I have always dreamed of living in San Diego. The city’s idyllic weather and pristine beaches draw more than 35 million visitors every single year. Having visited the nation’s 8th largest city more times than I can count, I often find myself venturing into the surrounding vicinity. Our latest family ventures took us to Oceanside. Located in North San Diego County, the city is ideally situated between popular family-centric attractions including LEGOLAND California Resort, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and SeaWorld San Diego. Our complete guide details where to stay, where to eat, and the Best Things to Do In Oceanside With Kids.
Consideration provided by Visit Oceanside.
Located between Los Angeles and San Diego, the beach community of Oceanside is quaint and relaxed, with a definitive small town vibe. Much of the downtown area is walkable, and there is enough to do for the entire family. My mother, my kids, and I all spent the weekend in the coastal escape, and the diverse mix of food, culture, and the outdoors appealed to our multi-generational family.
Standout features include miles of beautiful beaches, a charing New England-style harbor, a historic wooden pier, and picturesque bungalow neighborhoods. For those who enjoy the outdoors, biking, skydiving, and helicopter tours beckon adventure-seekers. Deep sea fishing, surfing, boating, and whale watching are some of the most popular aquatic activities in the area. Foodies will enjoy the city’s emerging culinary hotspots. And as one of 14 cities in California to be named a California Cultural District, there is much to be discovered within Oceanside’s museums, markets, and festivals.
Where to Stay in Oceanside
Where to stay in Oceanside is highly dependent on who is traveling and the type of vacation being planned. Family-friendly accommodations include beachfront vacation rental homes and suite-style, extended-stay, and pet-friendly hotels.
We found luxury and comfort at SpringHill Suites Marriott Oceanside. The newest beach-centric hotel features suite-style rooms, ocean views, a rooftop pool, and complimentary breakfast. Traveling as a multi-generational family requires generous sleeping arrangements, and we appreciated having the extra space. Each suite features separate areas for working, relaxing, and sleeping and can accommodate up to 6 guests. In-room amenities include a microwave, a refrigerator, and a sofa bed.
The hotel is centrally-located and within walking distance of Oceanside pier, the beach, shopping, dining, and entertainment. This made it easy to walk back and forth as needed without having move our car or find parking in the city.
Traveling with kids requires a bit of forethought. I always look for a hotel that offers on-site dining, since my kids seem to be hungry at inopportune times. Complimentary breakfast is served in the lobby and includes a buffet of hot and cold dishes. My kids’ internal alarm clock doesn’t change on vacation, so having breakfast on-site took away the stress of trying to locate and get to a restaurant at daybreak. You can also get your locally-sourced caffeine fix at Stay Golden, the hotel’s onsite cafe. For lunch and/or dinner, Hello Betty Fish House is located on-property and offers seafood-rich dishes.
Visit Oceanside for additional accommodation options.
Where to Eat in Oceanside With Kids
- Hello Betty Fish House: Food is an integral part of any travel experience. My approach is to find local restaurants that depict the city’s essence. Being that Oceanside is coastal, I anticipated eating a fair amount of seafood. Hello Betty Fish House just happens to be situated on the premises of the hotel we stayed at, which was very convenient after a day exploring the city. You know it’s a good restaurant when your local friend recommends it. Headed up by Executive Chef Jared Hills, the menu reflects an updated spin on classic Baja SoCal beachside favorites like fish tacos and margaritas using fresh, local ingredients (including seafood). Sit outside, and you will be immersed within the culture of Oceanside. If you look closely, you’ll spot the Top Gun house (see below!).
- Petit Madeline Bakery: We happened upon this pastry-shop/bistro/espresso bar while perusing the city. The menu features sweet and savor dishes made from scratch using quality ingredients. The restaurant is popular in the area for brunch, and features French-inspired dishes like sweet and savory crepes, a Niçoise French Salad, and a crustless quiche.
