12 Best Things to Do in Oceanside

From private surf lessons & brewery tours to whale watching & shopping, the beautiful seaside town of Oceanside offers things to do for all types of visitors.
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Best Things to Do in Oceanside
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Top Places to Go & Attractions to Explore in the Beach Town of Oceanside

Walking Out to Surf at Pier View North BeachOne of the Many Street Murals

The sun-drenched neighborhood of Oceanside, California gets its name from its idyllic location right along the sea in sunny San Diego County.

As you might imagine, one of the biggest draws of the area is its picturesque beaches, which include North Jetty, Harbor Beach & Breakwater Way Beaches, Oceanside Pier, Pier View North & Pier View South Beaches, Tyson Street Beach and Park & Wisconsin Street Beach, and Oceanside Boulevard Beach & Buccaneer Beach. You can surf, sunbathe, swim, paddle board, and more on these beaches, but that’s far from all that this remarkable town has to offer its visitors!

There’s plenty of history in Oceanside, as the pier and boardwalk date all the way back to the late 1880s, and the town square has been preserved for about as long. It’s even earned the official designation as one of California’s 14 Cultural Districts. These historic touches sit alongside modern conveniences like a wide array of enticing eateries and an assortment of bars and clubs that give Oceanside its stellar nightlife scene.

Located on San Diego’s northern edge in the North County Coastal Area of North County San Diego, locals call the area ‘O’side’. From its roots as just a military town due to its proximity to Camp Pendleton, the town has come a long way. It offers activities and attractions for families, couples and even for thrill-seekers and daredevils, making the neighborhood an attractive option for just about any type of vacationer.

After you read about the best things to do in Oceanside, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to the best things to do in all of San Diego’s most popular neighborhoods, or explore our guides covering the best things to do in nearby Carlsbad and the best things to do in Encinitas.

Beach Terrace Inn in Carlsbad is a boutique hotel. Tour the beachfront pool deck, oversized rooms with balconies, and peaceful vibe as Todd walks through this family-friendly hotel near Legoland.

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Plan Your Oceanside Trip With the 12 Best Things to Do in Oceanside

From historic sites like Mission San Luis Rey to outdoor attractions like the California Surf Museum and Harbor Beach, plan your Oceanside adventure with these suggestions of exciting activities to do in and around the city. Check out top family-friendly picks like LEGOLAND California and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or head to more adult-oriented hotspots like Downtown Oceanside and local bars and breweries.

Private Surfing Lessons
Private Surfing Lessons

1) Take a Private Surf Lesson, One of the Best Beach & Water Activities in Oceanside, California

San Diego Tours: 5 Best San Diego Surf Lessons & Rentals

San Diego’s surf culture is one of its most defining features, and there are few better places to learn how to take part in this exciting activity than in sunny Oceanside!

Don’t miss out on your chance to surf in the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Ocean on San Diego’s best beaches; even if you’re a total beginner, you can still learn the basics with an Oceanside Private Surf Lesson.

These private lessons are designed for small family and friend groups, so you can feel comfortable learning alongside fellow newbies. Your experienced instructor will show you the ropes and get you started on the board, covering everything from paddling out into the ocean to how to maintain your balance while you’re hanging ten.

Since taking surfing lessons is one of the best things to do in the best neighborhoods in San Diego, you won’t want to miss out on this fun opportunity in a beautiful beach neighborhood. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can pick up a Go City San Diego pass and save on surfboard rentals all throughout Southern California.

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2) Visit the Historic Mission San Luis Rey

San Diego Area Museums: Mission San Luis Rey

California’s historic missions were first constructed when early European explorers started to settle along the West Coast. Oceanside’s own mission, Mission San Luis Rey, is just one of many missions that can be found along the coast, and it’s well worth a visit, whether you’re planning on traveling the entirety of El Camino Real - a Pacific Coast highway that connects each of the missions - or you just want to get a taste of San Diego history during your stay in the area.

As one of the best things to do in San Diego regardless of where you’re exploring, no stay in Oceanside is complete without checking out the incredible Spanish architecture of the mission, which has been preserved for hundreds of years and renovated to better show off the property as an educational resource. The gorgeous flower gardens of the Mission San Luis Rey surround an active church and multiple restored buildings. The mission is the perfect location for an afternoon stroll or a picnic under a shade tree at one of the picnic tables.

