When it comes to visiting Southern California beaches, the city of Oceanside is not likely to jump into your mind. It is more likely to be Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and the San Diego beach cities.
Yet Oceanside – located in north San Diego County – is somewhat of a hidden gem. It has a polished area along its long concrete pier, very nice outdoor bars and restaurants, tons of craft breweries (hey it’s San Diego), new hotels overlooking the ocean, a bike path that runs parallel to the beach, a clean beach and a cool little harbor surrounded by small restaurants bustling with character.
Oh, as well as the small house used by Kelly McGillis’ character in the original Top Gun. It’s now a pie shop.
Oceanside is also a stop for Amtrak, the San Diego Coaster and Orange County’s Metrolink trains.
Here is PubClub.com’s rundown on Oceanside which provides a great glimpse of the beach, beach, the harbor, things to do and, naturally, cool places to eat and drink.
Oceanside Has Transformed From A Marine Town To A Tourism Beach Town
For decades, Oceanside was known as a Marine town. That’s because it’s where many of the grunts lived while stationed at adjacent Camp Pendleton, the West Coast’s major training base. The town reflected that of its residents, which is to say it was a blue collar place with rough bars full of Marines being Marines.
You can still get a feel for some of that element by driving along Pacific Highway but you’re much better off being a few blocks west along the ocean. It is there you will find today’s Oceanside, which has transformed from being strictly a Marine town to a tourism beach town.
It’s not a wild party place but it does have single people in its restaurants and bars, is great for a quick family vacation, especially for people in L.A., and Orange County who may be tired of Disneyland (Legoland is one town down in Carlsbad) or some other always-visited beach.
The Oceanside Pier
Beautiful. Modern. Clean.
Those were my first impressions when I saw the Oceanside Pier. I had no idea until I saw it for myself. N. Pacific Street runs above and parallel to the beach. The Top Gun house is a block to the south. The restaurant at the end of the pier is closed but it’s still a pleasant stroll.
There’s a beautiful outdoor bar across from the pier called High Low. It has Happy Hour until sunset with $4 canned beers (the blonde lager is really good) and live music from a Hawaiian-style musician. If you sit inside you can still get the view and also the fragrance of orchids, adding to the Polynesian atmosphere. The food is light tho it does have a pretty good burger.
Oceanside Rooftop Bars
There are two rooftop bars Copacabana Rooftop Bar at the restored three-story Block Hotel and the cleverly-named Rooftop bar on the sixth floor of the Mission Pacific Hotel. The latter has cocktails named after scenic San Diego locations such as Sunset Cliffs and Torrey Pines. It also has a DJ on weekends. Both have appetizer menus for food.
It is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays. Copacabana Rooftop Bar opens at Noon on Saturdays and Sundays and at 4 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Like most cities in Southern California, Oceanside has a wide beach. The water is clean and great for swimming and surfing, although as anyone who resides in SoCal knows, it’s chilly much of the year (the water temperature is in the upper 50s) and even in the summer months it’s in the low 70s.
There is a narrow, take-your-time two-lane road for vehicles parallel to the beach. On either side are bike lanes, which is really the way to cruise along Oceanside Beach. The area is clean and safe and has no-hurries-no-worries locals.
Oceanside Harbor Restaurants
This is where Oceanside’s character really presents itself. It’s a mile or so north of the pier and has restaurants and little shops are in a small semi-circle. This is called Oceanside Harbor Village.
There are half a dozen places to eat (and drink!). PubClub contributor Luau Larry likes Rockin’ Baja Lobster, which has a couple of other locations in San Diego and live music on occasion. Tony’s Sports Bar is a dive with occasional live music. There is also Lighthouse Oyster Bar and Grill, Harbor Fish & Chips, Dominic’s at the Harbor for Italian food, Stratford at the Harbor with breakfast all day and D’Vino Cafe & Bar. There’s also a Joe’s Crab Shack, which is a chain, tho not a particularly large one.
I chose none of those because a couple of friends recommended another place due to the fact it has a more varied menu, Oceanside Broiler, located on the other side of the Village harbor. It was lunchtime and I really enjoyed my tuna salad sandwich. I didn’t particularly enjoy the price of it, around $17, as I recall, but I had a seat overlooking the harbor on its outdoor deck and it was very pleasant. Pretty much every place there has similar prices, by the way.
Oceanside Harbor Village also has boat rentals and little shops.
Here is the official Oceanside tourism bureau: Visit Oceanside.