If you’ve never been to Oceanside on a visit 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, and breweries, plus emerging cultural, artistic, and tourist attractions. The many things to do in Oceanside won’t disappoint.
Hit the Oceanside Beach
It’s SoCal, after all, so the beach usually tops everyone’s must-do list. Oceanside has plenty of choices with nine public beaches. 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 a street parking is free a couple of short blocks away (if you can find space).
Walk, Drive, or Pedal The Strand
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.
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. Ruby’s Diner, a Swing Era inspired eatery, sits at the end of the pier serving classic American fare including hamburgers with fries, sandwiches, soups, salads, milkshakes, and fabulous views.
Fishing is allowed on the pier, 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.
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.
There is a colorful multi-level stairway leading 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 of course beach access across The Strand. The beach between the flags is marked for swimming only, no surfing.
Channel Your Inner Hodad at The California Surf Museum
Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a dedicated hodad, you know that enthusiasm for surf history and surfing, in general, is peaking. The California Surf Museum is an international repository for surf history, presenting all aspects of the surf lifestyle and culture to the public.
Be awed by surfboards, surfing equipment, bios of surf greats, surf art, memorabilia, photos, videos, magazines, and all things surf related on your visit to one of the best things to do in Oceanside.
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.
This fine arts museum presents regional and international exhibitions of contemporary art designed to surprise and engage visitors. You can expect landscape paintings, art quilts, architectural glass, studio furniture, neon sculptures, and other examples of fine art that represent community culture.
Kids will appreciate the interactive nature of the museum.
Take a Self-Guided Mural Tour
You can learn a lot about a community through their public art, particularly their street art. Oceanside, which is a state-recognized cultural district, has several vibrant murals throughout the city that pop off walls to grab your attention.
See all two dozen of them on a self-guided tour that follows a carefully designed map from your smartphone. Drive or bike the route and soak in the Oceanside vibe.
Explore Oceanside Harbor Village
One of Oceanside’s favorite waterfronts is picturesque Oceanside Harbor Village. You’ll find a collection of nautical-inspired souvenir, gift, and apparel boutique shops, and casual to upscale waterfront dining.
Popular things to do in Oceanside here include renting paddleboards and kayaks for a cruise around the harbor, joining a sport fishing excursion, or simply fishing from the harbor pier.
A wide sidewalk with occasional benches encircles the harbor for seal-watching or a relaxing sunset stroll. Paid parking lots are conveniently located all around the harbor, and a free lot is on the east end through a tunnel.
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 just opened their new tasting room in Oceanside in 2019.
Known for French and Italian varietals, guests can choose from the winery’s standard six tastings, or the expanded eight tastings, plus glass. A menu of small plates is available. They also host music, art, comedy, trivia, and other events, so check their schedule to see what’s on tap during your visit.
Hit the Links at Oceanside Municipal Golf Course
If you’re ready for some golfing in Oceanside, the Oceanside Municipal Golf Course in the San Luis Rey Valley is the place. 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 grill for light bites, and a bar for post-round relaxation. The course hosts annual qualifying matches for the PGA Farmers Insurance Open held at Torrey Pines.
Take a Selfie on Waverider Helicopter Tours
Here’s a new attraction to Oceanside that’s a perfect fit for ‘adventure selfie culture.’ Impress your friends with an Instagram photo of your feet dangling from a helicopter high above the Oceanside Pier and the Pacific Ocean. You can do that and more aboard Waverider Helicopter Tours.
Rides go from ten minutes to 75 minutes for up to three passengers at a time. Get a bird’s-eye view of Coastal California from Laguna Beach to downtown San Diego and inland to wine country. Ask for the Ultimate Selfie Package.
Learn California Mission History at Mission San Luis Rey
Dubbed the King of Missions, Mission San Luis Rey is the largest mission in California. The extraordinary architecture at The Mission includes hand-painted colorful murals, hand-carved wood doors, original hand-hammered copper baptismal font, and numerous Baroque and Classical updates.
The architectural beauty alone is worth a visit. Self-guided and docent-led tours are available. There is also a museum and gift shop on-site.
Surf the Waves with Sumo Surf Tubes
UP Sports Oceanside Surf Shop has added a newcomer to its range of water sports equipment — sumo surf tubes.
You can rent these wacky looking red-and-gold inflatable surf suits and hit Oceanside’s famously consistent waves for the entire day for only $25. You can even rent them by the week at discounted rates. If standing on a surfboard isn’t your thing, enjoy the thrill of the wave anyway with a sumo surf suit.
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, but particularly in the summer, so check the schedule.
