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A Conscious Traveler’s Guide to Oceanside, California

Sunrise view of the Oceanside Pier and beach
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If quintessential Southern California beach vibes, trendy eateries, and a vibrant arts and culture scene are calling to you, then Oceanside, California needs to be on your list.

Oceanside has come a long way in the last 20 years. Once a San Diego suburb many would call “rough around the edges,” it’s now a blossoming hub of young business owners, cultural activities and foodie hotspots that attract locals all over San Diego county.

This has quickly become one of my favorite Southern California locales, and in this post I’m breaking down all the best things to do in Oceanside—but from the conscious traveler’s perspective.

In this Oceanside travel guide, you’ll find sustainable eats, eco-friendly ways to get around, ways to support the local community’s artists and small business owners and much more.

[This post was created in collaboration with Visit Oceanside, but as always I would never promote anything I don’t freaking love].

Sustainable Tips for Visiting Oceanside

  • Leave No Trace – As with anywhere you go, be a respectful traveler and leave the area better than you found it. That means picking up after yourself, staying on designated trails, and respecting the ocean and surrounding ecosystem.
  • Getting to Oceanside – If you want to skip the car, you can get down to Oceanside via Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner train which conveniently stops a couple blocks from the beach. There are also plenty of EV chargers for those traveling down in electric vehicles.
  • Getting Around – Cut your CO2 emissions by biking (Oceanside is super bike friendly) or taking the gO’side Shuttle which are electric ride share shuttles that service the three mile stretch of downtown Oceanside, south Oceanside and Oceanside Harbor. You can download the Ride Circuit app to use it!
  • Support Local – As you explore, make sure to support locally-owned businesses, shop sustainable and spend your money with organizations that are committed to the sustainable future of Oceanside.

Check the Love O’Side site for more tips on how you can support the clean and green future of Oceanside.

Where to Stay in Oceanside

Interior of room with funky wallpaper at the Brick Hotel in Oceanside, California

There are a handful of great hotels in Oceanside, but if you want a unique, local experience, I would choose The Brick Hotel, which is just a short walk to the beach.

Originally Oceanside’s first hardware store in the 1800’s, the building has been lovingly restored into a 10 room hotel with loads of personality. It’s also been designated as a “Sustainable Travel Destination” by Booking.com.

On the bottom floor of The Brick, you’ll find Q&A Restaurant and Oyster Bar, which features great weekly oyster specials plus bottomless espresso martinis on weekends. Then on the rooftop, Cococabana serves up Caribbean-style eats and cocktails with a side of sunset views.

Next door is Succulent Coffee, an adorable outdoor coffee shop lined with succulents, making it a literal plant lover’s dream. Also on the street level next to Succulent Coffee, you’ll find Stone Brewing Tap Room, which is a lovely place to grab a pint on a sunny day.

For such a tiny hotel, The Brick packs quite a punch in the way of things to do.

Best Things to do in Oceanside

Speaking of things to do in Oceanside, here are some must-dos that I wouldn’t miss while you’re in O’Side.

Walk the Oceanside Pier and Strand

This one might be obvious, but as icons of the Oceanside community, the historic pier and strand are a must visit.

The historical Oceanside Pier was originally constructed in the late 1800s and is the longest wooden pier in the Western United States. At almost 2,000 feet long, it’s fun to walk down to the end and back to catch a fresh viewpoint of the local surfers, fisherman and beach.

Last time we were here we even caught sight of a pod of dolphins right below us. Sunset and sunrise are particularly beautiful times to stroll the Oceanside strand and pier, but really any time is good, so long as the sun is shining.

Enjoy the Oceanside Coastline

View of Oceanside beach just south of the Oceanside pier - things to do in Oceanside

The ocean is a huge part of the culture in Oceanside—I mean, it’s even in its name! So you simply can’t come here without spending some time by the water. And with three miles of coastline, there’s plenty to take in.

The beaches on either side of the Oceanside Pier are most popular and have plenty of amenities and are lifeguard-protected, however they can also be the busiest.

If you want something a little bit quieter, you can try Oceanside Harbor Beach, however I am partial to being in the bustle by the pier as it’s the most charming area and there’s plenty you can walk to from there.

On my first visit to Oceanside, I was lucky enough to even catch a surf competition happening on the beach below, so make sure to check local events before your visit to see what’s happening in the community!

Explore the California Surf Museum

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about surfing and how waves work, then the California Surf Museum should be your first stop.

This is the only surf museum in San Diego, and they do a great job of educating on all things surfing, from its history and important figures to the science of waves using fun memorabilia and interactive installations.

This is one of the best things to do in Oceanside to really get a better understanding of surf culture here.

Take a Self Guided Mural Tour

Oceanside is a town full of artisans and makers, so it’s no surprise that the street art scene is alive and flourishing. You’ll notice great outdoor murals almost everywhere you go around town, but there are definitely a few favorites worth intentionally seeking out.

