The Southern California beach community of Oceanside offers a perfect beach vacation. Plan your family getaway in Oceanside, California.
The life of a travel writer is diverse and always interesting. After a recent media trip to Oceanside, California, I was determined to bring my family back to explore this Southern California beach community on the Pacific Ocean in more depth. At last, the time arrived, and we set off on a road trip for our home away from home at Pacific Villas and Bungalows perched on the ocean's edge. Come along and see what we discovered during our family getaway in Oceanside, California.
Arrival at Pacific Villas and Bungalows
I drove to the center of town near the pier and quickly found the drive famously called the Strand. A mile-long road on the Pacific's edge attracts cyclists, walkers, and runners who sometimes have to dodge the ocean waves during high tide as the water crashes over the rocks.
Pro Tip: When renting at the beach, it is a huge advantage to have a parking spot, because beach parking is in great demand.
We turned into our allotted parking place for our rented bungalow. We walked up the stairs with suitcases in hand, opened the door, and settled in for the next two days of a fantastic family vacation.
It was time to step out on the terrace stretching across the whole length of the bungalow and enjoy the unobstructed view before us. Straight ahead, seagulls were seeking their prey in the ocean. The pier was to the right, initially built in 1888 and replaced six times, stretching far out beyond the white sand beaches. Now it was time to head out and start exploring.
The California Welcome Center Oceanside
We headed out to the Oceanside Visitors Center on the Coastal Highway. You have to keep your eyes open so as not to miss the Visitors Center, for it is tucked away on a curve near the entrance to Highway 5. As you walk through the door, you will be surprised by a red Volkswagon convertible sitting in the middle of the display room. The surfboard propped up in the backseat pays homage to Oceanside's identity as a world-class surfing town.
New businesses pop up in unusual places in Oceanside, so be sure to ask about new establishments or attractions. The knowledgeable staff is ready to help you with suggestions. After picking up brochures and completing your conversation with the team, get back in your car, and take the short drive to Oceanside Harbor.
Oceanside Harbor Buzzing with Activities
The Oceanside Harbor walk from the parking lot to the fishing village-style shopping center immediately catches attention. Surrounded by natural hills, this recessed area of the Ocean lives up to its name as a Harbor. Moored privately owned boats line the inner circle of the harbor.
If you have ever wanted to go whale watching, here is your chance. Catamarans are graced with canopies over the seating and protect you from the sun. The two-hour tour takes you down the coastline. A naturalist will be aboard and share information on the whales and the marine life that calls this coastline home. Look for the Whale Watching Tour sign near the historic Oceanside Harbor Lighthouse. Then sign up for a time slot that will work for you.
In the harbor's outer perimeters, snuggled up against the hills, are various stores selling everything from hippy-type tee-shirts and sarongs to beach décor for your home and restaurants.
Lunch at the Lighthouse
You can't miss the tower that looms over the harbor and is part of the décor for the Lighthouse Oyster Bar and Grill. They have two patios but opt for the front one, which offers a birds-eye view of the entire harbor.
Now for the hard choice. The Lighthouse's menu with an array of freshly caught seafood doesn't make it easy to make a choice. As a connoisseur of coconut shrimp, I will tell you their shrimp with fresh coconut is some of the best I have eaten. Pair it with a Pacifica or crisp white wine, oh my.
Time to Walk Off that Great Lunch
Walk down the stairs, turn left, and take a leisurely walk peering into the various private boats. Keep an eye out for the sea lions, sometimes popping up between them and vying with the humans for places in the sun on the piers.
The path narrows but keep walking past the condos and then truck over the slight incline. Suddenly stretching as far as you can look in both directions is the fine white sand beach. It is time to take off your shoes and let the sand squish between your toes as you walk along the shore.
The sun will be setting soon, and you want to head home to watch it set from your balcony, but first stop at the Lighthouse Fish and Seafood Market to pick up something you can prepare in your condo for your evening meal. After a road trip to Oceanside and exploring, slowing down in your digs feels like a terrific idea.
Day Two Exploring Oceanside
Right out of a movie scene, a fresh cup of coffee, gentle ocean breeze, and rising sun over the Ocean provide the perfect opening for a new day. With hunger pains starting to surface, time to head out to Parlor Doughnuts for its “cronuts.” These are donut-shaped deliciousness but with thin, flaky layers reminiscent of croissants.
With substance under your belt, walk around the corner and rent a bicycle so you can traverse this beach community from a different angle. You can ride for miles, so remember you need to make the return trip. It is easy to get caught up watching the surfers and lose track of time.
Visiting the Surf Museum
Speaking of surfers, did you know Oceanside's Surfside Museum has one of the most extensive collections of surfing memorabilia globally? Their collection contains what is believed to be the first surfboard designed and used in Hawaii in the late 1800s. Walk the aisle and see how the design has remained the same but is created from several materials, including the agave plant.
One exhibit holds surfing pro Bethany Hamilton's surfboard, sporting a massive chunk out of the side. Hamilton, attacked by a shark at the age of 13 on the surfboard, survived the attack. She went on to conquer the surfing world, even with one arm. A museum volunteer will show you a shark jawbone that is the size of the one that changed Bethany's life. The missing piece out of her surfboard helps you understand this was a monster-size shark.
August has typically superb surfing conditions. Thus, Oceanside has become the host of world-class surfing competitions. Surfers and spectators descend on the beaches of Oceanside.
Sea Lion Island
More than one local will tell you you have to experience sea lion island. Get directions and follow the road as it winds past Oceanside Harbor. As you approach the area, you will see more docked boats, lots of piers, and sitting areas for pedestrians.
Park your car and carefully walk across the road. Gaze out before you, and there are hundreds of sea lions basking in the afternoon sun. A distant platform is covered with seals vying for their spot. Ah, that's the reason for all the benches. This view is an amusing site for entertainment for as much time as you have to enjoy. It is like being at a zoo, only with the animals free to do whatever they feel like doing.
Pulling yourself away isn't easy, but time to grab dinner tonight at Dominic's Italian Restaurant. We were ready for a change of pace from seafood, though we marveled how everything seafood ordered had been savored.
One Last Stop in the Day
Lauren, an owner of Pacific Villa and Bungalows, suggested we should be sure to check out the hip new Communal Coffee shop in the industrial area. Besides, it was time for a coffee break.
Communal Coffee has an inviting patio, the perfect place to soak up the last bit of Oceanside's sun rays. We strolled through the gift shop area with local artists' artistic achievements with coffee in hand.
Alas, it was time to head back to our home away from home and settle in for the evening. As a tradition, we went over our favorite part of the two days of exploring. We had different answers, but my daughter proclaimed, “Mom, this has been a wonderful visit. I want to come back and explore more. There is so much more to see and do.”
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A Family Getaway in Oceanside, California
My favorite part of the trip happened the last morning. As we took our suitcases to the car, my daughter said, “Now, all we need to see is some more dolphins before we leave.” Practically on queue, seagulls caught my attention, and there before us were three dolphins frolicking in the brilliant sun. It had been a perfect family getaway in Oceanside, California. Check out more great places to explore in California and additional suggestions for amazing beach vacations.