This Welcoming Surf Town Just North of San Diego Has Everything You Could Want in a Beach Vacation

Located just north of San Diego and a two-hour train ride south from Los Angeles, Oceanside has become a destination worth visiting in its own right.

Aerial view of Mission Pacific
Photo: Jason Dewey/Courtesy of Mission Pacific

Oceanside, California has long been a draw for the surfing community. In the "Encyclopedia of Surfing" by Matt Warshaw, Oceanside is referred to as "one of Southern California's most consistent surf spots." Along Shaper's Alley, an area in downtown Oceanside, there are a variety of surf manufacturers and the California Surf Museum — which hosts Bethany Hamilton's surfboard from her shark attack.

Located just north of San Diego and a two-hour train ride south from Los Angeles, Oceanside has become a destination worth visiting in its own right. The city has seen immense growth in the past decade, but surprisingly the community culture that makes the area feel so vibrant is still alive and well. Most of the city's emerging stars in the culinary, craft spirit, and shopping scene are passionate O'siders and chose to live there for its old-school surfing culture that feels worlds away from its well-known neighbors to the north and south. And they don't want their community to change, just grow into a bigger and better version of the city they know and love: A city that has grit. A city that supports its local community. A city where people talk about their morning surf like most talk about a morning commute.

As Oceanside has grown, these passionate entrepreneurs have changed the usual growth model of some other U.S. cities — tearing down the old and building the new. Most of the new construction has taken care to carefully preserve the original architecture. Two entirely new structures — the Mission Pacific Hotel and The Seabird Resort — followed suit. The hotels, which opened in May, worked closely with its architects and designers to create two world-class hotels that match the look and feel of the rest of the city. They even enlisted the help of the Oceanside Museum of Art to curate 100 percent of the art from local artists.

Here's how to best experience Oceanside, California.

Interior of Wrench and Rodent
Kristina Wunsch/Courtesy of Wrench and Rodent

Where to Eat

Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub is a culinary delight. The sushi and ​​omakase menus focus on hyper-local, fresh ingredients that are transformed and paired in an astounding and playful manner. The highlights are dishes that include dry-aged fish — a delicious and sustainable way to add to the shelf life of raw fish. Owners Davin and Jessica Waite are bringing their same love for culinary exploration and collaboration to The Plot, their plant-based, zero-waste sister restaurant.

Another notable newcomer is Carte Blanche Bistro and Bar. The French-Mexican menu offers surprising dishes like quail knots with green apple slaw and carne asada tartare with plantains. At the Mission Pacific Hotel, Valle serves up authentic flavors (and exciting wines) of the Guadalupe Valley, all helmed by one of Baja California's most renowned chefs, Roberto Alcocer.

Where to Surf

There are many ways to enjoy surf culture in Oceanside — but the best way is to don a wetsuit, paddle into the Pacific, and catch a wave. While there are several surf schools up and down the three-and-a-half miles of beach, a private surf lesson with Duran Barr of North County Surf Academy — a third-generation Oceanside resident and the only local professional surfer and instructor of his kind — is sure to get you up on the board in no time.

What to See

The expertly curated, mostly Southern Californian art collections at the Oceanside Museum of Art are thought-provoking and imaginative. The building that hosts these exhibits was designed by two of Southern California's most renowned Modernist architects. The museum is located between Oceanside's historic town hall by Irving Gill and the new central pavilion designed by Frederick Fisher. The Seabird Resort also hosts a fine art gallery curated by the Oceanside Museum of Art.

The lobby at The Seabird
Jason Dewey/Courtesy of The Seabird

Where to Stay

When you walk into the lobby of The Seabird Resort, you are greeted by what looks like the largest living room you've ever seen. The entire hotel is designed to look and feel like a breezy, chic, and charming beach house. Most of the rooms have balconies with direct views (and sounds) of the Pacific ocean. This family-friendly resort offers a spa, several restaurants, a rooftop pool, and many comfortable spaces where you can make yourself at home.

Exterior view of the pool at The Seabird
Jason Dewey/Courtesy of The Seabird

Next door, Mission Pacific Hotel offers a different type of luxury and a design that is a little more serene with natural wood elements, lush greenery, and woven light fixtures. Toast a day of surfing by slurping some Baja oysters and sipping a Pacific Coast Spirits paloma at The Rooftop Bar and realize you can't wait to hit the waves again and again.

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