The property also includes a museum that contains Spanish, Mexican, and Native American artifacts. At this uniquely Oceanside museum, you can learn about the lives of European explorers, the people of the Kumeyaay tribe, and the impacts they’ve left on modern-day San Diego.

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Kilowatt Brewing Tap Room in Oceanside
Kilowatt Brewing Tap Room in Oceanside

3) Check Out the Nightlife in Oceanside, California on a Brewery Tour

San Diego Tours: 10 Best San Diego Food & Beer Tours

Not far from Oceanside, North County San Diego is known as not just one of the biggest brewery towns in San Diego, but in all of California!

Check out the offerings of local breweries and bars as you visit notable landmarks and enjoy a taste of San Diego’s nightlife when you take the Cruise & Booze Brewery Tour, an adults-only small group tour designed with a love of craft beer in mind.

Traverse North County’s best sights in comfort as you ride in a vintage VW Vanagon through the streets, enjoying snacks and drinks as you go. Hop between three different local craft breweries, each with their own unique offerings, and taste samples from each location.

This tour provides an ideal way to survey North County’s best beers, and it easily makes our list of the Best Things to Do by Location in San Diego. If you’re interested in similar excursions, be sure to check out the city’s Best Food & Beer Tours, which includes many great ways to get a taste of everything San Diego has to offer!

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Giraffe at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Giraffe at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

4) Take the Entire Family to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Attractions: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

From speedy cheetahs to brightly colored exotic birds, there’s a whole new world to discover when you visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located just to the east of Oceanside in Escondido. The location is a paradise for animal lovers that wildlife enthusiasts of all ages are sure to enjoy. The park offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience an African safari without leaving San Diego.

Explore a tropical rainforest teeming with life, from rare Sumatran tigers, fierce lions, and huge elephants to insects, butterflies, and birds. Meet animals up close at Animal Encounters shows, or see the park from the comfort of the Africa Tram Safari.

Access to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park also includes entrance to the Wings of the World Aviary, Lion Camp, Elephant Overlook, and the Heart of Africa and Hidden Jungle habitats. See rare California condors, watch an East African crane perform at the Frequent Flyers Bird Show, and pet antelope and deer at the Petting Kraal.

As the sister park to the world-famous San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, the Safari Park is safe and family-friendly. Travelers in the know can skip the line and get right to exploring the 1,800 acre park when they pre-purchase a 1-day ticket that’s valid for an entry for one full year!

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Surf and Beach at Pier View North Beach
Surf and Beach at Pier View North Beach

5) Spend the Day at Oceanside Pier and Pier View Beaches

Beach: Oceanside Pier, Pier View North & Pier View South Beaches

For one of the best beach experiences in all of Oceanside, a visit to the Oceanside Pier, Pier View North & Pier View South Beaches is a must! These gorgeous beaches are bisected by a large pier that provides the perfect spot for watching wildlife, as you can frequently spot seals, dolphins, and pelicans nearby. Sportfishing for harbor fish like barracuda, mackerel, and halibut is also popular along the pier.

Pier View South Beach is the livelier of the two beaches, complete with its own showers, restrooms, and an oceanside park with picnic tables, fire pits, and barbecues. It’s a popular spot for swimming and surfing with surfing contests held here throughout the year.

While Pier View North Beach is a little quieter, this makes it a great spot for laid-back swimming and sunbathing. Play some beach volleyball, or catch a show at the amphitheater just a little ways off the beach on Pier View Way.

Other popular Oceanside beach activities include biking, running along the shore, kayaking, and paddle boarding. Be sure to rent a surfboard, paddle board, or kayak with your Go City San Diego pass using discount code GVSD5OFF to save even more!

Whale Watching Tour Gray Whale
Whale Watching Tour Gray Whale

6) Go Whale Watching

San Diego Activities: Whale Watching in San Diego

The coast of Southern California is a great place to see marine life, and there are few better ways to do so than going whale watching. If you’re interested in seeing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, take a two hour whale watching tour out of Oceanside, which is a fun and family-friendly tour that promises amazing views of whales and other marine species.