Some of my personal favorites include:

  • The Rising Co abstract mural
  • 101 Cafe retro mural
  • David Bowie mural on the side of Rebel Rebel Hair Salon
  • Masters Kitchen and Cocktail mural
  • J.S. Industries surf mural

Use this mural map to locate some additional murals around town.

Drive to the Mission San Luis Rey

Just a short drive out of downtown Oceanside is the Mission San Luis Rey. This national historic landmark is an architectural sight to behold with hand-painted walls and murals, stunning white arches and desert landscaping, and a European gothic cathedral that’s the only one of its kind in California.

Make sure to go into the museum portion for the full history of the mission and this part of California.

Take an Epoxy Resin Art Class with Art Magic

Examples of completed resin charcuterie boards with Art Magic

This epoxy resin art class ended up being an absolute highlight of the entire trip, so if you’re keen to take a piece of Oceanside home with you, I can’t recommend this experience enough.

Hosted by Art Magic, this workshop teaches guests how to use resin to mimic the beautiful California ocean waves atop a wooden cheeseboard in various shapes of your choosing.

A la Oceanside style, I chose a surfboard shaped charcuterie board of course which is going to make a really fun piece in my home going forward! The class lasts about two hours and is small and intimate—and I personally think it’s one of the best things to do in Oceanside!

Thursday Night Sunset Market

Thursday Night sunset market in Oceanside

Every Thursday night from 5-9 PM in Oceanside, Pier View Way shuts down to make way for close to 200 vendors and hundreds of locals taking to the streets. Dubbed the Sunset Market, you’ll find everything here from unique eats, and live music, to global goods and a good time.

I was especially impressed with the diversity in cuisine offered at this market. You’ll find everything from Kenyan street food and coastal California seafood to Filipino food, Belgium waffles, El Salvadorian cuisine, and much more.

Visit the Top Gun House

Front view of the Top Gun House, one of the best things to do in Oceanside, California

As you stroll the strand, don’t be surprised if you get flashbacks of Tom Cruise riding on his motorbike down the very same street; that’s because part of Top Gun was filmed right in Oceanside.

Even cooler is that an artifact from the hit move still remains on Oceanside soil in the form of the ‘Top Gun House,’ which was featured in the film as Kelly McGillis’ character Charlie’s home.

Now, it’s become a part of Oceanside’s history and houses The Famous High-Pie treats, which are hot little pockets of deliciousness.

As you walk by, you’ll notice people constantly taking photos out front, but it’s worth it to go in and order a pie for yourself which come in apple, cherry and blueberry flavors.

Discover Local Artisans at the Oceanside Museum of Art

What makes the Oceanside Museum of Art unique is that it centers around local artisans and makers within the Southern California community.

We enjoyed taking in the eclectic collection featuring everything from interactive light installations (pictured left) and sculptures to even a quilt that made a political statement.

The museum has also partnered with The Seabird Resort in town on a special annex gallery called OMA West At The Seabird. This is open to the public and offers the ability to view local artists’ works just a block from the beach.

Take a Guided History Walk

During the months of April through September, the Oceanside Historical Society hosts guided history walks every 2nd Saturday of the month.

If you’re not visiting during one of these scheduled walks however, you can lead your own self-guided tour utilizing their detailed PDF and explore highlights like Top Gun House, Oceanside Pier, and one of the oldest buildings in town found at 625 Seagaze.

Where to Eat in Oceanside

The Plot

Despite the many awards that The Plot has won, I was still blown away at the quality of food being served here, especially for an all plant-based restaurant that is not only sustainable but has an ambitious zero-waste business model.

The indoor space is large and industrial with a modern chic vibe, while the outside opens up to patio seating and their outdoor garden where fresh ingredients are utilized directly on your plate.

This is a family-owned business, run by husband and wife duo Davin and Jessica Waite. As local O’siders, this couple has put so much love into their concept at The Plot and are active leaders in the sustainable future of Oceanside.

Little Fox Cup and Cones

Born out of a pandemic passion project, local Oceansider Meghan Koll decided to start getting more serious about selling ice cream and opened up her brick and mortar Little Fox Cup and Cones.

We had the pleasure of meeting her while we stopped in for a cup, and she told us that she loved the idea of creating an ice cream shop that adults would be excited to come to, not just kids.

Some of the unique menu items that might surprise you: Lavender Haze is a coconut milk cream base with thai basil and lemon grass with sweet and spicy shredded coconut. Maybe their most interesting concoction is Sesame Street which has tahini cream with date reduction combined with chocolate cookie crumble.

This delightful little shop is located inside the recently launched Freeman Collective, Oceanside’s newest social hub for eateries.

