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Putting the ‘Oh’ in Oceanside: San Diego’s Hottest Beach Town

A wooden sign in a surf shop window read “Take time to coast.” That’s exactly what we did on the coast in sunny Oceanside, California.

With an average year-round temperature of 72 degrees, 3 and a half miles of sandy beaches, world-class surf conditions, a historic wooden pier, and a Cape Cod-style harbor village, it’s easy to see how Oceanside fits the image of a quintessential California beach town.

Its prime location on San Diego’s north shore, halfway between downtown San Diego and Los Angeles, makes Oceanside a perfect home base of operation for vacationers seeking a true Southern California experience. The community’s laid-back, “live and let live” attitude set the stage for a relaxing, historic, cultural, fun-filled coastal escape. The foodie scene alone was well worth the visit.

Oceanfront Accommodations

There’s nothing like staying in a roomy suite with sweeping vistas of the Pacific and marvelous Oceanside Pier. Springhill Suites by Marriott is in the perfect location on the strand. The hotel is tastefully appointed with soft colors of sand and sea. The symphony of the surf, seagulls, and the train whistles of coastal passenger trains were music to our ears.

Popular for its appearance in an iconic scene from the 1986 Hollywood hit Top Gun, the blue clapboard house sits directly across from the hotel. Spectacular sunsets are best viewed from Marriott’s sixth-floor terrace with its rooftop heated pool and spa. We loved the ground floor fire pit overlooking the lighted pier.

Complimentary breakfast included in the stay was not your typical “continental” type, but an amazing full buffet of hot and cold choices.

Surf and Sand

Oceanside’s beaches are some of the widest in San Diego County. With three miles of shoreline, there were plenty of places to pitch our umbrella and plop down in our beach chairs.

Beach days involve more than just swimming, playing in the ocean, and building sandcastles. Activities like Frisbee, volleyball, and kite flying are immensely popular.

And there’s nothing like the warmth and distinctive scent of a beach bonfire to fit the iconic California seashore image.

Oceanside is home to countless professional and leisure surfers for whom surfing is more than a passion; it’s a way of life. Known as one of Southern California’s most consistent surf spots, the city has hosted numerous surfing competitions. Its southwest-facing coastline, world-class surf conditions, and perfect ocean swells have strong appeal to wave riders of all ages.

Oceanside Pier

There’s no better place to watch surfers and local fisherman than the bustling Oceanside Pier, the longest over-water wooden pier on the West Coast. At 1,942 feet, this easily walkable promenade was ideal for watching the sun disappear over the horizon and light up the evening sky.

Just below the pier, Wheel Fun Rentals has a great selection of traditional, tandem, and surrey bikes for riding The Strand, exploring the local area, or pedaling all the way to Oceanside Harbor. Views are so spectacular that we made multiple stops with our bikes for photos.

Oceanside Harbor and Village

Just a few miles from the pier, the picturesque New England-inspired village of Oceanside Harbor is one of the most photographed spots in this coastal town. No surprise that restaurants here feature fish and seafood. One eatery even sports its own lighthouse. Charming shops carry surfing gear, swimwear, and an array of beach and nautical items.

Arts and Museums

One of just 14 California cities designated a California Cultural District, Oceanside boasts an exciting and emerging art and culture scene. The town is rife with theaters, galleries, museums, and practicing artists.

Oceanside’s surf culture is joyfully celebrated at the California Surf Museum, which chronicles the surfing lifestyle from its beginnings to modern times with an impressive collection of surf memorabilia.

The museum’s most popular exhibit, Courageous Inspiration, features the heroic story of professional surfer, Bethany Hamilton. On display is her shark-bitten surfboard and the bathing suit she wore that fateful day when at the age of thirteen, she lost her left arm to a 14-foot tiger shark on the island of Kauai.

The injury threatened to end her career as a rising surf star, but, just three weeks after the attack, she bravely returned to the water and within two years won her first National title.

The Oceanside Museum of Art located in the heart of downtown offers contemporary exhibits showcasing the finest art of the southern California region. Paintings, sculptures, architectural glass, and diverse thought-provoking themed creations are just some of the pieces found within the walls of this fascinating modernist building.

Recreational Therapy

Deep-sea sport fishing trips and seasonal whale-watching excursions depart from the Oceanside Harbor marina.

Oceanside Boat Rentals offers a myriad of water activities to choose from. Kayaks, jet skis and stand-up paddle boards are available as well as sailboats, electric boats and powerboats. Our first time renting an 18-foot electric yacht was a great experience. Boats are in top-notch condition and we couldn’t have picked a more picture-perfect day to relax and explore the bay and waterfront.

Dining Adventures

Oceanside has become a culinary utopia. The food scene here is exploding with new restaurants and they just keep getting more creative.

Southern California is renowned for the fish taco. Hello Betty Fish House located right on the waterfront serves up classic Baja California favorites with incredible flavor and freshness.

Indoor and outdoor seating is available including a rooftop bar. Cocktails inspired by the movie, Top Gun include libations like the Danger Zone, Maverick’s Rum Squeeze and Mission 211.

Entrees run the gamut of oysters on the half shell and ceviche to sandwiches, grilled fish, and seafood entrees. Our Mahi-mahi grilled taco and smoked pork belly carnitas were outstanding.

We were advised to save room for dessert and Hello Betty’s spicy Mexican Chocolate Brownie with dulce de leche ice cream was magnificent.

Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub is an eclectic eatery on Oceanside’s main drag, Coast Highway. The restaurant has a well-deserved reputation for creative culinary excellence.

For seafood and sushi lovers like us, this was a dream-come-true dining experience. Chefs here conjure up tantalizing sushi rolls and incredibly unique nigiri and sashimi dishes made with the finest fish and freshest produce.

Our favorites were the Fjord Sea Trout with Miso and blackberries, the smoky Sea Bream Nigiri and the Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna. All were fantastic and each seemed better than the one before.

Our adage to trust the locals again was a plus when we shared a vegan cupcake dessert accompanied by chocolate pieces and strawberries. Was it ever a unique treat!

Craft Beer Scene

A visit to Oceanside isn’t complete without sampling the award-winning craft beers coming from its local entrepreneurial brewmasters.

We’re glad the craft beer craze cruised north up the coast from San Diego as we relished our beer tasting experiences here in Oceanside, affectionately known as Hops Highway.

Breakwater Brewing Company’s pride and joy is a 2016 World Beer Cup gold medal winner, Rye Dawn. Bagby Beer Company’s Baltic-style porter was a 2017 silver winner. With 10 local breweries, it’s impossible to go wrong.

Mead, an exciting alternative to beer, wine, and cider has become extremely popular here. It may be new to some, but, mead’s origins can be traced back to China 7,000 years ago. Even popular series like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones have featured this ancient beverage.

Made with honey, water, and yeast fermentation, these amazing ales are infused with various flavors of citrus, melon, cherry, and vanilla. We heard it called sunshine in a glass. And now we are believers.

The realization of why we loved Oceanside is simple. Beach towns like this are the real deal. You can’t make up the sun, the sand, or the sea. And, Oceanside’s eclectic, yet, laid-back vibe made it one incredibly fun place to visit.

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