes hand-painted colorful murals, hand-carved wood doors, an original hand-hammered copper baptismal font, and numerous Baroque and Classical updates. The architectural beauty alone is worth a visit.

Visitors can also step back in time and tour the lavanderia, where water transported from the local river was spouted from the mouths of carved gargoyles and used for bathing and washing clothes. Other points of interest in the 56-acre grounds include the rose garden, a sunken garden, and the ruins of previous mission buildings.

Self-guided and docent-led tours are available, and a museum and gift shop are on-site.

13. Visit the ‘Top Gun’ House

Oceanside has an impressive Hollywood connection thanks to the original ‘Top Gun’ movie being in large part filmed there. The famous scene of Tom Cruise’s Maverick character riding his motorbike along the palm-lined Oceanside coast is part of movie history. But that’s not all.

The coastal town is also home to the infamous Top Gun house, which was used in the film as the home of Kelly McGillis’ character Charlie. The Victorian-style cottage was built in 1888 and already had quite a history before it was rented by Paramount Studios in 1985 for the movie.

It’s currently located next to The Seabird Resort on North Pacific Street but if you check the official website of this landmark, you may be a little confused. It’s now billed as Home of the Famous HIGH-Pie!

The house was restored and opened as the ‘retro pie shop’ to coincide with the May 2022 release of Top Gun: Maverick, which was also partly filmed in San Diego. These days, the house may look different to the one in the film, but fans can still visit and get a photo sitting on the Yamaha Kawasaki Ninja ZX900 Motorcycle parked outside, which is identical to the one Tom Cruise rode in the movie.

14. Attend an Event at Junior Seau Oceanside Pier Amphitheatre

The Junior Seau Oceanside Pier Amphitheatre, located next to the Oceanside Pier on Pier View South Beach, has been a local landmark since its original construction in 1919.

The famous amphitheater has hosted everything from the annual Samoan Cultural Celebration to live sunset jazz performances to sustainability festivals. The versatile venue hosts numerous cultural and community events year-round, particularly in the summer, so check the schedule.

15. Learn Natural History at Buena Vista Audubon Society Nature Center

Located on Oceanside’s southern end, the Buena Vista Audubon Society Nature Center is the perfect place to spend a few hours with the kids, learning about local natural history and the importance of conservation efforts by everyone.

The nature center provides opportunities to explore the lagoon and birdlife, native plants, and endangered species at the lagoon in an interactive and informative environment.

16. Get Your Adrenaline Pumping at GoJump Oceanside

GoJump Oceanside has just the thrill for adrenaline junkies. Want to tandem sky-dive over Pacific Ocean views? You and your instructor will step off the custom-built Sky-dive Aircraft high in the air within a mile of the Oceanside shoreline and take in full ocean views during the free fall.

Group jumps for 4 to 6 people are also available, or you can even sign up for GoJump’s ‘Marriage Proposal’ package. You may want to offer the ring when you land, though!

The Sky-dive Center is at Oceanside’s northern end at 480 Airport Road off the 76.

17. Join a Whale Watching Excursion

Whale watching is a classic SoCal experience, and there’s no better place to catch a whale-watching excursion than Oceanside Harbor.

The best time to go is from December to March when gray whales are migrating to breeding grounds off Baja, Mexico, and passing by the San Diego/Oceanside coastline.

Tours go year-round, though, because other spectacular marine mammals are always around, including sea lions, dolphins, and blue whales.

See also: 10 Best Sightseeing Tours in San Diego

18. Fish from Oceanside Harbor Fishing Pier

If you’re a fishing fan who likes to catch a good bass, jacksmelt, croaker, or perch without much effort or fanfare, the Oceanside Harbor fishing pier is your spot. It’s set in idyllic surroundings where the view is beautiful and always changing.

There are plenty of nearby amenities, including restrooms and places to eat. Street parking is free.

19. Step Back in Time at Heritage Park Village and Museum

Walking through Heritage Park Village and Museum is like walking through downtown Oceanside at the turn of the century. The village was designed in the 70s as part of America’s bicentennial celebrations.

The buildings assembled for the heritage village from various parts of Oceanside are original structures like Oceanside’s first General Store, the Libby Schoolhouse, the Blacksmith Shop & Livery Stable, The Blade Tribune newspaper office, the train depot, and the city jail.

You can visit the charming historic park Wednesdays through Sundays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours are often available on weekends. The village is very close to the San Luis Rey Mission (see above), and you can easily visit both places in one day.

20. Explore the Local Art Scene at First Friday Oceanside ArtWalk

First Friday Oceanside ArtWalk is a self-guided art walk along Artist Alley in Oceanside, starting at the Seabird Resort. It’s the first Friday of every month and lasts for 4 hours in the evening. The exact times depend on the time of year and daylight hours so check their website for details.

Visitors will see all kinds of art by local artists. Pop-up art galleries often include custom jewelry, painting and portraiture, glasswork, woodwork, live music, dance performances, and poetry, among other artistic expressions. You can also check out Artist Alley, which is east of the I5 highway between Mission Avenue and Pier View Way.

