Why Oceanside, CA Is the Laid-Back Beach Vacation We All Need

best things to do in Oceanside, CA Andie Huber
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If you find want a quick oceanside getaway from LA, then grab your bathing suit and boogie board and head south an hour and a half to Oceanside, CA. Hiding in North County San Diego, Oceanside is everything we love about about laid-back beach towns—tons to see and do with the kids (including bragging rights for lots of CA’s firsts, oldest and longest), loads of sand and water play and great food to boot. Here’s how to spend 72 hours in Oceanside with the kids—plus in-the-know tips to make your stay the best vacation getaway ever.

Day 1:
Travel to Oceanside, Visit the California Welcome Center, Check-in at The Seabird Resort and Eat Dinner at The Lab Collaborative.

Getting to Oceanside via car is simple enough—head down the 405, to the 5 (you can opt to take the 73 if you don’t mind paying the toll—you don’t need a toll pass as you can pay the fee online within 5 days) and take the 54B exit. Your biggest concern is going to be traffic but if you are willing to forgo your car, you can take Amtrak’s Surfliner or Metrolink to Oceanside from Los Angeles—the train station is just a five minute walk from the hotel—eliminating any worries or stress about driving and traffic jams.

Insider Tip: Kids ride for free on Metrolink trains during the weekend.

Visit the California Welcome Center: There are 11 welcome centers sprinkled throughout the state and these information-packed brick and mortars are well-worth your time. And while you’ll get lost (in a good way) in this recently renovated spot sorting through the magazines, brochures, discount tickets and exhibits (there was a super cool skateboard exhibit called The History of Skateboarding on display while we were there), the people working there are also unofficial ambassadors to the town. This is where you’ll find the best recommendations and local intel that you may not otherwise know (like where to find the best fish and chips, according to the staff it’s the Tin House located just under the pier, and how Oceanside is a treasure trove for resale clothing).

best things to do in oceanside, ca

Check into The Seabird Resort: Opened in 2021, this 226-room resort, located on the Pacific Ocean epitomizes upscale coastal chic and it delivers on all levels (it’s like walking through a Nancy Myers movie—IYKYK). And while it is luxurious—incredible art work hangs all over the hotel and cozy corners abound with interesting coffee table books—it’s also super family-friendly. Don’t be surprised to see a barefooted surfer walking through the lobby, still in their wetsuit, board in hand, padding back to their room. And that’s the vibe here—marrying deluxe accommodations with that laid-back, literally just walked-off-the-beach charm.

Insider Tip: In your room, make sure to take a look through The Seabird Magazine—it’s chock full of information of what’s happening at the resort as well as what’s happening around town.

best things to do with kids in Oceanside, CA

If you have time before dinner, head to the pool deck and burn off some energy at the pool that overlooks the ocean. Comfortable lounge chairs abound plus there’s drink service as well as yummy bites from 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (but more on that during tomorrow’s itinerary).

If you’d rather check out the beach than the pool, across the street, the hotel has a beach valet with complimentary beach chairs and umbrellas at The Beach Rambler.

Good to Know: While the beach is useable, it is under construction and is expected to finish this summer. And for those with toddlers in tow, this part will most likely a highlight thanks to the diggers moving all that sand around!

The hotel also offers a variety of activities for the kids—from rock painting and tie-dying to build-your-own-stuffed animal, check-in with the concierge for the day’s activity or book activities through the website, including fire pit rentals, surf lessons and wellness experiences like yoga classes.

Insider Tip: Want to head down here without the kids? Or looking for a babymoon getaway near LA? Check into Seabird’s sister resort, The Mission Pacific, located across the street. It’s the same upscale, California-coastal chic experience but geared more towards adults. PS: The Mission Pacific roof deck is the place to go for drinks and sunsets.

best things to do with kids in oceanside, ca

Eat Dinner at The Lab Collaborative: Located just a 5-minute walk from the hotel, this newly opened, bustling restaurant with a friendly, attentive and informative staff, sets the new bar when it comes to upscale family-friendly dining. And with over 50% of the menu sourced locally, you know you’re getting the best that SoCal has to offer.

Our recommends? The Pretzel and Sausage Platter was a huge hit for the whole table and while the adults couldn’t get enough of the Fried Chicken and Thai Baked Salmon (seriously delicious), the kids devoured their cheeseburger and linguini from the kid’s menu. Another must? The Dessert Waffle for the table. YUM.

