bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Two nights in Oceanside, CA–Big Trip #4

We visited Oceanside in late October 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.

Bugsy at the beach behind the campground in Oceanside
the beach behind the campground

When we first started planning Big Trip #4, it looked quite different from what it became: our original plan sent us east after Crater Lake and south through the Rockies. That would have been an incredible itinerary, but what we ended up with was pretty sweet too. J had an important in-person work meeting in Carlsbad, CA (not to be confused with Carlsbad Caverns, NM) toward the end of October. Had we stuck with the original schedule, he would have flown to CA from Missouri or Tennessee or somewhere in the middle of the country. Instead, we shifted the north-to-south portion of the trip west into CA and just drove to his meeting, much to his colleagues’ amusement.

That’s how we ended up in Oceanside: it’s the next town up from Carlsbad, and a neat town in itself. J had a day of work stuff, but then could play with Bugsy and me on day 2, and we really enjoyed our time in Oceanside and Carlsbad.


Bugsy at our campsite in Oceanside
Bugsy chilling in her campsite

We stayed at Paradise by the Sea RV Beach Resort, a top-notch, well maintained, amenity-packed campground. The laundry room was clean, and the office staff very friendly and helpful. The campground was pretty noisy during the day due to some construction, and the train passing at night was loud, but they were minor annoyances in an otherwise relaxing stay.

the "nature trail" between the campground and the beach
the “nature trail”

From the campground, you can walk down a nature trail to the beach (no dogs allowed on the beach, although we saw a couple), or walk a block from the campground to a coffee shop or a brewery. More on those later. Walk a few blocks in the other direction and you’ll reach a transit station for light rail south to San Diego (an hour away, via Carlsbad) or east to Escondido.

Bugsy in our campsite in Oceanside
Bugsy keeping guard

Paradise by the Sea is well-located between Oceanside and Carlsbad, only a five-minute drive to downtown Oceanside, and a couple more than that to downtown Carlsbad, and the campground operates a shuttle into Oceanside on request.

Exploring Oceanside

Oceanside is a laid-back beach town an hour north of San Diego. It didn’t feel as touristy as other beach towns–it seemed like a real place where real people live, and we liked that a lot.

bugsy doing computer work at Vigilante coffee
working at Vigilante Coffee

Next door to the campground there’s a coffee shop and a brewery. It’s like they knew we were coming. Vigilante Coffee is a cheery, dog-friendly spot with big windows, yummy coffee (their own roast), matcha (a must for J), and healthy breakfast options (we liked the avocado toast on a bagel).

beers at SouthO Brewing
beers at South O Brewing

South O Brewing Co is adjacent to Vigilante. It’s a true neighborhood brewery, formed by neighbors during early Covid, and they’ve really done a great job with it. When we visited for a tasty IPA nightcap it was busy with people and dogs and had a fun and friendly vibe.

Walk down the nature trail from the campground and you’ll land in a little park with a tiny cafe. The Buccaneer Cafe serves breakfast burritos, açaí bowls, avocado toast, espresso drinks, and on summer Friday evenings they do tacos. This place is going on our to-do list.

pelican on the Oceanside Pier
friendly(?) pelican on the Oceanside Pier

Downtown Oceanside is a few minutes’ drive north of the campground. We drove up there a few times because there was so much to see, starting with the long wooden pier. The Oceanside Pier is dog-friendly and a great place to see fisherpeople, surfers, and pelicans–and the pelicans will get reaallly close to you, it’s a little freaky.

Top Gun house
Top Gun house!

Back on land, near the pier, if you’re of a certain age you must go by the Top Gun house! Kelly McGillis’ adorable little house in the original Top Gun is now a pie shop, with a replica of Tom Cruise’s motorcycle sitting out front.

Oceanside farmers market
Oceanside farmers market

On Thursdays, downtown Oceanside closes a couple blocks of a street and hosts a morning farmers market AND a sunset market street fair. Wow. We walked through both and were impressed!

beers and fish taco at Shootz
beer and fish taco at Shootz

After walking around downtown, we needed lunch, and Shootz had been recommended to us by one of J’s colleagues. It was awesome! The fish tacos were SO fresh and delicious (rockfish was the daily special), and the beer selection is fab as they’re attached to Bottlecraft beer store.

avocado mushroom toast at Communal
avocado mushroom toast at Communal Coffee

Shootz is a few blocks from the pier in a super cute strip of shops, including the prettiest coffee shop I’d ever seen. We returned to Communal Coffee the next morning for coffee, breakfast, and computer time. I’d be at Communal and Shootz all the time if I lived in O’Side. Look at me, talking like a local. Seating at this popular spot was full by 8:45 on a weekday.

beer on the patio with Bugsy at Stone
cool patio, meh beer at Stone

Because we’re beer people, we felt compelled to check out Stone Brewing’s taproom in Oceanside. The patio is lovely: spacious, dog-friendly, and shady; but the beers didn’t suit us.

The morning we left town, we got in a workout at F45 Oceanside Pier. I mentioned F45 in our Huntington Beach post: there are F45 gyms all around the US, and dropping into a class gets you a reliably tough workout while on the road.

South Oceanside is a couple minutes south of the campground. It’s a cute stretch with a few restaurants and bars and a coffee shop–including a vegan Jewish deli, which I am pretty sure wasn’t there when we visited, and I am totally intrigued by it.

Exploring Carlsbad

Carlsbad is Oceanside’s posher sibling, just 10 minutes south. I popped down there solo our first evening while J was tied up with work, and then J and I went back for a fancy dinner the next night.

State Street market in Carlsbad
State Street Farmers’ Market

I think the State Street Farmers’ Market in downtown Carlsbad is the nicest farmers market I have ever seen. It’s huge, with all sorts of produce and prepared food vendors, and was super busy at dinnertime. I walked through it multiple times trying to decide where to get dinner from, but I had already set my sights on something else…

cocktail at 264 Fresco
sort-of rooftop cocktail at 264 Fresco

Before I grabbed dinner, I wanted a cocktail on a rooftop bar. My first target, Park 101, didn’t have its roof open, but they did have a cute lobster roll window on the ground floor. I love lobster rolls, but I stuck with my original dinner plan. I ended up at 264 Fresco for my cocktail, and while my bar seat faced a TV rather than the beachy sunset, the cocktail was good and the bartender was very friendly.

alien bao from Harumama in Carlsbad
alien bao from Harumama

I picked up dinner from Harumama and took it home to eat with Bugsy in the Airstream. I was locked onto getting dinner there because I love bao, and this ramen and bun restaurant has adorable “character buns” in the shape of cutsie animals–and when we visited just before Halloween, they had alien-shaped bao. Super fun and super yummy.

birthday dessert and cocktail at Campfire
birthday dessert at Campfire

Our fancy night out was at Campfire, a restaurant inspired by California nature. It was an early birthday dinner for me, and oh my goodness what a cool place. The food was incredible, and they not only brought me a special birthday dessert with a hand-written card, but they made me a special birthday cocktail. It was a wonderful dinner!

From here we said goodbye to the coast and headed into the desert. First stop, Palm Springs!

To do

Take the train to San Diego!

Sunset drinks in Oceanside–try the rooftop bar at Mission Pacific hotel

Walk Bugsy to The Buccaneer Cafe for breakfast


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