Board a large, comfortable catamaran and set sail on the Pacific Ocean as your knowledgeable captain narrates your tour. Learn interesting facts about sea birds, whales, and dolphins, and keep your eyes peeled for telltale water spouts that herald the presence of these gentle giants.

Note that whale watching tours are offered on a seasonal basis in accordance with the migration habits of local whale species. Gray whales can be seen in the winter and spring with tours typically offered between December and April. If you’re planning to visit Oceanside in summer and early fall from June to September, tours are available in search of the massive blue whale, the largest animal on earth!

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Lego Figure at Legoland California
Lego Figure at Legoland California

7) Spend a Fun-filled Family Day at LEGOLAND California

San Diego Attractions: LEGOLAND® California

As one of the most family-friendly attractions in Oceanside, California and all of San Diego, LEGOLAND California is more than enough of a reason for families with young kids to take a trip to the sunny city. This Carlsbad attraction just south of Oceanside is great on its own, but it’s even better when paired with the other top attractions included with the all-inclusive Go City San Diego pass.

Of course, you and the kids can have plenty of fun just by visiting LEGOLAND California, whether you’re interested in the rides, games, or its attached waterpark. This massive resort and theme park is full of fun ways to spend the day, letting kids explore and play with hands-on attractions. Watch a live show with colorful, themed LEGO characters, go on thrill rides, and dine and shop right in the park.

For added fun, stay inside the park at one of the two on-property options - the LEGOLAND California Hotel and the LEGOLAND California Resort and Castle Hotel. For more great options of where to stay near the park, don’t miss our complete guide to the Best Hotels near LEGOLAND California.

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Indoor Skydiving at Ifly Oceanside
Indoor Skydiving at Ifly Oceanside

8) Go Skydiving at Oceanside Indoor Skydiving

Neighborhood: Oceanside

Have you ever wanted to try skydiving but been intimidated by the idea of jumping out of a plane? Skydiving without the risk at Oceanside Indoor Skydiving is a thrilling method that is commonly used by professional skydivers’ during practice sessions. Step into a wind tunnel which will push you up into the air, creating the feeling of free falling without any of the danger, and for a fraction of the cost.

Unlike standard skydiving, this is a family-friendly activity, and even young children over the age of 3 can participate. Wind speeds inside the tunnel reach up to 130-175 mph, making indoor skydiving a fun and thrilling way to spend an afternoon.

Training and all necessary safety gear is included with the price of a skydiving session. No prior experience is necessary to experience these high-octane thrills, and up to six people can join a lesson at a time!

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The Brick Hotel in Oceanside
The Brick Hotel in Oceanside

9) Go on an Oceanside, Auto Museum & Winery Tour & Tasting

Neighborhood: Oceanside

Get a taste of everything Oceanside has to offer, from its finest museums to its classiest wine producers, on the Oceanside Auto Museum & Winery Tour & Tasting. The tour covers many of the neighborhood’s most important landmarks, which you’ll cruise past in the comfort of a motorcycle sidecar built to accommodate three passengers. This activity is both family-friendly and pet-friendly, and is conducted rain or shine, with a convertible top in case of rare inclement weather.

Start by exploring Oceanside Pier as you look out over the Pacific Coast, then pass by the Oceanside Strand beach promenade, where you can almost always spot a few surfers. The tour continues on to Mission San Luis Rey, where you’ll have a chance to get out and explore the beautiful historic property.

All tours include a stop at the Deer Park Winery & Auto Museum, a unique locale where you can enjoy wine tastings while soaking up the eclectic atmosphere. The winery’s Auto Museum is full of antiques from various eras of history, and includes dedicated rooms full of interesting American memorabilia.

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Golden Gate Bridge at Legoland California
Golden Gate Bridge at Legoland California

10) Splash Around at the LEGOLAND Water Park

San Diego Attractions: LEGOLAND® Water Park

In addition to all the fun rides and games available in the LEGOLAND California park, you can also buy a ticket that grants you access to the LEGOLAND Water Park as well, as long as you select the addition when you purchase admission. Beat the year-round heat of Southern California when you spend the afternoon splashing around in the water park, which includes a wide variety of exciting slides, rides, games, and more.

