If you are looking to escape to a lesser-known beach town, consider a visit to the coastal city of Oceanside, California. Oceanside is a relaxed, bohemian city in northern San Diego County. If you haven’t heard of Oceanside yet, that is sure to change due to recent revitalizations to the trendy “South O” area. With swanky new hotels, miles of coastline, innovative restaurants, and historic attractions, sunny Oceanside is the perfect getaway. Check out this list of the 15 best things to do in Oceanside, California.
Table of Contents
1. Visit Beautiful Oceanside Beaches
If you are visiting Oceanside, one of the best things to do is go to the beach. With over 3.5 miles of coastline there are a variety of stunning beaches to choose from. Whether you are looking for water sports, swimming, or relaxing, there is a beach in Oceanside for everyone.
One of the most popular beaches in Oceanside is the large main beach, called Pier View South Beach. This spacious beach next to the pier is fit for a crowd. Cruise the boardwalk, take an electric bike ride, grab an ice cream cone or rent surreys to zip along the strand. Nearby, Oceanside Pier Amphitheater offers fun events such as musicians and outdoor movies.
If you have kids, Tyson Street Beach is one of the favorite family-friendly beaches in Oceanside. Children love the nearby playground with its large play structure. Other benefits of this location are ample parking, a grassy picnic area, and lifeguards nearby. In the summer months, Tyson Beach closes for surfing which makes it one of the top beaches for swimming.
Not to be missed, is Harbor Beach. This is the largest beach in Oceanside with a lively environment. In addition to its proximity to shops and restaurants, it offers volleyball courts, covered picnic tables and a playground. Watch the colorful hues of the sunset while you roast s’mores at one of the fire pits.
(Pier View South Beach)
2. Experience Thrilling Water Sports in Oceanside
One of the best things to do in Oceanside is enjoy thrilling water activities. Near Oceanside Harbor and along the strand you can find a plethora of recreation activities. Choose from whale-watching tours, deep-sea fishing excursions, jet ski rentals, surfing, and paddle boards. If you love to stay active, Oceanside is an outdoor- lovers paradise.
3. Shop at Oceanside Harbor Village
Near the marina, visit the Oceanside Harbor Village for a popular shopping experience. At this center, New England architecture crosses with California beach vibes. Here you can stop for a fresh seafood lunch or shopping. Wander through the area to buy souvenirs or items for the beach. Snap instagram-worthy photos next to the 6-story classic red and white lighthouse. If you are lucky you might be able to spot sea lions basking in the harbor. This is definitely a fun place to visit in Oceanside.
(Oceanside Harbor Village)
4. Stroll Along the Oceanside Pier
After soaking up the sun, take a stroll along the Oceanside Pier. First constructed in 1888, this prominent landmark is one of the longest piers on the West Coast. Walk along the 1,954-foot pier and take in the scenery as seabirds soar overhead. Stop at the pier bait shop to rent gear and spend a few hours fishing. Or, drop some coins in the viewfinders to watch surfers among the waves. Soon, construction of a new seafood restaurant at the end of the pier will add to the enjoyment of the location.
5. Check out the “Top Gun” House
Across the street from Oceanside Pier is the “Top Gun House”. This is the cozy beach cottage made famous by the Tom Cruise movie in 1986. The Victorian-style house was built in 1888. It was initially a summer vacation house known as “The Graves House”.
In 2022, the home was relocated one block north and reopened as the “High Pie” shop. Today, this quirky bakery offers delicious pies and Top Gun memorabilia. There is even a motorcycle out front for fun Instagram photos. The “Top Gun” house is a “must-see” attraction in this small California beach town.
(Top Gun House)
6. Visit Oceanside Museums: California Surf Museum & Oceanside Museum of Art
Once you have had your fill of beach time, explore the California Surf Museum. Learn all about the history of surfing at this unique museum which opened in 1986. It currently has an exhibit documenting the harrowing 2003 shark attack of surfer Bethany Hamilton.
The Oceanside Museum of Art is another fun activity to explore. This modern art museum displays works in a variety of mediums. You can find art made of glass, light installations, paintings, and sculptures.
7. Watch the Sunset From a Rooftop Bar
Next, grab cocktails at one of Oceanside’s rooftop bars. Hello Betty has a rooftop bar where drinks and live music flow. For stunning sunsets over the pier, head to an oceanfront rooftop bar in one of the new “South O” hotels. Both Mission Pacific Hotel and The Seabird offer prime locations for sea views.
