Often overlooked in favor of its neighbor San Diego, this beach town is a quaint and relaxing family destination - and close to LEGOLAND.
Oceanside is a sleepy beach town and last oceanfront San Diego County destination before entering Orange County. Located 45 minutes from downtown San Diego, Oceanside is undergoing a loving renovation, restoring the old and bringing in new to attract visitors. If you’re seeking a more chilled family vacation that’s big on quality time, this gem could be for you.
What to do?
As a parent of two toddler boys, I love spending the day at the beach where the kids can burn off some energy while having fun. My three-year old plays cat-and-mouse with the waves, while my two-year old loves to roll in the sand… literally. Luckily, Oceanside provides an abundance of sandy beach with plenty of room for rambunctious boys.
Oceanside Pier Beach offers endless beach play in addition to a beachfront playground. (My sons hit the swings for hours!) Stroll along the longest overwater wooden pier or rent a 4-person surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals (300 N. The Strand). Cost: $25/hour; other bikes and stand-up paddle boards also available. There are fire pits for roasting s’mores on the beach in the evening, too.
KidTripster Tip: The path for surrey riding is fairly flat, so it’s not too bad of a pedal for parents. One way brings you along the beach, whereas the other leads you along the rock-bordered ocean. There’s no need to rent the bikes longer than an hour.
KidTripster Tip: If you plan on roasting marshmallows on the beach, you can pick up supplies at the nearby Super Walmart.
For older kids, explore the Buena Vista Lagoon (2312 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad), a 223-acre wetland and California’s first Ecological Reserve. Look for guided nature hikes and birding walks throughout the year. You also can check out the lagoon’s nature center. It’s a great place for birdwatching and includes an exhibit with displays of local and migratory birds in the area, such as the Great White Pelican, Barn Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Northern Flicker.
Or to get in the SoCal spirit, pay a visit to the California Surf Museum (312 Pier View Way). This local attraction chronicles the history of surf-related sports. One of the most popular displays is pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton’s actual shark-bitten surfboard from the attack that took her arm when she was 13. The California Surf Museum is an easy 2-block stroll from the Oceanside Pier. Cost: Youth (under 12) Free; Youth (13-17) $3; Adults $5.
LEGOLAND California is a mere 15-minute drive from the heart of Oceanside. If you’re looking for a beach stay mixed with fun-filled entertainment, this amusement park is worth the visit; however, the park maxes out at about age 10. For KidTripster's insider tips on LEGOLAND, click here. If SoCal temperatures have you sweating, cool off at the LEGOLAND Water Park; it’s separate from the main park with a separate ticket. There’s a water-based imagination station for little ones and Pirate Reef for action seekers. LEGOLAND cost: Youth (3-12) $92; Adult $98; save $5/ticket by purchasing online in advance. Combo tickets including water park and aquarium cost: Youth (3-12) $116; Adult $122; save $15/ticket by purchasing online in advance; look for other online discounts.
Where to eat?
The town of Oceanside is transitioning from old to new. Hello Betty Fish House (211 Mission Ave.) is a recent addition. This adorable, beachy restaurant and bar reflects the local, eclectic character of Oceanside’s beach life. Plan to do dinner here, as it’s super accommodating to families. My boys loved hanging out in the kid-friendly dune buggy, located in the heart of the restaurant. The food is an updated spin on classic Baja SoCal beachside favorites. Yes, there’s the cliché kids’ menu, but for parents, there are excellent choices for some creative dining (and drinking). My husband gave the jalapeño-infused margarita two thumbs up, while I concentrated on the mahi-mahi tacos.
For pizza lovers, head to Zig Zag Pizza (333 N Myers St.). Located near the Oceanside Pier, this pizza joint serves personal pizzas in addition to an array of bottled beer and drinks for adults. The staff is very kind and even gave my kids pizza dough to play with while we waited.
For lunch, eat like the locals at Swami’s Cafe (202 N. Coast Hwy.). The eatery offers sandwiches, wraps, salads, smoothies, and juices. It’s a favorite San Diego chain.
Craving dessert for breakfast? Petite Madeline Bakery (223 N. Coast Hwy.) is so good! It’s located in downtown Oceanside and offers a delicious array of French cuisine. My husband and I split some crazy waffle-strawberry-ricotta concoction; don’t get your own as it’s super sweet. And my boys devoured their peanut butter cookies.
Photo courtesy: Mike Newton
Where to stay?
Your best bet for accommodations is the Wyndham Oceanside Pier Resort (333 N. Myers St.). Situated across from the pier with easy beach access and panoramic ocean views, this Oceanside resort is just a few blocks away from the downtown area. The property rents mostly timeshare-type residences, so it’s excellent for families. We enjoyed a two bedroom-two bathroom condo, equipped with a full kitchen, dinner nook, living room, balcony, and washer and dryer. Bonus: the main bathroom had an oversized Jacuzzi tub, which my boys loved! Other popular features include the 7th floor Skyroom library and lounge, game room, and the outdoor pool with hot tub and big ocean views. In the kids’ playroom, you’ll find games and art projects; extra fees can apply. All in all, the resort is incredibly convenient and very well-kept. Packages and promotions start at $199/night.
KidTripster Tip: While this resort is pristine, it doesn’t offer daily housekeeping, so keep your room nice and tidy. You can request more towels and linens, but you’ll have to make up the bed yourself.
If you’re flying, you actually can fly into the San Diego Airport or Orange County Airport and then rent a car. The drive from downtown San Diego is 45 minutes to an hour; it’s roughly 90 minutes from Los Angeles, depending on traffic.