21. Join the Fun at Thursday Sunset Market

Oceanside’s Thursday Sunset Market goes beyond your typical farmers’ market. If that’s all you’re looking for, no problem, just come earlier in the day. After dark, it grows into a hot spot for eating, shopping, and entertainment in a festival-style atmosphere. Almost 200 vendors are spread out between four blocks so there’s plenty of space to enjoy the fun.

The market features live music, food from around the world, an arts and crafts fair, and a farmers’ market all rolled into one. It’s open every Thursday from 5–9 p.m.

22. Cruise The Strand with Wheel Fun Surreys

Wheel Fun Rentals is located beachside at the Oceanside Pier. It’s the perfect spot to grab a wheeled rental to cruise up and down The Strand alongside the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

Though they rent various sports equipment, including e-bikes, specialty bikes, standup paddleboards, and more, colorful surreys provide the most family fun. Ask for a map for the self-guided tours.

23. Go Deep Sea Fishing

Deep sea fishing excursions leave from Oceanside Harbor daily. You can join half-day, full-day, multiday, and nighttime fishing excursions with Helgren’s Sportfishing.

They’ve been guiding fishing trips for over 40 years, know all the best spots, and know what fish to expect where and when. Their boats are USCG licensed, and their Electra vessel can accommodate 40 passengers and 15 crew members for overnight trips.

24. Watch the Paul Mitchell NEON Supergirl Pro

There’s a surfing competition of one sort or another nearly all summer thanks to the great waves off the Oceanside coastline. The biggest annual event is the all-female Paul Mitchell NEON Supergirl Pro, where top female surfers worldwide come to compete and share the surf lifestyle.

You’ll see more than 150 top female pro athletes from surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. The wildly popular event includes sustainability organizations, a surf industry village, seminars, fashion, free fitness classes, pro autographs, free Paul Mitchell hairstyling, music, food, and the planet’s best female surfing.

25. Challenge Yourself at VITAL Climbing Gym

You literally can’t miss this climbing gym while strolling the Coast Highway’s bustling strip of Oceanside stores and coffee shops. While it’s covered, its huge open windows onto the street give an enticing look at what adventure lies within.

The gym is full of climbing walls for various experience levels, and newbies can sign up for a Bouldering 101 class to get started. The gym also offers many yoga and great aerial classes utilizing silks and steel hoops.

VITAL Climbing Gym is open daily from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Day climb passes start at $24, and there are five and ten day options, too, in addition to memberships. Climbing shoes cost an extra $4 to rent.

26. Ride O’side Scooters

Fat Tire Electric Scooters may fit the bill if you’re looking for an eco-friendly activity that’s tons of fun. The fat tires make them easy for anyone to balance on, and they’re so low to the ground you can either sit or stand while making your way around town.

The scooters are approved for bike lanes and trails and reach speeds of up to 20 mph. Rent at Ride O’side, stop by the Oceanside Welcome Center, and grab a pocket map of routes and sightseeing opportunities. (Please scooter with care.) Prices start at $80 for one person or $110 per tandem scooter for one hour.

27. Discover Oceanside’s Breweries — San Diego County Gems

Not surprisingly, given that San Diego County is known as the craft beer capital of America, Oceanside is home to many hugely popular brewhouses.

The famous Stone Brewing has a tap room in the town, and others recommended by no less than the San Diego Brewers Guild include Northern Pine Brewing Brewery + Taproom, Booze Brothers Brewing Co. Taproom, and South O Brewing Company. Things to do in Oceanside, just like in any San Diego neighborhood, is to seek out suds.

28. Grab Dinner with a View at Hello Betty

Does it get any better than seafood with an ocean view? Hello Betty restaurant is an Oceanside favorite serving fish tacos, peel-and-eat shrimp, grilled fish platters, steamed mussels, tuna poke, and so much more.

The two-level restaurant with a beachy vibe is at the corner of Mission Avenue and Meyers Street, a block from the Oceanside Pier and South Pier Beach. The restaurant has Happy Hour on the rooftop deck Monday through Friday, Taco Tuesdays, and premier sunset views daily.

29. Experience Your First Grunion Run

If you’ve never experienced a SoCal ‘Grunion Run,’ here’s how it’s done. First, a grunion run is when thousands of little silvery fish ride the waves onto the beach at night to spawn. To experience it, you’ll need to time your visit with the most likely beaches on three- to four-day intervals occurring just after high tide following a full or new moon.

If that seems too much calculating, you can also grab a Grunion Run schedule from the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife. Kids love this, so don’t miss out.

30. Experience History at The Fin Hotel

The Fin Hotel is a stylish boutique hotel on Oceanside Boulevard within walking distance of downtown, the beach, and the Coaster. The historic hotel was built in 1927 and was all the rage with LA celebrities in the 1930s and 1940s.

After a long period of decline, it was recently renovated in 2018. Guests can expect tastefully reclaimed historic charm combined with modern amenities — simultaneously elegant and straightforward.

What are your favorite things to do in Oceanside?

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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