Insider Tip: If you drink alcohol—don’t miss out on their specialty barrel-aged cocktails. We recommend The Manhattan, aged with Redemption Rye, and the Margarita—barrel-aged with Herradura Reposado tequila. PS: When you’re up early the next morning (depending on how many of those margaritas you had), stroll over to Jet Fuel—their craft coffee and tea outpost located right next door.

Day 2:
Breakfast at Piper in The Seabird Resort, Go Mural Hunting, Visit the Surf Museum, Pool Time & Lunch at The Shelter Club, Visit the Top Gun House & High Pie, Walk the Pier, Eat Dinner at One of the Local Hot-Spots and Grab a Sweet Treat at Fugu Ice Cream & Taiyaki.

Eat Breakfast at the Piper Restaurant: Offering garden-to-table fare, this bright and airy dining spot, located on the ground floor of The Seabird, delivers fresh breakfast items like organic juices and smoothies, malted pancakes and eggs your way while the buffet has a waffle bar, pastries and baked goods. My personal favorite was the whole grains in a jar that refreshingly paired with the coconut-based yogurt and farm fresh berries.

Insider Tip: At night, the Piper offers organic pastas and garden-fresh vegetables for dinner. Reserve a spot outside to sit and eat by the fire tables.

best things to do in Oceanside, CA

Go Mural Hunting: Oceanside is an artistic community at heart and that extends to street art as well. You can follow the digital map of noteworthy murals or leave it up to chance (we did a combination of both) but it’s a great way to get the kids to walk around, hunting for the next photo-worthy wall art while soaking up the local culture.

Insider Tip: Swing by Artist Alley—multiple street murals are here as well as one-of-a-kind gift shops that expand onto the sidewalk and feels like a mini-festival.

best things to do in Oceanside, CA

Dive into Surf History at the California Surf Museum: This local gem, located within walking distance of The Seabird, hosts an impressive collection detailing the history of surfing and the surfing lifestyle—especially Oceanside’s influence. It also includes an exhibit dedicated to professional surfer Bethany Hamilton’s world famous shark attack(at age 13 she was attacked by a Tiger shark in Kauai, lost an arm, recovered and returned to competitive surfing shortly thereafter). Don’t miss the recovered surfboard—bite mark and all—on display. We even got to hold the jaw of a Tiger shark—an incredible and humbling experience.

Insider Tip: If you’re on the mural hunt, there’s a secret art mural through a side door—don’t forget to step outside and check out this cowabunga-worthy mural!

best things to do with kids in Oceanside, CA

Pool Time & Lunch at The Shelter Club: The kids are probably ready for some pool time so head back to to the 3rd floor of The Seabird Resort to grab some lounge chairs—the friendly staff will be there to help you find a shady or sunny spot as well as deliver drinks, snacks and lunch when you are ready. Cabanas are available ($200 for the day) that include reserved poolside loungers or you can rent daybeds ($30 per hour and are the closest to the pool and super comfy)—on busy days, a godsend when you are vying for a seat.

The menu consists of casual lunch fare from The Shelter Club—crab rolls, nachos, salads and burgers and grilled cheese but the fries are some of the best we’ve ever had—so make sure to include at least one order with your meals.

best things to do in Oceanside, CA

Walk the Oceanside Pier: The longest, over-the-water, wooden pier on the west coast, stroll the 1,942 feet to the end before you head to dinner. Stop to watch the surfers, dotted along the coast, catch wave after wave and keep an eye out for Charlie, the resident pelican that graces the pier on the regular.

Insider Tip: Feeling fishy? At the Bait Shop on the pier, you can rent fishing gear and fish right off the pier—no permit required.

Visit the Top Gun House & High Pie: This historic home (also the last, oceanfront Folk Victorian cottage in San Diego County) made famous by the movie Top Gun (it’s where Kelly McGillis lived) has been reimagined as a pie shop, called High Pie, courtesy of the same geniuses behind Cheeky’s in Palm Springs—one of our favorite breakfast spots in the desert. Swing by and admire the architecture or head back here after dinner to grab an apple or cherry hand pie from this just-opened spot that is sure to draw legions of fans from all over the world.