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.
Get Your Adrenaline Pumping at GoJump Oceanside
For the adrenaline junkies of the group, GoJump Oceanside has just the thrill you’re looking for. It’s SoCal’s only tandem sky-dive experience with Pacific Ocean views.
You and your instructor step off the custom-built Sky-dive Aircraft at 13,000 feet within a mile of the Oceanside shoreline and take in full ocean views during the entire free fall. You’ll find the Sky-dive Center on Oceanside’s northern end at 480 Airport Road off the 76.
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 April 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 there are always other spectacular marine mammals around, including sea lions, dolphins, and blue whales. Head to Helgren’s at Oceanside Harbor for experienced captains, and licensed boats with up-to-date equipment.
Fish from Oceanside Harbor Fishing Pier
If you’re the laid back type fisherman who likes to catch a good bass, jacksmelt, croaker or perch without a whole lot of 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.
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 buildings assembled in this heritage village are original structures like Oceanside’s first General Store, Portola Inn, Libby School, Blacksmith Shop & Livery Stable, The Blade Newspaper, a doctor’s office, and the city jail. You can visit the charming historic park Wednesdays through Sundays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours are available on weekends.
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. It’s the first Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Visitors will see all kinds of art by local artists. Pop-up art galleries include custom jewelry, painting and portraiture, glasswork, woodwork, live music, dance performances, and poetry among other artistic expressions. Find Artist Alley a half-block east of Coast Highway between Mission Avenue and Pier View Way.
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 of eating, shopping, and entertainment in a festival-style atmosphere.
The market features live music, foods from around the world, an arts and crafts fair, and a farmers’ market all rolled into one.
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, blue Pacific Ocean.
Though they rent an array of sports equipment, including bikes, specialty bikes, standup paddleboards, and more, colorful surreys provide the most family fun.
Go Deep Sea Fishing
Deep sea fishing excursions leave from Oceanside Harbor daily. You can join half-day, full-day, multiday, twilight, and nighttime fishing excursions with Helgren’s Sportfishing and Whale Watching Center.
They’ve been guiding fishing trips for over 40 years, know all the best spots, and what fish to expect where and when. Their boats are USCG licensed and equipped with state-of-the-art navigation, safety, fish-finding, and communication equipment.
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 of the Oceanside coastline. The biggest annual event is the all-female Paul Mitchell NEON Supergirl Pro, where top female surfers from around the world 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, surf industry village, seminars, fashion, yoga, pro autographs, free Paul Mitchell hairstyling, music, and food, plus the planet’s best female surfing.
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 like 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.
Ride O’side Scooters
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly activity that’s tons of fun, electric Model Fat Tire Scooters may fill the bill. 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 and stop by the Oceanside Welcome Center and grab a pocket map of routes and sightseeing opportunities. (Please scooter with care.)
Indulge in Authentic Japanese Fare at Ramen MENMA
Fresh on the culinary scene from Tokyo, Japan, four-time Michelin Bib Gourmand Master Chef Ryuichiro Shinagawa, recently opened Ramen MENMA on Mission Boulevard just off Coast Highway. You can expect authentic Japanese gourmet ramen handcrafted from natural ingredients — no artificial seasonings or chemicals.
Ramen dishes come in standard, deluxe, and mega portions; hot and cold dishes; and vegan options. The restaurant has a long list of Japanese-inspired appetizers, plus wine, beer, and saki. You can top off your meal with mochi ice cream in four flavors.
Take a Culinary Journey at Exhale
Exhale is a newcomer to the Oceanside culinary scene and has taken the city by storm. With a unique fusion of white oak wood-fired, grilled, and smoked Mexican dishes, this culinary journey is a must. Their signature handmade blue corn tortillas from Oaxaca sourced masa provide the canvas for Chef Daniel’s creative cuisine.
The modern, chic restaurant has an urban vibe with garage-door-style windows, stainless steel finishes, a black and gray color palette, edgy street-style art, and casual outdoor dining. You can expect dishes like smoked brisket tacos with mole Oaxaca, peanuts, queso blanco, grilled spring onions, and grasshopper crema.
Grab Dinner with a View Hello Betty Fish House
Does it get any better than seafood with an ocean view? Hello Betty Fish House is an Oceanside favorite serving fish tacos, peel and eat shrimp, grilled fish platters, steamed mussels, Baja ceviche, 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, brunch Saturdays and Sundays, Taco Tuesdays, and premier sunset views every day.
Experience History at The Fin Hotel
The Fin Hotel is a 27-room boutique hotel on Oceanside Boulevard that’s 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.