The coastal city of Oceanside, California is one of the best hidden gems you’ll find in the Golden State. This seaside village — which is located about 38 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles — is a throwback to beach towns of yesteryear that has managed to maintain its authenticity and charm. The Oceanside pier, Oceanside Beach, and these North County Beaches are the perfect vacation spot. If you’re trying to figure out what to do in Oceanside, California, keep reading. I’ve got you covered!
Set back from its more modern oceanfront hotels, Oceanside has a quaint walkable downtown area dotted with surf shops, art galleries, and cafes. It’s also known for its beautiful year-round Oceanside weather, stunning coastline, incredible surfing, and the largest wooden pier on the West Coast. Here your list of things to do that let you experience this surprising seaside gem, which makes for the perfect long-weekend getaway.
What to do in Oceanside, California
1. Visit a Winery in Oceanside
The award-winning Beach House Winery boasts panoramic views and incredible wine. The winery produces a number of varietals including whites, rosés, and reds. Their grapes are sourced locally and from their own two-and-a-half acres of land. Owners George and Kim Murray are true craft vintners who are warm, welcoming, and always willing to share passion and philosophy for winemaking with visitors. Be sure to visit later in the day and enjoy a glass on the rooftop deck, which offers 360-degree views of the surrounding region.
2. Savor Classic California Cuisine
Oceanside’s culinary scene is on fire with some hot new Oceanside beach restaurants serving fresh, farm-to-fork California cuisine. Local favorites include The Miller’s Table (which serves up an array of decadent sandwiches and savory snacks, including homemade potato chips) and Local Tap House and Kitchen (where diners can enjoy innovative dishes like Crispy Wonton Salad, Orange Miso Crispy Shrimp Banh Mi, and Pecan Crusted Scottish Salmon, to name a few). Masters Kitchen and Cocktails (which is set in an old car repair shop), Beach Break Cafe (famous for its delectable coffee cake), and the quaint Harbor Fish and Chips (which is known for, you guessed it, their fish and chips) are also worth a visit.
3. Explore the California Surf Museum
The California Surf Museum features a permanent collection that chronicles the history of the sport and surfboards. Guests are afforded the opportunity to take a glimpse at rare archives and surfing equipment from world-class surfers including Bethany Hamilton and Kelly Slater. The museum also features an array of rotating exhibits in addition to its permanent collection.
4. Chow Down at Sunset Market
Every Thursday, the city center turns into a culinary mecca featuring dozens of food vendors. Here, you can binge on pirogies, hand-pulled noodles, Swedish-roasted salmon, Japanese desserts, and African goat stew, among many others. It’s a street food lovers’ paradise. Sunset Market features a whopping 200-plus merchants that occupy four city blocks, which means it’s nearly impossible to be bored. In addition to dining, there is also live music and shopping.
5. Revisit Top Gun
Many people don’t realize that many of the scenes in this iconic movie were filmed in San Diego and Oceanside. Two of the memorable sports bar scenes were shot at San Diego’s Kansas City Barbecue. Charlie’s seaside cottage (where Tom Cruise, AKA Maverick, appeared for that flirtatious dinner) is now part of a brand-new hotel complex. Fans will also remember one of the film’s most romantic scenes between Charlie and Maverick, shot at the corner of West Laurel and Union Streets in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood. Viper’s house is the New Point Loma Lighthouse, located near Cabrillo National Monument.
6. Go Whale-Watching
This is the best activity in Oceanside for families. You can go whale-watching at any time of year. For a bucket-list-worthy adventure, embark on a two-hour excursion out into the Pacific with Oceanside Adventures to (hopefully!) catch a glimpse of a whale. Dolphins are almost a given (they are abundant in the area, so, chances are, you’ll get to see a large school of them swimming nearby). Also, if you don’t want to spend the money on a private tour, you can always visit the 1,942-foot-long pier.