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7 fun things to do in Oceanside, California

Fun things in Oceanside The beach at Oceanside. | Photo by Stephanie Hager

This Southern California beach town keeps its low-key surfer vibe even with some upscale touches.

The casual and unassuming coastal town of Oceanside, California, located just south of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, is in the midst of a transformation. With a revitalization effort under way, new shops, restaurants, and breweries have been popping up in the area over the past few years, giving day-trippers plenty of things to do, see, and eat.

As the culinary landscape expands, it’s attracting talented chefs, many of whom are SoCal locals keen on introducing upscale dining while preserving the city’s funky, low-key vibe. And organic-farm chefs are having produce grown specifically for them at nearby Cyclops Farms.

At 1,954 feet, the pier in Oceanside is one of the longest on the West Coast. | Photo by

At 1,954 feet, the pier in Oceanside is one of the longest on the West Coast. | Photo by Stephanie Hager

1. Experience the quieter side of harbor life on a romantic Moonlight Paddle. Depending on the ocean level, test your flexibility as you glide via kayak beneath a street bridge or two (hint, you’ll want to be as “laid back” as possible). Oceanside Harbor. Guided tours offered by City of Oceanside Parks and Recreation Division. 760-435-5041.

2. Make like a seabird and view city and coast by helicopter. Waverider Helicopter Tours founder and chief pilot Kurt Dawson provides a smooth ride while pointing out sites like Charlie’s house from the movie Top Gun and St. Malo, an uber-exclusive enclave built in the 1930s to resemble a village in Normandy, France. 760-691-9144.

3. At Apotheque Lifestyle Spa, folks can create personal oil fragrances, andshop the on-site boutique. 322 N. Cleveland Street. 760-967-7727.

4. Learn about the evolution of surfboards—from wooden plank boards to fiberglass boards to the short-board revolution—at the California Surf Museum. Browse surfboard wax collected from the past 50 years, see Bethany Hamilton’s shark-bitten board, and shop the surf-themed gift shop. 312 Pier View Way. 760-721-6876.

5. Take a two-hour whale-watching excursion on Oceanside Adventure’s 50-foot catamaran while tour operators share their extensive knowledge of whales and whale-migration habits. 256 Harbor Drive S. 888-507-1130.

Sunset Market is a weekly food, shopping, and music street fair. | Photo by Stephanie Hager

Sunset Market is a weekly food, shopping, and music street fair. | Photo by Stephanie Hager

6. Located a few blocks from the pier, Sunset Market draws both tourists and locals for its specialty foods, shopping, and live music. Pick up a colorful handwoven basket from Ghana or sample such treats as Polish pierogi, Maine lobster rolls, German-style plank-roasted salmon, Brazilian stuffed hash browns, and house-made fudge. Thursday evenings. Pier View Way and Tremont Street. 760-754-4512.  

Jalisco Cantina offers tasting flights of tequila and mescal as well contemporary and traditional Mexican dishes. | Photo by Rob Andrew

Jalisco Cantina offers tasting flights of tequila and mescal as well contemporary and traditional Mexican dishes. | Photo by Rob Andrew

7. In Oceanside’s rapidly gentrifying downtown, Jalisco Cantina honors one of Mexico’s principal tequila-producing regions both in its name and on its bar list, which offers tasting flights of tequila and mescal. In a small space dominated by a copper-topped bar, Jalisco presents a menu of traditional specialties such as posole (a lavishly garnished stew of pork and hominy, $9.50) and contemporary dishes such as garlic shrimp and yellowtail with avocado scampi sauce ($17.50). Jaliso Cantina's kitchen delights in frank spiciness most of the time, and even the suavely stuffed vegan burrito ($14.50) is served with hot sauce. For something different, try the boldly seasoned beef barbacoa relleno ($16.50), an intriguing dish with a variety of delicious garnishes. The dessert Jalisco Jericalla ($6), a better-than-most crème brûlée, follows spicy dishes very nicely. 213 N. Coast Highway; 760-429-1679.

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