During our visit, we did not have a lot of time to explore the culinary scene in Oceanside. However, this emerging culinary destination is working to support local farmers to bring fresh, organic produce to local restaurants. These restaurants include the Wrench and Rodent SeaBasstropub, Privateer Coal Fire Pizza, and Flying Pig Pub and Kitchen. While we did not dine at these restaurants, they topped my list based on their unique menus and quality ingredients.
Locals and visitors can also visit the weekly Farmer’s Market held in Downtown Oceanside every Thursday from 9 am to 1 pm.
The Best Things to Do in Oceanside With Kids
As a coastal city, Oceanside lends itself well to family-centric activities. With idyllic year-round temperatures averaging 72 degrees, families can enjoy the city’s outdoor beauty on land or by sea.
- Bike Rides: Oceanside is a bicycle-friendly community and is easily explored this way. Additionally, there are two popular bike trails which include the San Luis Rey Bike Trail and the Coastal Rail Trail. Our family rented a Double Surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals to survey Oceanside’s beachfront community. The company, which includes locations throughout the US, offers bike rentals and tours near popular destinations. Be sure to ask for a map, which you can easily use to take a self-guided tour along the water or through the city.
- Kayak: Our family loves to kayak, so we welcomed the opportunity to explore Oceanside’s historic harbor. Stay within the harbor or venture out for a more adventurous ride. As you tour the harbor, be on the lookout for the sea lions that call the harbor their home. Oceanside Boat Rental also offers affordable SUP, Pedal Boat, Electric Boat, Sailboat, SeaDoo, Power Boat, and Fishing Boat rentals.
- California Surf Museum: You might expect that any coastal destination has a large surfing community. Oceanside has a long history with the surfing community, and is home to a number of professional surfers. For many, surfing is a way of life, including docent Cramer Jackson, who is one of the original California Surfers and surfed with legends. He walked us through the museum, which details the history of surfing and surf culture in Oceanside through exhibits, photos, and short films. The museum has an impressive collection of surfboards, including the board Bethany Hamilton was surfing on when she was attacked by a shark. We own Soul Surfer and have watched the film on numerous occasions, so my kids were intrigued to learn more about her bravery and determination to overcome her circumstances. Even if you are not an enthusiast, the museum offers a unique, engaging experience.
- Mission San Luis Rey: One of the few places on our bucket list was the “King of the Missions,” the largest in California. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this beautiful state treasure, with a history that dates back to 1798. This National Historic Landmark is home to a community of Franciscan Friars and is known for its beauty and Spanish Colonial architecture. Standouts include hand-carved wooden doors, colorful hand-painted walls and murals, the original baptismal font of hand-hammered copper by Native Americans, and Classic and Baroque reredos. The Mission offers visitors a look at California’s past through an interpretive museum, artifacts, and Franciscan heritage. Self-guided tours, educational lectures, public events in the historic gardens, and retreat stays are among the experiences available at the Mission.
- Buena Vista Lagoon: Families looking to explore the area’s natural habitats will enjoy a nature hike at Buena Vista Lagoon. As the only freshwater lagoon in California, its 350 acres is home to several varieties of migrant and resident waterfowl. It is also home to the Buena Vista Audubon Society which operates an informative Nature Center. There are two trails that offer visitors a look at the lagoon’s inhabitants. Take a guided nature hike or bird walk throughout the year and see local and migratory birds such as the White Pelican, Barn Owl, Red-Shouldered Haw, and the Northern Flickers.
- Top Gun House: Fans of the popular 1980’s film will enjoy seeing Charlie Blackwood’s house. Now painted blue, the house is surrounded by a fence and located on a mostly empty lot. Built by Dr. Henry Graves in 1887, it is one of the oldest houses in Oceanside. You can still see a decent view of the house with posters from the film on Pacific Street. Address: 102 Pacific Street, Oceanside, California 92054.
Oceanside is a destination on its own, emerging with art, culture, and culinary experiences. Whether you are looking for adventure (coastal skydiving anyone) or a leisurely beachfront vacation, the coastal city offers multigenerational families unique experiences and opportunities to make a lifetime of memories. Visit Oceanside for more information on crafting the perfect vacation, which includes the best things to do in Oceanside with Kids.