Situated between San Diego and Los Angeles, Oceanside is a laid-back SoCal beach town. With spectacular year-round weather, sandy beaches and a range of attractions, there are many fun things to do in Oceanside, CA with (and without) kids.
13 Fun Things to Do in Oceanside CA with (and Without) Kids
Centrally located in the heart of Southern California, Oceanside (or O’side, as locals call it) is a casual beach town in San Diego County. Located 38 miles north of downtown San Diego, Oceanside has a lot to offer families. Enjoy sandy beaches and Oceanside adventures like whale watching tours, boating and water sports. Stroll along the historic wooden pier and enjoy eateries, shops and farmers markets in downtown Oceanside. Explore interactive surf museums and visit LEGOLAND and the San Diego Zoo.
Whether you’re arriving via plane, train or vehicle, your first stop should be at the California Welcome Center – Oceanside at 928 North Coast Highway. Pick up travel guides and buy discount tickets to popular attractions.
Soak up Sun and Fun at Oceanside Beaches
Oceanside has over 3.5 miles of sandy beaches. These include Harbor Beach, Breakwater Way, Pier View North and South and Tyson Street Beach. A few more include Wisconsin Street Beach, Oceanside Boulevard and Buccaneer Beach. Many beaches have playgrounds. In addition, some have beach campfire rings. These add to family fun in the evening.
While at the beach, be sure to take a stroll along the 1,942 foot long Oceanside Pier. It’s the longest wooden pier on the West Coast. From the pier, you can fish and watch surfers.
Take a Whale Watching Cruise in Oceanside Harbor
Oceanside Harbor is tucked away from the unsuspecting individual. It’s also the only harbor between Orange County and San Diego. Upon arrival, you’ll discover rows of docked sailboats and people enjoying watersports. Not surprisingly, the harbor is primarily known for its water activities. These include deep-sea fishing, whale watching cruises and boat rentals.
In fact, Oceanside is a great spot for whale watching. Located in front of the lighthouse, Oceanside Adventures Luxury Cruises offers year-round whale watching excursions. You’ll cruise on a state-of-the-art, 50-foot catamaran for a thrilling, two-hour sailing adventure. The local waters flourish with sea life including whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions. So that you don’t miss a thing, a certified naturalist is along for the journey.
At Oceanside Harbor Boat Rentals, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, pedal boats, electric boats, sailboats, power boats and fishing boats.
Spend a Day at Harbor Village
The local gem of North County, Harbor Village is located at the Oceanside Harbor. The quaint New England-style destination is host to a variety of restaurants and retail shops along the boardwalk. Just steps from the village are local vendors providing whale watching, boat rental and SUP experiences.
The adjacent Harbor Beach is a long, sandy beach with lifeguards. Shaded picnic areas include tables and barbecue grills; restrooms are available throughout. There is also a playground at Harbor Beach.
Explore Downtown Oceanside
The once funky downtown is turning over, with more upscale shops and hip restaurants opening. I explored this on the ground on a Downtown Historical Walk with John Daley Oceanside Historical Society. I also caught the view from behind the wheel of a bicycle with a rental from Alan’s Bike Shop, and from above, with a Waverider Helicopter Tour.
The helicopter tour may be my new favorite way to tour a place. During migration season, you can see whales down below (good option if bad weather cancels your whale watch boat ride). The pilot, who used to fly for the Coast Guard, pointed out wineries, beautiful homes and concert venues. And we didn’t have to sit in traffic or look for a parking space.
Buy Local Goods at Sunset Market
If you’re in town on a Thursday evening, check out the Sunset Market in downtown Oceanside. Featuring about 200 vendors spanning four blocks, the weekly market has food, gourmet goodies, desserts, shopping and entertainment from 5 – 9 p.m. This free family event also features Dorothy’s KidZone with children’s activities.
