“Oceanside?!?” my girlfriend said with a tone of shock in her voice when I told her about our upcoming vacation plans, “Why aren’t you staying in Carlsbad?”
Her words echoed in my head as we drove down Oceanside’s South Coast Highway after a long day at LEGOLAND. We were tired, hungry and just wanted to find our hotel. To say that in the dark, this section of Oceanside can come off as a little sketchy would be a bit of an understatement. We parked in front of The Fin Hotel, where we had a reservation. As I jumped out to check in, the last thing I heard from my husband was a disapproving “check the room first.”
I found out quickly that The Fin – a lot like the city itself – is a book not to be judged by its cover.
The Fin is symbolic of this entire section of the city of Oceanside. It’s just undergone a complete renovation, and inside its 1920s shell, visitors will find gorgeous, modern rooms, a beautiful community space in the lobby, and a staff team that is friendly and eager to help.
The light of morning revealed that we were blocks away from the ocean, in a section of town where the vibe of revitalisation can be seen and felt as strongly as the waves on the beach. With LEGOLAND closed (the park closes many Tuesdays and Wednesdays from September to February) we had the better part of 48 hours to spend in Oceanside – and were pleasantly surprised by all the fun, food and frolic offered by this funky, retro, laid-back So-Cal city.
6 Reasons Oceanside is California Cool that you Can’t Miss:
1. The Pacific Ocean – Whether you want to dip your toes in the water, walk along the beach, or play at a great playground, Oceanside’s Pier Beach is sure to please! We saw surfers and boogie-boarders, families playing in the sand, and fitness enthusiasts running on the waterfront pathway. The famous pier (the longest over-water wooden pier!) is perfect for strolls and photos ops and rumour has it Ruby’s Diner, at the end of the pier, makes the best milkshake in town.
2. The Fun – whether you want to go for a family bike ride (you can rent a surrey bike from Wheel Fun Rentals at Oceanside Pier), try your hand at a little fishing (rods can also be rented right at the pier), or check out something off the beaten path like the California Surf Museum, you’ll find fun for the whole family in Oceanside. The surf museum was our favourite – especially the chance to see Bethany Hamilton’s shark-bitten surfboard!
3. The Food – The Privateer Coal Fire Pizza is billed as a pizza house that makes their pies with as many fresh local ingredients as possible. I’m going to have to go back because there were so many appetising options on their menu that none of us chose pizza! My fish tacos were unreal, but the real star of the show was the local Brussel sprouts with a splash of balsamic. We also loved our lunch at Hello Betty, a California-cool beachfront restaurant with a dune buggy for the kids to play in. Great food and a top-notch staff team.
4. The Price – The accommodation rates we found in Oceanside were extremely reasonable. The Fin Hotel was kind enough to host us for one night. Had we been travelling alone, my husband and I would have relished the chance to stay there for the duration of our visit, but with a posse of two busy 4-year-olds, our travel requirements include: a pool, a gym, laundry and wifi – we found all of that for less than $100 per night at the Best Western Plus Oceanside Palms.
5. The Access – Whether you’re looking to make the 10-minute drive to LEGOLAND, or want to go further south into San Diego, Oceanside offers easy access via the San Diego Freeway (I-5). We didn’t go as far south as San Diego, but we did pay a magical visit to the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Their Children’s Garden is fantastic, but what we loved the most was experiencing the Christmas Garden of Lights, which included music, crafts, marshmallow roasting, and even a “snow” hill for sledding! (I let my little Canadians slide down a couple of times before reminding them we were going home the next day where they’d be able to sled every day for the next 3 to 4 months.)
6. The People – From the laid back surfers to the energetic doers, it’s clear that Oceanside’s revitalisation is bolstered by its warm and welcoming citizens. I spent a morning catching up on work in a coffee shop and overheard a patron say to a barista “You have the nicest team here!”. The genuine compliment was received with a huge smile. Just part of the Oceanside experience that’s not to be missed.