Dija Mara

If there’s one place you need to lock down a reservation at ahead of your trip to Oceanside, it’s Dija Mara. This Michelin guide awarded Balinese-inspired restaurant is outstanding; it’s one of those places where everything you put in your mouth elicits an audible “oh my god” reaction.

From the classic Balinese dish Nasi Goreng, to the Pork Belly Skewers and Charred Eggplant, we were obsessed with everything we tried.

Plus, as someone who lives in Southern California and has traveled to Bali, I can safely say that it’s tough to find upscale Balinese food like this in California. This is one I’ll be coming back to again and again.

Valle

Exterior of Valle restaurant in Oceanside

On my first trip to Oceanside I was able to check out Valle, whose claim to fame is as Oceanside’s only Michelin starred restaurant. Even more impressive is its status as a Michelin starred Mexican restaurant which are even more difficult to come by.

Valle is located just under the Mission Pacific hotel right off the strand and serves beautiful gastronomic plates in a tasting menu showcasing modern Mexican cuisine.

Wrench and Rodent

Exterior view of Wrench & Rodent restaurant

Owned by the same O’side locals behind The Plot, Wrench and Rodent celebrates responsibly sourced seafood and produce alongside out-of-the-box creativity in the kitchen.

Here you’ll find a set sushi menu and omakase option as well as daily specials that utilize as much of the fish as possible in creative ways.

LTH (Local Tap House)

Brussel sprouts dish and the sweet potato street corn salad at LTH, Oceanside

Known as the spot where all the locals go (as told to us by a local), LTH (Local Tap House) is a chill sports bar hangout with indoor / outdoor vibes with window seating throughout the space that allow you to get the best of both worlds.

Portions are huge, but if you want something on the healthier and lighter side, opt for the Brussel Sprouts which are bursting with flavor and the Sweet Potato Street Corn Salad.

Best Coffee Shops in Oceanside

Seaborne Coffee

Looking for a quick cup of jo before heading off on your Oceanside adventures? Look no further than Seaborne Coffe..

Located inside the Rising Co building, a historic structure originally built in the 1930s and now a community hub, Seaborne Coffee is a cute little spot in Oceanside for coffee. There’s great patio seating here, and when Rising Co is holding community events its a lively place to gather.

Communal Coffee

If you’re looking for the most aesthetic coffee shop in Oceanside, then look no further than Communal, which is located inside the Tremont Collective. This bright and airy space always has local O’siders camped up here for a day of coworking.

It’s also a cute spot to pick up a quick card or gift as they have a small gift shop and are attached to a gorgeous flower shop as well.

Succulent Coffee

Succulent lined wall at Succulent Coffee in Oceanside

You’ll find this plant lover’s coffee shop right next door to the Brick Hotel, tucked away in a hidden back patio sandwiched between Stone Brewing and Q&A Restaurant and Oyster Bar.

A small alley lined with succulents leads you to a tiny coffee stand and while the coffee is good, the outdoor atmosphere and plants (all for sale) are really what make this place so special.

Good to note that Succulent Coffee is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Pannikin Coffee

For some espresso with a side of history, head to Pannikin Coffee which is housed in one of the oldest buildings in O’side. The building on North Cleveland Street was originally built in the 1800s and its now one of three remaining brick structures from the 1800s that still remain standing in town.

This is a family-owned company with the original Pannikin opening in La Jolla in the 1960s. Since then, they’ve opened another location in Leucadia and now its third with its Oceanside location.

Where to Shop and Support Local in Oceanside

The Rising Co

Housed in a historic Oceanside service station, The Rising Co is now a “coastal community hub,” offering a space to shop, gather and hold cultural events and workshops.

Here you can find Seaborne Coffee and local retail brands permanently on offer, but they also host regular events like film premiers, creators workshops, and a fun market that expands out into their generous parking area.

Captain’s Helm

For all things secondhand, Captain’s Helm is your go-to in Oceanside with a hip selection of previously worn and loved goods. They also have their own coffee shop attached called Captain’s Grounds where you can grab a beverage once you’ve exhausted your shopping energy.

Brixton

Brixton shop located in the Tremont Collective

Brixton may be recognized worldwide as a hat brand, but the founder is actually originally from Oceanside, California. This brick and mortar located inside the trendy Tremont Collective is one of the brand’s seven outposts in California.

Sea Hive Marketplace

Interior at Seahive Marketplace

A massive treasure trove of antique goods and unique home decor finds, Sea Hive Marketplace is one place I continue to return back to every time I’m in Oceanside. You can honestly get lost in here for hours with its seemingly endless stalls.

I’ve found everything here from kaleidoscope glasses and vintage records to mid century furniture and previously loved vintage clothing.

Al Fresko

Owned by my friend Jenny, Al Fresko is a bite-sized wine shop and eatery located in the Tremont Collective specializing in organic and natural wines and artisanal charcuterie boards. Not only is the space beautiful, but their outdoor patio in the back is the perfect place for an al fresco lunch.

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