Visit Oceanside Museums
You really have some nice choices here. The beautifully curated California Surf Museum showcases surfing memorabilia. It even includes newer riffs on the sport, like skateboarding and body surfing. The kid-friendly museum has posters and surfboards, including the surfboard with a shark bite mark ridden by Bethany Hamilton, the champion surfer who lost her arm to a shark. (Anyone remember Soul Surfer?)
Sculptures, paintings and drawings from the region, and contemporary art are on display at the Oceanside Museum of Art. The museum’s Free Family Art Days are popular with families. You can participate in hands-on art activities that reflect concepts and themes from the exhibits.
Learn about Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
Experience the beauty and tranquility of the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, which is the largest mission in California. Notice the extraordinary architecture, have a picnic and then visit the museum. Do something wild and take a bi-plane ride along the San Diego coast with Coastal Aero Scenic, then take a drive down historic Route 101.
Located within walking distance of the San Luis Rey Mission lies Heritage Park Village and Museum. The park features the original buildings of downtown Oceanside. Guided tours are available in summer.
Observe Nature at the Buena Vista Audubon Society
The non-profit Buena Vista Audubon Society teaches people about conservation through education programs. It’s a great place for birding. In addition, the Nature Center hosts a variety of programs for all ages. Interpretive displays feature local wildlife. In addition, there’s a 1/4-mile nature trail and a second story viewing deck of Buena Vista Lagoon.
Hiking, Biking and Birding at Guajome County Park
Located eight miles from the Pacific Ocean, the park offers biking, hiking and equestrian trails along a spring fed lake and marsh. But its real secret is its amazing bird watching. It’s one of the best spots in the area. At least 144 species have been spotted within its boundaries.
Eat in Oceanside
Oceanside has a vast array of eclectic eateries, gastropubs, beer gardens, new school taco shops, next wave coffee houses and reinvented sushi joints. Many are housed in repurposed buildings that breathe new life into their neighborhood settings.
My friend, a local, confirmed we were eating at an iconic Oceanside spot, Beach Break Café. Long waits are common at this 30 year old institution. But they’re worth it. The friendly vibe and family atmosphere were contagious. The owner’s son told me, “Where else could I work where I get to have a meal with my family every day?”
His dad, the owner, shared how he started his breakfast dive with a baby, a surfboard and no experience. Just a strong desire to have a job that let him spend time with his family. The place was packed when we arrived, but we beat the wait. We had an outstanding egg scramble, extra crispy hash browns and gigantic mango multigrain pancakes. It was too much food, but we managed to eat it all.
Cheers to Micro-Breweries in Oceanside
Located on the western end of San Diego’s “Hops Highway,” Oceanside is home to numerous craft beer labels. I biked down Coast Highway to meet friends at Urge Gastropub to try the craft beers brewed at Mason Ale Works, housed inside. We toured the brewery and the speakeasy which is “hidden” in the back. In true speakeasy style, the entry is through a side door with a sliding window where someone can size you up before allowing you in. Once inside, you can go to your personal whiskey locker and pull out your favorite liquor for cocktails. The vault door remains and the interior looks like a dimly lit jazz club.
And the oddly named Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub is a huge local hit. Expect long lines; reservations are needed. I tried their sushi, which was excellent.
Raise a Glass to Wine Tasting
Pack a basket of cheeses and small bites, then drive inland about 30 minutes to the Beach House Winery to catch a spectacular sunset from their patio. Owners George and Kim have received numerous awards. I took home a bottle of their award winning Beach House Wine to enjoy for the holidays. In retrospect, I should have bought more. The smooth red wine, with no tannins, was gone in seconds.
Spend the Night in Oceanside
Oceanside is home to a wide range of accommodations including hotels, motels, time shares, vacation rentals and beach-side campgrounds. The newest hotel is The Seabird, an excellent choice for families.
My homebase in Oceanside was the SpringHill Suites Marriott. As you would expect from the name, I was just across the street from a public beach.
The hotel had an open, airy beach theme and a game room filled with board games, dress up clothes and surfboard decor.
Like at all SpringHill Suites, a free, full breakfast is included. My gigantic room included a pit couch and balcony. Perfect!