8. Tour Historic Mission San Luis Rey
Another interesting attraction in Oceanside is the stunning Mission San Luis Rey. This National Historic Landmark and former Spanish mission was founded in 1798. At its height, it was the largest California mission spanning over 950,000 acres. It is one of only two cruciform, or cross-shaped, Spanish churches built in the area. In addition, it has California’s first documented pepper tree that is over 200 years old!
Today, Mission San Luis Rey is an active parish for Franciscan friars and offers space for religious retreats. Visitors can tour the pristine white church, which was the third church built on the site. Then explore the expansive grounds, museum, cemetery, and gardens.
(Mission San Luis Rey)
9. Charming Heritage Park & Museum
Then, take a step back in time at charming Heritage Park. This park is within walking distance from Mission San Luis Rey. It was created as part of Oceanside’s bicentennial celebration in 1976 and depicts life back in the 1890s. View replicas of the Libby schoolhouse, city jail, and “Blade Tribune” newspaper. Don’t miss a peek at the elaborate model train display too. The best part of Heritage Park is admission is free.
10. Visit Delicious Oceanside Restaurants
Without question, the restaurants in Oceanside make this beach town a great place to visit. In Oceanside, you can find a wide variety of delicious North County San Diego restaurants. With MICHELIN-Star-rated restaurants and simple corner taco shops, Oceanside has tons of flavorful choices. Some favorites include Valle, Wrench & Rodent, Dija Mara, The Flying Pig Pub, and 333 Pacific.
11. Bar Hop at Breweries in Oceanside
San Diego is known as ”The Craft Beer Capital”, so make sure to sample the local breweries in Oceanside. Places like Bagby Beer Company, Black Plague Brewing, and Belching Beaver are great places to taste unique San Diego craft beers.
12. Golf at One of Oceanside’s Beautiful Golf Courses
If you are a golfer, Oceanside has 6 unique golf courses to choose from. Two of Oceanside’s most popular golf courses are Arrowood and Goat Hill courses.
Arrowood is a beautiful and challenging golf course in north, inland Oceanside. One of the highlights of this course is the last three finishing holes, known as “The Quandary”. Two of these holes have difficult carries over water onto island-style greens.
Goat Hill Park is a local institution in Oceanside. It is popular with locals and families alike and is known for its lively atmosphere. Unlike other courses, you will find music playing at this dog-friendly venue.
(Arrowood Golf Course)
13. Enjoy the Natural Beauty at Guajome Regional Park
There is more to Oceanside besides beautiful beaches. When you need some serenity, make a trip to Guajome Regional Park. This beautiful wooded area is a camper’s delight with over 4 miles of trails, a lake, and two ponds for fishing. In addition, you can visit nearby Rancho Guajome Adobe. The Adobe is a historic 19th-century hacienda and National Historic Landmark.
14. Buena Vista Audubon Society
Bird lovers will enjoy a stop at the Buena Vista Audubon Society. The Audubon Society provides education, birding opportunities, and local conservation of bird habitats. Guests can tour the nature center for interactive bird displays and views of the Buena Vista Lagoon.
15. Take a Day Trip From Oceanside
If you have time for a day trip, there are even more attractions to explore near Oceanside. You can visit one of San Diego’s theme parks such as Legoland California. Animal lovers will enjoy the Safari Park, Seaworld, and the World famous San Diego Zoo. Taste authentic Mexican food and take a ghost tour at the haunted Whaley House in historic Old Town. Cross the bridge across San Diego Bay and spend the afternoon at the famous Hotel del Coronado. Finish with a drive to downtown San Diego for restaurants, shopping at Seaport Village or a Padres game.
Oceanside is one of the best coastal towns in California. From beautiful beaches, shopping, exhilarating water sports, and fabulous dining, there are many things to keep you busy. While it might be a lesser-known beach town, it is growing in popularity. As you can see, Oceanside is one of the best small beach towns in California!
If you found this information helpful consider buying me a cup of coffee. Just scan the QR code or click the link. As always, thank you for your support!
Get Travel Insurance
I use Skyscanner to find flights. I use it so much, I wrote an entire guide to finding cheap flights with Skyscanner! My second favorite site to find flights is Momondo, another great site for finding cheap flights.
Book a Place to Stay
If you prefer staying in a vacation rental instead, I recommend VRBO.
Rent clothes for your trip with Travel Style Expert for only $50 a month! The first 30 days are free!
Choose Activities and Tours
To find great activities in any area I use Get Your Guide and Viator. If we are visiting a city with lots of popular attractions I always check CityPass and GoCard to see if they have discount cards available.