Kids are sure to adore Pirate Reef, a playground area themed around swashbucklers in the water park, as well as LEGO Legends of CHIMA and the unique Build-A-Raft River. With over 10 acres of space to play in, it’s easy to spend the entire day enjoying everything LEGOLAND has to offer, no matter your age.

If you’re craving something a little more laid back, the park also contains private beaches designated for park guests. Sunbathe on the sand and swim in the ocean, then head back inland for wave pools, slides, and more high-octane fun!

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Parlor Doughnuts in Oceanside
Parlor Doughnuts in Oceanside

11) Shop, Eat & Drink Near the Oceanside Harbor Village

Neighborhood: Oceanside

Much like similar popular spots across San Diego designed for shopping and dining such as La Jolla Village and Carlsbad Village, Oceanside has its own downtown area that’s bustling with activity. The shopping hub of Oceanside Harbor Village is a great place to pick up a few odds and ends, look through the wares of a unique array of stores, grab a bite to eat, and share a drink with friends.

Walk along the gorgeous pier as you do some window shopping, enjoy waterfront dining, and try your hand at fun outdoor activities like stand-up paddle boarding and sportfishing. Oceanside Harbor Village is full of local businesses, so whether you’re looking for a restaurant, a quick-service eatery, an upscale boutique, a thrifty shop, a brewery, or a bar, you can feel good about supporting the community with your purchases.

In addition to being a great place to go shopping in San Diego, Oceanside Harbor Village also hosts a number of community events throughout the year. Stop by to check out local vendors, food stalls, arts & crafts, live music, and other fun things to do downtown.

The Unique Haunted Head Saloon in Oceanside
The Unique Haunted Head Saloon in Oceanside

12) Grab a Drink at an Old School Saloon: The Haunted Head Saloon

Neighborhood: Oceanside

Though the Haunted Head Saloon only dates back to 2002, once you step inside, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the 17th century! That’s because this bar is themed around an old-fashioned pirate saloon, complete with matching buccaneer beach decor and memorabilia adorning the walls. This much-beloved local spot sells its own themed merchandise alongside a wide array of beers, wines, liquor, and cocktails that can be mixed up to your liking.

Inside the bar, you’ll find plenty of entertainment, including two large TVs and a jukebox. The saloon also has bar top games, a pool table, and foosball tables for patrons to enjoy.

You don’t have to come in costume to enjoy a drink or two, but the Haunted Head Saloon frequently hosts event nights that include opportunities to dress up and try out various pirate-themed activities. Each year, the Haunted Head Saloon hosts a large Halloween party, complete with a costume contest and themed food and drinks.

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Kids looking at knight at LEGOLAND California
Visit LEGOLAND California!
Create family memories at LEGOLAND California! Admission is included with your All-Inclusive Go City pass - enjoy over 60 rides and attractions! Bundle admission with Birch Aquarium at Scripps or the Safari Park for the ultimate day of savings!
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What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

Want to save more? Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Tips for Planning the Best California Vacation in Oceanside

There are fun things to do all around San Diego, but you can’t go wrong when you plan your vacation or weekend trip in Oceanside. Use these tips to make your visit the best it can be!

Enjoy Free Things to Do in Oceanside, California

Having fun in Oceanside doesn’t have to mean emptying out your wallet. If you’re on a budget, you can always head to a free public beach, window shop downtown, or check out our list of the best free things to do in San Diego for more options for budget conscious travelers.

To save even more, check out our complete guide to the best budget-friendly hotels in San Diego.

Plan a Family-Friendly Vacation

Oceanside is one of the most popular neighborhoods in all of San Diego for family vacations, with plenty of kid-friendly attractions in and around the area. LEGOLAND California and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are popular picks, but kids can also enjoy surf lessons, indoor skydiving, city tours, and so much more!

Elevate your vacation even further when you stay at The Seabird Resort or at one of the best family-friendly hotels in San Diego.

Featured Hotel
The Seabird Resort
The Seabird Resort
Beachfront
Beachfront
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Families
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Pool
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The Seabird Resort by Hyatt is the perfect hotel for family vacations to San Diego, with ocean views & nearby attractions to keep both kids & adults entertained.
Prices Starting at $289
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LEGOLAND Water Park Hopper Ticket
LEGOLAND Water Park Hopper Ticket
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San Diego Harbor Cruise
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