Dinner: There are a bunch of family-friendly dining options around the hotel like Hello Betty Fish House for fish tacos and rooftop lounging, Blade 1936 for wood-fired pizza and modern Italian fare and Craft Coast Beer & Tacos—serving up (you guessed it) craft beer and tacos. All of these spots were full of families—you can’t go wrong at any of these dining spots.

Ice cream treat in Oceanside, CA

Grab a Sweet Treat at Fugu Ice Cream & Taiyaki: If you skipped the apple pie from High Pie or if you have room for more dessert, grab a fish cone at Fugu Ice Cream & Taiyaki—filled with your choice of ice cream like Taro, Horchata and Matcha, along with your pick of filling like red bean, Mexican caramel or Nutella. If you don’t want the fish cone, they also do rolled ice cream—it’s fun to watch them create the ice cream rolls and are delicious to boot! They also have basic flavors like vanilla.

Day 3:
Breakfast at Swami’s Cafe, Explore Oceanside Harbor & Harbor Beach and Visit the Mission San Luis Rey on the Way out of Town.

Breakfast at Swami’s Cafe: Head to this popular hot-spot first thing in the morning to be beat the crowds and enjoy breakfast at a leisurely pace before the line wraps around the corner. Kids will love the waffles and pancakes while the parents will love diving into the spicy Mexican Burrito filled with jalapenos and the breakfast sandwich on a buttery croissant.

Insider Tip: If you’re still stuffed from all the previous meals and want something a little lighter, head to Petite Madeline to grab coffee and baked goods like danishes, croissants, and scones to go.

Explore Oceanside Harbor & Harbor Beach: Oceanside Harbor & Harbor Beach are located on the northern side of Oceanside. The harbor is a sweet village filled with one-of-a-kind shops, waterfront dining, plus this is where you can access loads of water-based activities like boat rentals, whale watching, surf lessons, and kayaking.

best things to do in Oceanside, CA

Insider Tip: If you haven’t hit the beach yet, this is a good spot to get your feet wet—there’s a long stretch of sandy beach protected by two rock jetties, keeping the water fairly calm for the little ones. Parking is easy but don’t forget to pay the meter.

best things to do with kids in Oceanside, CA

Stroll through the Mission San Luis Rey: On your way out of town, swing by this gorgeous Mission for a little SoCal culture and history. Founded in 1798 and known as the “King of the Missions” it is also home to the oldest pepper tree in California as well as the oldest community burial ground in North County San Diego. Self-guided tours are available through from the gift shop but even if you don’t take the tour, definitely walk through the church to see the mix of Spanish Colonial architecture and Indian cultures—it’s a beautiful, peaceful space and the wall murals are stunning. Good to Know: The mission has a Día de los Muertos festival in the fall and a “Christmas at the Mission—Night of a Thousand Lights” in Dec.

Insider Tip: Before leaving, swing by the stop-worthy cafe for snacks and coffee for your ride back to LA.

best things to do in Oceanside

More Things to Do in Oceanside, CA

The above itinerary worked well for our family but there is so much more to see and do in Oceanside, depending on your interests. Here are some of the things we’re planning on doing the next time we visit.

Visit the Oceanside Museum of Art (OMA): Located within a designated California Cultural District (there are only 14 designated areas in the state!), this museum showcases art and stories from Southern California artists—from landscape paintings and photography to contemporary neon sculptures and more.

Rent Bikes at Wheel Fun Rentals: Since 2008, the League of American Bicyclist has recognized Oceanside as a Bicycle Friendly Community and earning a silver classification for its “clearly marked bike trails, number of cycling events and incorporation of cycling into the development and future infrastructure of the community.” Cruiser, electric, quad sport, four-seater surreys and more are available to rent—no reservation required from this bike rental spot near the Pier. Insider Tip: Download the digital bike map before you go!

South Oceanside “South O”: A neighborhood full of funky businesses, restaurants, more wall murals (!), a retro bowling alley and close to the Buena Vista Lagoon & Nature Center, you can spend a whole day exploring this part of town with all the various treats, eats and local habitats.

Good to Know: LEGOLAND, San Diego Zoo Safari Park and during the spring, the Carlsbad Flower Fields are all within a short driving distance of Oceanside.

This trip was paid for by Visit Oceanside, but all the opinions and photos, unless otherwise noted, belong to the writer. 

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