Like many people, when I thought about Oceanside, Calif. it was either as a hangout for the Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton or a road sign on Interstate 5 demarcating the mileage to San Diego. It was not a place of negative feelings, it was just … Oceanside. Probably a pleasant little place, but not one I would necessarily stop and visit. That has recently changed for me. I spent some time getting to know the town, talking to the people who live and work there. I started learning about the real Oceanside and the changes that are happening.
The first thing I learned from the locals is that although our Marines do come to Oceanside, they also go to Carlsbad, San Clemente and all of San Diego. The days of Marines not having cars and having no choice where to go to party are long gone. Don’t get me wrong, they still love Oceanside, but it is not their only choice. I expected to see the streets overflowing with buff-bodied, buzz-cut guys. No such luck! While there are shops that cater to the armed services, there is much more going on there.
One sign of the changes on the horizon is the 333 Pacific Restaurant. This restaurant, located in the lovely Wyndam Hotel, can definitely hold its own and even surpass many fine-dining destination restaurants in Southern California. Indeed, they draw people from San Diego to Los Angeles, not only for their superb menu, but because of their signature vodka lounge. The lounge offers over 100 different kinds of vodka. I have to tell you, that lounge rocks and rolls from early afternoon on!
However, I went there for the dining. The menu was extraordinary, and there was not one item that I found wanting. We observed an interesting event at the table next to ours. Four of the aforementioned buzz-cut, buff-guys ordered full-course steak dinners. When it came time to pay the bill, their server informed them that a couple a few tables away paid for their tab as a way of saying: “Thank you for your service.” I was really touched by this gesture. I mentioned the incident to John Daley, the owner of the 101 Caf√©, the oldest continuously-operating restaurant on the historic U.S. Highway 101. He stated that when he notices members of the armed forces dining there, he will often come over and say: “Hi and thank you” and pick up their tab. I really like that. It felt good to put my normal cynicism aside for awhile and just be appreciative.
Despite its impending growth, (there are many projects in the works), Oceanside is still a casual beach community. We spent one morning walking along some of their 3 miles of beaches watching the surfers. It is known to have some of the most consistent surf in Southern California. It is also extremely bicycle friendly. As a matter of fact, it is the only city in San Diego County named a bicycle-friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists. I was sorry I did not bring my bike. I felt like I was the only person in Oceanside without a surfboard, dog or bicycle. There are many bike trails, but one trail I would like to try next time I return is the Coastal Rail Trail. It’s a 44-mile trail that goes from Oceanside to San Diego.
Another really enjoyable part of Oceanside is the Oceanside Harbor. We rented kayaks from Boat Rental of America and kayaked around the harbor, sometimes escorted by bull seals just a few yards away from us. At first this was a bit intimidating, but when I realized I was not their “incredible edible,” it became an awe-inspiring experience. I was later told that these male (bull) seals can weigh up to 800 pounds. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time! The harbor is beautiful and bustling. Between the various eclectic shops, the water sports and restaurants, it was a fun way to spend the day.
I can’t discuss Oceanside without mentioning their railway system. The Oceanside Transit Center is a hub for several rail lines, and it is intrinsic to their lifestyle and their economy. Many people who live there work in San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and other surrounding areas and utilize the rails instead of dealing with traffic and high gas prices. I noticed a sign on one of the trains that said: “Stop being fuelish!” I did feel a pang of guilt, but I was on vacation, so I did not let it take root.
As I headed back to Santa Monica, I realized that my decision to give Oceanside a try instead of merely noting it as a road sign on the I-5 had been an enlightening and fun way to gain an understanding of the real Oceanside. To learn more, visit www.visitoceanside.org.
CAROLE can be reached at Carolesorlin@yahoo.com.