36 Hours in Oceanside: Taking California Cuisine to a New Level

by Beth Graham

Perhaps no other Southern California town is experiencing a revival quite like Oceanside, just north of San Diego. With developers pouring millions of dollars into redeveloping the downtown corridor and a burgeoning food scene, this seaside town is poised to become a key culinary destination for travelers.

Beach House Winery

Driving through the suburbs of Oceanside, you’d never guess that you’re headed to a winery. But shortly after you enter the agricultural community of South Morro Hills, bypassing fields of  avocado and citrus trees, you’ll find the Beach House Winery.

George and Kim Murray established the winery in 2010, but you might say the passion for wine took root long before that. In 1998, George decided to try his hand at winemaking so he bought a small lot of grapes and bottled his own, truly hand-crafted, wine. When his instinct told him it was time to uncork his vintage, he opened it along with a bottle of his favorite Opus One for comparison. His response? “Man, I’m good!”, and thus, he became a winemaker.

Today, George and Kim are true hobbyists at their wine craft. Shortly after bottling their first vintage, George drew the wine’s labels using his son’s colored pencils, depicting a Beach House.

The climate in Oceanside, much like coastal Sonoma, is good for producing both red and white wines. They source grapes from their own 2.5 acres of vineyard and from surrounding vineyards, and produce up to 18,000 bottles in a wide range of varietals.

When it comes to the harvest, George and Kim rely on friends and neighbors to lend a hand with the key tasks of picking and stemming.

Be sure to visit later in the day and enjoy a glass on the rooftop deck offering 360 degree views of the surrounding region.

Beach House Winery
1534 Sleeping Indian Road
Hours: Saturday and Sunday Noon to 4:00pm; All other days/hours by appointment only

Cyclops Farms

No discussion of Oceanside’s up-and-coming food scene would be complete without Cyclops Farms, an urban farm that supplies many of the restaurants with locally-sourced, passionately-grown produce.

Luke Girling, fresh off an education from UC Santa Cruz in farming (not a common major these days but one Luke would certainly love to see more of), had a vision. A vision for a traditional urban farm. One that would serve dual purposes of supply and education.

Driving through his neighborhood in the suburbs of Oceanside, he happened upon a plot of unused land, a 2.5 acre dirt field next to a home and knew he’d found it. He boldly knocked on the door, introduced himself and pitched his idea. Two days later, the land’s owner called him back and leased the land to him. His whim was about to become a reality.

He launched a Kickstarter campaign and with the $16,000 he raised, he prepped the field and planted strawberries, cherry tomatoes, passion fruit and a few other vegetables, using his hands-on education to establish Cyclops Farms.

That was in 2015. Today, he grows a range of certified organic vegetables and supplies many local restaurants while many chefs have come to rely on his bounty. Like Beach House Winery, Cyclops Farms relies on neighbors to pitch in rather than bringing in outside help. Luke recounts how a neighbor, a nurse, loves to pull weeds for a mental release. Others pitch in to prep, plant and harvest as needed.

Luke plants and grows to chef requests but also studies menus and grows products he thinks will complement a chef’s menu. Of course, there are chefs always thinking outside the box so he has one chef, a well-known forager, who ‘draws outside the lines’ and ventures into the weedy areas of the farm to forage for things like sea lettuce, which he artfully turns into a menu item.

On Saturdays, Luke hosts a farm stand where locals stock up for the week. Once a month, Cyclops Farms hosts a farm dinner where local chefs prepare a true farm-to-table dining event for up to 50 people.

Cyclops Farms
on Facebook
Tours are by appointment only

Oceanside is also home to some truly innovative chefs making their mark on California cuisine.

Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank

Urge is sort of one-stop shopping for food and drink aficionados. They create 13 craft brews in-house, many of which are used in menu items like coulis, sauces, and marinades. There are also 40 taps. If whiskey is your passion, the wall of whiskey holds a selection of 300 different top-shelf bottles.

Urge is elevated Gastropub dining and Cyclops Farms provides produce for many of the chef’s creations.

The “Bank” portion of Urge’s name is authentic, as the building was originally a bank. The former vault of the bank is now home to 101 Proof, a classic speakeasy with a hidden side entrance, peephole and password-required entry.

Here’s where the real magic happens as the bartenders craft haute drinking cocktails, like the Boom Tiki Tiki made with ten ingredients, boasting 40% alcohol and house-made grenadine. The drink menu features single-barrel whiskeys hand-selected in Kentucky and exclusive to 101 Proof. There are 10 types of Old fashioned drinks on the menu including my favorite (which, ahem, I managed to recreate at home) made with Bookers Bourbon, bitters, lemon simple syrup, and muddled blackberries.

Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank
2002 South Coast Hwy.

The Millers Table

Staci Miller wanted to create a space where “community comes together to talk politics, fun and food…where people connect.” So she opened The Millers Table, a small dining establishment in the heart of Oceanside with a 24-seat community table.

Staci is a “root to fruit” chef, the “nose to tail” concept of vegetarians, using all of her produce and letting nothing go to waste. Using chard from Cyclops Farms, she prepares a unique chard stem hummus paired with baby fennel. Her Brussels sprouts, including purple sprouts (new to me) were one of my favorite bites of the day. I think it was the exquisite homemade Caesar dressing. The Autostrada di Giorno took me back to my days living in Milan Italy where the rest stops along the highway (the Autostrada) made the most amazing Italian panini.

If you call Staci in advance, she’ll pack you a decadent gourmet beach picnic.

The Millers Table
514 S. Coast Hwy.

LTH & Kitchen – Local Tap House

The first thing I noticed at LTH & Kitchen? The outdoor dog-friendly patio with faux grass. I immediately knew I’d like this place.

An old garage turned restaurant, with garage doors still in tact, is obviously a locals favorite. On the menu, you’ll find an assortment of items featuring Cyclops Farms’ bounty along with unique flavor combinations on the menu’s House Crafted Creations.

A sampling of the hand-crafted menu items

The Cali cauliflower comes from Cyclops Farms’ and is paired with spiced pumpkin seeds, charred corn and queso blanco. The local tuna ceviche goes a bit Mexican with corn, pepitas, salsa verde and a Sriracha crema. Shrimp & Chorizo Egg Rolls also add a bit of Baja with avocado, corn, charred poblanos, cotija, chipotle ranch dressing and tomatillo.

Local Tap House
308 S Coast Hwy.

608 Oceanside

Newcomer on the block, 608 Oceanside is understated, similar to its owner, Chef Willie. This small, intimate, minimalist restaurant serves classic California cuisine – with a San Diego flavor profile – as Chef Willie has a reputation for choosing “what grows in the wild” at Cyclops Farms. He’s the forager mentioned previously.

The Panang short rib may have been the best bite of my trip (gonna try this at home). The fried chicken with cornbread drizzled with local honey is a homey yet elevated comfort food. The lobster grilled cheese is worth the trip alone!

608 Oceanside
608 Mission Ave

Sunset Market

And if you’re still hungry for a new culinary experience, be sure to visit Oceanside’s Sunset Market, held on Thursdays from 5-9 in the city center. The market features 88 different food vendors from around the world who prepare authentic cuisine from their native countries.

Sunset Market

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