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Cuisine, Culture and Cool Beach Vibes in Oceanside

Oceanside is a classic beach town full of history and adventure. – Photo by Greg Aragon / Beacon Media News

By Greg Aragon

Oceanside is more than a classic California beach town with a groovy surf vibe and a walkable downtown. The city is also full of history and fascinating architecture, while also boasting eclectic restaurants, boutique hotels, exciting waterfront adventures and more.

I took a recent trip to the city and had the opportunity to see it from different angles and speeds. My adventure included a walking tour, a cruise in a Batman-type car, and a ride on a fat tire electric scooter.

My getaway began at the newest, yet oldest hotel in town, The Fin. Located on Coast Highway, near the iconic Oceanside Pier, the property originally opened in 1927 as the Keisker and was one of the first hotels in Oceanside. In May 2018 it reopened as The Fin, a boutique hotel blending Oceanside history with modern surf culture. The 27-room property retains much of the building’s original character including multi-colored, mosaic tile flooring in the lobby, a grand wooden-railed staircase, elegant Tiffany windows and a distinctive, 1920s architectural profile.

My standard King Room at The Fin was modern and efficient, with a 49-inch HDTV, free Wi-Fi, Keurig coffee maker, microwave, mini fridge, separate toilet and shower, occupancy sensor lighting, alarm clock with Bluetooth speaker and a partial ocean view.

Once unpacked, I joined friends for lunch at Saint Tropez Bistro. Set in a 130-year-old, yellow, Victorian house that has become an Oceanside landmark, the eatery serves up Euro-California cuisine in a charming, intimate setting, with creaky hardwood floors and tales of ghosts.

After lunch we explored town on foot. Part modern, part retro, Oceanside boasts an exciting and walkable downtown lined with historic structures housing eclectic shops, restaurants, museums, breweries, barbershops, and one of California’s most beautiful civic centers.

A highlight of town is the “Top Gun” house, the cottage made famous in Tom Cruise’s 1986 fighter pilot movie. The Queen Anne Victorian residence was built in 1887 and is one of the oldest houses still standing in Oceanside. It is located across from the 1,942 foot-long Oceanside Pier, one of the longest wooden piers on the West Coast.

My next stop was the California Surf Museum. Celebrating the history and lifestyle of surfing, the museum showcases rotating surfing exhibits and displays numerous popular surfers and the boards that made them famous, including Bethany Hamilton’s shark-bitten board.

For dinner I walked across the street from The Fin Hotel to Masters Kitchen and Cocktail Restaurant. Located in a reinvented, industrial-inspired space once used as an auto drag racing shop, the restaurant serves craft cocktails and exciting, unique food. Our culinary journey featured specialty cocktails, vegan cheeses, homemade pickled vegetables, Scottish salmon, Italian speck prosciutto and Calabrese spicy salami.

The next morning I drove to Oceanside Municipal Airport, where I met Kurt, founder and owner of Waverider Helicopter Tours. A Coast Guard veteran and a dual-rated commercial pilot in helicopters and airplanes, Kurt loves to show people Oceanside by land and air. His company specializes in helicopter tours of the beautiful beaches and captivating back country of San Diego County, coastal Orange County, and Temecula Wine Country. 

Waverider also rents futuristic, three-wheeled Polaris Slingshots cars. During my ride in the space age convertible, I and Kurt cruised down Coast Highway by the beach and pier, turning heads.

My last adventure in Oceanside was a ride to Mission San Luis Rey on an electric, fat tire scooter provided by Ride O’side. The 2018 scooter models, like the one I rented, has a 20Ah battery and a top speed of 20 miles per hour. It includes Bluetooth for listening to cell phone music, boasts 18-by-9.5-inch fat tires for added stability, and a front hydraulic shock that yields an unbelievably smooth ride.

My 13.9-mile ride to Mission San Luis Rey began near Oceanside Pier, where I picked up the San Luis Rey Bike Trail, a Class 1 bicycle trail completely isolated from motorized traffic. Along the way I past memorable natural scenery and a variety of bird species while following the San Luis Rey River.