If you’re going to name a town for its greatest asset, the town fathers of Oceanside seem to have got that one right. Today more city than town, Oceanside is dressing up the city’s three and a half miles of wide, sandy beaches by bringing in new waterfront hotels, trendy restaurants and expensive homes and condos that all combine to beckon tourists from literally around the world.
The old rap on Oceanside, home to Camp Pendleton, was that it was a military town and not the place to invest millions in your new beachfront home. All of that has changed as the tiny beach bungalows have given way to lavish new homes while the city has attracted businesses and resort infrastructure so inviting that 17% of visitors come from Europe. Visitors have long enjoyed the robust selection of vacation rentals in Oceanside, but now hotel and resort-goers are finding many more hotel options with a good selection of restaurants and tourist attractions sprinkled into the mix.
On our most recent visit to Oceanside, we stayed at the Wyndham Ocean Pier Resort, which opened in early 2008. With arguably the best location in the city – right across from the popular Oceanside Pier – the resort both sells and rents its units. From our sixth-floor unit, the views of the beach and nearby Oceanside neighborhoods were spectacular.
On the weekend we visited, Oceanside made good on its reputation as a legendary surf town. A competition was under way where surfers were doing some amazing maneuvers right next to the pier. From the beach, atop a platform, several judges were studying every move and awarding points. Beach-goers and sun-worshippers watched the surfers attentively. Surfing’s in the DNA around here.
Just a short jog up the beach is another popular recreation area, Oceanside Harbor. Fishing charters are available, or you can paddle a kayak around the harbor on tours offered by OEX Kayak. When you’ve worked up an appetite, there are several harbor-front restaurants that are ideal for fish and chips with an ocean view.
For history buffs, it’s just a short drive to the Mission San Luis Rey, which has been undergoing millions of dollars in improvements. The “King of the Missions” is a National Historic Landmark and was founded in 1798. Located on 56 acres, the mission is adding walking trails and interpretive gardens to display plant life that was common during the early life at the mission.
If you’re curious about Camp Pendleton, it’s possible to tour the base at times when the threat level is not heightened. For more information, call (760) 725-5569.
New to Oceanside is the Oceanside Museum of Art, with a two-story 16,000-square-foot central pavilion that hosts art exhibitions and special events. The museum was designed by modern architect Frederick Fisher, known for his fresh and spectacular designs.
For some local color, be sure to visit the Highway 101 Café, which is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant on Historic Highway 101. If you enjoy 50’s-style diners, the food and vintage photos on the walls are sure to take you back to yesteryear. Or, check out the Sunset Market which sets aside four city blocks every Thursday night for live music, fresh produce vendors and local artisans. This is held downtown year-round.
If you like wildlife, stop by the Rancho Buena Vista Lagoon where you’ll find the Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center and Museum. Visitors can stroll scenic paths along the lagoon where they will see dozens of varieties of waterfowl.
If you have kids, Legoland is just south of the Oceanside city limits. This major theme park—all designed around the Lego theme—includes dozens of rides and is a proven hit with its target audience of 2-to-12 year-olds. On any given summer weekend day, you’re likely to see as many as 10,000 people enjoying the 128-acre park.
Legoland has found a way to involve parents, grandparents, teenagers and people of any age. The whole idea is to provide as much interactivity as possible. People don’t just go on rides — they’ll actually do things like build model racing cars or participate in pirate ship water fights. They’ll also marvel at the number of creations that can be made from the Lego, the basic building block invented 50 years ago that has come a long way over the decades.
• For more information on travel in California, visit www.californiaweekend.com.